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Who Is The Best Option At RB?

The Miami Dolphins have yet to make a decision on the futures of Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown, and Patrick Cobbs. All three are slated to be free agents if and when that period starts this off-season.  So far, Jeff Ireland has spoken to neither one of the representatives for them and it has been rumored that he has interest in only keeping one and not both.

While some maintain that despite Ricky Williams end of season outburst, that he will be the one returning because he is cheaper and simply a back-up at this stage of his career and that Ronnie is too predisposed to injury and will be looking to take advantage of his first free agent contract.  As for Patrick Cobbs, he will likely remain with the team because the coaches love him and he is a special teams contributor.

Regardless of whether Ireland retains Williams or Brown or Cobbs, the team will need to find a starting running-back.

But what options does the team have?

Luckily for Miami, they have plenty.  From cheap options to veteran leaders all the way to young college products.

From the impending list of veterans:

DeAngelo Williams – Carolina is set to part ways with the big time runner.  While age isn’t an issue the Panthers have their future runner in Jonathan Stewart and their back-up in Michael Goodson.  This leaves Williams out of the picture.  His injury issues last year were more a result of poor line play than anything really career debilitating.  Injury doesn’t seem to be the concern in Carolina as much as playing time vs. cost.   Williams would provide Miami a speedy runner with veteran savvy that can break it outside like Ricky Williams or hit the open hole in the middle without the dance of Ronnie Brown.

The downside here is that Williams won’t be cheap although he won’t be overly expensive, the Dolphins may look to spend money elsewhere instead of throwing nominal funds into his direction.  But make no mistake, Williams is still a game changer and at 28 years old still has life in his legs.  He could be that veteran runner that defenses truly need to respect.

Marion Barber - Injury concerns and the emergence of Felix Jones and Tashard Choice have all but ended Barbers’ stay in Dallas officially.  Barber is likely to be cut after Jerry Jones fails to trade him.  The first and most logical landing spot is in Miami where he would be reunited by the staff that drafted him.  Barber is very familiar to Head Coach Tony Sparano and the team was rumored to be involved in trade talks with Dallas for Barber two years ago.  Barbers’ injury concerns are not considered to be serious or career issues, but he is wearing down and won’t likely be a featured runner in two years time.  However, he is a legitimate redzone threat and is a serious head banger who uses his body weight well.  He has quick feet that makes him appear faster than he really is at times, but he can outrun defenders and when he can’t he simply bowls them over with his power.

Barber would be an ideal fit for the Ricky Williams role and might come with comparable contract demands.  In Dallas he has played with up and coming runners like Felix Jones and Julius Jones so he is not new to the prospect of playing with rookies who are set up to be the future of that franchise.

Cedrick Benson – Also known as the man RB taken two picks after Ronnie Brown, Benson struggled with his consistency before posting two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons in 2009 and 10.  Still, there is little doubt that up until that time, Benson was a draft bust.  Now the Bengals appear set to let the runner and former first round pick walk into free agency despite his two “K” seasons.  Benson doesn’t figure to be a player that would be on Miami’s shopping list and it’s likely that Benson will ask for money than his actual value as he tries to get the last big contract of his career.  There are teams that will bite on his last two seasons despite the inconsistency in both.  Benson simply isn’t that good despite the numbers and really won’t offer Miami much more than Ronnie Brown.

Michael Bush - Bush is an intriguing prospect.  He is starter ready and could become an every down featured back in the NFL but the problem is that he is still inconsistent.  He is a fast option and could be one of the faster options on the free agent market.  Explosive out of the back-field, he doesn’t tend to run high and can lower his shoulders at the point of impact to protect the ball.  His bigger issue is seeing the holes fast enough.  Although that also could be a problem associated with a poor Oakland offensive line and the constant coaching change overs on offense that the team goes through each year.

Bush won’t be overly expensive and will likely teeter somewhere in the mid-second tier of the free agent runners but that isn’t a bad thing considering there may only be one or two players, depending on opinion, who are top tier runners available.

Le’Ron McClain - This is a runner that the Dolphins may have use for.  A budding star that is similar in body, make-up, and running style as Peyton Hillis in Cleveland…where Dolphins OC Brian Daboll comes from.  Daboll also has seen McClain twice a year when they faced the Ravens.  McClain is a bulldozing runner similar to Marion Barber in the way he uses his body, but he has a slightly faster gate.  McClain is also listed as a FB which means that he hasn’t quite received the rushing reps that most other RB’s have.  He wants to get more touches but he also wants to return to Baltimore.  Something that may not happen if he does in fact want to run the ball more.  Not with Ray Rice standing out as the featured back.

Jerome Harrison – Harrison was traded to the Eagles from the Browns for Mike Bell in a simple swap of runners.  He fell out of favor with then HC Eric Mangini in favor of drafted Montario Hardesty and former Denver runner Hillis who the team traded for in the off-season.  Harrison was productive in 2009 rushing for over 500 yards in the final 3 games of the Browns season and rushed for 286 yards against the Chiefs two seasons ago.  Harrison simply was replaced.  The question here, in terms of a fit with the Dolphins is what Daboll thinks of him.

Lex Hilliard – No, Hilliard is not a free agent and is a contracted member of the Miami Dolphins.  Still, the question is can he be a lead rusher for the team?  According to recent reports, Jeff Ireland is very high on Hilliards potential but it remains to be seen on the field.  At times, he looks like a wrecking ball and at other times looks to be lost.  It’s unlikely that Hilliard will be used in place of signing a free agent or even adding a rookie as well.

From the Draft:

Mark Ingram - The Dolphins are in prime position if they want to draft Ingram out of Alabama.  The 15th slot is where many so called experts are predicting his value to hold at.  The Dolphins however want another 2nd round pick and regardless of whether a CBA is in place prior to the draft, the Phins simply don’t have the players that would warrant a second round trade.  That leaves the team set on trading down.  By doing so, they could take themselves out of the market for who many believe is the best pure running back in this years draft.

Ingram has something that the Dolphins sorely lack, a sure handed receiver out of the back-field.  He caught 60 passes for over 300 yards in his three years at Alabama.

Kendall Hunter – Here is a speedy agile runner that the Dolphins had in Ricky Williams.  Hunter has a low center of balance and can move around the line of scrimmage.  He can get outside and can break the big play.  The Dolphins currently don’t have a legit play breaking runner.  Solid hands as well means that he can catch out of the back-field but the problem is he can’t block well and is not very useful on short yardage situations…which is fine considering the Phins have Lousaka “I always get first downs’ Polite.

Hunter is a second or third round pick and the Dolphins need to weigh his size, smaller than most runners vs. his potential.  He is similar to a Darren Sproles.  While has dealt with injury issues, he has also started at Oklahoma State for three seasons.  A big time football program that should translate well to the NFL.  Some scouting sites compare him to Ray Rice in size without the upside.

DeMarco Murray - If the Dolphins want a combination of size and speed then Murray may be it.  He is tall and fast, agile, quick and can run inside or out, catch passes, and is a solid blocker.  But he also spends a lot of time injured and some say that his running style is too high.  Runners who tend to stand more upright and rigid take unnecessary risks to injury.  Something the Dolphins can ill afford if they are looking for a featured back.

However, if the team decides to go with a complimenting veteran like DeAngelo Williams or a Jerome Harrison type, then a guy like Murray becomes a home-run threat in a situational role.  Durability seems to be the main concern for the Oklahoma product.  A three year starter as well, Murray could play more than just a RB spot if needed and is a possible fix in the return game on special teams.  He is one to keep an eye on during the Combine.

Outside the first 2 rounds:

The Miami Dolphins management team of Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano are very good at finding late round runners and that might be the case again this draft.  Marion Barber was found in the 4th round and if the Dolphins put more value on other positions then running back may get pushed to the latter half of the draft.  Somewhere the team needs to fix both it’s offensive line and quarterback situations before they can truly find a successful runner to compliment the stable of WR’s already on the roster.

Predictions:

Hard to say really because the CBA will dictate so much this off-season.  If there is no pre-draft FA then teams will have to look to the draft for answers and a team like Miami will have to wonder if they should take a runner early or late, will Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams return?  Will there be an abbreviated FA period before the season?  Will there be a season?  Lot’s of questions and very few answers.

My thoughts are simple.  The team needs a 2nd round pick in a bad way so drafting Ingram in round 1 is not likely unless he falls to them later.  The second round is too valuable for the Dolphins to spend it on a runner so I think they draft a running back in round 3, maybe Murray if he is still there.  If not, they wait until rounds 4 or 5 and get a big Barber type that they can mold, using the other picks to shore up the offensive line and possibly LB.

If there is a free agent period prior to the draft, I think that DeAngelo Williams and Marion Barber will get a look if they both are available as will the cheaper options like Jerome Harrison.  I don’t think the team will go after Le’Ron McClain because they don’t see him as that every down game changer.  In terms of keeping their own free agents, I don’t think they will resign either of Brown or Williams mainly because I believe there are better and at the least comparably priced free agents who will be on the market.  Patrick Cobbs is a good bet to retain but even he could be expendable if the Dolphins draft a runner and sign a veteran…if Irelands opinion on Lex Hilliard are true.

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Tags: Alabama CBA Cedrick Benson DeAngelo Williams Demarco Murray Jeff Ireland Jerome Harrison Kendall Hunter LeRon McClain Lex Hilliard Marion Barber Mark Ingram Miami Dolphins Michael Bush NFL NFL Free Agency NFLPA Patrick Cobbs Ricky Williams Ronnie Brown Tony Sparano

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