While signing or trading for high profile players sometimes works, it does not guarantee success. A couple years ago Carolina overspent to re-sign DeAngelo Williams. Meanwhile Darren Sproles became an impact pickup for New Orleans. Matt Flynn, Mario Williams, Mario Manningham, and Brandon Lloyd were sought after last year but didn't produce big numbers during the season. This year a lot of talk will center around Reggie Bush and to a lesser extent Rashard Mendenhall and Ahmad Bradshaw. However, there are a handful of under-the-radar running backs that could help a needy team.
Spending big bucks on an aging running back may work for a year or two. But if you are seeking a diamond in the rough, why not make a smaller investment in a younger higher upside talent? Kahlil Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Jonathan Dwyer, Javon Ringer, and Danny Woodhead all deserve an opportunity to play somewhere. At the right price, they could be the bargain that breaks out in 2013.
On his first NFL carry Bears running back Kahlil Bell rushed for a 72 yard touchdown. Undrafted out of UCLA, Bell has been on three teams since 2009. He averaged 5.5 yards per rush as a rookie with Chicago and tallied 4.3 yards a carry on a career high 79 rushing attempts in 2011 with the Bears. He has only played in 27 games, with most of them involving just a carry or two, yet has raced for 15 yards or more in seven different games. He will not get a starting job, but will provide budget depth to a team in need.
After falling out of favor with rookie Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano last year, LeGarrette Blount is seeking a new home. The Oregon product rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie. He averaged five yards per carry his first season in the league. Two years ago he gained 781 yards on the ground and caught 15 passes for 148 yards. Blount might best be known for his temper which got him in trouble for throwing a punch during a game at Oregon. After being signed out of college by the Titans he was involved in a training camp scuffle. In the right system he will compete for carries.
Jonathan Dwyer received little opportunity from the Steelers prior to 2012. A sixth round draft pick out of Georgia Tech, Dwyer finally got his chance last season thanks to injuries to Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. In his first two starts Dwyer rushed for 122 yards and 107 yards against Cincinnati and Washington. While his numbers slowed after that, in the Steelers last game of the year he rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries against Cleveland. That is the type of effort that should make Dwyer a second back for somebody.
At one point Mel Kiper ranked Javon Ringer the top running back in the class of 2009. The second leading rusher in Michigan State history, Ringer was picked by the Titans in the fifth round. He played sparingly as a rookie, and was injured last season. In 2010 he averaged 4.7 yards a carry. Only twice in his career has Ringer had more than 10 carries in a game, and both times he produced. He totaled 50 yards on 11 touches against the Jaguars in 2010, and gained 102 yards on 19 touches two years ago against the Colts. Tennessee was 3-0 in games Ringer rushed nine times or more.
In four NFL seasons Danny Woodhead has rushed for more than 1,200 yards while averaging 4.8 yards a carry. Twice the winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy as the top Division II player, the Jets signed Woodhead out of Chadron State. Woodhead's 3,159 all purpose yards with Chadron State in 2006 is the second most productive season for a back in the history of college football (Barry Sanders totaled 3,250 yards in 1988 at Oklahoma State). The last three years with New England Woodhead has been a productive member of a crowded backfield. He averaged 5.6 yards a carry in 2010, and scored a Super Bowl touchdown two years ago. In much the same way that BenJarvus Green Ellis left the Patriots last year for Cincinnati, if Woodhead finds a team to give him consistent carries, he can be a piece to the backfield puzzle.
Players need an opportunity to succeed. None of the five players mentioned will get paid a huge sum of money. Each is worth an investment to see whether they can be an impact performer.