Three of the more intriguing signings of the NFL offseason involve veteran running backs out to prove they still have something left in the tank. Here is a deeper look at each situation.
NFL veteran running backs in new places
Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints
Even though it has been a few years, any guy who rushes for over 2,000 yards the season after blowing out his knee is worth taking a flyer on. Drew Brees is amazing and he is going to retire with a bunch of records to prove it.
However, the 38-year-old is not getting any younger and is in the final year of his contract. New Orleans has struggled in a big way to find the right scheme and personnel on defense for the last several years. The Saints lost three games in which they scored 30+ points during last year’s seven win campaign. That should never happen.
There is no reason to think that the defense will be anything other than slightly improved at best. Assuming that is the case, pairing a highly motivated Peterson with Mark Ingram is as good a way as any to try and ensure that Brees will not have to throw for 5000 yards in 2017 for the Saints to be even remotely competitive.
Jamaal Charles, Denver Broncos: One of the single biggest reasons Denver’s season started to go sideways last year was the season-ending injury to running back C.J. Anderson in late October.
The Broncos were a top-ten rushing team prior to the injury. Following the injury, running back became a revolving door for Denver. By the final quarter of the season, Trevor Siemian attempting 40+ passes a game became commonplace. Regardless of offensive line play or who the quarterback is in 2017, that is not a formula for success in Denver.
Adding Charles to a crowded Broncos backfield that features a now healthy Anderson and second year man Devontae Booker among others, means a 30-year-old who has played in just eight games in two years is not even a lock to make the roster.
However, Charles is among the all-time leaders in yards per carry. Two or three runs of ten yards or more in each game would make a world of difference for this team.
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders: Even with Al Davis gone for several years now, the Raiders continue to operate unconventionally. Bringing this 31-year-old out of retirement who has not played a full season since 2014 is the latest example of this.
While Lynch returning to play for his hometown team is a nice story, this has never made much sense to me. Like the other two signings, the contract is very low risk-high reward. Even so, with Latavius Murray now in Minnesota, the running back situation is quite murky for the Raiders. Lynch is the only proven NFL ball carrier on the roster.
Unless someone separates themselves in training camp and the preseason, Lynch will likely be asked to preform feature back duties. For the reasons above, it is hard to see that turning out well.
There is no substitute for live game action. That is something Lynch has not seen in a long time. Murray is a guy who dealt with a lot of nagging injuries, but still managed to be fairly productive. He rushed for a total of over 1,800 yards in his final two seasons in Oakland. It is baffling to me that the Raiders made virtually no effort to keep him while rolling out the red carpet for Lynch.
In theory, the running game is supposed to take pressure off of the quarterback. Even with a solid running game spearheaded by Murray last year, it often felt like Derek Carr was carrying this team. Look no further than what happened to this team in the final two games of last year after Carr’s late-season injury.
They were outscored 51-20 and sent home in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. While the Raiders stood very little chance with Connor Cook starting in his first career game, the Raiders barely broke 50 yards rushing in their defeat to Houston.
The running game did not step up then. With nothing more than a rusty Lynch and a bunch of talented but unproven commodities on the roster now, it is hard to imagine the upcoming season being much different in that regard. The Raiders had simply better hope and pray that Carr can stay healthy.