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The Arizona Cardinals might need to add some running back help this offseason
The Arizona Cardinals boast one of the NFL’s best running backs in David Johnson. After rushing for over 1,200 yards and totaling more than 2,100 yards and 20 touchdowns, it looks like the team is set at that spot. However, behind Johnson on the depth chart, things are up in the air.
Chris Johnson started 2016 as the primary backup, but suffered a serious injury after playing in just four games. He’s also a free agent, and age and cost might keep him from returning. Andre Ellington played in all 16 games, but didn’t proved much production. He’s a free agent as well. Stephan Taylor and Kerwynn Williams rounded out the list of running backs who played in 2016. Taylor is also a free agent.
Running back is a position that requires solid depth. Injuries are common, and teams are almost required to have a second option off the bench. Right now, the Cardinals don’t have that guy.
Free agency is right around the corner, and the NFL Draft is coming. The Cardinals are going to add a running back through one or the other. Here are five running backs that could be playing in Arizona in 2017.
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Rex Burkhead would add another versatile player to the backfield
Burkhead was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. During his four seasons, he has played little, sitting behind Jeremy HIll and Giovani Bernard. As the 2016 season came to a close, he finally got a chance to show what he could do.
Injuries to Bernard, and Hill’s lackluster performances pressed Burkhead into more and more of a role as the end of the season neared, and he responded. With each game, he flashed quick feet, decisiveness, and an ability to navigate in traffic. It culminated in a week 17 coming out party, where he recorded 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals value versatility in their running backs. The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is important to their offensive scheme, and something they’ll look for in any players they look at. It’s something Burkhead does well. He actually played a little bit of receiver in Cincinnati due to injury, and catches the ball well.
The Bengals have said they want to keep Burkhead, as they have running back issues of their own. If he manages to make it onto the market, expect the Cardinals to take a look.
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Ronnie Hillman is a former starter who could have value
It wasn’t long ago that Ronnie Hillman was a big part of the Denver Broncos offense. He was the leading rusher for the 2015 team that would go on to win a Super Bowl, having ran for 863 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 24 passes.
In 2016, Hillman moved on, splitting his time between the Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers. He didn’t see much action, and had just 131 yards rushing, at a clip of only 3.2 yards per carry. He didn’t have any touchdowns either.
If the Cardinals decide to look at a running back with starting experience, they might not look further than Hillman. He is also a speedy receiver, who could come off of the bench and change the pace, giving them a home run threat outside of Johnson.
Hillman wouldn’t be a big splash in free agency, but he’d be an affordable option who can make some plays in limited action. He’s still young, at 25, and doesn’t have a lot of wear on his legs. The Cardinals don’t need a superstar, but Hillman has had some success in the NFL, and he brings enough talent to possibly be a target this offseason.
Danny Woodhead is the ultimate teammate and third down back
Over the past seven years, Danny Woodhead has been the consummate backup running back in the NFL. He runs the ball with tremendous quickness and vision, he catches the ball well out of the backfield, and he brings a toughness that belies his size.
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Jets, Woodhead finally made a splash after moving to the New England Patriots in 2010. There, his versatility was recognized, and put to use. He carried that multi-functionality to San Diego in 2013.
Woodhead has been an effective ball carrier, boasting a career 4.3 average yards per carry average. However, he’s really at his best as a receiver. He’s twice had more then 75 receptions, and has scored at least seven touchdowns three times in his career. Teammates love him, and he has been a fan favorite, no matter where he’s gone.
At 31, and nearly 32, years old, Woodhead’s age works against him. However, he’s never had to carry a full load, so his legs don’t have too much wear. There are injury concerns. He has had three different seasons ended by injury in his career. Woodhead would be a popular signing, though, and his skill-set fits what the Cardinals need, so he could at least be considered.
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Alvin Kamara is an electric player who makes big plays
The college ranks have some terrific players who could fit the Cardinals offense as well. They’re unlikely to use a first, or even second, round pick on it, but after that, they could address it. Alvin Kamara is a guy who could fit right in.
One of the more explosive players in college football, Kamara is also one of it’s more versatile. In 2015, he totaled 989 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns, and followed that up with 988 total yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. He averaged over six yards per carry in his two years of playing time at Tennessee.
Aside from the numbers, there’s a lot to like with Kamara. His athleticism is evident, and his speed and quick feet are on display every play. He has good hands, and is a natural receiver, adding tremendous value for whichever team drafts him.
The Cardinals have an affinity for players with big-play ability, and few players in the draft fit that mold more than Kamara. He’ll likely be available in the middle rounds, and if his workouts match his game tape, he may very well catch the eyes of the Arizona War Room.
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James Conner is a physical, bruising ball carrier with upside
The days of the big, physical back are somewhat in the past, as speed matters more and more. However, there is some value in having a monster who can push piles, run defenders over, and punish would-be tacklers. James Conner is that guy, and could be a nice addition to the Cardinals.
There aren’t many stories more inspirational than that of Conner, who suffered an injury early in 2015, then was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Despite the setback, he persevered. Conner beat cancer, completed rehab on his knee, and returned with a bang in 2016., recording 1,092 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. He also scored four receiving touchdowns.
Conner isn’t as versatile as the other players on this list, but he is special in his own way. As a runner, he has quick feet, despite his size. At 6’2″ and 240 pounds, He tends to run over defenders rather than go around them, but he can make guys miss. He also has great field vision that allows him to find his way through traffic.
It would be a change from the typical Cardinals running back, but Conner could be a very nice piece for them. David Johnson is a physical runner, but Conner is on another level. A powerful back to wear down defenses would give Arizona another dimension to their offense. He’s a special person that fans would love, and he could be a special player as well.