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Free Agency: Running Backs the Chargers Should Consider

The San Diego Chargers will be looking to replace Ronnie Brown and possibly create a backup plan if Ryan Mathews leaves next year. Can they do that through this offseason's crop of free agents?

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We're a little over a month away from the new calender year for the NFL, which is when teams can officially negotiate new contracts with free agents, on March 11. Free agency is a period where teams are either plugging holes at positions that they missed in the draft, or putting in final pieces to the puzzle to make the strong push towards the playoffs. The San Diego Chargers don't fall into either particular category.

San Diego is far from a finished product as a complete team, but they've hit on over 40% of their draft picks the last four ears, which is high. The Chargers' issue, as we all know, is depth, and that's another place where teams might dip into free agency. I'd guess this year we'll see Tom Telesco use free agency to find depth for a few positions.

I'll be going over each position in free agency over the next month, looking for potential targets. A few weeks ago Nick Shepherd wrote about the running backs, and today I'll go over some running backs in free agency I think the Chargers should target.

In 2013, Ryan Mathews was fantastic, and Danny Woodhead is the ideal complimentary back. The issue is that Mathews got "dinged" quite a bit down the stretch and seemingly missed the end of every game, and with Woodhead the cliche "less is more" couldn't be more true. With Ronnie Brown being a restricted free agent, a backup is needed to replace him either via free agency or through the draft.

(I'm leaning towards the draft based on history. In Mike McCoy's 9 years in Carolina, the philosophy was to draft a RB, run him into the ground, let him walk after four years, rinse and repeat)

PFF made a chart of available RB's, and included their age, how many snaps they played in 2013, and what their grade was for last year. I'll pretend I'm general manager Tom Telesco for this exercise. These are some things I'd be looking for.

  • Under 27
  • Can Run between the tackles
  • "Fresh Legs"
  • Good in pass protection
  • Injury Free

This isn't what you would consider a "stop gap" position. Ideally, you want to land someone that is young enough to take over for Mathews next year if he ends up walking. This takes out popular names like Maurice Jones-Drew, Joique Bell, and Ahmad Bradshaw. Not that either of these 3 aren't good players, they are, they just don't fit what you're trying to do as an organization.

You want a guy that'll be able to run between the tackles. This is in the event Mathews isn't able to finish games, or for when he needs a series off here and there. You also want "fresh legs", or guys that don't have a million carries to their name already. You also can't get too predictive, so the RB is going to have to protect the QB. Lastly, you don't want a long list of injuries, especially if he's replacing a guy that has similar issues.

This eliminates talented guys like Darren McFadden/Andre Brown (injuries), Knowshon Moreno (coming off 349 touches). You can bank on Ben Tate being a starter somewhere for far more money. So this leaves three guys left who fit with actual upside.

Donald Brown

Yes, Brown has an injury history. He has suffered a few "dings", but it's hard to ignore the fact that Telesco and the Colts were so high on him, spending a 1st round draft pick to get him. Though Brown is only 210 pounds, he has good power in between the tackles. He runs with good pad level through the hole and that allows him to break tackles. 60% of Brown's yards came after contact this year.

The fresh legs are there, over the last four years Brown has averaged 125 carries a year, so he's used to splitting carries. Finally he has experience in pass protection (116 snaps in '13 compared to 20 by Mathews). Brown looks comfortable picking up blitzers and understands where they are coming from. He's not going to over power them, but he's serviceable.

Toby Gerhart

This is an interesting name, a player who has only 276 carries in his career, Gerhart is the definition of fresh legs. I shouldn't have to say this because he's gigantic, but running between the tackles isn't an issue with Gerhart. He's an ideal power back who averaged 3.8 yards after contact in 36 carries during the '13 season. He also showed he can bust them long (runs of 41, 32, and 26 this year).

Gerhart had some hamstring issues that kept him out of the final game, but it's not fair to eliminate him because of this. In limited action, he still had double the snaps in pass protection and is another guy that understands how to pick up blitzes.

LeGarrette Blount

Add another Patriot to the backfield? Of each of the RBs, I came away most impressed with Blount. He understands pass protection the best (small sample size) and is probably the most talented of the backs. It's hard to describe Blount as a player if you've never seen him run. He's not fast, but he outruns defenders. He's 240+ pounds, but he doesn't run like a power back. Then you watch him, and he's breaking tackles left and right.

I know he comes with baggage, and had a knee injury back in college, but if the Chargers were to address the RB position via free agency, this would be my pick. He just gets the job done. He has the patience/vision to run the zone scheme that the Chargers like, but can also convert short yardage situations. On passing downs, there won't be issues with picking up blitzers.

These would be my top 3 choices available, who would you rather the Chargers sign? Or should they just wait for the draft?