Sure, it's a passing league, but everyone needs a reliable man in their backfield. Fortunately for the teams that don't have established rushers, there will be a market for them in 2013. There will be plenty of marquee players and value pickups to be made once free agency gets underway.
Depending on the offensive system, a team could feasibly sign of the following unheralded names and hit gold. And although there are going to be question marks surrounding many of them, each one of these players brings value to one degree or another.
Here is a list of the top-10 available running backs this offseason:
Rashard Mendenhall: The former feature back in Pittsburgh had a bit of a rough 2012. He missed most of the season due to injury, then was benched, and hasn't been all that effective when he is on the field. He does have a history of success, and some team is likely to bring him in for a consistent grinding back that can pick up tough yards and carry a heavy load. More time removed from his knee injury should help bring some of his bounce back.
Reggie Bush: Bush has enjoyed a career resurgence in Miami, where he rushed for 1,000 yards in 2011, and came just 14 yards away in 2012. He had a combined 262 touches between carries and receptions while staying healthy, which dispels a bit the notion that he can't take a pounding for an entire season. He could be ready to cash in with a team looking for a dangerous, versatile weapon.
Peyton Hillis: Hillis has seen his carries dwindle in the past two seasons, but that may be more about the emergence of Jamaal Charles than anything. He has a 1,000-yard season under his belt, and he could certainly has the ability to be an excellent short yardage back if teams don't want to give him the 270 carries that he had in 2010. At just 26 and relatively unused over the past few seasons, he still has a chance to be effective for years to come.
Steven Jackson: Jackson is about to hit that magical 30-year wall where running back production seems to plummet. He seems to be a prime candidate for that, as he has logged 2,395 carries in the NFL. But Jackson was productive once again, rushing for his 8th-straight 1,000-yard season in 2012. With Jeff Fisher's Rams leaning toward Daryl Richardson, Jackson is sure to end up elsewhere. He could go to one of the high-octane passing teams in 2013 and extend his playing career, while vying for a title.
Chris Ivory: Ivory is a young and experienced ball player that doesn't have a lot of mileage on him. Coming from the Saints' attack-by-committe, the third-year RB has not had an opportunity to carry the load and solidify his spot in an NFL backfield. This coming offseason, the 24-year-old Ivory should have an opportunity to shop his services to a team willing to give him a more prominent role. With a career average of 5.1 yards-per-carry, Ivory would be a great value pickup.
Danny Woodhead: Woodhead sure has enjoyed some good times in New England. During his brief career, his effort on the field has been more indicative of the player he is, rather than statistics. In four NFL seasons, Woodhead has accumulated over 1,000 yards receiving & over 1,000 yards rushing. He is a system back in New England, but an important role player, nonetheless. Woodhead is a chain-mover and do-it-all type back. But he won't test the open market thinking he'll be a featured back on another team.
Cedric Benson: It seemed like a win-win when the Green Bay Packers signed Cedric Benson for their 2012 campaign. Unfortunately for the veteran running back, it ended all too soon. Benson was an every-down back for Green Bay before his year was cut short with a season-ending foot injury. Next year, Benson will be 31-years-old, fresh off surgery and looking for a new home. It's going to be tough considering team's are finding guys like Alfred Morris and Arian Foster in the late rounds or even as UDFA's. And with over 6,000 career rushing yards, he doesn't have the freshest legs anymore.
Shonn Greene: At age 27, Greene should be finding his groove in the NFL right about now. Although, he has been in some less than favorable situations with the New York Jets. And even though the team was as poor as it gets, and the passing game provided no threat whatsoever, Greene still fought for 1,063 yards and 8 touchdowns. Green has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons (2011, 2012) and could be rewarded somewhere this offseason, if not by New York.
Ryan Grant: The unfortunate truth for Grant is that he is already 30-years-old. He is a 6-year vet that really does not possess the resume to realistically get back in the game and be a factor somewhere. In 2013-14 NFL season, he will likely be what he was before this year: the second or third best name on the free agent wire in case someone gets hurt. Grant found work in Green Bay after Cedric Benson and Alex Green went down, but shined late in the season. Hopefully he earned himself a look by the Packers and other teams in the league.
LeGarrette Blount: This was a guy that came into the NFL league with character issues, but has since been humbled by his experiences. He journeyed to San Francisco and Tennessee before landing in Tampa Bay, where he hit the ground running -- no pun intended. He became a human highlight reel in 2010 and 2011, jumping over guys and barreling through others. No matter, Blount was squeezed out by new head coach Greg Schiano and RB Doug Martin. Blount only received 41 carries in 2012 after running for nearly 1,800 yards in his first two seasons with the team. Blount will be a great pickup; he's a big physical guy with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
More than most, the teams in the league that tend to lean heavily on the pass should look to bulk up their backfield. Organizations like Detroit and Green Bay, for instance, could upgrade by signing someone like LeGarrette Blount, Steven Jackson or even Reggie Bush.
While their old teams don't quite value them the same, they could find new homes elsewhere and be difference-makers. Again, the NFL landscape could shift once these running backs scatter about the league, finding new teams.