Could Matt Forte be running away from the Chicago Bears in free agency? (Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE)

NFL Free Agency 2012 Preview: Running Backs

In today’s free agency preview, we look at the running backs. In 2012 it is definitely a buyers market with a large number of outstanding runners available. While a few may appear out of reach as their teams are expected to retain them, the fact that there are so many options out there means that perhaps they won’t get the premium offer they expect causing them to look elsewhere. Here’s a look at the top free agents this offseason.

1. Ray Rice – Ravens

Ray Rice is one of the most talented running backs in the NFL and in the top 5 of anyone’s list. He’s as talented a runner, blocker and pass catcher as there is in the league. It’s almost certain that he remains with the highly successful Baltimore Ravens as he is in a very good situation there and loves his team. Still, that won’t stop teams from trying to woo him should they get the opportunity.

Possible landing spots: BAL

2. Matt Forte – Bears

As with Rice, Forte is an amazingly gifted athlete who can fill every role expected of a running back in today’s NFL. Unlike Rice, Forte has had some real issues with the way he has been treated in Chicago and is rumored to be looking to move on. Recognizing Forte’s worth, the Bears will do everything they can to retain him. In fact, it is said that a huge reason for Jerry Angelo being fired as Bears GM is because he has handled Forte’s situation so poorly. Even with that, right now I’d have the odds at 50/50 as to whether Forte stays in Chi-town.

Possible landing spots: CHI, DEN, DAL, TB, DET, NYG, WAS, GB, NYJ, IND, CIN, CLE

3. Marshawn Lynch – Seahawks

Beast Mode has exploded onto the scene in the past 18 months showing all the talent that made him a top pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Lynch is a talented, bruising runner who can make defenders miss. However, Lynch’s style requires his offensive line to hold up in order to give him the room to make the moves. With that being said, Lynch was picked 12th overall in 2007 because he is an extremely talented running back and in my opinion is still deserving of that standing. Should he decide to leave Seattle, expect Lynch to seek a situation where he has little competition as he has shown in the past he doesn’t like having to share the work.

Possible landing spots: SEA, GB, IND, CIN, CLE, CHI

4. Peyton Hillis – Browns

Hillis is the true definition of a bowling ball type of back. He doesn’t run around defenders – he runs THROUGH them. The problem with this style of play is that it makes Hillis vulnerable to injury and he has had a multitude of injury problems in his short time at the top of the NFL. These issues have prompted the Browns to make it known that they are unlikely to retain the former fullback’s services. For the sake of his career, Hillis should be looking for a team that has a talented elusive-type back who he can compliment helping Hillis to limit his snaps and continue to be effective.

Possible landing spots: KC, PHI, NYG, BAL, DET

5. Benjarvus Green-Ellis – Patriots

The Law Firm (as he likes to be called) has thrived in a Patriots backfield that over the years has been tough to live in with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick preferring to use three or four different backs for various roles. That was just as true in 2011 with Green-Ellis having stiff competition from rookies Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, as well as returning veteran Kevin Faulk and, bizarrely, tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Only one year removed from a 1000 yard season in 2010, Green-Ellis is keen to remain with the Superbowl contending Patriots but with two young competitors for his job in Ridley and Vereen he may be looking for a new home in 2012.

Possible landing spots: NE, CIN, KC, DEN, IND, NYG, PHI, GB, CLE

6. Ryan Grant – Packers

Grant has seen better days. A talented downhill runner, he has not been the same since suffering a serious turf toe injury a couple of years ago. With James Starks now the top dog of the Green Bay runners, Grant is likely to be moving on. He’s not likely to cost much but should he return to top form he may turn out to be the steal of the 2012 free agent class.

Possible landing spots: IND, KC, CIN, DEN, PHI, TB, CLE, CHI, NYG

Restricted – Arian Foster, Kalil Bell

Exclusive Rights – LaGarrette Blount, Issac Redman

Watch out for – Cedric Benson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Bush

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Tags: Benjarvus Green-ellis Marshawn Lynch Matt Forte NFL Nfl Free Agency NFL News Peyton Hillis Ray Rice Ryan Grant

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