Top 5 free agent running backs for 2015

The value of running backs has plummeted over the past few years, and we expect a similar sort of market for them again this offseason. However, there could be a few surprises in the works.

Here are the top five free agent options in 2015:

2015 top 5 nfl free agent running backs
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Top 5 free agent running backs for 2015

*Just missed the cut: Ryan Mathews, Ahmad Bradshaw, Frank Gore

Bradshaw and Gore are nearing the end of their careers. Bradshaw has been productive, including last season, but is constantly battling injury after injury. He’ll be 29 by the time training camp begins and is coming off a broken leg, so he’s a flier more than anything.

Gore, the ageless wonder, will be 32 in the spring. He just rushed for a fourth straight 1,000-yard season, but inevitably he’s going to begin to decline. Right?

Mathews has flashed signs of being a promising back, but injuries have constantly been in an issue in the early part of his career. That track record is a red flag to other NFL teams, which means he’s likely will wind up staying put in San Diego, where he has found success at times over the last two seasons.

(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

5. Stevan Ridley

The No. 5 spot was difficult to pick, but we had to go with Ridley. The former LSU star has been ultra-productive with New England, though his positive contributions have been negated by his fumbling issues.

In 2012 Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards on 290 carries and found the end zone a dozen times. But sharing carries in 2013 and an early season trip to the I.R. this year have somewhat derailed his career.

Ridley is 26 and is capable of being a true No. 1 running back. Fumbling is the chief concern, but it’s obviously something other backs have gotten over while in the NFL. He may come at a cheaper price than Murray or Ingram, and could wind up being a steal.

(Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

4. C.J. Spiller

Like Vereen, Spiller is more of a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. He’s most dangerous when he’s in space. In 2012 he put forth a career year, rushing for more than 1,200 yards and adding more than 450 yards as a receiver.

That 2012 season was under the tutelage of former Bills coach Chan Gailey, now the Jets’ offensive coordinator. Gang Green will likely be in the market for a change-of-pace back, assuming they part ways with Johnson.

Spiller has had back-to-back down years in 2013 and 2014 under Doug Marrone, so his value may be low entering free agency. Still, at 27 with that range of skills, he’ll generate a market.

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

3. Shane Vereen

One of the Super Bowl heroes, Vereen has often been heralded for his ability as a receiver out of the backfield. That was the difference as he continued to move the chains on third-down against the Seahawks earlier this month. Perhaps doing it with a national audience has other NFL teams chomping at the bit to add his skills to their offense.

While New England utilized Vereen mainly as a pass-catcher, he does have the ability to be a true running back. It’ll be interesting to see if other teams view him in the same light.

Vereen has never carried the ball 100 times in a season yet in four years, but does boast a 4.2 yard per carry average. Perhaps his next team will allow him to prove he’s no one-trick pony.

(Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)

2. Mark Ingram

The former Heisman Trophy winner put forth a career year in his fourth NFL season, totaling 964 yards and nine touchdowns in nine starts. Ingram battled a shoulder injury much of the season.

The Saints don’t feature their running backs, so Ingram never had the opportunity to be a true workhorse as he’s cut out to be. However, when Ingram churned out 20-plus carry games, he eclipsed 100 yards four times.

At 25 years old without much mileage on his tires, Ingram is an intriguing free-agent option for teams in need of a powerful, between-the-tackles runner. The Saints likely want him back, but there will definitely be competition.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

1. DeMarco Murray

The NFL’s leading rusher in 2014 inevitably leads off this list. After a career year in Dallas, Murray is set to break the bank. The question is which team is willing to fork over the cash.

Murray, who played his college ball at Oklahoma, is a perfect fit to stay close by in Dallas and eat up yards behind that stout offensive line. However, he thinks his value is greater than what Jerry Jones has reportedly offered him (four years, just over $16 million).

Last offseason, Chris Johnson earned the richest deal (two years, $10 million), while most settled for three- or four-year deals worth between $2 and 3.5 million. Murray is way more talented than any of the backs available last year, but also has been an injury risk. If he’s seeking big-time dollars, he picked the wrong era to be a running back.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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