QB comparison: Orton vs. Kolb
With actual football upon us again, it's time for teams to look hard at the best trades and free-agent acquisitions to fill their rosters. The 2011 class of free agent running backs isn't full of elite talent, but there are some interesting options for teams looking to add scheme-specific backs to their rosters. Of the backs able to fit into just about any situation, Carolina's DeAngelo Williams(notes) and Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) of the Giants are the best of the bunch.
Before he was placed on injured reserve in mid-November with a foot injury, Williams kept his place as the Panthers' feature back, even with almost no passing offense to speak of and Jonathan Stewart(notes) nipping at his heels. Williams is a pure power back who can push a pile of defenders and take linebackers to the woodshed. Bradshaw took over more and more of the Giants' running game when the formerly mega-powerful Brandon Jacobs(notes) started to lose effectiveness, and his well-rounded skill set should make him a very appealing target on the market.
Pure power or impressive versatility – which does your team need, and who might fit best in the backfield?
DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Drafted: First round, 27th overall in 2006 (Carolina Panthers)
Drafted: Seventh round, 250th overall in 2007 (New York Giants)
2010 stats: 87 carries, 631 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 4 touchdowns
2010 stats: 276 carries, 1,235 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns
Inside running: Runs frequently out of I-formation for Carolina, but seems to be more effective in single-back sets where he can analyze gaps on the fly. Follows fullback blocks well at times, but takes too long to get up to speed and hit the hole. Active and aggressive in finding gaps and trying to blast through with power when he does get to the line. Tough and determined runner after first contact – especially if he gets past the front line and is blasting past linebackers, he will fight for extra yards. Persistent power back who likes to wear a defense down over time. Can make quick cuts at linebacker depth to elude defenders.
Inside running: For a "shifty" back, Bradshaw is surprisingly willing to stand up to contact, bounce off defenders and fight for extra yardage. Outstanding and constantly opportunistic cutback runner who will make the most of the smallest opening – he'll turn quickly to gain extra yards against the grain. Patient in letting his blocks develop and quick to reach top speed in a straight line. Very tough to tackle at linebacker depth and beyond, especially between the hashmarks, because he's constantly angling for space. His quick feet allow him to cut on a dime and maintain functional downfield speed. Very mean and aggressive after contact, which is good and bad: He'll punish defenders, but also is prone to fumble more than you'd like.
Outside running: A better straight-line runner outside than he is at cutting back – lack of short-area speed could be the issue there. Great impact runner when he gets up to speed downfield; very tough to stop when he has a full head of steam. Likes to cut outside on fake passes to handoffs. When he's not set upon immediately, he has the ability to churn through short spaces and get upfield.
Outside running: Great at bouncing off his blocks, or slipping off to find another gap outside if one closes up. When following blocks outside or heading off-tackle on a designed play, Bradshaw is smooth but not blazingly fast – it takes him a bit of time to hit optimal speed and he'll lose ground to outside linebackers and ends, whereas quicker backs will hit the edge and go. Good at fighting linebacker and defensive backs downfield; he doesn't have to slow down to deliver a blow.
Blocking: Williams is a willing blocker when required, but because he played so much in I-formation and was frequently an open read for his quarterbacks, he tended to sit in zones or await blitzing defenders more than he'd head out looking to get physical in pass protection.
Blocking: Like Williams, Bradshaw frequently headed out to routes out of I-formation while the fullback stays into block. He's a willing blocker but doesn't really have the upper-body strength to bull a linebacker back. He's more a pesky blocker who can slow defenders down on the way to the quarterback.
Receiving: This is not one of his primary attributes, but Williams is serviceable enough as a screen back, especially out of shotgun. Runs play-action well and gets into position to catch quickly either in the flat or in short areas upfield. Will stick at the line to block before releasing to his route. Elusive upfield once he turns his shoulders; aggressive with contact and stiff-arms to get extra yardage.
Receiving: Quick to the flat or out of a block release, Bradshaw looks like a receiver when he hits the open field. He gets up to speed nicely, has great cuts and turns on the jets when he can. Good quick turn with the catch to get upfield. In the right kind of offense, he has legitimate 70-80-catch potential, and flaring him outside to increase his total touches while keeping his carries under control would be an ideal way to integrate him into a balanced offense.
Conclusion: While Carolina's horrible quarterback situation left Williams facing seven and eight men in the box too often last year, the Panthers also run as many 2- and 3-tight-end sets as any team in the league. The extra blocking makes that issue a relative wash. However, Williams could thrive as the lead back in a more wide-open offense – paired with a passing attack that forced defenses to stretch out and alter personnel to attack passing sets (let's be honest – blitzing the Panthers in 2010 wasn't exactly necessary), he could return to form as one of the best every-down backs in the NFL. Pair him with a shifty, speedy "lightning" back and take him out of the I-formation box, and Williams still has the ability to take a good passing team over the top.
Conclusion: In the end, I think that Bradshaw is miscast as a speed back. That perception of him is based on his role opposite the 270-pound Brandon Jacobs. He projects best as the ideal hybrid back (think Ronnie Brown(notes)) who can hit the hole inside, cut back, catch passes and do it all with aplomb. Not quite a three-down feature back, Bradshaw still has the versatility to become the point man in a varied system where power is mixed with an efficient aerial attack. He's more that than the lightning to someone else's thunder.
Doug Farrar is a writer for Yahooâs Shutdown Corner blog and a senior writer for Football Outsiders.