Help Wanted: Search For Running Back Replacement Begins For The Cardinals

By Mike Pendleton

Running back-by-committee, one phrase that fantasy football owners hate but NFL teams love. In this age of the NFL we see the average span of a running back’s career is between 3-5 years. While we don’t always want to admit it, there isn’t another running back like Adrian Peterson.

It really is sad to see any player get hurt in the NFL, it really sucks when that player is a young rookie who has a chance to make an impact. With rookie Ryan Williams out for 9-12 months (news he broke on Twitter today) it seems likely that the Cardinals will use free agency to find another running back.

While some Cardinal fans are calling for LaRod Stephens-Howling to get his shot, I say hold the phone. Just like the Bears’ movement of Devin Hester to wide receiver I think if Howling who is an excellent kick returner is moved to more of a running back role, it may hurt his special teams value.

Defense, special teams, and a consistent offense is what leads teams to the Super Bowl, so you don’t to take away the team’s best return man and make him a running back. With that being said, here are my top 5 options that the Cardinals should pursue. No particular order, they are listed with career games played, rushing yards, receiving yards, rushing touchdowns and receiving touchdowns.

Clinton Portis- 9 years of NFL experience, played in 113 career games (has struggled with knee injuries and concussions as of late), 9,923 career rushing yards, 75 career touchdowns, 2,018 career receiving yards, and five  career receiving touchdowns. Now many people may cringe when seeing Portis’ name because almost everyone knows that he gets hurt at some point.  Portis is certainly the most talented out of the five listed and if the Cardinals could sign him to a 1-year deal, it may work out to perfection. Portis did show up overweight to Patriots camp, but a chance to get serious time in ‘Zona may motivate him.

Correll Buckhalter- 10 years of NFL experience, played in 103 career games (missed multiple seasons due to surgery), 2,944 career rushing yards, 21 career touchdowns, 1,410 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.  Buckhalter isn’t a power back, more of an elusive-speedster, although he’s suffered injuries he is still capable of a back-up role with veteran leadership.

Kevin Smith- 3 years of NFL experience. Played in 35 career games (knee injuries kept him out), 1,856 career rushing yards, 12 career touchdowns, 824 career receiving yards and one career touchdown. Kevin Smith is easily the youngest of the bunch but there comes a time when your “potential” runs out of time. If Smith can’t prove he’s healthy and can make an impact, he may not have the chance to find a home. Maybe,  just maybe, a change of scenery is what he needs.

Laurence Maroney- 5 years of NFL experience. Played in 49 career games (missed time due to injuries), 2,504 career rushing yards, 21 career touchdowns, 459 career receiving yards, and one career touchdown. My personal pick outside of Portis is certainly Maroney. Whether it was playing with Tom Brady or just being used in the right role, he fit in New England. While he did struggle in Denver, they didn’t really use the run game that much. Maroney is young enough to make a difference (26) but also 5 years of experience, giving him veteran status.

Tiki Barber- Coming back from 4 years of retirement. Played in 154 career games (injuries and age), 10,449 career rushing yards, 55 career touchdowns, 5,183 career receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. It is SO hard to put Tiki on this list but I had to, just because, he needs hope. Every Cardinal fan remembers what was said about Kurt Warner who was a former Giant when he came to Arizona. Not saying Tiki would be the running back to lead ‘Zona to the promise land, BUT Tiki certainly has more than enough motivation to prove everyone wrong.

This isn’t the most attractive list and many Cardinal fans may just say “We shouldn’t have traded Tim Hightower” and while that may be true, injuries are a phase we have no control over. These were the top five (in my opinion) running backs who can make a difference for the Cardinals.

Most of these players should be more than willing to accept a one-year deal which is exactly what the Cardinals are looking for. Here’s the good news: If the Cardinals can find a veteran free agent to come in and help the 2011 team, we can certainly expect big things out of Ryan Williams in 2012. Simply put, Williams’ potential won’t be lost in one season, and he would be damned if everyone gave up on him.

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