1. Steven Jackson (STL) – Jackson has a player option for 2013 but has said he wants to test the free agent waters. The St. Louis brass claim they want him back in uniform, but the $7 million they owe him for next season might be better spent to relieve cap space before the NFL Draft. Jackson has a lot of mileage on his 29-year-old body, and he’s one of the more battle-tested free agents available (Cedric Benson and Brandon Jacobs are two more who didn’t quite make this list). It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Jackson comes back to the Rams, but whatever happens, it’s hard to see him reversing his statistical descent. He’s best avoided in fantasy drafts until the younger, more dynamic backs are off the board.
The Best Fit: Broncos, Falcons, Rams
2. Reggie Bush (MIA) – While Bush isn’t a workhorse back, he brings a healthy dose of experience and explosiveness as a free agent addition to just about any team. As a pass catcher, Bush is nearly unrivaled, and he’s still capable of spectacular touchdown scampers. The team that corrals Bush will likely have to throw big money at the veteran scatback. There’s a good chance Miami just bites the bullet and does it themselves, but the Lions make sense for obvious reasons—Jahvid Best is done and the team, in desperation, tried out several journeymen at feature back in 2012. Bush is still a solid No. 2 fantasy RB if he lands in the right situation.
The Best Fit: Lions, Packers, Jets
3. Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) – The Giants recently cut Bradshaw to clear $2.75 million in cap space, signifying their confidence in 2012 draft pick David Wilson, who showed glimpses of brilliance last season but struggled with ball protection. Bradshaw has his own baggage, including a pair of brittle ankles that could always turn into multiple spans of unavailability. The 26-year-old veteran is still a solid playmaker with plenty of upside, but the pass-first team that takes a shot on him probably won’t be using him for much more than 12–15 touches per game, limiting his fantasy value.
The Best Fit: Packers, Falcons, Cards
4. Rashard Mendenhall (PIT) – Mendenhall found himself in the Steelers doghouse last season after spending the first few weeks on the PUP list recovering from a 2011 ACL tear. His first game back (Week 5 against Philly) was a nice little revelation (13 carries for 68 yards and 3-33-1 receiving), but he quickly lost luster after battling with coaches and eventually not showing up for a game. There are a handful of teams that could use a punishing back like Mendenhall, but don’t except a long-term deal until the 25-year-old, former 1000-yard rusher proves he can still handle a full season of touches.
The Best Fit: Bengals, Rams, Chargers
5. Shonn Greene (NYJ) – The much-embattled Greene will probably be moving on from the Jets, who haven’t been happy with his performance and will look to a committee spearheaded by Bilal Powell and change-of-pace back Joe McKnight. In 2011, Greene ran for 1,054 yards and six touchdowns (4.2 YPC), but he’s been a disappointment as a workhorse back. He’s still a capable fantasy option because he’s a grinder and makes perfect sense as a goal-line back—he just doesn’t break off too many big runs. In a perfect world, he’d find himself as the short-yardage back to complement Jamaal Charles in Kansas City or with another organization that could use a sturdy plodder.
The Best Fit: Chiefs, Bengals, Raiders