Which free-agent RB?


Giants need back who does it all

Williamson By Matt Williamson

DeAngelo Williams may be the better player, but Ahmad Bradshaw is the most important free-agent running back to his current team. The Carolina Panthers are deep at the position, and losing Williams wouldn't put a massive dent in their promising running game. The New York Giants need Bradshaw.

Unlike Cedric Benson, Bradshaw, a 25-year-old spark plug, does it all. He's a very physical ball carrier. He lacks Benson's bulk and ability to wear down a defense, but Bradshaw is an exceptional short-yardage runner who inflicts plenty of punishment. He is an extremely competitive runner and a handful to get to the ground. But that is just a part of what he brings. He is also very effective outside the tackles and shows excellent elusiveness in space.

Although Bradshaw needs to hold onto the ball better and has fought his share of injuries -- particularly to his feet -- he plays through pain and has missed just two games over the past three seasons. En route to rushing for a whopping 1,235 yards last season, Bradshaw averaged 4.5 yards per rush. He's averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry over his career. Bradshaw can break the long run. He also received nearly two-thirds of New York's rushing attempts last season. Only a handful of running backs had a better season than Bradshaw in 2010. He is a complete back.

Bradshaw is also fantastic in the passing game. If you haven't watched him pass block, you are truly missing out. In fact, he might just be the best in all of football at it. Bradshaw also is a fine receiving threat. He caught 47 passes last season, and I expect him to build on that as he masters the nuances of running routes out of the backfield and detaching from the formation to cause matchup problems against linebackers.

Bradshaw is an ascending player who does everything well. If the Giants can retain him, he is poised for a monster season running behind a very good offensive line that endured a lot of injuries last season. If the Giants' stable of wide receivers is healthy enough to keep teams from keying on Bradshaw, look out. The Giants would be in disarray without him.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Follow Matt Williamson on Twitter @WilliamsonNFL

Bengals will have to rely on run

Clayton By John Clayton

Cedric Benson might be the most important player to re-sign in all of football, not just at running back.

Thanks in part to Benson's workhorse ability in 2009, the Bengals won the AFC North with 10 wins. Fitting the preferences of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals were a 50-50 run-to-pass team. Head coaches with defensive backgrounds usually prefer a good running presence because it gives the offense a physical style.

The Bengals turned more into a passing team last year. Carson Palmer wanted to go back to his 4,000-yard passing attacks. The team signed Terrell Owens. The season was a disaster. The Bengals went 4-12, and they ended up passing the ball 59.1 percent of the time.

With Palmer expected to sit out the season, Chad Ochocinco expected to be released or traded and Owens gone, the Bengals have no choice but to go to a running game. They now have one of the youngest passing offenses in football, particularly if they go to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton as the starter.

Benson is one of the six or seven backs in the league who can consistently average 20 carries a game. The Bengals can't expect to go to a passing type of offense. The receivers are too young. Dalton has too little experience.

Compared with the other free-agent backs available for their own teams to sign, Benson's importance is enormous. The Panthers will do everything to re-sign DeAngelo Williams, but if he leaves, they still have a good back in Jonathan Stewart. If Ahmad Bradshaw leaves the Giants, they still have Brandon Jacobs. There is more of a chance the Dolphins won't re-sign Ronnie Brown than they will.

But the Bengals would be nothing without Benson. To his credit, he's loved it in Cincinnati. After a bad experience in Chicago, Benson found a home with the Bengals. Players respect him. He's become a valuable running back for Lewis, and this season the offense will get back to the style that suits him best.

The Bengals have to have a workhorse runner to compete in 2011. If they let this horse get away, they aren't going anywhere this fall.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.