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Ten running backs worth pursuing in free agency/2020 NFL Draft

Over the next several months, the rosters of all 32 teams will begin to take shape for the 2020 season. In this series, writers and analysts look at the best players available via free agency or the NFL draft at the following positions: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive back and pass rusher. Today, Michael Robinson looks at the top 10 running backs worth pursuing.

1) Derrick Henry, free agent

Henry's workload steadily increased over his four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, proving he is a desired bell cow who can carry a team. In 2019, Henry led the league and set career highs in carries (303), rush yards (1,540) and rush TDs (16), while averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry (also a career best) and leading the Titans to a deep playoff run. The combination of his size (6-foot-3, 247 pounds), speed and nasty stiff arm make Henry utterly impossible to bring down. In fact, he averaged 4.2 yards after contact (most in the NFL, min. 100 carries) and forced 58 missed tackles on rushes, according to Pro Football Focus. The way Henry took over games should entice any running back-needy team to look his way.

2) Kenyan Drake, free agent

Drake looked like an entirely different player after being traded to Arizona in late October. He averaged 3.7 yards per carry in six games with the Dolphins before finding his stride in Kliff Kingsbury's offense down the stretch. In Weeks 9-17 with the Cardinals, Drake ranked in the top six in many major rushing categories, including yards (643) and touchdowns (eight). We've just seen a glimpse of what Drake is capable of in the passing game, too, as a guy who's a spread speedster out of the backfield.

The top running backs in 2019 were all in their rookie contracts, so it'd be stupid not to look at the top player at the position in this year's draft class. Swift is a dynamic runner suited to be an every-down back at the next level. He played in all 14 games last season, but battled a shoulder injury that limited him to 11 starts. If Swift can avoid injury, expect him to be an instant-impact player as a rookie.

4) Kareem Hunt, free agent

Hunt has been one of the top running backs (when he's on the field) since he entered the league in 2017. As a powerful zone runner and unmatched weapon out of the backfield, he immediately impacts the run and pass games just by being on the field. Hunt is elusive when running between the tackles or out in space, as he's forced a missed tackle on 24.7 percent of rushes since 2017, the highest percentage in the NFL in that span of players with a minimum of 275 rushes. In addition to his off-field concerns -- and thereare several -- the important thing to know here is that he's a restricted free agent. The Browns can choose to place a tender on him -- they will get compensation in return if another team signs Hunt -- and they have the opportunity to match any offer sheet the back signs with another team.

5) Carlos Hyde, free agent

Getting traded to the Houston Texans in the preseason after Lamar Miller suffered a season-ending injury paid off for Hyde. He registered his first 1,000-yard rushing campaign in Year 6. Hyde, who turns 30 later this year, showed he has the ability to be a bell cow and proved to have a lot more football in him.

Rushing for 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns last season at Ohio State, Dobbins proved to be a dependable starter who can handle a heavy load. He accelerates at the point of attack and has the long speed to break loose on any given rush. His game should hold up well at the next level, and any player who lands in Daniel Jeremiah's top 50 prospect list deserves a second look if a team is searching for a starter or depth in the backfield.

7) Austin Ekeler, free agent

Ekeler finished the 2019 season with 1,550 scrimmage yards (557 rushing yards, 993 receiving yards), and his production landed him among the likes of this year's league MVP Lamar Jackson and Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas in one notable fashion: These three guys were the only players last season with at least 150 touches and 6.5-plus scrimmage yards per touch -- further illustrating Ekeler's impact when he gets the ball. Ekeler's versatility out of the backfield could benefit a ton of offenses, and defenses tend to have fewer players in the box when he's lined up in the backfield because of his impact as a pass catcher, which also gives Ekeler an advantage in the run game. Like Kareem Hunt, Ekeler is a restricted free agent this offseason, so depending on what the Chargers decide to do, there's a chance Ekeler could stay put.

8) Chris Thompson, free agent

Thompson may not have as much juice as Austin Ekeler, but he will provide an offense with a player who can elevate the passing game out of the backfield. The savvy pass catcher who routinely separates at the top of his routes is one of three running backs with at least 35 receptions each season since 2015 -- joining James White and Duke Johnson. He'll provide a valuable asset in the air attack and especially on third down.

9) Melvin Gordon, free agent

The reason Gordon sits so low on my list is simple: Teams need their bell cow to be available and Gordon hasn't been. The soon-to-be 27-year-old has played a full 16-game season just once in his five years with the Chargers, and after conducting a contract holdout for the first four weeks of last season, he went on to finish with a career-low 612 yards. When looking at his running style, he's not really a back who can create when nothing is there. He needs an entry point at the line of scrimmage to work off.

10) Lamar Miller, free agent

The season-ending knee injury Miller suffered last preseason might hurt his stock. But teams that are willing to take a chance on the eight-year vet will get a disciplined zone runner who can be a home-run hitter from anywhere on the field.

Follow Michael Robinson on Twitter @RealMikeRob.

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