RB depth one of the strengths of the 2014 free agent class

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Looking for a running back to help shoulder the backfield workload in free agency?

It’s a good year to be shopping in that aisle.

A bevy of capable tailbacks who would work well in ground-game committees could be available when the new league year opens on Tuesday, with the Texans’ Ben Tate and the Colts’ Donald Brown among the top options in the RB class, which will be discussed on today’s PFT Live.

Tate is the top tailback on PFT’s Free Agent Hot 100. His youth (he doesn’t turn 26 until August) and relative lack of NFL wear and tear (479 regular-season touches) are factors in his favor.

However, there’s a case for Brown being the top back in the class. Brown is relatively young (27 in April) and gained a strong 5.82 yards per touch in 2013. Brown would seem to have some tread left on his tires; he’s never exceeded 150 touches in regular-season play.

Others who could appeal to RB-needy clubs include the Raiders’ Darren McFadden, the Broncos’ Knowshon Moreno, the Packers’ James Starks, the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount and the Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew.

The No. 4 overall pick in 2008, McFadden hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, and his durability has disappointed. That said, he will be just 27 at the start of the season.

Moreno, the No. 12 pick in 2009, has experienced a career revival in the last 1.5 seasons. His dependability and versatility are assets. Also, he proved capable of carrying a featured back’s workload last season, which is a plus.  He turns 27 in July.

Starks, 28, gained 5.5 yards per carry as Eddie Lacy’s backup in 2013. The question now is whether he’s played himself into a bigger role.

The 27-year-old Blount, a 250-pound bruiser who had some big late-season games as New England pounded away with the ground game, will look to parlay his strong finish into a good free agent deal.

Now we come to the case of Jones-Drew. He has had an outstanding career, but he’s racked up 2,139 regular-season touches in eight seasons, and he will be 29 in March. He’s young enough to still be a big player at an important position next season, but the mileage on his odometer has to be considered.

Rashad Jennings, who was Jones-Drew’s backup in Jacksonville before moving on to Oakland, is another interesting free agent proposition. Jennings outproduced McFadden in 2013, gaining 5.15 yards per touch. Also, Jennings hasn’t had a lot of work in his NFL career (484 regular-season touches). He will be 29 this season, however.

The Vikings’ Toby Gerhart, like Jennings, knows what it’s like to not get a lot of snaps behind an established starter. Gerhart, who has been Adrian Peterson’s backup for four seasons, has produced in limited action (5.40 yards per touch), but he has lost six fumbles in 353 career touches. He will be 27 later this month.

The Giants’ Andre Brown is another bruising back who could draw some interest. Just 27, Brown has flashed some potential in the last two seasons, but his durability is a concern. The Cardinals’ Rashard Mendenhall also could land a spot in someone’s backfield, though his NFL future remains to be seen.

Overall, this is a fairly deep group of veteran running backs. There probably isn’t an ideal featured runner in the group, but with more and more teams splitting the workload, having multiple capable backs is a must. Teams cannot get caught lacking at running back; the Giants’ struggles without Brown early last season highlighted this all too well.