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February 7, 2020

Position of Strength: Gable the cream of running back crop

TORONTO — Heading into the opening of free agency on Feb. 11, there isn’t a lot being made about the talented group of running backs set to court offers from the various teams.

In a position that is one of the most important to the success of the offence as a whole, there are some individuals available that could help squads in 2020.

Just a single running back made it into the Top 30 Pending Free Agents list. In total, 13 individuals are set to hit the open market in just under a week.

Let’s take a look at the top rushers that should be available in just a few short days:

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The Elite

C.J. Gable | EDM

Gable is unquestionably the top star available at the position heading into free agency. The veteran back has two consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons under his belt, however, it looks like he’ll be looking for a new home, as Edmonton has re-signed Shaq Cooper. When healthy, Gable is one of the best runners the league has to offer, but he did miss time in 2019 due to injury. At 32 years old, if a team can land Gable and have a good backup to take some of the workload off his shoulders, it would be the perfect situation.

Proven and Reliable

Tyrell Sutton | HAM

Sutton joined the Ticats midway through the 2019 season and quickly became an offensive staple. In three of his five games during the year, he had over 80 rushing yards — including during the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw. Sutton finished the year with 289 rushing yards on 46 carries. With his strong showing to cap off this past season, he shouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding work.

Jeremiah Johnson | MTL

Johnson spent time backing up William Stanback for the Alouettes in 2019, but when he had the chance to start, he took advantage. He ran for 532 yards and a touchdown and 192 yards and another major through the air in 11 outings. The 32-year-old now has four straight years over 500 yards rushing and would provide a solid running option for a team looking for depth.

Don Jackson | CGY

The 26-year-old was only able to appear in seven games during 2019 due to nagging injuries. He still had 246 yards and two touchdowns on 58 carries along with 132 yards on 21 receptions. Jackson has proven to be an effective ball carrier in the CFL. He finished 2018 with 924 yards and three touchdowns on 160 carries in 13 games. He could be a bounceback candidate for 2020.

Chris Rainey | TOR

The 31-year-old has been used as a dual-threat back during his time in the CFL, posting over 200 yards rushing his last four seasons and 230-plus receiving yards in three of those four years. Rainey has been most utilized as a return man. He’s had at least one return touchdown in all but one of his six seasons in the league. Rainey is another veteran who could be a swiss army knife of sorts for a team that snags him on the open market.

Marcus Thigpen | SSK

Thigpen was released by the Riders ahead of free agency. He served as the backup to William Powell last year, accumulating 201 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries. He also added 161 receiving yards and a score, but the 33-year-old did the bulk of his damage in the return game. He could be used in several different facets to help a team next season.

Terry Williams | CGY

Williams was forced into starting duties at points during the years as the Stamps went through injuries to multiple backs in 2019. He finished with 275 rushing yards and a touchdown on 53 carries and 117 receiving yards on 10 catches. He also has been a special teams ace for Calgary over the past two seasons, three punts and a kick-off back to the house in 34 career games.

Anthony Coombs | HAM

Coombs has the ability to both run and catch the ball out of the backfield, but he’s been used as a receiver for the majority of his CFL career. He had 158 rushing yards to go along with 156 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns with the Tabbies in 2019. The 27-year-old is yet another individual who can hurt you in a multitude of ways.

Martese Jackson | EDM

Jackson has served primarily as a return man for the majority of his CFL career. He can also be utilized as a runner and in the receiving game. He had 4,698 all-purpose yards, one receiving touchdown and another rushing score in 39 career games.

Calvin McCarty | EDM

The longest-tenured Eskimo has been a solid blocker and occasional pass-catcher during his career in Edmonton. He finished the 2019 season with a pair of rushing touchdowns as well as a receiving score in the Eastern Semi-Final against Montreal.

Under the Radar

Romar Morris | CGY

Morris has had some of the worst luck of any player in the league as of late. After tearing his Achilles in the 2018 campaign, he returned to the Stamps’ lineup only to reportedly tear his other Achilles in his first game back. Morris had 376 yards and four touchdowns on 78 rushes in 2018. He’s an interesting individual to watch, as he tries to come back from another terrible injury.

Cameron Marshall | HAM

Marshall only featured in four games for the Tiger-Cats during the 2019 season, but he opened a lot of eyes with his performances in that small sample size. He rushed for 65-plus yards in three of those games, capping a great stretch with a 109-yard, two-touchdown performance against Toronto in the final game of the season. The 28-year-old Arizona State product proved that he deserves a real look in 2020.

Ryder Stone | MTL

With both Stanback and Johnson in the Als’ backfield, Stone was held to kick-off return duty, for the most part, this past year. His 81-yard performance against Ottawa in Week 12 of the 2018 season should leave teams interested to see what the 24-year-old can bring to the table. The Dartmouth product is just hitting his stride in the pro ranks. The Calgary, Alta., native would also help a team’s ratio situation.