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TORONTO — Talk to 100 football coaches and all of them will say the same thing: ‘we have to be able to run the football’.
That’s why having a reliable running back is very important if you want to have success, especially when it comes to the post-season.
The good news for teams is that there should be a few names available in free agency (or in the case of one of them, right away) that can provide just the kind of bell-cow running back talent they covet. As things stand, if these names below don’t sign an extension by February 13, here are five players that could tip the scales and transform a backfield.
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Williams could make a case to be higher on this list. The reason is that despite not having the same experience as the names ahead of him, Williams played like a veteran in 2023. The 26-year-old running back tallied 1,329 yards from scrimmage with the Ottawa REDBLACKS to go along three majors as one of the focal points of their offence.
His 37 catches are more than anyone else on this list except Oliveira, showcasing his ability as a dual-threat running back that fits all kinds of offences.
Stanback has close to 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his career and has shown he can be a reliable every-down back with the Montreal Alouettes. Recently released by the Als, Stanback brings the championship pedigree and leadership teams covet when they want a plug-and-play type of back.
The veteran also showed he can be a weapon catching passes out of the backfield in 2023 with 27 receptions, only six shy of his career-best 33. Not only that but his 5.4 yards per run average and 800 rushing yards showed he can still be productive as an early-down tailback. Stanback also added 242 yards from scrimmage and a Grey Cup major over three post-season games to help the Alouettes reach the ultimate goal.
Carey had to deal with injuries throughout 2023 that kept him to only nine games and 632 yards from scrimmage. Despite that, he still managed to catch 23 passes out of the backfield in half a slate of games while averaging a healthy 5.3 yards on the ground.
The dynamic rusher is also only one year removed from being one of the best backs in the league in 2022, when he finished the year with 10 majors and 1,336 yards from scrimmage on his way to being named a CFL All-Star.
Ouellette took over the Argos backfield for good in 2023 and showed he’s as reliable as they come when we’re talking about running backs.
After finishing the season with 1,172 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns, Ouellette was named an East Division All-Star for the second consecutive year and would provide the type of power running back that plays well when October rolls around and temperatures start to drop.
There’s no running back list in 2024 that doesn’t feature Oliveira at the top. The National runner simply exceed already high expectations set for him in 2023 by going over 2,000 yards from scrimmage while scoring 13 times.
Oliveira was also stellar in the post-season with Winnipeg in 2023, rushing 21 times for 109 yards and a major against the Lions in the Western Final before getting 19 carries for 119 yards and another touchdown against the Alouettes in the Grey Cup. That’s a year after he rushed for a combine 212 yards in two playoff appearances with the Bombers in 2022.
While Oliveira – along all of the other names on this list – could look to stay in place and continue to build upon his previous success, if he decides to test the free agency waters there would be very few teams that would not be looking to make the upgrade.