When examining the fantasy worthiness of Cedric Benson for the 2012 season I find myself in a very unique position. Benson is an unrestricted free agent and as of this writing, has been contacted by the exact same number of NFL teams interested in his services for the upcoming season as I have. Zero. While the smart money says that Cedric has a much better chance of getting that phone call than I do, I shall remain ever hopeful and keep my phone nearby and the ringer on loud. So, it is time to figure out just what Benson may have left as teams have began their initial OTAs. Clearly, Benson is the best remaining free agent running back on the market and taking a look at potential suitors will be integral in determining any fantasy potential heading into the 2012 season.
There is no doubting the athletic abilities of Cedric Benson. Following in the footsteps of fellow Texas Longhorn Ricky Williams, he dominated at the collegiate level. Benson won the Doak Walker award as the nations top running back in 2004 and ranks 2nd in all time rushing yards for Texas behind Williams with 5,540. Benson was also selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 12th round of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft and would play briefly in the summer league and Gulf Coast league before setting his sights on an NFL career. When you manage only 5 hits in 25 at bats, that decision is all but made for the individual. With his baseball days firmly behind him, Benson would be drafted 4th overall by the Chicago Bears in the 2005 NFL Draft and the roller coaster ride that has been his career would begin.
Just as any roller coaster ride begins with the tedious task of waiting in a lengthy line, so too would the career of Cedric Benson in Chicago. A five week hold out while negotiations for his rookie contract dragged on would see Benson miss valuable practice time, allowing incumbent Thomas Jones to get a firm grasp on the number one running back position in Chicago. Not exactly a storybook beginning to Benson's NFL debut season. He would slowly be worked into the offense as the back up to Jones and fail to see more than 14 carries in any game. Those 14 carries in week nine against the Saints would amount to 79 yards, a season best for Benson. Unfortunately, two weeks later he would sprain his MCL and finish his rookie campaign having appeared in only nine games. His post season would be highlighted by a 60 yard, one touchdown performance in the NFC championship game vs. New Orleans. The roller coaster would dip again in the Super Bowl, he would injure his knee early in the game and finish with 2 carries for -1 yard in the Bears loss to Indianapolis. Thomas Jones would depart from Chicago for the Big Apple prior to the 2007 season, Benson would finally get his opportunity to be the number one running back for the Bears and have his time to shine. Or not. He would struggle with inconsistency, total over 100 yards in a single game (week #2 against the Chiefs), before suffering a season ending knee injury in week twelve. His stats as the number one option would be 801 total yards from scrimmage on 214 total touches, 4 touchdowns and a paltry 3.4 yards per carry average. 2007 was the last season in Chicago for Benson as two alcohol related arrests (neither which Benson would be indicted on) in a five week span in 2008 and his less than inspiring play would lead to the Bears releasing him in June.
Every roller coaster takes it time reaching the apex of that first hill before the thrills begin, this is also the case with the career of Cedric Benson. Goodbye Chicago, hello Cincinnati and fantasy relevance. "Team Turmoil" would sign Benson in September 2008, as the back up to starting running back Chris Perry, who had been named the starter after the release of Rudi Johnson in August. The Bengals would become 'second chance central' over the years by sticking with troubled players such as Adam Jones, the late Chris Henry, the signing of Benson would be their latest high risk move. This time they would hit pay dirt. Perry would struggle mightily as the primary running back and Benson would supplant him as the starting running back in week seven and never look back.Cedric Benson would finally begin to play up to the potential he displayed coming out of Texas as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. He would finish his first season with the Bengals as the go to, bell cow running back in their offense and amass 932 total yards and 2 touchdowns. The change of scenery and perhaps the knowledge that he was fast running out of time to make his name in the NFL had seemingly clicked the light on for Benson and he would become a fantasy force while helping Cincinnati to earn post season berths in both 2009 and 2011. The 2008 season, his first full campaign in Cincinnati, would see Benson post a career high in yards rushing with 1,251 as well as yards per carry with a solid 4.2 average. He would thrive in the run heavy offensive scheme the Bengals would employ and in his 4 years Cincinnati he would post over 4,730 total yards and 22 total touchdowns. He would finish as a top 20-fantasy running back in 2009, 2010 and inside the top 25 in 2011, as the primary ball carrier for Cincinnati. However, as the roller coaster that is Benson's continues to chug along it appears to de dipping again heading into the 2012 season. The Bengals have signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis to be their number one running back moving forward and as stated earlier, Benson has yet to even meet with any potential new teams to ply his trade for.
To have any fantasy value moving forward Cedric Benson first must find a new home and free agency has slowed to a crawl as May draws to a close. Let us now play amateur general manager for a moment and list some potential teams that could use a veteran presence in their backfield, then address why and more importantly why not, Benson would be an option.
San Diego- The Chargers lost Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews may need to be spelled from time to time. Rookie Edwin Baker may take some time to develop but the Chargers seem happy with Curtis Brinkley being the back up to Mathews for the time being.
Seattle- Benson has a similar style to Marshawn Lynch , could be a viable back up option while rookie Robert Turbin adjusts to the NFL game. However, Seattle is likely to stick with Turbin as the number two option and let the kid get his feet wet instead of sit.
Baltimore- Ricky Williams has retired and the Ravens could use someone to complement Ray Rice as they work rookie Bernard Pierce into the line-up. Baltimore has already made it known that they don't intend to sign a veteran running back.
Arizona- Chris Wells and Ryan Williams are both coming off of injuries and are no locks to be able to handle full workloads for an entire season. Arizona signed Chester Taylor last season and he was awful, after being burned once, bringing in another aging player may not be the direction they choose to go again.
Detroit- The Lions backfield is littered with questions as Best and LeShoure are both attempting to return from season ending injuries and Kevin Smith has a lot of tread on his injury prone tires. LeShoure also faces league discipline for a pair of marijuana arrests this past off-season. In my opinion, Detroit is a prime landing spot for Benson but the Lions seem content to play 'Russian roulette' with their three- headed RBBC for 2012.
The bottom line is that Benson is a one trick pony. He lacks the quickness to get around the corner, does not possess elite speed to break the long runs and is not a receiving threat out of the backfield. The best possible scenario is that a team suffers a training camp injury and brings him on board to fill in. As it stands now he will be lucky to be brought in to compete for a back up role on most teams. The roller coaster ride for Benson has returned to the station and he is NOT WORTHY of being drafted in any fantasy format for 2012.