Free Agent Running Backs - 2014 Outlook
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During the offseason, it is important to follow the ebb and flow of player movement. Each transaction reveals a team's priorities or their confidence in one player over another. Some moves are of course motivated by finances, but our job is to intelligently speculate on how certain situations will shake out.
In this piece, we'll focus on the movement of running backs.
Many dynasty owners were intrigued by Raiders running back Latavius Murray, a second-year back who was in a positive position after the departure of RB Rashad Jennings. With Jennings signing with the New York Giants, Murray quickly found himself as the No. 2 back behind RB Darren McFadden. Given McFadden's persistent injury problems, Murray was an attractive option. Unfortunately, the signing of RB Maurice Jones-Drew tells us Oakland is not as high on Murray as the fantasy community was just a few weeks ago.
Murray fans should keep some hope alive though. On one hand, Jones-Drew's stock has plummeted after a mediocre 2013, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry, and an injury-riddled 2012. Then again, with another full offseason to rest and prepare, MJD could bounce-back in a big way and maybe even return to his Top 5 fantasy RB status. Given McFadden's track record, Murray should be the No. 2 option for at least a half dozen games. Also crowding this backfield is the presence of Marcel Reece. The quote-unquote fullback filled in on spot duty at times last year. He did have one big game (21 touches for 161 yards and a TD in Week 14), yet he probably won't be drafted in most leagues.
Finally, this upcoming season presents another opportunity for the brittle McFadden to put it all together for a big year. Don't count on it. Entering his seventh year, he is coming off a terrible season. Even the most optimistic fantasy owner should have serious qualms counting on him.
M. Jones-Drew: 06.07 (RB25)
D. McFadden: 08.12 (RB34)
L. Murray: 10.04 (RB42)
M. Reece: 26.04 (RB83)
NEW YORK GIANTS
Due to David Wilson's neck injury and subsequent surgery, Rashad Jennings is the clear No. 1 back here. Jennings was recently signed away from the Oakland Raiders and should be expected to be at the forefront of the G-Men's 2014 offense.
Wilson was a huge bust last year, despite receiving so much hype from everyone (FFToolbox included), yet the fantasy community will be too quick to dismiss him after one unfortunate season. He will only be 23 years old at the start of the year and if he is ready to play in Week 1, he still has a ton of potential as a change-of-pace runner. Exceeding his very low average draft position (which is noted below) should be a breeze. Jennings has also battled with durability over his career so Wilson should have the opportunity to start a game or two as well.
One additional note though is that it is possible Wilson will miss time because of that aforementioned neck surgery. There just is no way of knowing who emerges as the No. 2 if that is the case. The Giants have RBs Peyton Hillis, Da'Rel Scott and Michael Cox also on the roster. My gut tells me Scott has the slight edge; however, the rest of the backfield is a total crapshoot.
R. Jennings: 07.05 (RB30) – note: this pick was made the day Jennings signed with NY. Expect a much bigger bump in the next draft.
D. Wilson: 14.03 (RB52)
D. Scott: Undrafted
Note: Former Giants RB Andre Brown was selected 11.01 (RB44).
For the first time since 2007, Maurice Jones-Drew will not lead the Jaguars in rushing. The overwhelming favorite is Toby Gerhart according head coach Gus Bradley. The coaching staff feels the former Stanford back can handle 15 to 18 touches per week and contribute on all three downs. At the No. 2 spot, Jacksonville will be relying on Jordan Todman, a former sixth round pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 2011 NFL Draft. After bouncing around the league a bit, Todman was more miss than hit in 2013.
The Jags are also sitting on Denard Robinson although there is no telling how far he has developed as a traditional running back since last season.
Gerhart presents an excellent value right now (just wait until you see his draft position in the FFWC Mock). Jacksonville's offense still requires a ton of improvement; however, if Gerhart takes on a workhorse role, he has high RB2 potential. Even MJD was a Top 20 RB last year after turning in one of his worst seasons to date.
It is finally Tate's time to shine now that he is at the forefront of Cleveland's offense. Along with WR Josh Gordon, Tate will be expected to carry this team in ways that former Browns RB Trent Richardson was unable to do. As evidenced by Tate's average draft position (which you can find at the end of this section), the former Auburn back is being drafted like the obvious workhorse. Behind Tate, the picture remains unclear. RB Dion Lewis spent his first two seasons in Philadelphia, but contributed absolutely nothing for the Browns last year. Behind him on the depth chart, there is a smorgasbord of mediocrity where anyone could emerge.
RBs Edwin Baker, Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker contributed on limited snaps in 2013. That said, don't be surprised if the Browns add a mid or late round draft pick on some RB depth. The competition should be wide open.
The headline is of course Tate being on his own. If he can stay healthy for a full season, he should have no problems contributing as a strong RB2. His ability to catch the ball also props up his value even further in PPR formats.
B. Tate: 05.10 (RB23)
D. Lewis 27.01 (RB86)
E. Baker 29.05 (RB90)
LeSean McCoy has to be a Top 3 pick in all league formats. He bounced-back and then some last year in Chip Kelly's offense and there is no reason to suspect a big change in that department. The rest of the backfield committee is where things get interesting.
The obvious choice among the backups is Darren Sproles. His numbers weren't quite what they once were in 2013, but he will be tasked to create mismatches all over the field. He will continue to provide flex production in PPR leagues. What's also interesting is how or if it all the Eagles will engage Bryce Brown. Just a year ago, he was widely heralded as a fantasy sleeper following McCoy's frustrating 2012 season. Unfortunately, Brown flopped by offering just 83 touches and barely over 400 total yards.
Sproles' third-down talents push Brown further down the priority list. There's only so much offense to go around so the only way Brown or Chris Polk contribute significantly is if McCoy or Sproles get bit by the injury bug. Earlier in the year, there were grumblings that Polk could challenge Brown for his place on the depth chart. Keep an eye on this situation because the No. 3 back is one rolled ankle away from fantasy relevancy.
L. McCoy: 01.01 (RB1)
D. Sproles 08.01 (RB33)
B. Brown 20.08 (RB67)
C. Polk 26.12 (RB85)
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