The Number of Fantasy-Viable Running Backs is Getting Deeper
We continue our free agency landing spot preview with the running back position. In addition to the veteran free agents available, there is a strong class of prospects about to enter the league, led by Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. Plus, with the workhorse becoming virtually extinct, the number of Fantasy-viable running backs is easily 60-75 deep (including handcuffs and prospects). Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing situations in which a running back might land.
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The Carolina Panthers have Jonathan Stewart under contract for two more seasons, but little depth behind him. Cameron Artis-Payne is not going to be a thing, so the Panthers have been linked to drafting a running back, possibly with the eighth overall pick. I don’t believe the need is that great, but expect them to take to the draft early for an heir to the throne.
Frank Gore has been about to fall off the proverbial cliff for the last four seasons, but it has not happened yet. He’ll be 33 years old next season in the final year of his deal, and the Indianapolis Colts need to be thinking long term. There’s always a chance they go swimming in the free-agent pool, but the smart money is on a first- or second-round RB heading to Indy next month. 2017 prospects are limited slightly by Gore, but that is a small price to pay for a chance to be in a high-powered offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
[caption id="attachment_112665" align="alignright" width="374"] James White's role could expand if the Patriots don't re-sign LeGarrette Blount. Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire[/caption]
LeGarrette Blount is a free agent, and that means the New England Patriots are in need of a between-the-tackles power runner to replace him. That is, of course, unless they re-sign him. The Patriots are never ones to spend a ton in free agency, especially at running back, but there are a number of affordable veteran options like Adrian Peterson and possibly Doug Martin if he were to become available. Super Bowl hero James White and Dion Lewis figure to be heavily involved in the backfield as well, so this has all the makings of a stressful Fantasy situation.
The New York Giants cut Rashad Jennings last month, leaving second-year back Paul Perkins and pass-catching specialist Shane Vereen as the only viable options. Perkins is an exciting prospect, but far from a guarantee. Expect him to have competition this summer, either in the form of a free agent or draftee. His stock hangs in the balance.
The Oakland Raiders seem to be resigned to losing Latavius Murray via free agency. In preparation, they did draft DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard last year. Both rookies flashed at times, but neither is a prototypical lead back. In fact, they share very similar third-down, change-of-pace qualities. If either of them is going to step up and assert themselves, I’d bet on Washington. Smart money says they bring in a third back to compete for touches.
Ty Montgomery, who was a wideout for most of his NFL career, sits atop the Green Bay Packers running back depth chart right now. There is no doubt they will bring in someone to play either as a complementary piece or potential starter. Montgomery is intriguing because of his dual ability, but if the Packers bring in a legitimate starter, his value obviously takes a hit. His value is on a seesaw right now in dynasty leagues. If the Packers bring back Eddie Lacy on a team-friendly deal, that could work out for all parties, including Montgomery owners. The numbers haven’t been bad, but Lacy has looked large and sluggish during the past two years.
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After declining to pick up Peterson’s 2017 option, the Minnesota Vikings put themselves in the market for a couple running backs this spring. Jerick McKinnon is a SPARQ freak and could be a breakthrough candidate if he’s locked in as the Vikings' starter. His dynasty value will change with every free agent rumor and every Vikings' draft selection. Minnesota may not be fully convinced that McKinnon can carry the full load, and who they go after will give insight into their confidence level. Expect serious competition to be added.
The New York Jets have two solid veteran backs in Bilal Powell and Matt Forte, who ended up splitting touches pretty evenly as the season went on. In a total rebuild, the Jets have bigger concerns than their backfield, but neither Powell nor Forte have much of a future. Expect them to throw a dart or two in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft.
Rob Kelley emerged as the Washington Redskins' lead back and never let Matt Jones get a chance to take it back. The problem is, Kelley is meh. Yes, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry last year, but he’s not dynamic in any way and lacks receiving ability. Chris Thompson certainly can fill in there as an excellent third-down back. Keith Marshall is there and he has some upside, too. The Redskins will likely ride it out with their current group for the 2017 season, but this situation should be addressed by next offseason.
It was only two offseasons ago when the Philadelphia Eagles signed both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Murray was dealt to the Titans last offseason, and Mathews has continued his Fantasy teasing ways. Darren Sproles continues to be Darren Sproles. Wendell Smallwood is intriguing, and Byron Marshall popped up on the radar briefly as well. No one here seems like the long-term answer, and that means the Eagles should be in the market. That will be especially true if they end up cutting Mathews.
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Jordan Howard was a revelation for the Chicago Bears last season, but he has a limited skill set and lacks true RB1 upside. Still, the Bears could very realistically stick with him as their rock and have Jeremy Langford back him up (a role he is better suited to). With numerous other holes to plug, that would be the route they should go, but you just never know.
The Detroit Lions have a host of running back options, but none really stand out much. Sure, Theo Riddick is one of the best pass-catching backs in the game. Zach Zenner is a Twitter favorite and stepped up down the stretch last year. Ameer Abdullah has exciting upside, but cannot seem to distance himself or carve out a large role. Dwayne Washington still has potential, but failed to seize his opportunities last year. It would not be shocking if the Lions brought in an established back to take over as the starter.
Over the past two years, the Jacksonville Jaguars first spent an early draft pick on T.J. Yeldon and then gave a big contract to Chris Ivory. Yeldon was good, not great as a rookie, but Ivory is not a long-term answer either. This will likely be a timeshare approach once again in 2017 with Ivory leading the way. It may not be this offseason, but the Jaguars will need to address this position sooner rather than later.
The Denver Broncos drafted Devontae Booker and brought back C.J. Anderson last offseason, all but solidifying their backfield. Anderson has looked terrific at times, but lacks consistency thus far. Booker fell flat on his face after Anderson got hurt last season and clearly was not ready for primetime. Expect a healthy Anderson to lead the way and Booker to change the pace. Still, do not be surprised if a viable third option enters the picture before the summer.
The Kansas City Chiefs axed long-time stud Jamaal Charles earlier this week. He has only given them eight games over the past two years, and health is really the main concern with his future prospects. Spencer Ware looked like a no-doubt RB1 early in the season, but faded down the stretch (possibly due to a key OL injury). Charcandrick West did not have the same juice he displayed as a rookie. The Chiefs need to bring in another back, be it for depth or to challenge Ware as the starter.
The Houston Texans shelled out a ton of dough to land Lamar Miller in free agency and they fed him plenty. That could’ve been part of the problem, though, as Miller’s burst was gone and he became a volume producer instead of a playmaker. Expect the Texans to find a happy medium between the overuse last year and the underuse during his stint in Miami. They drafted Tyler Ervin and have a collection of average backups led by Alfred Blue. They need a stronger handcuff.
What will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do with Doug Martin? If they cut him, Charles Sims seemingly would be in line for major work, but he is miscast as a starter. Martin will latch on without issue, most likely as a committee back. Sims will definitely have competition for touches if that happens, likely in the form of at least one free agent and one rookie. Sims is a sell the moment Martin gets cut.
The Los Angeles Chargers got a huge season from Melvin Gordon, but they have a thin depth chart behind him. Perhaps they will bring back Danny Woodhead or maybe they will take to the draft, but they need to add at least one back here. Kenneth Farrow and Branden Oliver are currently in line to battle for scraps.
Carlos Hyde just cannot seem to stay healthy and deliver on his lofty potential for the San Francisco 49ers. The veteran backup route makes sense for them. If they do spend anything more than a Day 3 pick on a running back, though, Hyde will be on notice.
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