2014 Free Agency Fantasy Football Recap: Running Backs

Hello fantasy bros! Free agency has been active for a couple months now, and most team situations have changed significantly during that time. All the implications are a lot to take in, but I’m here for you.

Bothering to put a fantasy spin on free agency prior to the NFL draft is like getting married when you’re 20. You might think you’ve got everything figured out, but things change and you’re better off waiting to see what happens. That said, let’s get to it.

If you passed out during Seattle’s manhandling of Denver and then went into a four month coma, don’t worry baby bird! I’ll nurse you back to health with some concise fantasy analysis and a chicken wing inspired hotness scale!

Let’s start with running backs. The studs are few and far between, and none of these RBs should be picked in the first round of your fantasy draft. But remember: championships are rarely won in the first round. Read on to educate yourself, because as we’ve been told, knowing is half the battle!

Change Of Scenery

Ben Tate (Houston to Cleveland, 2y/$6.2MM) – The Browns have had their eyes on Tate since they traded Richardson to the Colts last year. Tate has looked great at times, but has had trouble staying healthy and didn’t exactly seize the starting role when Arian Foster got hurt in 2013. In other words, he’s perfect for the Browns! Value: [hot] Tate is a huge improvement for the Browns, who are trying to re-establish their running game that was almost dead last in 2013. In my book he’s a RB2, but a shaky one. If you draft him, please take some solid bench RBs and/or rookie Terrance West in case Tate gets injured again.

Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville to Oakland, 3y/$7.5MM) – For a guy who has played his whole career on a terrible team, I’m very surprised he signed with another terrible team. Value: [medium] This is a tough RBBC (running back by committee) to predict. Will MJD return to form and seize the starting job? Will McFadden respond to his “prove it” contract? Or will injuries pave the way for Marcel Reece to have significant value again? Ahhh! If MJD falls far enough, I would feel good about drafting him as a bench RB because of his upside. However, all the question marks mean I will not rely on him in my starting lineup.

Knowshon Moreno (Denver to Miami, 1y/$3MM) – Knowshon was in the perfect situation last year (underachieving rookie competition, pass-focused defenses, etc.) so now he’s in for a rude awakening. The contract shows Miami is not committing to Moreno, and anyone that owned Lamar Miller last season knows that the Dolphins are content to distribute carries regardless of talent. Oh yeah, and their running game stinks. Value: [medium] Moreno might be the best RB on Miami’s roster. However, the way the Dolphins insist on “sharing” reminds me of a kindergarten classroom. Combine that with a meager ground game, and his value is not as high as you might think. Don’t draft him as more than a Flex. I have him ranked slightly above MJD.

Rashad Jennings (Oakland to NY Giants, 4y/$14MM) – Taking over the Andre Brown role and then some. The Giants are still hoping Wilson can be “the guy,” but Jennings played well for Oakland and will earn a majority of the carries in this backfield. Value: [blazing] It depends on your opinion of Wilson, but there’s strong upside regardless (I’m not worried about rookie Andre Williams). The Giants offense has to perform better this season. Right?! He’s worth considering as an RB2. I may be alone on this, but I actually like him better than Tate.

Darren Sproles (Traded from New Orleans to Philadelphia) – Surprising move by the Saints that was expected not handled well. Oddly, New Orleans didn’t bolster its backfield in spite of two facts. 1) They’ve never been comfortable giving a full workload to Pierre Thomas (don’t let the contract extension fool you). 2) While Ingram had a good 4.9 ypc last season, he missed several games and only had 1 TD (he’s getting dangerously close to “bust” status). On the Eagles side, McCoy is still a RB1 but some of his PPR value is diminished. There’s also a positive bump for Foles, but not enough to offset the loss of DeSean Jackson. Value: [medium] Sproles has had terrible rushing stats the last two years, but he could thrive in the Eagle’s offense. Still, don’t overvalue him. He’s a good Flex option in PPR leagues, and merely bench support in standard leagues.

Donald Brown (Indianapolis to San Diego, 3y/$10.5MM) – The Chargers backfield just got messy. Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe the Colts are willing to trust Richardson/Bradshaw/Ballard with the rock.  Brown seemed to be the best option they had down the stretch in 2013. Value: [mild] He wasn’t a stud RB before, but he looked good compared to the supremely disappointing Trent Richardson. In San Diego, Woodhead has the 3rd down role locked up (PPR value only), and Mathews is coming off his best year as a pro – neither of which bodes well for Brown. He’s barely draftable, but has upside if Mathews gets injured. In spite of Brown’s presence, Mathews is still a good RB2 option.

Toby Gerhart (Minnesota to Jacksonville, 3y/$10.5MM) – Nice contract, bad situation. Gerhart has had a decent YPC in his first four seasons, but has struggled to find the end zone. Now he joins an offense loaded with rookies and several average RBs circling around like buzzards. I’m less interested than a sober vegan walking into Buffalo Wild Wings. Value: [medium] Gerhart isn’t de-odorizing Peterson’s cleats anymore. He’s worth a Flex spot, assuming he beats out the other RBs on the roster. But, Gerhart isn’t going to remind anyone of MJD circa 2011. He also needs to watch his rear-view mirror for rookie Storm Johnson. I’d rather draft a RB with more upside.

Andre Brown (NY Giants to Houston, 1y/peanuts) – Brown goes from a timeshare with David Wilson to backing up Arian Foster. Foster has struggled with injuries the last couple years, but so has Brown. Value: [mild] Any RB has value as Foster’s backup, but the minimal contract makes me worry (though it’s still more than I’ll make in a decade). He’s merely waiver fodder, or a handcuff if you’re into that kind of thing if you’re a Foster owner.

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Johnson (Tennessee to NY Jets, 2y/$8MM) – Tennessee realized they were severely overpaying CJOK (Chris is Just O.K.). So, like a relationship gone bad, they kicked him to the curb with some cab fare ($4MM). Then the Jets swooped in and caught CJ on the rebound. Last season, the Jets gave Ivory and Powell each about 180 touches. This year I expect CJ to take Powell’s touches and then some, totaling around 250. (The 300+ touches he was getting in Tennessee are going to this guy.) Value: [hot] He’s a low-end RB2 or Flex. Since 2009, CJ’s season stats have been pretty good, but his inconsistency game-to-game made him frustrating to own. In New York he’ll fight for touches with Ivory/Powell/Goodson, but the Jets won’t pay him millions to sit on the bench. His touches take a hit but I think his YPC bounces back and he’ll finish with 1250 all-purpose yards. If you draft him, buckle up for a roller coaster ride.

Staying Put

Darren McFadden (Oakland, 1y/$4MM) – The Raiders don’t have much confidence remaining in Darren, hence the 1-year deal, but I was surprised they brought him back at all. It turns out they were window shopping, and also signed MJD to a 3-year deal. Value: [mild] Six years without ever playing more than 13 games is scary, and talk about a crowded backfield! If I’m drafting a Raider RB, it’s MJD, but I don’t feel great about it.

Joique Bell (Detroit, 2y/$7MM) – Detroit’s potent RBBC remains intact and they’ve added serious receiving weapons. The Lions coaching staff has said they want to make this RBBC closer to 50/50, which takes some value away from Bush and shifts it to Bell. Value: [blazing] Bell was a very good flex RB last season. This year he moves into RB2 territory with additional PPR value. Also, he becomes an instant RB1 if/when Bush gets hurt.

Ahmad Bradshaw (Indianapolis, 1y/$1MM) – Bradshaw returns to “compliment” the disappointing Trent Richardson, albeit with a small contract. Value: [mild] If Richardson doesn’t bounce back in a major way, there is potential for Bradshaw to have significant fantasy value … if he’s healthy. However, based on Bradshaw’s career that is a HUGE “if.” Do you really want to own stock in the Colts’ running game? If so, your best bet is to draft Ballard with a triple-digit pick.

Jamaal Charles (Kansas City) – The JC of KC was not a free agent and did not sign a new contract, but it’s important to note that the Chiefs lost some key offensive lineman during free agency. Bad news for this fantastic player. Value: [blazing] At the end of 2013, one could have argued for Charles as the top pick in 2014. But in light of this news, you should wait until the mid-first round to grab him.

See Ya Later, Alligator

Michael Bush (Chicago, Cut) – Michael Ford, a second year back out of LSU, got promoted to backup until Chicago drafted stud RB Ka’Deem Carey. Sorry, Michael Ford, you’re still sitting on the bench looking like this friendly guy.

Justin Forsett (Jacksonville, Cut) – I was starting to think the Jaguars were collecting mediocre running backs to create the first ever RB Megazord.

Rashard Mendenhall (Arizona, Retired) and Ryan Williams (Arizona to Dallas) – Ryan Williams has struggled with injuries during his four years, and my draft board was void of any Mendenhalls even before he retired. This really frees up second year back Andre Ellington to get more touches, so put him on your wish list. Backup Stefan Taylor’s unimpressive 3.2 ypc is not threatening.

For the scoop on rookie RBs, check out our NFL draft coverage.