Free Agency Winners and Losers: Running Backs

Signing, trading, and retaining players can help or hurt players early in the offseason. Dustin Ludke takes a look at the running backs who won and lost in the free agency period.

Running backs are still the backbone of fantasy football. Point per reception (PPR) hasn’t changed that. Finding a diamond in the rough or the late-round guy that takes the jump into the top 10 can make your fantasy season. Drafting a guy in the first or even second round who fails to live up to that draft cost can often sink your fantasy season.

With fewer and fewer workhorse three-down backs in the NFL, having a guy who will see the bigger side of a time share is even more important. We can start to glean how teams will use their running backs based on how they spent in free agency.

 

Winners

 

Rashaad Penny: Seattle Seahawks

Any dynasty manager who has been holding Rashaad Penny for any point in the past 4 years has to be excited for his future in Seattle. The Seahawks traded away one of the best quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and didn’t get a great one back. They got Drew Lock who is capable of being an NFL starter but isn’t the passing threat that Wilson was. This is a sign that Seattle will go back to its rushing ways.

Penny had a great end of the 2021 season and was able to resign with the Seahawks. More favorable news for Penny; the Seahawks have not yet signed another back, including 2021 backfield mate Alex Collins. There is fear that Chris Carson might never play football again so it looks like the lead-back job is Penny’s to lose. If he can carry even half of the pace he had over the last 6 games of the season he would be a solid RB2 for fantasy.

 

Damien Williams & Cordarrelle Patterson: Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons are in a state of rebuild and flux right now. They traded away Matt Ryan and probably would have traded Calvin Ridley had he not gotten suspended for the year. They let Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst leave via free agency. And they brought in running back Damien Williams and resigned everything back Cordarrelle Patterson. It’s a win for both.

Williams now gets the chance to take the Mike Davis role in Atlanta which saw 138 carries last season. The 8-year vet gets to show what he has left after falling down the depth chart in Chicago. He will benefit from the role that Patterson plays in this offense. Patterson stays with the only team that has been able to make him fantasy relevant in his 9-year career. Neither Patterson or Williams are starting backs in the league but the combo of the two will get enough work to make them fantasy relevant and startable while keeping them healthy enough to do it all year. With Marcus Mariota under center and the lack of pass-catching weapons at the receiver position, the backs will see plenty of work.

 

Leonard Fournette: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

When free agency hit, Leonard Fournette was one of the bigger names at running back who looked poised to take over a backfield. He ended up resigning with Tamp Bay after Tom Brady un-retired. A rising tide raises all ships, as the saying goes.

Its the best fit for Fournette who had his best season since his rookie year with 8 touchdowns on the ground and 2 through the air in 2021. Ronald Jones took 100 carries and 4 touchdowns away from Fournette last year and he is now a Chief, so Fournette may only have to contend with underwhelming Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield in 2022.

 

James Conner: Arizona Cardinals

James Conner had a career resurgence last year in Arizona after two down years in Pittsburgh. The 26 year old now gets the Arizona backfield to himself since Chase Edmonds signed with Miami. Conner scored in 11 of the 15 games he played in 2021 and he will look to continue that trend. The Cardinals as a whole are looking for addition by subtraction as along with Edmonds, Christian Kirk (Jacksonville) and A.J. Green (unsigned) are no longer on the team. Conner was thought to be just a goal-line back but still managed to average 3.75 yards per carry. He has solid RB2 value with RB1 upside.

 

Marlon Mack: Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have only had one thousand-yard rusher in the past 4 years. That was Carlos Hyde back in 2019. The last season Marlon Mack was a starting running back he rushed for 1091 yards. This was also back in 2019. He missed 99% of the 2020 season and then the Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor. This moved Mack down the depth chart and he only saw 28 carries in 6 games in 2021.

Mack looks to rebound his career in Houston where he should have the majority of the carries to himself. The Texans did resign Royce Freeman and still have 2021 leading rusher Rex Burkhead on the roster. But Burkhead is 31 going on 32 and heading into his 10th season. Mack is 26 going on 27 and headed into his 6th-year with almost no work over the past 2 season. He will get a chance to salvage his career in 2022.

Losers

 

Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert: Miami Dolphins

If just one of them had gone to the Dolphins they might still have been in the losers section. The Dolphins still have Myles Gaskins who has played fairly well for them, and Miami has been one of the truest running back by committees we have seen in the NFL. Both of them signing here just makes for way to many mouths to feed and none of then have really had consistent enough top production where i believe that they can take over the lead back role.

The additions of Tyreek Hill to the passing game and Terron Armstead on the offensive line point to a push to keep pace with other high powered passing offenses in the league. This would also mean less carries for the running back in general and when you have a smaller pie and more mouths to feed it leads to low fantasy production.

 

Devin Singletary and Zack Moss: Buffalo Bills

The Bills can’t seem to figure out what they want to do at running back. All last season it seemed to be a new guy every few weeks. Even this off-season they were rumored to be in the mix for multiple running backs. Buffalo was reported to have signed pass-catching specialist J.D. McKissic from the Commanders but he changed his mind and went back. The Bills ultimately ended up signing Duke Johnson to fill that role.

The fact that the Bills were so insistent on signing a back means they don’t have a ton of faith in either Moss or Singletary to be the guy heading into 2022. It will probably be a good mix of all 3 during the early part of the year and I think everyone hopes one of them can establish themselves as the clear guy, although that hasn’t happened in the past for Buffalo.

 

Antonio Gibson: Washington Commanders

There was a solid 3 or 4 days where Antonio Gibson was all the hype in the fantasy universe. It looked like after acquiring Carson Wentz at QB the Commanders were content to let J.D. McKissic walk out the door to Buffalo. What a difference a few days make. In a shocking turn McKissic decided not to go to Buffalo and to re-sign with the Commanders. It put a huge pin in the balloon of Gibson truthers who were expecting him to be the main guy in the backfield and to produce accordingly.

Gibson is now again sharing the backfield with McKissic and Jaret Patterson. Gibson should still be able to replicate last season’s numbers which still had him right on the borderline of an RB1. It’s just not as high as people were expecting with McKissic seemingly leaving.

 

Clyde Edwards-Helaire: Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs’ re-tooling of the offense continues as they sign former Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones. Jones has had success as a starter in Tampa and in a timeshare with Leonard Fournette. This doesn’t bode well for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Edwards-Helaire only averaged 11.9 carries per game last year, and it remains unknown what the offense will look like now that Jones is there and the wide receiver core has been changed up. C.E.H. hasn’t been a top 20 running back in his first 2 years and this could be the first sign of the Chiefs not having the same faith in him that they did on draft day in 2020.

 

 

Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)

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