Over-shadowed to some degree by the free agent signings of wide receivers, there has been some significant, material movement of running backs in the NFL. In a new era of pro football which emphasizes the passing game, we are seeing a movement to a running back by committee for most NFL teams. The time when running backs land huge second or third contracts is dying. There are few running backs anymore whose team builds its offense around them. Besides, the running back position is one wrought with injury, many of which are significant. Suffice it to say, just like the real game, the importance of the running back position in fantasy football is changing. While we should not under value the position, we should certainly not over value it either.
Like the wide receivers, it’s definitely time to look at the free agent signings involving running backs and their impact on fantasy football. To read more about the free agent movements of wide receivers, read our Free Agent Wide receiver Update here.
While the running back position has seemingly decreased in value in fantasy football, do not under-estimate its importance. Having a really good running back in fantasy football is still a blessing. With teams still having to dedicate a portion of their offense to the running game to set-up the pass, and with NFL teams seeking running backs that are good receivers too, running backs are still an important part of the puzzle of building a championship team in reality, and in fantasy football. Scoring a running back in fantasy football drafts that can post one hundred plus all-purpose yards and score touchdowns is still a golden egg of fantasy football.
Compared to our review of the free-agent movements of wide receivers, we are going to start with those backfields where the established, starting running back has company vis-à-vis a recently signed free agent. Then, we’ll review one player who right now, looks to be his team’s starting running back, and look at backfields lacking depth or a need for a quality running back. The impact of free agent signings and NFL draft picks is a fluid situation in fantasy football. Lastly, we note below free agent running backs presently available.
Let’s start with those running backs ranked towards the top of our first fantasy football pre-season rankings by position whose fantasy football value has been affected and work our way down. Please, don’t forget to post your comments and questions in the chat box below, or Contact Us directly. It is very much appreciated.
When the news broke that former Raiders RB Michael Bush signed with the Bears, you could hear the collective jaw drop of fantasy football fans everywhere from the West Coast to the WindyCity. Indeed, The Fantasy Greek expected Bush to be signed on by a team as a starting running back, not a back-up, and believed that the Bengals and Browns were candidates for his services. Michael Bush signing with the Bears was indeed a surprise.
For many Bears fans, the signing of Michael Bush felt, in a way, like a slap in the face, especially for their beloved Matt Forte. Matt Forte was the one player that Bears fans felt they could count on week-to-week to carry their team to victory: strong, dedicated, and, seemingly a force of nature. A player Bears fans have been clamoring for management to sign to a long term deal, Forte presently tendered the franchise tag. Relax Bears fans, as a deal should get done.
From a football perspective, this was a brilliant move by the Bears who saw their running game flounder a bit when Forte was injured for the last four games of last season. The Bears brought on a quality running back who could start if necessary. But, what does this mean for the fantasy football value of Matt Forte?
But for the injury last season, Matt Forte looked to be en route to a 1,700+ all-purpose yard season, with 6-8 touchdowns, having posted 203 rush attempts and 52 receptions before his injury. We had Forte ranked as a number five fantasy football running back before the Michael Bush signing. Now, we have ranked Forte number eleven, and his fantasy football value could drop further before fantasy football drafts.
To get an understanding of how Michael Bush, who would be expected to be the Bears third down and goal-line back, could impact Forte’s fantasy football value, consider the Raiders 2010 season when Michael Bush and Darren McFadden were in the Raiders collective backfield:
|2010||Darren McFadden||Michael Bush|
Now, consider the fact the Raiders offense revolved around McFadden and Bush in 2010. With WR Brandon Marshall in the fold for the Bears, one can see Matt Forte could be relegated to 1,000 to 1,200 all-purpose yards (or less) and four to six TDs. However, cutting against this is the fact the Bears are likely still a field position team, rather than a pass-slinging offense. Somehow, some way, Forte-Bush should find harmony as back-field mates. Nonetheless, Matt Forte is more likely now a late Round 2, to Round 3 fantasy football draft pick. What saves his value is the fact the Bears are dedicated to ball control. As for Michael Bush, consider him a low end RB3, with upside, as he should get the goal-line work and would become an instant fantasy football must start should Matt Forte go down to injury again.
Much like the Bears, the Chiefs learned the hard way how quickly a team can struggle when its star running back goes down to injury. The Chiefs lost last season’s rushing champion hopeful, Jamaal Charles to an ACL injury requiring surgery, in game two. By then, Charles accumulated 92 all-purpose yards and 1 TD. In the off-season, the Chiefs added RT Eric Winston and it’s been reported the Chiefs will run a zone-blocking scheme. The Chiefs also signed Peyton Hillis from the Browns.
Compared to Matt Forte, the presence of Hillis may not hurt the fantasy football value of Jamaal Charles as much. The running scheme likely favors a burst-of-speed runner like Charles more than Hillis. Still, we would expect Hillis to get some work, much like Thomas Jones in 2010 for the Chiefs, to take some of the load off Charles.
|2010||Jamaal Charles||Thomas Jones|
Right now, we don’t see Jamaal Charles having lost much value with the presence of Hillis, and Charles is our No. 12 ranked fantasy football running back. He had his best season with Thomas Jones toting the ball too. Charles could have another good season in 2012 too. The biggest concern is whether Charles is healthy and fully recovered from his ACL injury. Charles should be come kickoff of the 2012 fantasy football season. We still like Charles to have a good season.
As for Hillis, consider him a low end RB3 too, with upside, as he should be a change of pace back and he get the goal-line work. Like Bush, Hillis would be an instant fantasy football must start should Jamaal Charles go down to injury again.
The Forty-Niners have made some bold, offensive free-agency moves adding wide receivers Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, and now, former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. But, this is still Frank Gore’s offense as the 2011 statistics reflect:
|2011||Frank Gore||Kendall Hunter|
More than likely, Jacobs was added to help spell Gore who rushed 282 times, his second highest total since his second year in the pros, back in 2006. So, we can see Gore losing out on about 40 to 50 carries. Still, if Gore can replicate his seasons from 2008 and 2009, Gore could still be good for similar stats like he posted in 2011, less the number of rushing attempts. It looks like if anyone could get hurt more statistically, it’s Kendall Hunter given Jacobs numbers from last season for the Giants (699 APY, 8 TDs, 152 rush attempts, 15 receptions). While having some injury concern, Gore is looking like a low-end RB1, high-end RB2 for fantasy football purposes. As for Jacobs, he appears to be strictly a fantasy football reserve with value as a third-down or goal-line back.
No need to fret Raiders fans, and fantasy football fans, Darren McFadden should remain the bell cow of the Raiders offense in 2012. But with the departure of Michael Bush to the Bears, the Raiders made the move to acquire Mike Goodson from the Panthers to build depth to the running back position. Certainly, this made sense as McFadden has had his share of injuries during his time in the NFL, and is coming of a lis franc injury, which could linger or prove to be a pesky bother to McFadden during 2012. Right now, our hopes are high McFadden returns in good form for the 2012 season. McFadden was on pace to post 1,500-plus yards and ten TDs before going down to injury in game seven last season. So, we have him ranked fairly high, as the number five running back for fantasy football draft purposes, but this is a ranking that could change as the season nears. There should be a pre-season battle between Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones for the No. 2 running back spot behind McFadden. Whichever of the two lands the spot could have similar RB3 or RB4 value in fantasy football as Michael Bush did, if McFadden remains healthy. If McFadden is injured again, one of them would rise to fantasy football relevance fairly quickly. The Jones-Goodson training camp battle is certainly a camp battle to watch.
The Bengals signing BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a stunner only insofar as we expected the Bengals to sign Michael Bush. Otherwise, Law Firm’s arrow is pointing up compared to last year’s disappointing fantasy football season where Green-Ellis posted 826 APY, 11 TDs, 181 rush attempts, 9 receptions for the Patriots. Most of BGE’s numbers came form twelve games, and his fantasy football value would have been destroyed but for the fact he posted 11 touchdowns. For fantasy football, Green-Ellis was wildly inconsistent, and difficult to play on a week-to-week basis as the season progressed. This was largely due to a Patriots offense that largely passed the ball compared to running it last season.
However, with Green-Ellis slated to be the Bengals No. 1 running back, Green-Ellis should post numbers similar to his 2010 season where he tallied 1,093 APY, 13 TDs, on 229 rush attempts and 12 receptions. Indeed, this would be consistent with the three-year statistical average (2009-2011) of former Bengals RB Cedric Benson: 1,143 APY, 6.66 TDs, 298.3 rush attempts, and 20 receptions. Green-Ellis is a borderline RB2 for fantasy football purposes, with some upside, right now.
TEAMS IN NEED
With the major portion of free agency behind us, and the NFL draft on the horizon, here are some teams that will likely need to add depth or talent to the running back position. Current running backs are in parenthesis.
Browns (Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbannaya, Brandon Jackson, Armand Smith): The Browns look like they may have enough depth at the position, but the Browns running backs were notorious injury casualties last season. We expect the Browns to address the position in the upcoming draft.
Broncos (Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball, Jeremiah Johnson, Mario Fannin, Xavier Omon): The Broncos have depth. But, with the possibility Knowshon Moreno starts off the season on the PUP list, and given an injury concern over Willis McGahee, the Broncos will likely seek to add another running back.
Buccaneers (LeGarrette Blount, Mossis Madu): The Buccaneers desperately need depth. If LeGarrette Blount remains the team’s number one running back, he is due for a bounce back season with an improved offensive line. Blount could be a fantasy football gem.
Chargers (Ryan Mathews, Curtis Brinkley, LeRon McClain): The loss of Mike Tolbert was a bigger loss than just losing a good player. The Chargers only have two true running backs on their roster and must address the need. The upshot? Ryan Mathews will now carry the load for the Chargers and in The Fantasy Greek’s estimation, is an RB1 for fantasy football purposes.
Colts (Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Darren Evans): Besides added depth, the Colts could use an improved rushing attack to help their rookie quarterback. Reports are the Colts will use a true running back by committee. This does not bode well in fantasy football.
Cowboys (DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner): Depth is the Cowboys main issue. Do you see Jerry Jones spending a draft pick, if he can, on a sexy addition to this group?
Eagles (LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Craig Cooper): LeSean McCoy has been fantasy football gold. However, the Eagles have a need at the position should McCoy go down to injury.
Giants (Ahmad Bradshaw, D.J. Ware, Da’Rel Scott, Andre Brown): With Andre Brown set to miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension, the Giants now have an immediate need. Ahmad Bradshaw is still the running back to roster in fantasy football. The question is which one of the other running backs will emerge to fill the vacancy left by Brandon Jacobs.
Lions (Jahvid Best, Mikel LeShoure, Kevin Smith, Keiland Williams, Joique Bell): With Jahvid Best coming off a multiple concussion season, Kevin Smith having a history of injuries, and Mikel LeShoure’s off the field issues, the Lions are in the precarious position of having to add a running back. The Lions are a back-field away from having a really great team.
Packers (James Starks, Brandon Saine, Alan Green): Yep, even the Packers need to re-load at running back.
Panthers (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Josh Vaughan): The Panthers have plenty of upfront talent. However, should Jonathan Stewart be traded (always a possibility), there would be an immediate need. Assuming the Panthers maintain the status quo, the Panthers just need some added depth.
Rams (Steven Jackson, Quinn Porter, Chase Reynolds): Steven Jackson has had his own injury issues over the years. We still likeJackson as a mid- to high-end RB2 in fantasy football.
Ravens (Ray Rice, Anthony Allen, Damian Berry): Ray Rice is a potential holdout even though we think the Ravens will work out a long term deal with him. Rice remains one of the few true No. 1 running backs in the league and it should be a good pay day for him. We have Rice ranked as the No. 2 fantasy football running back. The Ravens need depth at the position.
Redskins (Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Tristan Davis): Mike Shanahan’s teams have always had a running back by committee of the worst kind for fantasy football players, keeping us guessing as to which running backs play on a week-to-week basis. No surprise here the Redskins lack some depth. The Redskins could re-sign Tim Hightower.
Texans (Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Javarris Williams): One of the best rushing offenses in the league needs depth. We have Arian Foster as our No. 1 fantasy football running back. Do you agree?
And, if you were wondering what notable free agent running backs are still available, here you go:
NOTABLE RUNNING BACK FREE AGENTS
|Laurence Maroney||Free Agent|
Comments: This is a distinguished list. The Fantasy Greek is a bit surprised that several players were released and/or have yet to be signed to a roster spot in free agency. When Cedric Benson has been given the chance, he has played tough and played well. Tim Hightower is coming off injury, but prior to that, Hightower was tearing up the gridiron for the Redskins.
We like many of the other running backs noted above because of their youth (Jackie Battle), because they have not reached the end of their careers (Joseph Addai), or have been effective when called upon (Derrick Ward). Ryan Grant had his first full season back from injury last season, and it wasn’t the greatest. In part, you can blame it on a crowded back-field, but more so, on an offense built to pass, not run. Two years removed from an injury that caused Grant to miss almost the entire 2010 season, Grant could bounce back given the time needed to heal.
Players that may have reached the end of their careers are former fantasy football starlets Thomas Jones and Ladanian Tomlinson. While they could still find a home this season, their roles would likely be extremely diminished.
Laurence Maroney has been out of the league for almost a year. But, he had some good days with the Patriots.