Fantasy Impact – Free Agency – Running Back

04/11/2014 9:00 am by in Fantasy Football, Fantasy Football Articles, Fantasy Football Expert Analysis

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In this article we continue to examine the fantasy impact of free agency, this time at the running back position. With the value of running backs taking a hit in recent years it is more important than ever that fantasy owners have as much information as possible in order to inform the decisions necessary when building a championship team…and that is the desired result at FFX!

For a look at the fantasy impact of free agency period for running backs, here you go.

Running Backs

Ben Tate (Cle)

Ben Tate signed with the Cleveland Browns to be their lead back in 2014. Tate has battled injuries throughout his career so while the hype is that Tate will be a bell-cow back for the Browns, he has to prove he can be durable. If he is, fantasy owners get a back who has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over his career. When healthy he has proven elusive, forcing 41 missed tackles (per ProFootballFocus, subscription required) just last season, placing him in the top ten in the league despite limited snaps. One thing we do know about Tate, he plays hurt. He played about two months of the 2013 season with broken ribs until being shut down in mid-December. What remains to be seen is if the Browns new front office can upgrade their offensive line.

Fantasy Impact: Tate will have more value in standard scoring leagues as neither pass catching nor pass blocking is a strength. This suggests a two down role for Tate in 2014. We can extrapolate from his injury history that he will play less than a full schedule, somewhere betwenn 12-15 games, but he should still produce 1000 total yards and eight plus touchdowns. Good for low-end RB2 value, just be sure to handcuff him.


Rashad Jennings (NYG)

Rashad Jennings is now a New York Giant and it’s safe to say no one saw this coming! We know he can handle a full workload and he may have to do just that as the Giants wait to see if and when David Wilson can return. While the Giants may add a running back in this years draft, at this point Jennings is the favorite to start and get a healthy workload. He has shown the ability to produce on the ground and through the air out of the backfield. He can pass protect as well, so he has three down potential.

Fantasy Impact: The more work Jennings gets the better he plays. With the Giants going to more of a vertical offense and Jennings’ ability to pass protect he should get at least a 65/35 split of the running back touches until/if Wilson is ready. Those touches should translate to RB2 value with 1200 total yards with nine touchdowns or better.


Joique Bell (Det)

Joique Bell received near starter numbers to re-sign with the Lions and new coach Jim Caldwell has stated his desire to run the ball more. While “more” is a relative term Bell has proven a valuable addition to Detroit and fantasy teams. In 2013 Bell was on the field for 47% of offensive snaps and the snap count for both Reggie Bush and Bell should be even closer in 2014.

Fantasy Impact: This has the look of an RBBC for 2014 with both Bell (low) and Reggie Bush (high) having RB2/3 value. While Caldwell may want to run the ball more, his offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi is coming over from the Saints and promises a similar offense. Both Bell and Bush should have high reception totals by the time it’s all said and done. Bell has the additional value of having RB1 upside should Bush miss time.


Toby Gerhart (Jac)

Toby Gerhart signed with Jacksonville and is the pre-season favorite to start for the Jaguars. After years of playing in the shadow of Adrian Petterson, Gerhart gets a chance to carry the load. By the time pre-season games are done Gerhart should have secured the starting position. It will be interesting to see if he secures a three down role as he has shown to have good hands when given the chance (77 receptions on 103 targets for 600 yards and three touchdowns).

Fantasy Impact: Gerhart was very productive in college and getting a steady workload, which he should earn during the pre-season games, gives him at least RB3 potential. He should get enough touches to produce 1200 total yards with a handful of touchdowns, giving him RB2 value.


Darren McFadden (Oak)

Darren McFadden resigned with the Oakland Raiders, just after Rashad Jennings left for New York. Tough to tell if it was the Raiders plan all along or if it was a reaction to losing Jennings. MacFadden just can’t stay healthy and now he has to compete against MJD for the starting role. Factoring in the questions along the offensive line, and the questions around Matt Schaub leaves little upside for McFadden in 2014.

Fantasy Impact: McFadden is a low-end RB3/flex option at best and based on his injury history, he is likely to miss about a third of the games due to injury.


Maurice Jones-Drew (Oak)

Maurice Jones-Drew struggled last year, but he has a 50/50 chance to earn the starting nod in Oakland. He has so much wear and tear combined with the questions Oakland faces with their offensive line this is a situation to avoid in fantasy, with the exception being James Jones.
Fantasy Impact: It is likely McFadden and MJD will split carries at first leaving fantasy owners guessing each week who will get more touches. Given his age and the team, Jones-Drew is a tough player to rely on as anything more than a boom/bust flyer as you get to the lower half of the RB3s.


Donald Brown (SD)

Donald Brownis now a San Deigo Charger after posting a career season in a contract year. On the surface it looks like Brown is the handcuff for Ryan Mathews, who was healthy for the first time in 2013. However, Brown can fill in for either Woodhead or Mathews should injuries sideline either player. Both of the later players are free agents in 2015, so Brown is also an insurance policy should either move on. Respected beat writer Kevin Acee sees Brown getting 5-10 touches a game. He is tied into the team and there is no reason not to expect those numbers to begin the season.

Fantasy Impact: This is another murky situation for fantasy owners. Head coach Mike McCoy has expressed a desire to go with the hot-hand which doesn’t help. Brown’s value is for dynasty owners looking ahead to 2015 and as a handcuff for Mathews in both redraft and dynasty leagues in 2014.


Darren Sproles (Phi)

Darren Sproles was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and immediately becomes the RB2 for the team. Look for the Eagles to split Sproles out wide more often than not. He won’t affect LeSean McCoy’s carries, but he will slightly reduce his receptions.
Fantasy Impact: Sproles won’t have the same role or number of touches he had in the past. He should still be a solid RB3 in ppr redraft leagues. In standard scoring leagues his value falls to the high-end RB4 area. Any injuries to the WRs or TEs would move him up a tier. If McCoy were sidelined he would share touches, but the result would be the same.


Knowshon Moreno (Mia)

Knowshon Moreno is now in Miami, which brings its own set of questions as well as the question most fantasy owners face, which version of Moreno Shows up? The one who produced for Denver or the one prior to 2013, when Moreno was not on anyone’s fantasy radar? One player who will benefit from Moreno in Miami is Ryan Tannehill, Moreno is an excellent pass protector and check-down option. He is likely to assume the lead back role and all that remains is to see if the Dolphins can upgrade their offensive line and address their dysfunctional locker room.
Fantasy Impact: Moreno is a high-end RB3 (best case) and a bit of a boom/bust pick heading into 2014. If he wins the starting gig, and he is expected to, he should get the majority of snaps due to his pass blocking skills. Where he will decline is in rushing yards. He will face more stacked-fronts, unless Tannehill has a breakout year. Fantasy owners can snag Moreno with a likely sixth round or lower selection in redraft leagues. He should produce about 1000 total yards and a handful of touchdowns.


LeGarrette Blount (Pit)

LeGarrette Blount repaired his image in New England last year and signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers to back-up Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers are expected to run more and Blount may steal some goal line carries. He thrives on a heavy workload, which he is unlikely to get with the Steelers, but he’s a solid handcuff for Bell.
Fantasy Impact: Its tough to see much upside in Blount heading into 2014. He is an obvious handcuff, could vulture some goal line carries but is little more than an RB5 unless Bell misses time. If you get return yards in your league you can bump him up a tier.


James Starks (GB)

James Starks resigned with the Packers to back-up Eddie Lacy. It is clear that Green Bay trusts Starks more than Johnathan Franklin, but there is little to be excited about. Starks is unlikely to get more than the 100 touches he got last season, barring injury.
Fantasy Impact: Unless Lacy misses significant time Starks is little more than an RB5/6.


Pierre Thomas (NO)

Pierre Thomas is back with New Orleans and in an intriguing situation with the departure of Darren Sproles. Thomas led all running back in receptions last season (77) and should get a light bump in that area in 2014. At worst his role remains the same, at best his role could expand if any of the other running backs fail to deliver.
Fantasy Impact: In ppr leagues Thomas is a low-end RB2. In redraft leagues he has high-end RB3 value as he should easily produce 1000 total yards with six touchdowns. The influx of rookie running backs is likely to push Thomas into the low-mid to later rounds in redraft leagues, where he could be a steal as a plug and play flex.


Andre Brown (Hou)

Andre Brown signed with the Houston Texans and should be the back-up to Arian Foster, as long as he can stay healthy. He can be effective running and receiving as well as in pass protection. He’ll be an insurance policy should Foster have trouble returning to form, but won’t be a threat to his workload otherwise. He essentially replaces Ben Tate.
Fantasy Impact: Brown’s value is solely as Foster’s handcuff. Someone you can grab late in your redraft league but not anyone you need to chase in dynasty leagues. Dennis Johnson and/or Jonathan Grimes are still holds in deep dynasty leagues and savvy dynasty owners could sell high on Brown if there is interest.


Dexter McCluster (Ten)

Dexter McCluster had a career-high 53 receptions for 511 yards and two touchdowns in 2013 and was signed by the Tennessee Titans. He also led the league with 686 punt return yards. There is a lot of speculation that Ken Whisenhunt will use McCluster in a role similar to Danny Woodhead last season, but that is difficult to envision. McCluster weighs only 170 pounds and hasn’t been utilized in the run game since 2011. He has shown little ability to run between the tackles. He does have some untapped potential, but his production suggests it is split out wide.
Fantasy Impact: McCluster will get some touches to discover if he can handle a larger workload but he was largely a slot receiver for the Chiefs and right now the Titans have Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter ahead of him, not to forget Delanie Walker. McCluster has RB4/5 value and the same if he is listed as a WR in your league. Move him up a tier if your league rewards punt return yardage.


Chris Johnson (FA)

Chris Johnson is yet to sign but when he does, the better the run blocking, the more value he carries. Make no mistake, the Titans are a good run blocking team. Keep that in mind when Johnson signs.
Fantasy Impact: Johnson is a high-end flex at the moment (no guaranteed touches, like he enjoyed in Tennessee) , landing spot and usage will determine his future value.


Want More?

These players and situations will be updated as the season progresses in our Fantasy Draft Kit or player spotlights.

Check out our Free Content or the Free Rookie Quarterback Spotlights. Both will offer a glimpse into the content and research that goes into our redraft and dynasty rankings for standard and ppr leagues as well as the redraft and dynasty IDP (Individual Defensive Player) rankings.

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