Faceoff: RB Most Hurt By Free Agency
Clayton Gray: Is there a running back whose fantasy prospects were really hurt by free agency? If so, expound on what happened and how it decreases his 2011 outlook.
Sigmund Bloom: Jonathan Stewart was all set to become the Panthers lead back and finally fulfill his fantasy potential, but DeAngelo Williams returned to Carolina, signing a whopping 5 year, 43 million dollar contract with 21 million guaranteed. Stewart goes from an everyweek RB2 with RB1 upside to a bye week/injury/matchup RB3. The resigning of Williams might have been a slight vote of no confidence in Stewart as a lead back, but it is more likely that it was part of a spending binge by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
Other Losers: Ryan Torain saw his team trade for someone who will compete for his job in Tim Hightower. Ronnie Brown only got interest as a backup RB and had to sign in Philly behind LeSean McCoy. Ahmad Bradshaw did not get as much money from New York as they gave Brandon Jacobs in 2009 after getting in showdown with the team and trying to bluff them into a bigger deal. Pierre Thomas saw the Saints sign a receiving scatback to take touches and snaps from him in Darren Sproles - whom they paid better than they paid Thomas just before the lockout. Le'Ron McClain didn't get to go anywhere they would use him as a halfback.
Jeff Haseley: I definitely agree that Pierre Thomas may have decided too early to stay with the Saints. He signed a four-year deal and is now situated as the third RB on the roster behind Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles, who will occupy the role left vacant by Reggie Bush. Thomas thrived as the main back behind Bush, however now that Ingram is part of the picture, his role will be diminished.
Steven Jackson, who has ruled the roost as the Rams primary ball carrier season after season, now will likely see a decrease in production thanks to the signing of Jerious Norwood and Cadillac Williams. The duo of Norwood and Williams will likely share the duties as the team's third down back and change of pace carrier. Both are exceptional pass catching backs, which also suggests Jackson will see fewer receptions in 2011. Jackson has been a mainstay in the Top 15, however this year, he may fall out of that tier if his rushing attempts and overall production is shared more often.
Jason Wood: Sigmund and Jeff did a great job of hitting on a lot of the guys that came to my mind.
Spinning this another way, the biggest losers after the RB free agency period were...fantasy football owners. With DeAngelo Williams and Ahmad Bradshaw returning to CAR and NYG respectively, they not only handcuff their upside, but also remove any chance of Jonathan Stewart and Brandon Jacobs having breakthrough seasons. A few other guys worth mentioning that haven't received a nod yet:
- Jason Snelling, Atlanta Falcons -- Snelling tried desperately to find a new home but ultimately had to re-sign in Atlanta as Michael Turner's backup. The major difference between 2010 and 2011 is that Snelling now has the immensely talented Jacquizz Rodgers nipping at his heels instead of the less impressive Jerious Norwood.
- Delone Carter, Indianapolis Colts -- Carter MIGHT have gotten a chance to be the feature back in Indianapolis as a rookie -- something that Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James did. But the re-signing of Joseph Addai takes the wind out of Carter's sails for this year, and possibly several more.
- Chester Taylor, Chicago Bears -- Taylor was the apple of many fantasy eyes last year at this time -- with some thinking he would end up winning the job in Chicago away from Matt Forte. That obviously didn't happen and now Taylor may be fighting for a roster spot after the Bears signing of Marion Barber.
Matt Waldman: Lots of great analysis already, but from both a monetary and timeshare standpoint Ahmad Bradshaw has to be on this list. He sought a chance to become a feature back or a lead back with greater responsibilities and a bigger payday. He got neither, and the Giants intend to use Brandon Jacobs a little more this year and if Cecil Lammey is right about rookie speedster D. Scott, Bradshaw's chance of elevating his career a notch has likely slipped by.
Let's hit on some below the radar guys:
- Bernard Scott lost out when the Bengals re-signed Cedric Benson. It's apparent that Cincinnati doesn't see Scott as a viable feature back. Then again, they have two viable younger backs than Benson who they are letting rot on the bench.
- Jerome Harrison continued to flash skills as a runner in 20010, but nobody believes he can develop as a pass blocker. It's a shame, he can tote the ball.
- Clinton Portis and Ricky Williams are casualties of the NFL's eternal youth movement. Until injuries strike, these guys will be hanging back in the cut. Think Terry Allen late in his career.
- Michael Bush remains stuck behind Darren McFadden and the Oakland offense lost a good run blocking TE and LG.
Greg Russell: The Jonathan Stewart bandwagon was about to leave the station. Everyone had their bags packed and there was a sense of great anticipation in the air. Then along came a checkbook. Five minutes later, the wagon's load got considerably lighter. The Panthers oft-questioned move to re-sign DeAngelo Williams means Jonathan Stewart - despite being a top ten talent at the running back position in the league - will have to share carries for the foreseeable future. His owners can take solace in the fact that Williams' record health-wise has not been spotless the last couple of seasons. Another reason for optimism is that the Panthers offense is bound to improve. Stewart is only one injury away from getting on the field and being a stud for your team, but the return of his backfield buddy certainly hurts his value.
Colts rookie running back Delone Carter is a victim of the NFL's labour strife along with most rookies in the league. Instead of digesting coaches' tape and learning protection schemes, he had to bide his time. The re-signing of Joseph Addai is a safe move by the Colts organisation to retain some continuity and it is understandable why they would be more inclined to trust Addai, a proven veteran. It is unclear where former first round pick Donald Brown fits into all of this. Carter's time to shine will arrive; the Colts have a good track record selecting running backs and fitting them to their scheme. Be patient and he will come good, but it may not be in 2011.
Will Grant: I'll second Jason's vote of Chester Taylor after the Bears signed Marion Barber. Matt Forte threatened to hold out, so it made sense that the Bears drafted a little insurance policy. It helps that Barber can help punch the ball in on the goal line. Taylor is coming off of his worst season since his rookie year, but the Bears will play 'wait and see' with him until the last minute. Had they released him, he might have signed with Detroit or some other team who might want to add a veteran to their backfield. Instead, he could end up being cut when the Bears have to get down to 53, and he could spend the first half of the season hoping to get a shot someplace else.
Chris Smith: Pierre Thomas is set to become an afterthought in New Orleans. Mark Ingram is the real deal at running back and will quickly take over as the feature back for the Saints. Thomas would have been better served taking his services elsewhere.
Without question, Jonathan Stewart qualifies here. I really thought this was going to be his year to shine behind what should be a fantastic offensive line this season. However with DeAngelo Williams re-signing with the club, it is going to be option 1a and 1b again and Stewart's value will be dropping.
Ryan Torain is another player that was set to emerge but the team brought in veteran Tim Hightower who is capable of doing some nice things as well and now this has the feel of the dreaded 'RBBC' in Washington. Torain's value definitely took a dip.
Jeff Pasquino: I for one love that Delone Carter is viewed as losing value. I always had projected Addai to return to the Colts, so Carter's valuation for me is unaffected that Addai is back. Addai is a very good pass protection running back, but Indianapolis struggled in short yardage and goal line conversions - which is where Carter should excel. Carter and Addai will make for a nice RB combo in Indianapolis and Carter should get 8+ touchdowns this year, so I am glad to see his value falling in drafts.
Another sleeper RB whose value fell is Mike Goodson, who is a solid rusher and receiver and is now yet again trapped behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina.
How has no one mentioned Knowshon Moreno yet? Willis McGahee is a talented veteran running back and he will push Moreno for carries and definitely vulture touchdown opportunities. Even if McGahee doesn't pass Moreno on the depth chart, he should impact Moreno's fantasy value significantly.
Mark Wimer: I'm with Jeff about Knowshon Moreno - the kid has never taken his game to the pro level, and he doesn't play through relatively minor injuries. I think that this job is McGahee's to lose, not the other way around. Moreno simply isn't a lead back - he is more suited to a complementary, third-down back role. We'll know more as the preseason games roll on, but I expect that McGahee will seize the top job in Denver by regular season.
I agree with Chris that Ryan Torain's prospects took a huge blow with the arrival of Tim Hightower - he is an under-appreciated back who put up solid numbers despite all the turmoil on the Cardinals' offense in recent years. I think Hightower is the favorite to be the lead ball carrier in Washington's committee this year.