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Faceoff: RB Most Helped By Free Agency

August 12th

Clayton Gray: Is there a running back whose fantasy prospects were really helped by free agency? If so, expound on what happened and how it increases his 2011 outlook.

Dave Larkin: Despite the fact that he's a rookie, I think Daniel Thomas' value was secured when Miami's only RB move was adding Reggie Bush. Thomas is a nice runner but not the best RB in this class. Outside of Ingram in New Orleans, opportunity alone could make him the best rookie RB this year. Shane Vereen is great in New England but has more competition to overcome (although I think he will by year's end), and Bilal Powell for the Jets can be a player too, but he'll be juggling snaps with Greene and Tomlinson.

Typically I like to employ the "talent rises to the top" mindset in my drafts each year, but Thomas could be a good example where opportunity can be more important than talent in fantasy.

Jeff Haseley: While I like Daniel Thomas' opportunity in Miami, I believe Miami signed Reggie Bush with the intent to give him considerable opportunities to thrive in their offense. Bush now has the ability to show that he can be a featured back. Whether or not he can be is another discussion altogether. He definitely found success in New Orleans, especially early on, but the continuous strategy of involving several RBs, ultimately phased him out of the picture. I think Bush will be given the opportunity to be the team's primary ball carrier. He is in a great spot, where he only has to beat out Thomas to secure the role. Will it happen? That's debatable, but his landing spot is definitely in his favor.

Jason Wood: Unfortunately the two top free agent RBs -- DeAngelo Williams and Ahmad Bradshaw -- re-signed with their prior teams and committed to another few years in a committee. While both will likely have the skills and touches to produce solid numbers, I'm not sure either can deliver top 10 numbers now that they're going back home. To my mind, the "winner" in free agency was Ray Rice.

Rice's RB stablemates -- Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain -- have signed with Denver and Kansas City, respectively. The Ravens opted not to sign another tailback, and right now the likes of Anthony Allen and Jalen Paremele are his backups. If you think they're bigger threats to vulture carries or catches, I'd like to join a league with you. As importantly, the Ravens let McClain (an offensive minded fullback) go, and signed Vonta Leach to a multi-year deal. Leach is a classic battering ram, and that signing signals the Ravens intent to pound Rice early and often. Like any runner, Rice will need to stay healthy, but I think he's now quite possibly ascended into that elite tier alongside Peterson, Foster, Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles.

Sigmund Bloom: Since Jason wrote this, the Ravens did opt to sign another tailback - Ricky Williams - who has the same rugged inside running style as McGahee. Whether Williams will inherit McGahee's goal-line carries is yet to be seen, but it certainly isn't great for his prospects to join the uberstud RB tier in nonPPR leagues.

Jason Wood: Agreed :kickrock:

Sigmund Bloom: And now Cam Cameron says Ray Rice will play a major role in short yardage and goal line situations. So we're all good again!

Jason Wood: Another is Denver's Knowshon Moreno. Yes, Willis McGahee will get touches and could vulture some goal line carries just as he did playing with Ray Rice in Baltimore. But it could've been much worse. Both DeAngelo Williams and Ahmad Bradshaw were linked with Denver at times this preseason, and they would've been true threats to drive Moreno into a backup role. Instead, he's entering camp with the feature back role yet again.

Jeff Pasquino: I agree that it could have been much worse, but McGahee is a big deal in fantasy football valuation to Moreno. McGahee is capable of vulturing 10+ touchdowns a season, and that's huge for Moreno's value. Moreno has more viability in PPR leagues, but even though DeAngelo Williams did not head to Denver the impact to Moreno is still significant.

Matt Waldman: I think Joseph Addai is a winner in free agency. His teammate and offensive coordinator/quarterback Peyton Manning altered his contract to get Addai signed. Although Delone Carter is a true talent who has the potential to develop into as capable a ball carrier as Addai, the rookie from Syracuse will likely have to wait for his chance. With Addai returning, I think the addition of Carter is now more a damning statement of Donald Brown's difficulty transitioning from college star to heir apparent. Addai is vastly undervalued in fantasy leagues and with the Colts adding some quality run blocking linemen in the draft, I think we're going to see a resurgent ground game in 2011.

Marshawn Lynch is a winner in free agency because the Seahawks added a lot of the Oakland Raider's run blocking expertise to their organization. Left guard Robert Gallery and tight end Zach Miller will fortify the left side of the line that struggled last year. They also join new offensive line coach Tom Cable - the former Raider's head coach - and this will help the offense make a more efficient transition to Cable's schemes. Lynch was one of the better runners in yards gained after he got passed the line of scrimmage in 2010, but the line rarely opened big enough holes. This is going to change in 2011 if the line stays healthy.

Jason Wood: I'm going to have to disagree here. Hardesty is still gimpy and that's not good news that we'll ever see him play up to the potential that so many fantasy owners want to shower him with. And Brandon Jackson has looked good, and is running 2nd on the depth chart. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Hardesty shelved on the PUP or even possibly released if he doesn't pick it up. Hillis is criminally undervalued right now, he'll be a workhorse yet again.

Greg Russell: Ahmad Bradshaw returning to the Giants was the best thing that could have happened for his fantasy value. A move elsewhere would have meant a higher salary, in all likelihood, but Bradshaw and the Giants mesh well together. Brandon Jacobs is a limited player at this stage in his career, which will once again allow Bradshaw to assume the bulk of the workload. This is a case of "leave well enough alone" that worked out well for both player and team.

Steven Jackson will be a stud in this Josh McDaniels offense in St. Louis, but the underrated signing of Cadillac Williams will have a knock-on effect on Jackson. For years the Rams have searched in vain for a runner who could spell Jackson and be effective in doing so. Williams can be that player. He is a very competent back who may have lost a few steps due to injury, but still packs a punch in pass protection. Jackson can only benefit from Williams' presence in my opinion.

Sigmund Bloom: Jacquizz Rodgers, Gartrell Johnson, ATL - it doesn't help their outlook for this year that Jason Snelling returned to Atlanta, but the fact that Snelling sat on the market for so long and had to accept Atlanta's offer as a consolation deal + Atlanta not pursuing a veteran back in the case that Snelling didn't re-sign tells me that they really like what they have seen from Rodgers and Johnson so far. It might support the idea that they are not worried about a Michael Turner breakdown this year.

Chris Wells/Ryan Williams, ARI - Wells is the starter as of right now, but Williams is also drawing good reviews in camp. The departure of Tim Hightower via trade removes a potential value drain via a back who takes third-down and short yardage carries. Both backs have a higher ceiling now with Hightower not around. Wells does seem like the better play at this moment, but my gut feeling is that Williams will be the more valuable back by the end of the year.

Will Grant: Well it's not necessarily due to free agency per se, but Jerome Harrison just landed a big win signing with Detroit after rookie Mikel LeShoure was lost for the season. The Lions drafted LeShoure with the expectation that he'd take some of the work load off of Jahvid Best and keep him healthy for the season. Harrison has the skills and experience to jump into the #2 slot ahead of Maurice Morris and Mike Bell. Harrison is definitely going to get several touches a game, and he'll have a chance to really showcase his talents - something he never really had a chance to do in Philadelphia.

Mark Wimer: I think that LeGarrette Blount is one of the "winners" of free agency - with Cadillac Williams now down in St. Louis, Blount is in the driver's seat as featured back on a young offense that is on the rise. With Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow threatening teams in the secondary, opposing defenses can't stack the box and stonewall Blount.

None of these guys: Earnest Graham, Kareem Huggins, Allen Bradford, Kregg Lumpkin, Mossis Madu, or Armando Allen are likely to be in a position to threaten Blount's touches during 2011 - Graham is a steady, average back and Huggins suffered a torn right ACL, other ligament damage, and a torn meniscus during October of 2010, and was placed on IR due to his injuries on October 19th. He was reported to be noticeably limping in early March (four months after his reconstructive knee surgery) - I doubt either Graham or Huggins siphon a significant number of touches away from Blount.

I agree that Hardesty is probably not going to be ready for the start of the season and that Hillis is WAY undervalued, BTW.

Jeff Pasquino: Blount is a great name to drop, Mark. That's a solid pick given that Tampa Bay has not added a significant RB2 candidate at all. I've heard that Blount is working on his receiving abilities as well, so it sounds like the Bucs will have him as an every down rusher. Great pick.

I'll second the mention of Marshawn Lynch, who is another solid winner here. Reggie Bush did not head to Seattle, and with the Seahawks improving their offensive line and adding Sidney Rice the opportunities will be numerous for Lynch to break off big runs again this season.

Chris Smith: I 100% agree that one of the biggest winners of free agency is Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins were linked to multiple running backs that may have cut into this carries this season. Instead the Dolphins went with Reggie Bush, an elite pass receiving running back with marginal ability to run the football inside the tackles. This paves the way for Thomas to carry the ball up to 20 times per game in his rookie season. Bush will have his 5-6 carries per game and perhaps an equal number of receptions but Thomas wasn't going to be a receiving option this year in any case. Expect 300 carries from Thomas as a rookie.