The Footballguys staff was asked to mention their most significant veteran running back who changed teams over the offseason. Most significant can have a lot of meaning, so - in this case - it means we just asked our guys to pick the running back they most wanted to write about. Here are the results.
DeMarco Murray - 6 mentions
Brimacombe - After the Eagles traded away LeSean McCoy they hit the Free Agent market quickly and snagged Murray from their division rival Dallas Cowboys. Murray is coming off his first complete 16 game season in his four year NFL career. He carried the ball a remarkable 393 times last season for 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns but with the Cowboys looking to give star wide receiver Dez Bryant a big pay day they simple could not afford both superstars. In 2014, McCoy ran for no gain or less 22.1 percent of the time, and Murray did 18.4 percent of the time. Rumor has it that head coach Chip Kelly was looking for less dancing in the backfield and more hitting the hole and moving forward.
Feery - Hands down, DeMarco Murray is the most significant free agent running back signing as it impacted the fortunes of two division rivals. Murray should thrive in the Chip Kelly offense, even while losing some carries in their crowded backfield. Throw in the motivation of playing with his former college quarterback Sam Bradford – reportedly a big influence in Murray’s decision – and Murray should be successful in his new surroundings. Murray’s replacement in Dallas, Darren McFadden, gets an honorable mention as he gets to play behind the line that allowed Murray to run for 1,845 yards last season.
Howe - Murray finally stayed on the field in 2014, and the results were glorious. Many have tried to pin his success on volume and an elite Dallas offensive line, forecasting doom and gloom for his 2015 prospects in Philadelphia. But it’s still easy to love Murray’s statistical potential as an Eagle. First and foremost, Murray (and the rest of the team’s skill-position stable) benefit from massive volume. Chip Kelly’s breakneck offensive pace allows more opportunities to be divvied up, making relevant names from the likes of Riley Cooper and Chris Polk while boosting the value of his key cogs. The Eagles could conceivably lead the league in rushing attempts this season, making Murray a 350-touch candidate and clear backups Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles relevant as fantasy RB3/4 types. And let’s not forget, Murray could be running behind an even better line in 2015. Pro Football Focus graded the Philadelphia line #1 league-wide in run blocking – by roughly a mile over the #2 Cowboys.
VanderWoude - With the exception of Seattle acquiring Jimmy Graham, the most high profile offensive additions of the NFL off-season both involved the Philadelphia Eagles. The first move involved shipping LeSean McCoy to Buffalo, however they quickly found his replacement with the signing of DeMarco Murray. On first glance, this move looked like more of a philosophical change in the running game than anything else. Chip Kelly has been vocal with regard to his preference of one-cut runners in his power spread scheme. McCoy had a rough 2014 season by his standards, averaging 4.2 YPC on his way to 1379 yards. For most RBs in the NFL, those numbers would represent a successful season, but for McCoy this was seen as a decline. The Eagles were staring down the barrel of a contract extension for McCoy within the next couple years, and that would be at the point of his career where RB’s tend to be on a decline. If the Eagles were going to spend the money on one running back, it certainly makes sense that they would choose the younger player, with more NFL tread left on his tires and 500 carries less to his name.
Wimer - The Eagles' acquisition of DeMarco Murray was the most significant free agency move at the running back position. It will be impactful for Murray owners - and perhaps not as beneficial as some are expecting. Murray has more, and more significant, challengers for playing time at running back in Philadelphia than he did in Dallas - Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles are much more formidable competition than Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. Murray is the clear #1, but I think Mathews and Sproles will get theirs this year, too, limiting Murray's ceiling/upside overall. The team has been vocal about getting Sproles more involved in the offense, for example. Fantasy owners expecting a repeat of Murray's 2014 numbers will likely be disappointed.
Wood - Rarely do we see the plate tectonics underlying the NFL rushing landscape shift as dramatically as we saw this offseason. LeSean McCoy, the cornerstone of Philadelphia's offense, was traded to Buffalo just a season after leading the league in total yards. Many figured this signaled a de-emphasis of the RB position in Chip Kelly's offense; yet that supposition was quickly dispelled when the Eagles signed DeMarco Murray to a monster free agent contract. As McCoy had done in 2013, Murray led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2014 (2,261 yards) in dominating fashion. Murray becomes the new centerpiece of an offense that's finished in the Top 5 in points scored in each of Kelly's seasons. What's not yet clear is whether Murray can reproduce last year's heroics in a new system and running behind a different offensive line. Although the Eagles offensive line is considered among the best, it arguably isn't as dominant in run-blocking as the Cowboys' line. Given the potency of the Eagles' system, Murray remains a top-tier fantasy option but ranks as the most significant free agent at his position for reasons beyond his own outlook. His signing also relegates Ryan Mathews, who looked to be McCoy's replacement, to a backup role. Perhaps most significantly, Murray's departure from Dallas creates a massive void that, at press time, looks to be filled by a combination of Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle.
C.J. Spiller - 4 mentions
Haseley - LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray will both have the opportunity to be stud running backs on their respective new teams; however, the player that I am most intrigued by is C.J. Spiller in New Orleans. Drew Brees is in the autumn of his career and he lost some key components in the receiving game in Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas and Kenny Stills. Insert Spiller to fill the void, who will be an often-targeted, high percentage receiver for Brees. In Buffalo, Head Coach Doug Marrone and Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett didn't utilize Spiller the way Chan Gailey did in the previous Bills regime. I don't expect Sean Payton to have an issue best utilizing Spiller's talent, because Payton has found success with Spiller's skill set in the past. I envision Spiller having a Reggie Bush-like or Darren Sproles-like season if not better, simply because he's a better all around rusher than Bush or Sproles. Spiller has shown the ability to average as much as 6.0 yards per carry when used properly. I don't see him ousting Mark Ingram as the team's primary ball carrier, but he will be a major contributor from the get go. He's easily an RB2, especially in PPR leagues with the possibility of putting up RB1 numbers any given week.
Holloway - Spiller’s signing in New Orleans, even after the Saints had signed Mark Ingram is an interesting situation to watch unfold. Spiller is a quick-twitch athlete drafted by the Bills at 9th overall in the 2010 draft. Despite averaging 5.0 ypc rushing, catching 159 passes, and totaling 4,521 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Bills, he seemed frequently misused. Spiller was also inconsistent. His contract is for four-years and $16 million contract, but Spiller got more guaranteed and in signing bonus than Ingram did in his four-year, $16 million contract. There is no doubt that Coach Payton knows how to use a player with Spiller’s skills. Spiller averaged 35 receptions per year in his first four seasons and should set a career high for receptions this year as the Saints best receiving running back by far. It will be interesting to see if Spiller can also garner significant rushing chances as well.
Parsons - Landing in New Orleans was a best case scenario for the fleet-footed Spiller. High-volume is not the best recipe for Spiller and a potential Darren Sproles role with a majority of his games on indoor turf maximizes his upside. Spiller can line up as a receiver plus take swing passes the distance. There is even upside for more carries if Mark Ingram misses a few games along the way.
Tefertiller - Many may consider Frank Gore heading to Indianapolis or DeMarco Murray to Philadelphia as the most significant moves at the position in free agency. Yes, each move will have a huge impact on fantasy football. However, the addition of C.J. Spiller in the New Orleans offense should not be overlooked. He toiled in the lackluster Buffalo offense while splitting time with Fred Jackson for the first part of his career. Now, he gets a chance to show off his talent. Coach Sean Payton will know how best to use the shifty playmaker's skills. Spiller is expected to have a larger role than the departed Pierre Thomas and could catch close to 100 passes from quarterback Drew Brees. Add in ten rushing attempts per contest and it is easy to see how Spiller could go from sleeper status to every-week RB2 in PPR leagues. Thomas was a fantasy starter most weeks and Spiller has the chance to be prolific on the dome turf.
Darren McFadden - 3 mentions
Heiser - DeMarco Murray is likely the popular choice here. So let’s go for something slightly less obvious. Jerry Jones finally got the Razorback he always wanted -- former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden is now a Cowboy. McFadden is another high draft pick who has struggled to stay healthy, having missed 29 games in his eight-year career. He’s always been the “if he could only stay healthy”-guy. Now he gets a fresh start as a lead back for a team that bolsters the NFL’s best run-blocking offense. He couldn’t have landed in a better place.
Hester - Darren McFadden’s signing with Dallas is a very interesting development. In 2014, Dallas’ offensive line paved the way for a career year from DeMarco Murray. While Murray is a more talented player than McFadden, the line is dominant enough to sustain a “plus” running game almost regardless of the running back. Dallas added no other running backs in the draft, despite many projecting that they would. While Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar are talented players who remain on the roster, McFadden has a chance at a bit of a career renaissance. Health – as it always has been – will remain the biggest question for McFadden.
Hindery - With the draft in the rearview mirror, the Darren McFadden signing all of a sudden looks like it could be one of the more fantasy relevant moves of the entire offseason. While the 2-year, $3 million contract signed by McFadden was modest, the Cowboys clearly believe that their offensive line is the key to their running game and that they do not need to pay big money (or invest early draft picks) at the running back position. McFadden is a runner who needs to build up a little head of steam and has the potential to thrive behind a stout line that can open up large holes and allow McFadden’s an opportunity to get rolling. While Joseph Randle should provide competition for the lead role (and RBBC is also a possibility), McFadden’s move to Dallas puts him firmly back on the fantasy radar.
Frank Gore - 2 mentions
Bloom - Gore was widely seen as a veteran with winter coming in his career entering his age 32 season, but the Colts thought otherwise. Colt running backs not named Trent Richardson have all averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry over the last two years, and that includes names like Dan Herron, Donald Brown, and Vick Ballard. An aging Gore should be better than them, and he should also be able to cash in the numerous touchdown opportunities this prolific offense will provide. Frank Gore has been the exception to the rule for most of his career. Let others pass on him because of the track record of all 32-year old running backs in the history of the NFL. None of them have had the demonstrated staying power of Gore (who defied what 31-year old RBs usually do last year), and the none have has a plum situation like the one he has in Indy this year. Don't overthink this one. Gore has RB1 upside.
Pasquino - While I can understand some might want to discuss DeMarco Murray or LeSean McCoy, I love what Indianapolis is doing this offseason. They added veteran help on offense to put Andrew Luck in the best situation to make a run at a championship in 2015. Problems at running back? Okay, go and get a savvy veteran who can contribute to an offense, as long as you do not ask him to carry the weight of the entire game plan. That perfectly describes Frank Gore, who can thrive in a pass-first offense that will only ask him to run 15-18 times a contest to keep defenses honest and punch the ball across the goal line in short yardage situations. Couple that with his solid ability to pass block and catch out of the backfield and I love Gore’s upside as a Colt this season.
DeAngelo Williams - 2 mentions
Hicks - The running back landscape will dramatically shift for round 1 this year with more than half the projected starters likely to be different compared to opening day last year. That means there will be a lot of question marks at the position coming into the early part of the season. An almost certain opening day starter who is likely to be drafted deep into most drafts, due to the 3 game suspension of Le’Veon Bell, is DeAngelo Williams. Williams is coming to the end of his career after 9 years in Carolina, but due to a checkered injury history he still has a lot of tread on his tires. The Steelers have very little behind him on the depth chart and Bell will dominate carries once he returns, so don’t expect anything more than a brief time in the limelight. There is a chance that the missed start to the season may be detrimental to Bell, so Williams may have life beyond week 3, but don’t count on it.
Simpkins - Williams has proven that he has the goods to carry the load in the past. After watching him last season, it can be argued that his play had more to do with the porous offensive line in Carolina rather than an age-related decline in Williams. Now 32, he’s clearly at the end of his career. However, he did fall into a really interesting backup role. LeVeon Bell may be elite, but as we’ve seen the past two years, he’s not injury-proof. DeAngelo is already going to get some time (perhaps as much as three games) with Bell’s suspension. If Bell succombs to injury once again this season, Williams could be that plug-and-play running back option that fantasy owners look for each year.
LeSean McCoy - 1 mention
Wachtel - While last season was filled with frustration for LeSean McCoy's fantasy owners, he still rode a high volume of touches and good health to finish as the #12 running back in standard-scoring leagues. Now in playing for a defensive minded coach in Buffalo, don't expect the touches to be scaled back. However, he will be tasked with playing in the tough AFC East, which boasts two run-stuffing defenses: the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins. Thankfully, the second matchup versus the Jets does fall in Week 17 and the Bills do see his former division foes at least once, but the switch in divisions still looks to be a downgrade for his prospects. Furthermore, the Bills' offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, played a large factor in destroying the receiving value of Frank Gore, who averaged 51 receptions per season prior to Roman and just 18 per season with him. It'd be unwise to expect McCoy to return to the 50+ catch back that he was during the first few years of his career. With Fred Jackson also siphoning snaps away, it's tough to value McCoy as the elite back he once was. Instead, consider him a low-end RB1.
Trent Richardson - 1 mention
Alexander - Richardson stands little chance of reinvigorating his career as a Raider, but it's not difficult to imagine his presence in Oakland ruining the fun for Latavius Murray owners. With the Raiders passing on the running back position entirely in the NFL Draft, many in the fantasy community have already declared Murray Oakland's unquestioned feature back. While it would be a welcome development for the most talented runner on their roster to receive the starter's share of the carries, are we sure the Raiders will do the right thing? They had an opportunity to turn their backfield over to the size-speed freak Murray at the start of last season, but instead opted for the dried-out husks of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. We can't rule out an organization capable of making such awful personnel decisions from slotting T-Rich and fellow free agent signee, Roy Helu Jr., into the vacated the McFadden/Jones-Drew roles. Oakland's reported interest in high profile running backs DeMarco Murray and Adrian Peterson also raises concerns the Raiders may not be sold on Latavius as their feature back. Until we gain more clarity on this situation in training camp, Murray can't be trusted as more than a fantasy RB3.