New Reality No.124: 2019 Free Agent Running Backs

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of dynasty fantasy football

This week continues the 2019 NFL free agency preview of available players, cut candidates, and landing spots, here is a look at the running back position around the NFL landscape:

2019 FREE AGENTS

TOP TIER

Bell is in his own tier with elite production to-date and skipping 2018 entirely to enter free agency healthy and ready for a new opportunity. Bell is unlikely to find a landing spot as conducive for high-RB1 production as Pittsburgh's passing game and level of offensive line play. Bell will once again be the focus of the NFL landscape in the offseason. Of the potentially available teams matching positional need and cap space, the Colts offer the best combination for Bell to remain in the high-RB1 fantasy realm.

LIKELY STARTERS

Coleman and Ingram are the next big names in running back free agency. Coleman is younger and offers more athletic juice, but Atlanta has clearly managed his snaps and touches with Devonta Freeman out for a chunk of 2018, siding with more use for Ito Smith in a full-blown committee. Will Coleman be viewed as a clear feature back by his next team? Odds point to yes, but Coleman has not been viewed as such in recent weeks. Ingram struggled through injuries and committees early in his career but has emerged with five straight quality years now and pushed for 300 touches in 2017. Lynch could be in the wildcard category (like Adrian Peterson), but looks to have more juice left than Peterson and Lynch was an unquestioned Week 1 starter this year compared to the lack of interest for Peterson across the NFL and it took a Derrius Guice injury for Washington to kick the tires. Lynch is high variance in terms of 2019 outcome but has a higher upside than most in the subset or two behind this one.

STRONG COMMITTEE OPTIONS, SPOT START POTENTIAL

This is a crowded group as some will garner more interest than others in terms of NFL contract. Barber, Yeldon, and Brown are names to highlight as Barber and Yeldon have put together some of their best NFL tape in 2018 without much acclaim. Brown has quietly performed well as the No.2 for the Rams, flashing in his minimal snaps most weeks, and holding off John Kelly, a dynasty favorite, for the primary backup role in the offseason and preseason without much of a fight.

Rod Smith is another simmering option who has rarely seen much extended work behind Ezekiel Elliott, but has shown well as a two-way player. Murray and Powell still have some juice left to be veteran No.2 options and an injury away from spot starts. Spencer Ware fits this mold as well.

Many dynasty GMs may view Alex Collins in the tier above this one, but Collins is closer to an NFL baseline talent than earmarked back for more future starting opportunities.

Javorius Allen and Alfred Blue are the quintessential 'pro' running backs who do everything well enough to beat out incoming rookies on a depth chart and spot start if needed even if dynasty GMs question their upside for most of their careers.

DEPTH OPTIONS

Richard is the potential name to be worthy of a higher tier, but the sub-sized back has situational pass-catcher written all over him to-date. With plenty of more three-down-centric skill sets on the free agent list, Richard could get lost in the shuffle for optimal RB2/3 depth chart roles. Blount and Davis are lower-level stopgaps where NFL teams can find similar options with more upside on Day 3 of the NFL Draft, even in a likely down class.

WILD CARDS, RECLAMATION PROJECTS

This group ranges from big names to players returning from injury to reclamation projects close to the NFL fringe. Ajayi is clearly a 'handle with care' option with further erosion of his durability in 2018 and how the Eagles managed his work even after trade acquisition. Peterson, as mentioned above with Marshawn Lynch, will likely be waiting until a late injury promotes his chances of finding an opportunity in 2019.

Doug Martin is running hard, but approaching 30 and switching teams yet again point to minimal interest. Martin would be best served to stick in Oakland and compete for the starting role against a rookie (or maybe Chris Warren) as Oakland looks ahead to Vegas. Corey Grant has plenty of athletic juice and could warrant moving up a tier if he recovers well from a foot injury. Ameer Abdullah and Ty Montgomery are wild cards with some pedigree and flashes in their opening NFL seasons but need a complete career restart to get back on the map.

CUT CANDIDATES

LIKELY

McCoy and Miller are the big names here, both with starting upside if they move on because of their bloated contracts for 2019. Stewart is as good as gone considering he looked done early this year and ended up hurt. Stewart has likely played his last down in the NFL.

POTENTIAL

Crowell's snaps have sagged since Elijah McGuire has returned and Crowell is certainly not worth $5 million next year as a result. Crowell is young and productive enough to be on the Tevin Coleman-Mark Ingram II spectrum of 2019 role if the Jets cut him loose. Prosise and Perine are due little, but Seattle and Washington look ready to move on with those roster spots and with Rashaad Penny and Derrius Guice have their projected 2019 starters in place. Riddick is a borderline cut-or-keep contract as Detroit will likely move on from LeGarrette Blount, but bolstering their passing game and Kerryon Johnson's three-down prowess decreases Riddick's viability. Ivory could be a strong committee option if Buffalo moves on (they should) with their offense restructuring in hopes to contend in the next two or three years IF they get the quarterback position right.

2019 RUNNING BACK LANDING SPOTS

  • Ravens
  • Eagles
  • Colts
  • Texans

While the Colts are not among the highest need scores in my landing spot matrix, they may be the highest 2019 upside for a running back on the board. Marlon Mack has been up-and-down and with mid-Day 3 pedigree, the Colts are a highlight team to use a chunk of their bulging cap space to make a splash specifically with Le'Veon Bell or another top name. The Ravens could lose Alex Collins (RFA) and Javorius Allen, leaving recent riser Gus Edwards as their lone in-house option, who is an exclusive-rights free agent. The Eagles are auditioning Josh Adams with a bigger role of late, but the undrafted free agent would be a low-probability bet to be the unquestioned Week 1 starter projecting ahead to 2019. With Lamar Miller a potential (or likely) cut, Alfred Blue a free agent, and DOnta Foreman a wild card following an Achilles injury late in 2017, Houston is a big-time offense with a potentially wide-open No. 1 role for 2019.

  • Jets
  • Saints
  • Buccaneers
  • Panthers
  • Cowboys
  • Lions
  • Chiefs
  • Rams
  • Steelers
  • Vikings

This second tier includes the Jets (potential No.1 role open) and high-upside primary backup roles (one-injury-away) in Carolina, New Orleans, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota. Tampa Bay spent an early Round 2 pick on Ronald Jones this past offseason, but the rookie has shown little and will be a high-variance outcome for 2019. Peyton Barber is a restricted free agent after playing well without much national attention as Tampa Bay has underperformed as an offense yet again in 2018.