What incumbent running back has the greatest risk of losing the most dynasty value with the NFL Draft closing in? Explain your reasoning.
I've seen a lot of smart analysts touting mediocre running backs who "survived" free agency as their team's No. 1s. That's a grave risk and error in judgment. The running back position has sadly become a commodity in most GM's eyes, and it's a game of fresh blood every few seasons. If a veteran running back wasn't the lead runner heading into the NFL draft, I'm not going to assume they're going to become the team's workhorse until we see if the team adds a rookie or two.
Backs I would be selling right now include Chase Edmonds, La'Mical Perine, and Benny Snell. I expect all three to be challenged if not clearly overtaken by rookie running backs this year.
If you're looking for a higher-end player that could be derailed, how about Melvin Gordon III? He's been productive as a Charger and now a Bronco, but also never seems to be in his coaching staff's best graces. Would it surprise anyone if Denver added a stud in the draft who works into a committee approach? The team had issues with Phillip Lindsay, but he was productive in the system and there are quite a few rookie backs more talented than Lindsay on his best day.
I 100% agree with you, Jason. A few teams plugged their gaps through free agency. The best available backs left in free agency James Conner, Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Wayne Gallman can all land substantive roles somewhere.
Arizona, Atlanta (despite Mike Davis signing), Denver, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco are teams highly likely to draft a running back in the first three rounds. That puts Chase Edmonds, Mike Davis, Melvin Gordon III, James Robinson, Benny Snell, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson under the most threat. Miami doesn’t have anyone on their roster with expectations and Alvin Kamara won’t have his role impacted by a rookie this year.
I am going to zero in on James Robinson. Jason makes great points in his D.J. Chark Jr analysis of a new coach, offensive coordinator, quarterback, etc. Robinson is a fairy tale story of undrafted free agent succeeding. Unfortunately, he needs to prove himself all over again. Carlos Hyde has already demonstrated he can carry a team. A rookie that Jacksonville targets will have a role. Can Robinson rise above all this? Of course, but he is guaranteed nothing. His high stock now will evaporate with a high draft pick.
This is the time of year we place too much hope in incapable runners who seem to have the starting gig locked down, but it was just a mirage. Three such backs this year are:
- Mike Davis, ATL - The 28-year-old back has been a journeyman his entire career and played well last year in Carolina after Christian McCaffrey was injured. While he is a solid complementary player, carrying the Falcons running game is too much to ask.
- Chase Edmonds, AZ - While playing well in spots the past few years, we are now supposed to think that Edmonds will be the bell cow in an offense that does not use a bell cow? Expect the Cardinals to add talent around him.
- Benny Snell, PIT - Snell has been average as a professional, but the issue is that the Steelers let James Conner walk because they wanted to UPGRADE the running game, not take a step backward.
- There are other great answers for this question like the backs on the Jets, Dolphins, and Chargers, but I will leave those for others.
Arizona taking a running back early feels like close to a coin flip to me, so my advice is to value Edmonds about halfway between where you would value him as the clearcut starter and where you would value him if he is again the backup.
James Robinson would have been my first selection, but Chad did an excellent job already of explaining how he could see a huge decrease in value. It is also worth noting that some of that is priced in, as he is being drafted outside the top-20 RBs in FFPC startups.
Instead, I'll pivot to Antonio Gibson, who was fantastic as a rookie but saw his workload limited by backs such as J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber. Gibson saw 15 or more carries just four times in 2020 and was frequently taken off the field on passing downs. Gibson may see a larger 2021 role as many are expecting, but there is also a chance Washington drafts someone better than McKissic and Barber to fill a 1B role. An RB1 price is risky right now for Gibson.
As shrewdly as the Dolphins have managed their rebuild so far, maybe they’ll recognize the fungibility of the running back position and won’t bother spending any of their considerable draft capital on it. I’d like that. Myles Gaskin was such a pleasant surprise last year. He’s not a classic RB1 type, but he’s a shifty, economical runner and efficient pass catcher. Gaskin averaged 18.3 touches and 16.4 PPR points over 10 games last season, and he lined the pockets of some fantasy managers by cranking out 169 yards from scrimmage and two TDs in Week 15. It would be nice to see Gaskin pay a prominent role in the Miami backfield again, and maybe the recently signed Malcolm Brown will be a meat shield for Gaskin, convincing the Dolphins that they have enough at the position between Gaskin, Brown, and Salvon Ahmed. But (sigh), there’s a good chance the Dolphins will spend an early-round pick on one of the “Big Three” running back prospects – Najee Harris, Travis Etienne or Javonte Williams – which would put a significant dent in Gaskin’s value.
My colleagues have done an excellent job hitting on a ton of great options for this question, so I’ve decided to come out of leftfield a bit.
The Buffalo Bills have taken swings at running back in each of their past 3rd rounds with Devin Singletary followed by Zack Moss. While neither has been complete busts, I view the running game as a clear void in an otherwise impressive Bills offense. Specifically in the playoffs with no Zack Moss, the Bills struggled to get any semblance of a run game going with Singletary alone. Singletary also did not live up to his assumed specialty on passing downs. If for no other reason than to provide a scapegoat for their shortcomings at the end of 2020, the Bills may target a running back even earlier than in years past. At pick 61 we’re looking at prime Javonte Williams territory. Should the Bills go that route I expect Zack Moss and Devin Singletary to be relegated to “throw in” status.
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