NFL Free Agency will begin on March 17th and there are several big storylines to watch for running backs in preparation for your fantasy teams.
Aaron Jones Sweepstakes
Aaron Jones is the big prize in NFL free agency at the running back position in 2021. Jones has been one of the higher end fantasy and real life running backs over the past two years, and should be attractive on the open market for teams looking for a running back. The New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins, two teams with a need for offensive weapons and cap space, have been amongst the most commonly speculated landing spots.
Green Bay Depth Chart
Green Bay’s decision to not place the franchise tag on Aaron Jones has created an opportunity in the backfield for the team’s 2020 second round draft pick AJ Dillon. However, Dillon is not out of the woods yet. The odds Jones re-signs with the Packers are remote, but Jamaal Williams should be significantly more affordable. A depth chart led by Dillon and Williams could be a cheap and versatile option for the 2021 Green Bay Packers. If Green Bay does not bring Williams back, monitor how Green Bay addresses the depth chart. The cheaper, the better news for Dillon’s prospects.
Leonard Fournette enters free agency after a tumultuous four years in the NFL. After being a fourth overall selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, a productive fantasy career has been overshadowed by suspensions, injuries, and his eventual release by the Jaguars. He was able to rehabilitate his value in Tampa Bay when Ronald Jones II injuries allowed him to showcase his three-down ability. He represents a different play style than Jones, but has demonstrated pass catching ability to go along with running ability. Landing spots that could be of high value include, a return to Tampa Bay, Atlanta, or Seattle.
Kenyan Drake had a quizzical 2020. After a dominant receiving share in his first season in Arizona, he took a backseat to Chase Edmonds in the passing game in 2020. Given his prior production and profile, this was a surprise. Drake has three down ability, without the workload of some of the other players in free agency. A 1A role would be a major success but watch for him to play more of a committee-type role with a new team, with the potential for more in the event of an injury to a teammate.
Todd Gurley has experienced a fall from grace in the NFL over the past 24 months. The consensus 1.01 dynasty startup pick three years ago, Gurley has since been cut by the Rams and failed to rehabilitate his value in Atlanta. Gurley is likely looking at another one-year deal and is not a lock for a 1A role in a backfield. His recent decline could lead to a long wait in free agency for Gurley.
James White enters free agency as one of the premier pass catching backs on the open market. He may not be likely to draw a big number in free agency but could be useful to a team looking to shore up a path centric role in the backfield. Potential landing spots of intrigue for Jones include Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.
Others to Monitor
James Conner and Le’Veon Bell both enter free agency off disappointing 2020 seasons. Neither are likely to earn 1A roles in free agency but could be attractive buy low opportunities in the event they sign committee or one injury away type roles while experiencing a drop in value. Mike Davis had a career year filling in for an injured Christian McCaffrey in 2020 and may be best suited to return to Carolina in a similar role. Duke Johnson Jr has shown he is not a three-down option for a backfield but could be attractive in a passing game role.
Potential Incumbent Losers
The following running backs have potential risk in free agency and the NFL Draft over the following couple of months, and are potential sell candidates in dynasty formats.
Chase Edmonds is the de facto RB1 in Arizona but has a career high of 150 touches. Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury recently said “We all understand that [Edmonds has] unfortunately been nicked up a couple times, which we want to keep him on the field. But we have all the confidence in the world in Chase and him being able to be the bell cow if that's how this plays out." While the headlines generated by the quote looked encouraging, this waas hardly an endorsement of job security for Edmonds. With Arizona in a win-now mode, watch for a potential free agent signing or draft selection to provide competition for Edmonds.
There have been mixed messages coming out of Jacksonville regarding their intentions about the backfield. Either way, Jacksonville has little in the way of trustworthy options behind Robinson, so expect them to address the position. About 55% of UDFAs who hit for a top-24 seasonal finish do so again in their career, which should be a cautionary sign for Robinson’s long-term security.
Myles Gaskin was a surprise starter in 2020, and outperformed expectation, finishing in the top-5 running backs in yards per route run and was above average in rushing yards over expectation. As a 7th round draft pick, Gaskin has little job security despite the strong 2020 performance. If Miami addresses the position with a high-priced free agent, monitor Gaskin’s cost, as he could be a value as one of the better one injury away running backs in the league.
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