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Each offseason brings a good deal of veteran movement. In 2021, the running back position was no different. We asked our staff to offer up the running back on a new team they were most interested in.
Here are the names who were mentioned.
- Mike Davis
- Kenyan Drake
- James Conner
- Tevin Coleman
- Giovani Bernard
- Jerick McKinnon
- Malcolm Brown
- Wayne Gallman
And here are all of the reasons.
James Conner isn't a sexy name for many after struggling to stay healthy the last three seasons, but he still possesses three-down upside as part of a great Arizona offense. To start, I'd expect him to maintain around 80% of the Kenyan Drake role from 2020, with Chase Edmonds seeing a slightly expanded role. Many folks talk about the contingent value upside of Edmonds, but I see very little of that regarding Conner, who caught 55 passes with 215 rush attempts in 2018. I suppose his body could simply be failing, but it doesn't cost enough right now to avoid finding out.
There are more than a few good options to mention here but how could the “most interesting” not be Mike Davis in Atlanta? Davis was good, not great, filling in for Christian McCaffrey last year but will once again be facing little to no competition for carries in Atlanta in 2021. To make matters more interesting, the Falcons’ new head coach, Arthur Smith, comes from Tennessee and the most notorious bell-cow back system in the NFL. He is in no way, shape, or form Derrick Henry, but 200 or more touches are well with the realm of possibilities for Davis this season and that is enough to put him firmly on the RB2 radar for fantasy managers.
I’ll go a little left field and say Kenyan Drake. This may be an odd choice since he signed with the Raiders with Jacobs as the RB1, but he could carve out a solid role. Last year, Drake finished as the RB16, with 10 TDs and 955 rushing yards, which is a solid season. Raiders may go with more of a 1, 2 punch approach with him and Jacobs. Drake will not only eat into Jacobs' rushing but could be more of the passing down back. They may in fact cannibalize each other, but the ambiguity of the situation makes me interested.
Love that answer, Troy. I just finished my first run of projections and was shocked by how much work there was for both Jacobs and Drake. Just worried about that offensive line now.
Agreed about that line.
For most impactful, Mike Davis is the leader in the clubhouse. There are still two free agents looming like vultures out there who can shift a depth chart in Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell. However, even if one of them is added specifically to Atlanta, Davis will be a firm RB2 and injury will fuel a similar situation as 2020 Carolina. If Atlanta does not splash the pot at the position, Davis has RB1 potential in a potent offense.
For the framing of the topic of interesting, James Conner to Arizona is largely flying under the radar for many in fantasy circles. Conner has a profile as an NFL starter. Chase Edmonds? For all the fanfare of what he *could* do or has done in minimal sample sizes, Edmonds is largely an unknown within the subset of NFL starters. My most likely outcome with a healthy Conner and Edmonds is a hearty backfield split where neither are predictable high-end fantasy options, but the arbitrage here is to fade Edmonds and be open to Conner as the actual starting plan for Arizona to at least begin the season.
I'm largely in line with my colleagues. Mike Davis has to be the most interesting because he was a forgettable backup for three teams: San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago before finding a new lease on life in Carolina as Christian McCaffrey's replacement. As mentioned, Davis acquitted himself reasonably well in McCaffrey's stead but I worry that's misleading fantasy managers into overenthusiastic expectations. Consider what Davis did in the role versus what McCaffrey did, and you're left to wonder if he was just a guy getting "good enough" stats in a system that allows for greatness. What happens if he's in a less ideal situation? But, we all presume Art Smith wants to have a balanced offense and yet did next to nothing to address the position outside of Davis. I could see the Falcons offense be a total wreck without the threat of a credible run game just as easily as I could see Davis living up to the hype he's getting as the lone proven option on the depth chart.
Mike Davis was a smashing success last year in fill-in duty for Christian McCaffrey in Atlanta. Now, he is the lead back in Atlanta. I think there is a chance he faces added competition in the backfield before week one, but given Atlanta's bad cap situation, it is hard to see a big threat landing in Atlanta. While Davis performed well in 2020, he did so by outproducing his run blocking, ranking 50th out of 55 qualifiers in expected yards per rushing attempt. Insert Davis into the Atlanta offense with new head coach Arthur Smith who oversaw a hyper-efficient Tennessee offense and Davis has top-10 running back upside in 2021.
I agree with Troy that Kenyan Drake is very interesting, but for different reasons. His signing is causing Josh Jacobs to plummet in value. If Drake is going to be a receiving-centric weapon, he does not really threaten the role Jacobs had in 2020.
I also like the call of James Conner. Chase Edmonds has a career-high of 150 touches in a season through his three seasons, an accomplishment Conner has hit three times. I think the rushing attempts could be more time split with Edmonds the large factor in the receiving game. On the flip side, Conner has difference-making upside if Edmonds gets injured.
Davis will be the highest-ranked running back who changed teams, but he's hardly interesting. He's on his fourth team since 2018 and playing in an offense built for the downfield passing game. I'm not excited to take him as a top-50 overall player (his current Underdog ADP) just because he's the best of a bad running back bunch in Atlanta.
The rest of the field is thin, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Jets use Tevin Coleman as their primary back on early downs. We're at the point in Coleman's career arc where we can safely dismiss the possibility he'll break out in a featured role. But his familiarity with New York's new coaching staff should give Coleman an early leg up on youngsters La'Mical Perine and Michael Carter II II. Absent injury to a team's current starter, Coleman has a much stronger chance of being a weekly flex option than other backs being drafted in the same tier, like Salvon Ahmed and Darrynton Evans.
Echoing the sentiments of my colleagues here, James Conner is a very interesting player in 2021. Despite affirmations that the team was content with Chase Edmonds as their lead back, they were tied to rumors with a few veteran backs before ultimately settling for Conner. I don't believe that Conner has any elite traits as a runner, but he has a desirable build for early-down work, which would relegate Edmonds back to a passing-down role. Having no third- or fourth-round pick in 2021 made it challenging for the Cardinals to cough up the draft capital on a running back, but Conner could fill in as a bridge running back and see a sizable workload on his one-year deal.
Jordan makes a great point about Atlanta's cap situation which may play into Mike Davis being the team's primary running back weapon. Todd Gurley is out there, but we saw that song and dance last year.
Davis definitely fits this category, but one that stands out to me as an interesting signing, especially from a fantasy stance, is Giovani Bernard signing with Tampa Bay. Yes, Tampa has several running back options in Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, and Bernard, but the glaring low point last year was Brady's lack of a consistent go-to receiving back in the James White mold that he gravitated to so often in New England. White and Bernard were members of the same backfield in high school and they have long been good friends. It made sense for Bernard to sign with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, especially after talking to White about the move. My gut says Bernard will be used in a similar role to White's when he and Brady were teammates with the Patriots. Tampa has more weapons and downfield options than what Brady had in New England, but the James White role that featured north of 60 receptions on average, should be similar. Bernard reaching 50 receptions feels like a good floor projection, and it could be even more, with touchdown propensity as well.
I know it is a new staff, but I heard former GM Thomas Dimitroff discuss the Todd Gurley signing recently, and it made me believe he won't be back with the organization.
Mike Davis is definitely the most interesting for fantasy because he doesn't have any credible competition for the lead back job, and there's a chance this offense can come together if the 2019 first-round picks on the right side of the line gel, they figure out left guard, keep Julio Jones, and Kyle Pitts stresses opposing defenses into lighter boxes.
A few other names not mentioned:
- Phillip Lindsay - If he plays up to previous levels, he should be the best back in Houston. I have no idea what that is going to be worth in this offense, though.
- Malcolm Brown - He's getting paid as much as James Conner and has been a successful short-yardage back in the past. He could force more of a committee in Miami than Myles Gaskin fantasy teams would want.
- Giovani Bernard - I like that Jeff mentioned him. While he might not be consistent enough to be fantasy relevant, he could be an obstacle to Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II being consistent enough to trust in your lineup while both are healthy.
- Jerick McKinnon - It's a long shot, but McKinnon is more experienced than Clyde Edwards-Helaire, an accomplished passing game back, and more dynamic than Darrel Williams. The Chiefs offense wasn't great for running back production last year, but McKinnon could do a decent impression of Damien Williams in a limited role if he stays healthy.
Sigmund talked about some backs that will fit interestingly on their new teams. He left out a few.
Carlos Hyde in Jacksonville, Kerryon Johnson in Philadelphia, Jamaal Williams in Detroit, Damien Williams in Chicago, and even Devontae Booker with the Giants if Saquon Barkley has trouble with fitness again. The one that fascinates me is Wayne Gallman in San Francisco. It’s a crowded backfield alright with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, rookie Trey Sermon, and even JaMychal Hasty. Gallman had a purple patch last year at the Giants, registering 428 yards and six touchdowns at 4.55 yards a carry during a six-game stretch. History has shown us that running back depth charts get hammered during the season. Players that were afterthoughts at the start of the year become fantasy starters.
James Conner, Mike Davis, Kenyan Drake are all super interesting to me and I can see them all with the opportunity to be the number one back on their teams. Davis probably has the easiest road out of any of the RB signings this offseason as he is instantly part of a strong offense and has little depth behind him at the RB position. The name that I might be most intrigued by this year though is Phillip Lindsay in Houston. Lindsay entered the league by storm as an undrafted guy back in 2018 who finished that year with 1037 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns, finishing as the RB13. Last year was a rough year for Lindsay as the Broncos struggled on offense and Lindsay himself was sidetracked with injuries. While it might be hard to draft a Houston Texans player this year I think Lindsay is the exception as he has the makings of a player that never gives up no matter the situation and has his rookie season as evidence.
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