It’s nearly impossible to wrap your mind around the player movement that took place over just a few days in March. Thankfully, fantasy football gives us an angle to break this cacophony of change into micro movement on our dynasty rankings board. When we isolate the net effect of the plate tectonic movement around the league on one player, we can make some sense out of it, or at least what we expect to come of it. Onto running backs, where we will wait for the other shoe to drop when we find out the destinations of this incredible rookie class…
C.J. Anderson, DEN - Anderson wasn’t affected by free agency player movement, but he did get the endorsement from Gary Kubiak that we’ve been waiting for. We saw what Kubiak’s scheme did for Justin Forsett’s production last year. If Anderson gets a feature back workload, watch out.
Carlos Hyde, SF - The 49ers did not bring back Frank Gore, and Reggie Bush shouldn’t meaningfully affect Hyde’s role. With a running quarterback and the addition of a receiver with deep speed, Hyde should see loosened up defensive fronts despite the loss of mauler Mike Iupati to division rival Arizona.
Mark Ingram II, NO - A return to New Orleans was one of the best scenarios for Ingram owners outside of landing in Dallas. All of the moves after Ingram was re-signed only enhanced his value as a key part of an offense seeking more balance. CJ Spiller’s signing was a bit of a bummer, but in reality won’t alter greatly what the Saints plan on doing with Ingram.
CJ Spiller, NO - Spiller will play 12 of his 16 2015 regular season games indoors (light your injury prayer candle), and the Saints have the will to use him in a way that is much more suited to his strengths than Doug Marrone was in Buffalo. If anyone can be an everyweek fantasy starter in PPR with only 8-12 touches a week (assuming 3-5 catches), Spiller can do it.
Latavius Murray, OAK - Murray avoided being joined by another Murray, instead drawing Trent Richardson and Roy Helu as his competition. While they do present obstructions to realizing his full fantasy value in 2015, they won’t be obstructions to Murray for long if he looks the way he did before getting hurt vs. Kansas City last year. More importantly, the investment in Helu and Richardson should keep the Raiders from drafting a running back early even though they were willing to sign the most expensive RB on the free agent market.
Frank Gore, IND - By far the biggest winner among running backs in free agency from a fantasy perspective. Gore has everydown back skills, and Indianapolis has been an easy place for an RB to be productive as long as his name isn’t Trent Richardson. Gore should flirt with RB1 value lining up next to Andrew Luck, although a top 100 RB pick isn’t out of the question.
Darren Sproles, PHI - This could seem counterintuitive with Murray and Mathews in Philly now, but Chip Kelly has said that with Sproles no longer needed to be preserved as core RB depth, he could be used more in the offense. The Eagles also have a shortage of proven producers in the passing game, which could allow Sproles to get closer to his Saints era reception numbers in an offense that runs a ton of plays. Sam Bradford has always been more of a horizontal passer than a vertical passer and that too plays into Sproles as a bigger part of the offense.
Trent Richardson, OAK - Richardson’s value is purely theoretical, but he did get signed somewhere with opportunity and he is getting paid actual legal US currency, not bitcoins. Chances are we throw him back to the scrap heap very soon, but at this point he is at least rosterable in typical dynasty leagues.
James White, Travaris Cadet, Dion Lewis, NE - Shane Vereen flew the coop to play with Giants, so the “passing down back” role for the Patriots is wide open. White would seemingly have first dibs, but he did little to break into the rotation after being a fourth round pick last year. Cadet was the free agency signing, but I still have some love for Lewis, who hasn’t seen the regular season field in over two years. Pierre Thomas or a similar back, not to mention a rookie could still figure into this situation before it’s settled.
Matt Asiata, MIN - It was a “good news, bad news” situation for Asiata owners in deep leagues. Adrian Peterson is still in Minnesota, but Asiata was re-signed to be plan B again if Peterson is traded or this situation gets uglier before it clears up.
DeAngelo Williams, PIT - Williams could get a start or four in a potent offense. Le’Veon Bell owners should make a bid for him if they don’t have the RB depth to cover his likely early season suspension.
UP (for now)
Andre Ellington, ARI - The Cardinals did not trade for Adrian Peterson or sign a running back to split time with Ellington. They also added road grader Mike Iupati, which upgrades the run blocking and possibly signals more balance on offense. Of course, a Peterson trade is not totally out of the question, and the team could easily draft a running back in the first or second round to relegate Ellington to a Giovani Bernard role at best in 2015.
Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, NYJ - The Jets brought back Bilal Powell, but otherwise did little to threaten Ivory’s role growing under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. A second-day RB pick could make for an RBBC in short order, but Ivory is good enough to hold onto the biggest part of the rushing pie over a green rookie as long as he stays healthy. Much like former Jet Shonn Greene, Powell was generating surprising interest in free agency. If they don’t get a stud rookie, only a Chris Ivory injury will stand between Powell and fantasy opportunity, and he’ll be the passing down back in the meantime.
Devonta Freeman, Antone Smith, ATL - The Falcons brought Antone Smith back, but he will remain a role player. Right now, Freeman is in line to get a huge opportunity under one of the best running game coordinators in the NFL (Kyle Shanahan). If the Falcons don’t take a running back in the first two days of the draft, we’ll all be shocked, but even when they do, we should remember that rookies don’t always arrive on time (and I’m not talking about Jonas Gray), and either way, Freeman will get a chance to prove himself in a situation very conducive to success. Smith is the kind of player that leaves you wondering what he could do with more opportunity. That the new regime brought him back could mean that Kyle Shanahan has more of a fascination with the speedster than we realize.
Denard Robinson, JAX - The Jaguars were flirting with Demarco Murray, but nothing came of it. The team could still invest a top 100 pick in a back as a mulligan for the money invested in Toby Gerhart and the time invested converting Robinson to running back. On the other hand, if they don’t take a top 7 RB prospect, Robinson will be set as the co-lead back at worst in what should be an improved offense with the addition of another mauler to the offensive line, Jermey Parnell.
Ryan Williams, Darren McFadden, DAL - The Cowboys big RB move in free agency was signing McFadden. While that does bring him back from the dead for fantasy, he still got a smaller signing bonus than Williams, who the team likes. Joseph Randle could also get a shot, but the team is destined to sign or draft at least one more running back, which could cost Randle his job. The caliber of that back will determine the speculative value McFadden and Williams carry into summer drafts.
Branden Oliver, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, SD - The Chargers lost Ryan Mathews and didn’t add anyone at the position in free agency. While a draft back seems likely, it’s no sure thing that this rookie will carve out a big role right away, or even by the end of the season. Oliver had some Bobby Rainey-esque good and bad moments last year, which is more than Donald Brown can say. Woodhead is the most intriguing in PPR leagues.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, BAL - The plodder with the lateral agility of a riding lawn mower is in line to be the goal line back and finishing complement to Justin Forsett right now. The Ravens are one of the most likely teams to draft a running back, but again, rookie year plans don’t always go as smoothly as we expect them to.
MAYBE UP, MAYBE DOWN
Demarco Murray, PHI - There was a moment there when it looked like Murray was going to go back to Dallas, as Jacksonville/Oakland were offering more money, possibly forcing Dallas to blink by offering more, or Murray to blink by accepting Dallas’s offer because of the superior situation despite inferior money. Then Chip Kelly stepped in. Murray goes to a situation possibly as good as Dallas at least in terms of offensive philosophy, but if Kelly’s personnel moves defang the passing game, it could be a net negative. Philadelphia won’t ride Murray the way Dallas did last year, but that could be good for career longevity at the expense of weekly upside. I still have Murray as my #3 dynasty RB, but that hides the changes in his overall situation and career path that took place when he signed in Philadelphia.
LeSean McCoy, BUF - Like Murray, McCoy had a massive change in his situation even though there was no net change in his dynasty ranking among RBs. Like Murray, he goes to a team that is just as (if not more) committed to the run as his old team was, but he inherits a passing offense that could have trouble getting out of neutral. While McCoy’s star was fading in Philadelphia due to lesser players like Darren Sproles and Chris Polk eating into his opportunities, the most important opportunities - scoring - might come less frequently with Rex in effect. Perhaps the most important development here is that McCoy has ended up in a place where he is wanted instead of staying under Chip Kelly. Still, it’s easy to wonder if he’ll be bottled up too easily in the Bills’ low voltage offense.
Adrian Peterson, MIN - Peterson was not traded during the frenzy of movement. He might get dealt before the draft, but once the draft goes down, it will be even harder for Minnesota to move him, and if we take them at face value, they don’t want to. If we take Peterson at face value, he doesn’t want to play for Minnesota. The spectre of a holdout to force a trade looms, which adds uncertainty. Once we see Peterson play (for someone, anyone) all of the hand-wringing could look foolish, but until then, the instability around Peterson will be a drag on his value.
Doug Martin, TB - Tampa didn’t make any moves at running back (although they were connected to a big name or two), but Martin’s perceived value continues to slide anyway. His days of being anything closer to a feature back in Tampa seem to be over, and it’s not impossible that he gets traded before the season starts.
Jerick McKinnon, MIN - Adrian Peterson is still a Viking, and by all outward indications, he’ll remain a Viking for the 2015 season. Even if Peterson is traded before Week 1, McKinnon would be in a fantasy-unfriendly split with Matt Asiata, who was re-signed as a restricted free agent.
Ryan Mathews, PHI - Mathews could get some spot starts in place of Demarco Murray, that is if Murray can’t stay healthy and Mathews can. Good luck with that. The situation is excellent for running back value overall, but Mathews as a second fiddle is a disappointment, especially when he appeared to have the Eagles lead back job before Murray’s name suddenly popped up as an interest for the team.
Bryce Brown, BUF - Brown’s time in the top two of the Bills RB depth chart was short-lived, as the team traded for LeSean McCoy. Rex Ryan wouldn’t even refer to Brown by name until he fixes his ball security issues.
Fred Jackson, BUF - Watch old man river somehow flow to fantasy production yet again. Still, LeSean McCoy is going to get as much work as he can handle, so Jackson is barely draftable at this moment. Jackson can still help fantasy teams and the Bills win if they need him to, but that might not happen in 2015.
Chris Polk, PHI - I’ll never forget that week we had together, Chris. In between the trading of McCoy and the signing of Murray/Mathews, Polk was set up for larger possible opportunity in a terrific running game. The low tender he was given was a bad sign, and now he could have an uphill battle to make the roster.
Daniel Herron, IND - You knew the Colts were going to make a move at running back. While Frank Gore might not be a long-term answer, he is a complete answer in the short term, and Herron will have trouble getting on the field over this durable, versatile veteran. The loss of value was expected, but still disappointing.