It is not unusual for at least one or two very notable moves to be made by running backs if only because teams tend to sign them to big contracts that never get played out. Both Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett turned in top ten stats in 2014 and were not on the team that originally drafted them. This is the first year that the reigning NFL rushing yard leader changed teams since 1947. Both DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy change teams with a past of top fantasy value.
Oh yes, and in addition to the moves below the 2015 NFL rookie running back class is considered one of the strongest in many years.
Baltimore Ravens – Justin Forsett (Re-signed 3 years / $9 million)
|J. Forsett||Gms||Car||Rush Yards||YPC||Rush TDs||Targets||Catch||Catch Yards||Catch TDs|
The Ravens bring in Marc Trestman as the offensive coordinator so keeping Justin Forsett in the fold should mean good things. Trestman’s stay in Chicago wasn’t long but there is no question that he did great things with Matt Forte and for the offense overall at least when Jay Cutler was healthy. Suffering through the Ray Rice situation last year, Forsett was a fortuitous discovery since his seven previous seasons in the NFL were little more than journeyman and back-up roles. Forsett comes off a season with twice as many yards as he had ever produced. Forsett is already 30 years old but with little wear on the tires. And he was clearly the only true difference maker in the backfield last year that ended with the 4th highest yards of any NFL backfield.
Fantasy Outlook: Still solid at least for now. He may not last all three years, but keeping Forsett should mean a solid chance to reach last year’s stats unless the Ravens also use a fairly high draft pick on a rookie back. Lorenzo Taliaferro will figure in as well but at least for now Forsett holds promise of another good season.
Buffalo Bills – LeSean McCoy (Traded)
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The Bills spent the last couple of years promising more out of C.J. Spiller only to end up defaulting to old reliable Fred Jackson. Their offense remained mostly run-first and there were enough carries to end up around top ten in yardage as an overall backfield. This year Rex Ryan comes over from the Jets and brings Greg Roman from the 49ers as his offensive coordinator. This will remain a run-first offense and trading for 27 – year-old McCoy ensures the sticks keep moving. McCoy was still good last year though he wasn’t the “great” that most expected after such an elite 2013 season.
Fantasy Outlook: Still Strong. McCoy won’t be in a wide-open offense anymore though his role as a receiver was already in decline. The offense that Roman employed in San Francisco only completed around 50 passes to running backs every year but would run the ball up to 400 times. McCoy isn’t likely to see a spike in receptions in this offense but he’s safely a top ten back still since the Bills will run the ball a lot and play sound defense. McCoy has several good years left and remains one of the better fantasy backs even in Buffalo. The Bills did not trade for a 300 carry back to reduce his workload.
Dallas Cowboys – Darren McFadden (2 years / $5.9 million)
|D. McFadden||Gms||Car||Rush Yards||YPC||Rush TDs||Targets||Catch||Catch Yards||Catch TDs|
The Cowboys offensive line finally came together as one of the most dominant in the NFL and that helped DeMarco Murray set franchise records while also leading the NFL in rushing yardage. But they allowed him to leave for Philadelphia and the only replacement so far has been the oft-injured Darren McFadden. While he comes from Arkansas which should warm Jerry Jones’ heart, McFadden is viewed as nothing more than a backup and a “home run threat” for the occasional play. For a back who has really slumped in the last two years, expecting a break away run is optimistic. McFadden found no takers last year in free agency and ended up back in Oakland mostly on the bench.
Fantasy Outlook: Minimal. He only received a $200,000 signing bonus so he can be released at the end of the summer with no real consequence. The Cowboys have been hinting at taking an early running back in the NFL draft and McFadden would be nothing more than a handcuff if even that. Joseph Randle did himself no favors with off the field problems but still could end up as the #2 back in Dallas again. Wait until summer to see if McFadden is the #2 or #3 back there.
Indianapolis Colts – Frank Gore (3 years / $12 million)
|F. Gore||Gms||Car||Rush Yards||YPC||Rush TDs||Targets||Catch||Catch Yards||Catch TDs|
The Colts ranked very middle-of-the-road with running back production and no one complains much when Andrew Luck throws the ball. But this is an interesting signing hoping that the 32-year-old back still has something left in the tank. OC Pep Hamilton likes to throw to his backs but Gore’s role as a receiver has really waned in the last five years from back when he would get 40 or 50 catches prior to 2011. But he provides a solid rusher who has been far more durable than anyone else in Indy these last few years. The release of Trent Richardson is nicely filled with the veteran Gore who can provide superior pass blocking and straight line rushing.
Fantasy Outlook: About the same. Gore will be fortunate if he can meet the workload levels he had in San Francisco and he’s not likely to do much more as a receiver. But he’ll maintain fantasy value both with consistent rushing yardage each week and what should be more chances to run in a short touchdown. He’s still as attractive as he was last year and the specter of more scoring more helps maintain his role as a lower-end fantasy starter.
New York Giants – Shane Vereen (3 years / $12.4 million)
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The Giants enter the second season of OC Ben McAdoo and they ran the ball 426 times last year – just not all that well. Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams split the workload and Eli Manning only completed 62 passes to all his running backs combined. Acquiring Vereen while holding Jennings and Williams means the committee backfield is only going to get worse and even less reliable. While there is always a chance they might throw the ball to the backs more, nothing so far suggests that is the plan.
Fantasy Outlook: Just as bad as in New England. No reason to assume he carries any more value with the Giants and could be even less. Let someone else draft him because of his name.
New Orleans Saints – Mark Ingram (re-signed 4 years /$16M) & C.J. Spiller (4 years / $18M)
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|C.J. Spiller||Gms||Car||Rush Yards||YPC||Rush TDs||Targets||Catch||Catch Yards||Catch TDs|
The Saints disappointing 7-9 season prompted them to make significant changes to the team even if they appear to be stripping the offense – not exactly true. While the Saints want to feature the run game more prominently, they were already #3 in both yards and scores by running backs last year. There has long been a committee approach by the Saints and the addition of Spiller is related to the loss of Darren Sproles to the Eagles in 2014. Spiller comes off two seasons filled mostly with injury including a broken collar bone last year. But Spiller was a good as 1264 yards and six scores as a runner in 2012 plus 43 catches for 459 yards and two more touchdowns that year. Spiller is 28 years old and still has several good years ahead of him provided he can remain healthy.
Mark Ingram spent his first three seasons in New Orleans looking more like a bust after being a first round pick in 2011. But he became a much bigger part of the offense in 2014 when he had 255 touches and broke 100 rushing yards four times while scoring nine touchdowns on the season. Ingram accepted less money (it is said) to remain in New Orleans. His outlook was brighter before Spiller was brought on board but still is strong. The Saints are determined to feature a diverse offense with plenty of rushing and throwing to the backs. That should benefit both Ingram and Spiller. The departure of Pierre Thomas helps clear up the pecking order though Khiry Robinson remains. But Robinson only averaged about four touches per game in 2014.
Fantasy Outlook: Better than last year for both. This will remain a committee approach but there is enough workload to share that makes both Spiller and Ingram fantasy-relevant. When considering Spiller realize that in 2013, Sproles caught 71-604-2 and Pierre Thomas caught 77-5-13-3. There should be upwards of 400 carries this year that will primarily and almost entirely go through Ingram and Spiller so long as they remain healthy. And the loss of Jimmy Graham means throwing to the backs is almost certain to increase as well. This could end up as a very nice two-headed attack indeed. The last time that Drew Brees had to play without Jimmy Graham he still threw five touchdowns. The Saints offense will be fine. though different.
Philadelphia Eagles – DeMarco Murray (5 years / $42m) & Ryan Matthews (3 years / $11.5 m)
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|R. Matthews||Gms||Car||Rush Yards||YPC||Rush TDs||Targets||Catch||Catch Yards||Catch TDs|
The Eagles initially traded away both LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin which made it appear they were into a total rebuild or that Chip Kelly had lost his mind (at least according to Twitter and even YouTube). But that fast-paced, wide-open offense could be served well by a trio of backs now – DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. The strength of that offense is how unpredictable it is and how it uses so many different players. There will be questions going into this season considering the changes at quarterback and it will have a big bearing on what the rushing effort can accomplish. That adds in risk but the rushing effort already had 418 carries in 2014 and should surpass that number for 2015. The receptions by running backs have not been that high even with Darren Sproles who caught just 40-387-0 in his first season with the Eagles. Sproles is 32-years-old though and won’t carry a heavy load. He only ran the ball 57 times last year.
Murray comes over after 393 carries in his only healthy season in the NFL. Adding in catches gave him 450 touches in one year which nearly doubled his previous best. His tremendous year was in part because of the offensive line that the Cowboys built but Murray has been effective as a runner all along – he just never remained healthy and the Cowboys liked to throw more in previous seasons. Murray’s well-timed “break out” resulted in a nice pay day that the Cowboys could not match. But the Eagles don’t intend on pushing Murray towards another 400 carry year. History is rife with players who turned in a horrible year after such a load if not saw the rest of their career suffer. LeSean McCoy turned in around 315 carries in his two seasons with Chip Kelly and even that is high-side of what to expect here.
Mathews seemed to have fallen into a great situation until Murray was added. He’ll provide the #2 role and that’s not expected to be just a change of pace runner but instead upwards of ten carries or more each week in an attack that will rely heavily on the run. Mathews can also work as a receiver though Sproles would remain the primary receiving back. Mathews topped 100 rushing yards twice in his career and he’s been limited more by injuries than anything else. He actually signed after Murray did and that was after the Eagles ensured him that he’ll have a role of some significance.
Fantasy Outlook: A drop back for Murray but Mathews could still merit starting consideration. The Eagles are certain to run more this year with three backs capable of helping and a passing situation which is still in flux at best. Murray doesn’t garner a top pick in a fantasy draft but he would have been given a lesser load had he remained in Dallas anyway. That should see Murray maintain a top 10 status this year but he’ll likely be closer to ten than to one. And the Philly O-line is not as good as the one in Dallas. Mathews will get work but in fantasy terms, he’ll be no better than a bye week filler and more importantly the guy to own if you have Murray who might very well return to his oft-injured ways. If you draft Murray, you have to grab Mathews who everyone else will also want after the NFL starters are all drafted.
Pittsburgh Steelers – DeAngelo Williams (2 years / $4 million)
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The Steelers ended up with high totals from their running backs last year mostly thanks to the 2215 total yards turned in by Le’Veon Bell who ran 290-1361-8 and received 83-854-3. He went nuts after LeGarrette Blount was released in mid-November. Bringing in DeAngelo Williams is mostly for depth to replace the hole left by Blount. Ben Tate was never able to repeat his success from Houston. Williams is already 32-years-old and is merely playing out his twilight season.
Fantasy Outlook: Limited. Williams won’t be much more than a back-up to Bell and a change-of-pace back but he’s interesting mostly because Bell may be suspended two to four weeks to start the 2015 season. Blount never had any real fantasy value behind Bell with around five to seven runs per game and almost no catches.
San Francisco 49ers – Reggie Bush (Unknown)
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The 49ers are in transition after changing the coaching staff and losing Frank Gore. But they promoted Jim Tomsula from the defensive line to being the head coach and Geep Chryst goes from being the Quarterbacks Coach to being the offensive coordinator. The offense will remain virtually the same despite the personnel changes. Carlos Hyde was little more than a caddy to Frank Gore last year but he’ll take the reins as the primary runner and he’s a load to stop at 6-0 and 235 pounds.
Reggie Bush turned 30 and produced noticeably worse stats last year in Detroit. His role on the 49ers will be change of pace and as the receiving back on passing downs. Bush ran for around 1000 yards for three straight years before losing his effectiveness in Detroit in 2014. Bush wasn’t signed until well after all the other notable running back moves happened as he did not find any team that interested in his services.
Fantasy Outlook: Limited. Bush has a name and will likely be drafted too early this summer. He’s not nearly the runner as he once was or that Hyde currently is. The 49ers are using the same offense that hasn’t thrown more than 50 completions to a back in years. He’ll end up as fantasy depth that likely will never be used.