Forecasting fantasy football free-agent running backs

Forecasting fantasy football free-agent running backs

NFL free agents and fantasy football impact

Forecasting fantasy football free-agent running backs


When the NFL’s 2020 free agency period opens March 18, we’ll see several familiar faces switching teams, including one star who may be in a new uniform for the first time in 20 years.

In fantasy football, forecasting statistical production largely hinges on where said player winds up, of course, and the nature of this being a team game means the supporting cast is an intertwining factor in developing a sound projection.

Looking at the key fantasy contributors facing free agency generates plenty of questions. Let’s try to wager some educated guesses as to where these guys will land.

Running backs

(Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports)

Derrick Henry: After some clarification on Henry’s part over a statement that Ezekiel Elliott’s five-year, $90 million ($50M guaranteed) will be the floor in contract negotiations, one has to wonder just how much Tennessee values the 2019 NFL rushing champ. He is in the prime of his career and fits all that this offense is looking for in his position, but re-signing quarterback Ryan Tannehill also is a high priority, and paying elite money for running backs tends to be a waste in today’s landscape. Tannehill probably will receive the franchise tag, and it’s likely right tackle Jack Conklin walks in free agency, freeing up money for Henry being retained. He’s an RB1 with elevated risk in fantasy due to a bruising style and the expected loss of Conklin.

Kenyan Drake: In response to being traded from Miami to Arizona, Drake took the fantasy world by storm with a monster closing stretch. RB David Johnson will be traded in all likelihood, and Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said he wants Drake to return. The catch will be how much money the former Alabama standout is looking for in his first opportunity at testing the open market. The “Air Raid” offense proved to be a good fit, and this one solidly is about financials on both sides. In his prime and coming off of seven touchdowns in the final three games, Drake has suitors, and the Cards will look at all options to get a deal done. My expectation is Drake takes the best deal offered his way, and I think it will come from the red birds.

Melvin Gordon: The veteran’s attempt at leveraging a new contract fell flat on its face in 2019, and now Gordon heads into free agency unlikely to see elite money. The Los Angeles Chargers have moved on from quarterback Philip Rivers, and Gordon joins tight end Hunter Henry as unrestricted free agents. My gut feeling is Gordon ends up in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Miami Dolphins jersey. Florida doesn’t have state income taxes, which is a nice perk, and who hates warm weather? A dark horse could be the Buffalo Bills, and there’s a slim chance the Detroit Lions are ready to move on from the thus far injury-prone Kerryon Johnson. Atlanta and Houston shouldn’t be discredited, either. On talent alone, Gordon is an RB2 in all formats and has more stability in PPR setups.

Chris Thompson: A PPR-only option, Thompson could follow Jay Gruden to Jacksonville. The former Washington Redskins head coach recruited Thompson and stuck by his side through myriad injuries, and the Jaguars probably don’t want Leonard Fournette catching 300 passes a year. Thompson, despite the durability issues, is a No. 3/flex type in any setting that offers him a clear path to third-down work.

Jordan Howard: After a pair of try-hard seasons with at least 1,100 rushing yards and seven total scores to open his career with the Chicago Bears, Howard was traded to Philly following an unspectacular third year in 2018. This ’19 season was marred by a lingering ankle injury after showing inconsistently quality play in the first nine weeks. Howard is unlikely to find a bell-cow situation, and his return to Philly seems questionable, so this one is really a tossup.

Peyton Barber: Tampa Bay is expected to let him test the market, and while Barber has surprised at times, he is undoubtedly an overachiever. That alone makes him a dangerous draft option in any setting, and he’s not going to be signed to carry the workload. Barber is a backup candidate in fantasy drafts if he finds a home that offers a reasonably large share of the touches.

Carlos Hyde: Among the top four running backs on the 2019 roster, just Duke Johnson is under contract for the upcoming season. Hyde came over via trade for essentially a ham sandwich prior to the ’19 campaign and produced a shade over 1,000 ground yards and a six scores. Hyde is a veteran journeyman whose skill set will garner him an opportunity outside of the state of Texas, should Houston be ready to move on, but my instincts tell me he will renew with the Texans on a “prove it” deal for a year or two at a respectable salary. If that is indeed the outcome of his free agency explorations, Hyde is a No. 3/flex fantasy back with RB2 utility in friendly matchups.

Lamar Miller: Miller returns from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the preseason and finds himself testing the open market, barring Houston making a somewhat surprising bid to retain him. The former Miami Dolphin faces an age-29 season and has moderate injury history beyond the knee, so his market is unlikely to be vast. There are a handful of teams looking for a complementary veteran, and he would make some sense if the dollars are right for teams such as Buffalo, Las Vegas, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Miami, Philadelphia, and the Los Angeles Chargers. More teams are in play if their expected plans go awry (TEN, ARI, LAR). Long story short, Miller’s landing spot matters more than just about anything relative to his fantasy football valuation. RB3 talent, coin toss for the situation…

(Stan Szeto, USA TODAY Sports)

DeAndre Washington: Has Washington flashed enough in limited action during his NFL career as predominantly playing a reserve role to lure a team into taking a chance that he could be a hidden gem in need of a starting role? Probably not, but it isn’t an unreasonable question. Jon Gruden could push to have him re-signed to spell Josh Jacobs, provided Washington’s market isn’t more appealing from his perspective. Working in his favor, Washington is versatile and pretty good around the stripe. Keep tabs on his possible movement. In the best-case scenario, he’s a No. 3 with a workload of 50/50 or greater. Otherwise, he’s low-end handcuff consideration.

Theo Riddick: The former Detroit Lion and now Denver Bronco does one thing exceptionally well, and that’s catching the rock out of the backfield. He offers zilch as a running back, and durability is also a major worry. Teams in need of a third-down back or a change of pace will have him in mind. Riddick makes some sense for Tennessee with Dion Lewis likely to be cut, and a wide range of other teams will be in need of a pass-catching asset. Riddick is a PPR-only flier in the right setting.

LeSean McCoy: Shady looked cooked in 2019, and even Andy Reid seemed to agree by making him a healthy scratch with the caveat McCoy would be needed to be fresh for the playoffs — in which he also was inactive twice and failed to touch the ball. There is little reason to trust McCoy will rebound at 32 years old, and it would take a unique situation for gamers to treat him as a draftable player in 2020.

Frank Gore: Entering his age-37 season as an unrestricted free agent, Gore is interested in playing again and could return to the Bills as a spell to the explosive Devin Singletary. He’ll test the market in March and make a decision from there. He doesn’t offer draft-worthy fantasy value.


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