While the wide receivers may have stolen the Fantasy headlines during Free Agency, the running back landscape had its share of major changes as well. The position is a volatile one, especially in keeper and dynasty leagues. In addition to the risk of injury and shelf life concerns, the committee approach and pass heavy offenses have drastically altered Fantasy viewpoints and strategies pertaining to the backfield. Let’s take a look at all the recent RB transactions and what it means for their long-term value.
The Move: Reggie Bush heads to the Detroit Lions.
What a great fit, both for Fantasy owners and the Lions offense. Bush was underutilized in the passing game as a member of the Dolphins, but he did show he could be an effective three-down back when called upon. Fantasy owners should consider him a solid RB2 with upside, especially in PPR leagues. He could lead all RBs in catches this year; have over 1,200 total yards and find the end zone six to eight times.
Mikel LeShoure is still lurking around as the between-the-tackles battering ram and potential goal line thief. His long term value clearly takes a hit here. He just could not establish himself as the lead back and now becomes a FLEX play at best for the moment. Of course, New Orleans Reggie Bush was not quite as healthy as the Miami version, so LeShoure is a valuable handcuff. Joique Bell, a PPR surprise last season, is still worth holding onto as well in case of injury. He may be more of a deep league hold, but it would not be a total surprise to see him bypass LeShoure as the direct handcuff to Bush.
For the Dolphins, Lamar Miller is currently in a great position to break out. He is an explosive talent with lead back potential. While not a true bellcow, he fits the mold of a high upside RB2. Daniel Thomas is the anti-Miller. He lacks explosion and does not run with the power you would expect for a back his size. He will still be in the mix for touches and could vulture some TDs but Miller is the back to own in dynasty leagues. He is one of the off-seasons biggest risers. Keep an eye on the Dolphins draft and see if they snag an RB with one of their 11 picks. It could be more of an indictment on Thomas rather than lack of confidence in Miller.
The Move: Steven Jackson will be the Falcons new workhorse.
Keeper/dynasty owners have to be happy about this. This gives his value one last shot in the arm as he turns 30 this year. The power back already has a ton of tread on his tires after nine professional seasons. I subscribe to the theory that it is better to trade an RB a year early than a year late in a long-term league. The window on Jackson was actually closed, but now it is back open for a limited time. Part of success in a dynasty league is maximizing value. If you can reel in a solid return via trade, ship him out and make your team younger. Conversely, if you feel you are one piece away from being championship caliber, acquiring him could really give your team a boost. Attempt to pick him up on the cheap because of his advanced age, but do not expect much of a discount because of his ideal landing spot. For 2013, he should be good for borderline RB1 numbers.
It is clear that Jacquizz Rodgers is not viewed as a full-time RB by the Falcons or the Fantasy world. The diminutive back has yet to average four yards per carry in his two NFL seasons, but that does not mean he is waiver wire material. He was a useful PPR option last year, catching 53 passes for 402 yards. A big difference is Michael Turner cannot catch, while Jackson is one of the best receiving backs in football. At the very least, Quizz is still a talented handcuff even if Jackson might cut into his passing down action. If the Jackson owner in your league is looking to acquire him, perhaps you could reel in a young, unproven WR like Stephen Hill or Brian Quick in return.
To make this all possible, the aforementioned Michael Turner was cut loose by the Falcons and is currently still looking for work. His keeper/dynasty value is extremely limited moving forward. He may catch on with an RB-needy team and score a few TDs, but his bellcow days are over. The Burner is running on fumes.
The Rams are left with 2nd year backs Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson and Terrance Ganaway at RB. Both Pead and Richardson profile similarly as slightly undersized playmakers with good hands out of the backfield. Pead was drafted in the 2nd round as the possible heir apparent to Jackson, but only saw 13 touches on offense all season. The reason for that is Richardson, who came from seemingly out of nowhere, really impressed in camp and took the job of Jackson’s handcuff. The biggest wildcard is Ganaway, who was drafted by the Jets in the sixth round, cut before the season and claimed off waivers by the Rams a day later. He did not receive a touch in 2012, but presents a power element that neither of the other two Rams RBs possesses.
The other variable in this backfield equation is the NFL Draft. The Rams may spend an early pick on another RB later this month and that would have a major impact on playing time and touches. For right now, it is best to hold off on acquiring one or all of these backs because of the uncertainty. If St. Louis rolls into the season without adding another player to the mix, Pead represents the most Fantasy upside, both for 2013 and long-term. Richardson showed enough last year that he deserves to stay in the mix. If they do not draft another back, Ganaway is going to have a major opportunity for between the tackles and goal-line work. If you have an extra roster spot in a deep dynasty league and he is available, he is worth a speculative add prior to the Draft.
The Move: Rashard Mendenhall winds up in Arizona.
Mendenhall has largely underwhelmed during his five NFL seasons, hovering just above 4 yards per carry for his career and never being quite as dynamic as he was projected coming out of Illinois. He came back from ACL surgery at the end of last year and it was clear that he was not 100-percent. After signing a one-year deal with the Cardinals, it appears he will have every opportunity to prove he can be a starting RB again. At the moment, he has RB3 dynasty value but a steady rise as the spring turns to summer is certainly possible. Former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, now the head coach in Arizona, has spoken glowingly of Mendy’s ability to be a workhorse back. Plus, with Carson Palmer on board, the entire Cardinals offense should not be the Fantasy wasteland it was in 2012. As Mendenhall heads into his age-26 season, he can be a value acquisition if your keeper/dynasty team needs RB depth. If his current owner still thinks this is the 2010 Mendenhall, though, it may be best to look elsewhere.
Where does the Mendenhall signing leave Ryan Williams? If his first two seasons are any indication, likely as a Fantasy tease. Williams has the ability to be a dangerous threat, but he has shown only a brief glimpse and a propensity for injury thus far. In the five NFL games Williams has played, he has a yards per carry average over 2.4 in only one game. He has enough talent to push Mendenhall for lead back duties, but it remains to be seen if he can be the same explosive back he was at Virginia Tech (where he also battled injuries). Williams should be treated as an RB3/4 until we see him prove otherwise on the field in actual NFL games. He has an RB2 ceiling in the long-term, but will need to develop significantly to realize that potential. William Powell and Alfonso Smith are also on the roster, but represent little long-term appeal. If you have an extremely deep league, Powell is rosterable in case of emergency. The Cardinals could still certainly use a draft pick on another back that could compete for touches as well.
One back no longer employed by the Cardinals is Chris “Beanie” Wells. Billed as a bruising back and future Fantasy beast coming out of Ohio State, Beanie has just not lived up to the hype. He was cut this offseason and is currently looking for work. He has been constantly slowed by injuries, missing 13 games in his four seasons. On the optimistic side, he will be just 25 years old this summer and has scored 24 TDs in 51 games. If he finds the right opportunity his stock has room to improve, but as it stands, he is no better than an RB flier.
Now that Mendenhall is in Arizona, there is plenty of optimism about his replacement in Pittsburgh, right? Yes, only that player is not on their roster yet. The Steelers are likely to spend an early pick on an RB who will get an immediate opportunity to play. The current backs on the roster offer little upside or dynasty appeal outside of deep leagues. If there was a Steeler back to own right now, it would be Jonathan Dwyer. He is a power back that showed some explosiveness last year, but ultimately fell out of Fantasy relevance after back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 7 & 8. He’ll play this season at age-24 and offers upside as a roster stash. Isaac Redman entered last year as the starter, but was not able to get much at all going on the ground. He is an average talent without much dynasty value left. Second year back Baron Batch is a pure roll of the dice type of pick-up, but someone has to emerge here right? It will not be gadget player Chris Rainey, who was released from the team in January after his arrest for simple battery. He is currently looking for a second chance, but has not yet found one. If he lands on a team with a creative offense, he might get back on the radar.
The Move: Giants release Ahmad Bradshaw.
Bradshaw has been a key part of two Super Bowl winning teams for the Giants, but there is no room for loyalty in the NFL (or Fantasy football for that matter). New York gave him the axe in February in order to clear cap space. Likely frustrated with the lingering foot issues and excited about the potential of David Wilson, Bradshaw became expendable. He is only 27 years old and has been productive when on the field, so he still has keeper/dynasty value. How much will be tied to his eventual landing spot. He has had conversations with the Steelers and once he shows he is fully healthy, he should find himself a new team. If you own him, you do not have much choice but to hold him and hope he can land in an appealing situation.
With Bradshaw out of the picture, that leaves the explosive Wilson and Andre Brown as the main ball carriers for 2013. Wilson has an extremely high Fantasy ceiling, but he is not without risk. His skills are potentially elite and a breakout season is well within reach. He is adding muscle this offseason and seems focused on being the lead back for Big Blue. His dynasty value has skyrocketed since the end of the season and he is likely unreasonably priced in your keeper/dynasty league. However, the Giants may be gun-shy about completely turning over their offense to a still-raw second year back with ball security and pass protection issues. That is where Brown could step in and play a significant role. He was completely off the dynasty map heading into last season but he marched back on with huge performances in Week 2 and 3, filling in for the injured Bradshaw. He got hurt himself and his current dynasty value is fluid, but worth an acquisition if you own Wilson. If not, it might be best to avoid the situation. The dark horse in this competition is Da’Rel Scott, a 3rd year back out of Maryland. Scott has the playmaking ability to be a change-of-pace back if given the opportunity. At the very least, he is a name to keep on your watch list this season should either of the backs ahead of him go down with injury.
Under the Radar Moves:
Danny Woodhead inked a deal with the San Diego Chargers. He should be the direct handcuff to Ryan Mathews and have a Fantasy impact this season. If he can get 150 touches, you could see around 750 combined yards, 40 catches and 5 TDs. Woodhead is 28 years old so long-term expectations should be tempered, but he makes for solid bench depth. The Patriots will replace Woodhead with the emerging Shane Vereen, who could see a major role expansion in 2013.
Shonn Greene plodded his way over to Tennessee during free agency. Having been solid but very unspectacular during his Jets career, he starts anew as a back-up for the Titans. He will be Chris Johnson’s handcuff and that alone carries value in long-term leagues. He also could see 7-10 touches a game, including around the goal line and other short yardage situations. He is not one you should be excited to acquire, but if you already own him try to get the CJ owner interested.
After the Jets cut Greene, they needed to add depth behind Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. They landed former Panther and most recently Raiders RB Mike Goodson. Goodson has a Fantasy friendly skillset and is instantly the Jets RB to own. While not a bruiser in-between the tackles, he has good burst and big upside in PPR leagues. Powell is a tick above average, similar to Shonn Greene but with better receiving ability. McKnight has change-of-pace potential if he can work his way onto the field.
The Eagles are shopping Dion Lewis. Again. LeSean McCoy’s successor at Pitt, Lewis has some dynamic ability, but is undersized and not near the prospect that Shady was. With Bryce Brown flashing major ability and Chris Polk capable of filling in, Lewis is expendable. Keep an eye on where he ends up, because he could be Fantasy relevant if he carves out even a small role with a new team.
In more marketplace news, the Buccaneers have made LeGarrette Blount available. The emergence of Doug Martin and potential of Michael Smith does not figure to leave many touches for Blount in 2013. It is not surprising that teams are unwilling to give up a draft pick for him, but he has the talent to be a FLEX option if a team can make the most of his power. He finds himself in that Beanie Wells RB5/6 range of stash-only material.
The Packers have been lacking an elite RB since Ahman Green left town, but they opted against making a free agency move. They are likely to use a draft pick on RB reinforcements, but it will be intriguing to see what DuJuan Harris can do with more touches. He is the Packer back to own at the moment, ahead of the disappointing James Starks and average Alex Green.
The Jaguars scooped up back-up Justin Forsett, who could be Maurice Jones-Drew’s handcuff this season. Forsett looked solid in spot duty for the Texans, but is only rosterable for MJD owners or in very deep dynasty leagues.
Next week, we will take a look at the QB and TE moves from around the league and what those transactions mean for your keeper/dynasty team.