We check in on the state of running backs during the NFL offseason
Having an elite Fantasy running back led teams to success in Fantasy Football last season. Sometimes they can be hard to predict, like Alvin Kamara after starting the season third on the depth chart. In other instances, we could see it coming, like with Kareem Hunt after Spencer Ware went down to injury in the preseason. Now with some running backs having new teams and easier paths to Fantasy stardom, it is time to start finding out who will push Fantasy teams to championships.
C.J. Anderson released by Broncos
C.J. Anderson has found his way to the open market with the Broncos looking to go younger at the running back position. Anderson has been linked to the Dolphins in the past but Detroit signing Frank Gore signals the perceived need for a running back is probably not there anymore. Teams that have a more obvious need at running back currently before the NFL Draft: Colts, Redskins, Buccaneers, Seahawks. The best Fantasy landing spots would be the Buccaneers or the Colts to have a good chance of getting a heavy workload, and both can be above-average offenses.
With the release of Anderson, the running backs left on the Broncos are Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson. Booker has struggled in his first two seasons in the league, but the addition of Case Keenum could help open up the offense for him. His only competition at the moment is Henderson, who is entering his second year in the league and is already 25 years old. Based on the current situation, Booker could be the bell cow, and Henderson a change-of-pace running back. Anderson averaged 17 touches a game in the primary role last season.
Chris Carson fully recovered; ready for 2018 season
Chris Carson is healthy and ready to go for the 2018 season. He was the lead back for Seattle the first four weeks of last season before breaking his leg. However, Carson may not step right back into the lead role in his return. Pete Carroll made it sound like a camp battle between him and Mike Davis saying, “I think Mike really comes back getting the ball first, and the competition is on. That’s the first handoff, then after that it’s dead even.
— C.J. Tumbarello (@TumbarelloHB) March 20, 2018
Carson was more effective compared to Davis on the ground, averaging 4.2 yards per carry to Davis’ 3.5, and Davis was one of the many running backs he beat out last preseason. If he can beat out Davis again, and assume the majority of the rushes out of the backfield, he will have RB2 upside this season. A risk with Carson are his health concerns. His physical running style helps him gain extra yards but puts his body in danger. A factor that could help Carson’s health is better run blocking. Over the offseason, the Seahawks signed D.J. Fluker, who is an improvement to paving the way for the RBs. Carroll has made it sound like they are placing a big emphasis on polishing up their running game and said, “We know what the formula is, we know what it takes, we just have to get ourselves back and feel that continuity”. If the Seahawks can fix their run blocking, Carson’s angry running style will be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
LeSean McCoy Loses Two Offensive Lineman
Two of the main hogs on the offensive line for LeSean McCoy in his three years with Buffalo have been Richie Incognito and Eric Wood. Now McCoy will be without those two for the upcoming season as they have both retired. McCoy actually took to Instagram to beg them to not retire and said he would pay them if he reaches 1,500 yards with them back. The plea did not work.
Also, the Bills dealt their Left Tackle, Cordy Glenn, in a move to trade up from 21st to 12th overall in the draft. That will have less effect on McCoy, as Dion Dawkins played more than Glenn last season due to injuries and played well. The negative with the huge turnover for the offensive line is that McCoy is at his best when he can get into open space. Now without the great offensive lineman he had, it will be a tougher task. Looking at his yards after contact last season, he ranked towards the bottom of the league. He gained just 2.1 yards after contact, which was tied for 53rd among 59 running backs getting at least 25% of the snaps. When he is asked to break tackles and create on his own without space, he struggles. With this is mind, it will be a more demanding year for McCoy with inexperienced offensive lineman and a new quarterback. McCoy as he will be 30 years old at the start of the season, and already has over 2,500 touches under his belt. Expect McCoy to be less effective, and he is a player to avoid at his current RB10 price via FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rankings.
LeGarrette Blount Makes Lions Backfield Crowded
A team that already was employing a running back-by-committee approach is now even messier. LeGarrette Blount has joined the crowded Lions’ backfield, meaning some kind of rotation between Blount, Ameer Abdullah, and Theo Riddick will be employed. Based on how Blount fits in with the other two backs, expect him to be a clock chewer, short-yardage runner, and goal line weapon for them. This will probably limit him to five to 10 carries a game depending on the game script.
Looking at how the offense has been run the last couple of seasons under Jim Bob Cooter, it has not been Fantasy-friendly for running backs. The leading rusher for the Lions never had more than 600 yards rushing. This should remain the case with Abdullah and Blount primarily splitting running work, and Riddick handling most of the receiving work out of the backfield. They will be very tough to use weekly as their workload should fluctuate based on game flow and matchups. In daily fantasy, you could target Blount more in games where the Lions get up big and use him to churn clock in the second half. The only running back that should be in the RB3 conversation is Riddick due to his consistent presence in the receiving game in PPR formats.
Dion Lewis To Split Carries with Derrick Henry?
Last year the Titans used nearly an exact split between Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray. Henry finished with 176 to Murray’s 184 carries. Instead of Murray, it will be Dion Lewis splitting the work with Henry in 2018. With the Patriots last year, Lewis was used in a very similar way, getting 180 carries, and 224 went to the other running backs. He was extremely effective in that role, averaging five yards a carry and finishing as RB15 on the season. Lewis will struggle to repeat that great yards per carry clip, but the added opportunity of more receiving work makes him very enticing in Fantasy. Looking at how Lewis and Murray were used last year, Murray ran the 10th most routes among all running backs, totaling 291. Lewis only had 156 routes in comparison, which was 44th among running backs. This will make Lewis a great asset in PPR leagues and a RB2 for Fantasy teams.
Jerick McKinnon a Workhorse in San Fran?
Carlos Hyde was a Top 10 Fantasy running back last season. It was not done efficiently, but rather due to the constant workload Hyde had every week. He finished the season seventh among running backs in total touches, and sixth in receptions. That usage is a dream scenario for Jerick McKinnon’s Fantasy outlook this season, and all signs are pointing to a similar workload for McKinnon. He was inked to a four-year contract paying him $7.5 million per year, which is the fourth-highest average among running backs. That is definitely workhorse money. Even Kyle Shanahan has come out and praised him as an every-down back as well. Currently ranked as RB15 per FantasyPros, McKinnon has the upside to finish as a Top 10 RB and is a safe bet to finish as a Top 20 RB.
LeSean McCoy Featured Image: (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)