With the running back landscape fundamentally changed after free agency, it’s time to look at the best fantasy football RB buys, sells, and holds as we head into the 2018 summer.
DION LEWIS SIGNS WITH TENNESSEE
Lewis joins Derrick Henry to form the Titans RB by committee under the leadership of new head coach Mike Vrabel and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. The Titans ranked 12th in rushing attempts per game (27.2) and ninth in rushing yards per game (116.7). FO’s adjusted line yards suggest the Titans were heavily dependent on Henry and DeMarco Murray breaking long runs to make their rushing numbers respectable as they found themselves outside the top 20 in all other areas.1 Lewis was very productive last season and Henry was a trendy breakout pick before the his arrival, but many fantasy players are wondering if they can coexist in Tennessee.
Lewis played 35 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps and touched the football on 54 percent of them. He finished as the RB16 in PPR formats. Henry, on the other hand, played 40 percent of the Titans offensive snaps and touched the football on 47 percent. He finished as a disappointing RB37.
This isn’t a situation with clearly defined roles. Lewis won’t be pigeonholed into a receiving back role while Henry handles the early down and goal-line carries. Both RBs have similar strengths. Lewis led the NFL averaging 2.6 yards after contact. Henry was third with 2.53 yards after contact. Both ranked in the top three in Next Gen Stats most elusive running backs. It will be difficult for them to maintain these numbers – Lewis as a smaller back and Henry with his numbers boosted by long runs – but it would be prudent for dynasty owners of Lewis and Henry to hold. In redraft or best ball it makes sense to draft the last one available.
CARLOS HYDE SIGNS WITH CLEVELAND
The Browns’ offseason craziness continues after signing Jarvis Landry and Tyrod Taylor. Hyde joins Duke Johnson to form the team’s RB by committee. The Browns ranked 28th in rushing attempts per game (24) and 18th in rushing yards per game (107.1). This situation is more concrete based on the statistical body of work of Hyde, Johnson, and Isaiah Crowell.
Hyde and Crowell were very similar as runners, with Hyde less efficient despite his large edge in TDs. This follows a 2016 season in which Crowell was far more efficient, so it’s possible the Browns have downgraded despite the gap in narratives about the two players. Hyde did emerge as a receiver under Kyle Shanahan, but his efficiency struggles in that area help explain the 49ers’ enthusiasm for Jerick McKinnon. Despite the far better performance from Duke Johnson (30.7 reFPOE), it’s always a concern when a free agent signing arrives with partly overlapping skills. Johnson remains the back to own for the price.
JERICK MCKINNON SIGNS WITH SAN FRANCISCO
McKinnon joins Matt Breida to form the 49ers RB by committee. San Francisco ranked 22nd in rushing attempts per game (25.5) and 20th in rushing yards per game (103.9). Head coach Kyle Shanahan prefers RBs who are versatile as runners and receivers and possess an ability to make defenders miss. 49ers beat reporters expect McKinnon to assume the “Devonta Freeman Role” in the offense this season.
Freeman finished as the RB1 in 2015 and RB6 in 2016 in PPR formats during Shanahan’s time in Atlanta as the offensive coordinator. The risks to a McKinnon breakout include Breida and second-year back Joe Williams, who was championed by Shanahan leading up to last year’s NFL draft. McKinnon will turn 26 in May, has accumulated only 616 career touches in 58 games, and is currently in his physical prime. With Jimmy Garoppolo elevating the entire offense, McKinnon could finish as a top-six fantasy RB in San Francisco.
ISAIAH CROWELL SIGNS WITH NEW YORK
Crowell joins Bilal Powell to form the Jets RB by committee. His career production suggests that Crowell will handle much of the early down and goal-line work. The Jets don’t have a clear front-runner for touches, viewing Powell as a complementary back and uncertain what they have in second-year runner Elijah McGuire.
New York is not a great landing spot. The team managed to produce 1,700 rushing yards and 13 TDs. The Jets are rebuilding and have uncertainty at the QB position with Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, and an early rookie selection in the mix.2
New York’s offensive line profile was similar to Tennessee and suggests they were heavily dependent on the RBs to make the running game work. This should be a concern for Crowell who ran behind a top 15 line in Cleveland. He could still break out at age 25, but the conditions are not optimal.
REX BURKHEAD RE-SIGNS WITH NEW ENGLAND
Burkhead was productive despite playing limited snaps during his first season with the Patriots and will continue to be part of a committee that now includes Jeremy Hill.
Burkhead could see a few more early-down carries and take a few of the receptions Lewis vacated, but Hill will be a competitor for goal-line touches. I recommended Hill as a buy in January, a move that has now paid dividends. The owner of three seasons with at least nine rushing scores, Hill could return to fantasy prominence in New England’s elite offense.
FRANK GORE SIGNS WITH MIAMI
It is not what an aging veteran like Gore can do for your fantasy team, but what the 35-year-old RB can do to “change the culture” in the Dolphins locker room. Gore rushed for 961 yards last season which was very close to earning the future Hall of Famer his 10th 1,000-yard season.
Gore currently leads all active NFL players in touches with 3,669. He will primarily be used as a change of pace option and has not been viable as a receiver out of the backfield in years. The signing of Gore provides savvy dynasty owners a window to trade for Kenyan Drake. He was very productive from Week 13 in a featured role.
LEGARRETTE BLOUNT SIGNS WITH DETROIT
Blount joins Theo Riddick to form the Lions RB by committee and reunites with Matt Patricia. He provides the team with a power running element the backfield has been missing for years. This move should not come as a surprise considering current Lions general manager Bob Quinn spent time in New England.
The Lions had one of the worst run games in the NFL in terms of rushing yards per game and yards per carry, and Blount will handle the early down work, at least until Detroit realizes RB is not the main problem with their run game and/or that Blount isn’t the solution (-20 ruFPOE in 2017 on one of the NFL’s best offenses).
JONATHAN STEWART SIGNS WITH NEW YORK
Stewart joins the Giants and reunites with former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and offensive coordinator Mike Shula. His productivity has declined in recent seasons.
Stewart’s best seasons are behind him at age 31. He is currently ranked No. 8 among active players in career touches (1,878). The Giants could select Saquon Barkley second overall or they could trade down to acquire additional picks, but either way, Stewart is not an RB to reach for in fantasy drafts.
DOUG MARTIN SIGNS WITH OAKLAND
Martin was been very productive in his two full 16-game seasons, but moved on after two abysmal campaigns. Is there one more chance for perpetual buy low Martin? I don’t believe so. Oakland is not the best landing spot to get his career back on track with a crowded backfield that includes Marshawn Lynch, DeAndre Washington, and Jalen Richard.
CHRIS IVORY SIGNS WITH BUFFALO
Chris Ivory provides the Bills with a talented backup behind starter LeSean McCoy. McCoy is entering his age-30 season and has accumulated 2,626 touches since the 2009 season. Barring an injury to McCoy, Ivory’s touches will be limited to change-of-pace carries. He also remains at high risk for injury himself, but is only two seasons removed from a Pro Bowl season where he rushed for 1,070 yards. If McCoy were ever to miss time, Ivory would be in line to see a monster workload in Buffalo.
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- Adjusted line yards, power, second level. (back)
- I envision the Jets selecting UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Mark Schofield, from Inside the Pylon, described him as a plug and play during the The RotoViz Draft series, a podcast designed to give you all the information needed to be prepared for the 2018 NFL draft. (back)