Running backs are what many championship winning fantasy football teams are built upon. Generally, you will not see an elite player enter the free-agency period and that proved correct when Le’Veon Bell was prevented from entering free agency by being franchise tagged by the Steelers. Here we’ll take a look at the guys who made moves in free agency paying particularly attention to what impact they may have in the wonderful world of fantasy football.
Dion Lewis – Tennessee Titans
Going into 2017, it was not clear to many who would be the number 1 back in Foxborough, especially with Rex Burkhead, James White and Mike Gillislee (aka the touchdown vulture) vying for the starting half-back position. Dion Lewis made the position his own, accounting for 45% of all rushing attempts by the running backs. He amassed 896 yards and 6 TDs on the ground and caught 32 passes for 214 yards and 3 TDs. In standard leagues, he ranked 12th among running backs and in PPR leagues he ranked 15th, it’s fair to say he was more than useful in 2017.
Lewis now finds himself in Nashville, Tennessee with Derrick Henry for company and they will both eat into each other’s carry count. Henry hardly caught the ball last year, ending the regular season with only 11 catches therefore it’s likely that Dion will catch the ball quite a lot out of the backfield in 2018.
Fantasy Spin: Lewis is not a player that you would see as an RB1, most people rank him at the lower end of the RB2 range, thus giving him the potential to be useful at the flex position on your roster.
Carlos Hyde – Cleveland Browns
Yet again we have a free-agency implications article that features the Cleveland Browns, this time the featured man is Carlos Hyde who made the move over from the 49ers. Hyde comes off a season in which he rushed for 940 yards, 8 touchdowns and tacked on 350 receiving yards. He ended up ranking 11th in standard scoring leagues and 8th in full-PPR leagues among RB’s; all whilst running behind a sub-par offensive line. It’s the second year on the spin in which he has totalled 8 touchdowns and over 1100 yards. However, Hyde amassed his 2017 numbers by accounting for 67% of all carries (from running backs) and this is very unlikely to happen in Cleveland. The first reason why his fantasy stock may not be as high as last year is Duke Johnson. Johnson averaged 5.1 carries a game and 4.6 catches per game in 2017, thus significantly taking away the upside from Hyde in PPR leagues.
The second reason for why Hyde’s fantasy stock may drop could come from the draft later on this month. If Cleveland picks Saquon Barkley with either of their top-four picks in the draft- you can kiss goodbye to Hyde’s chances of being a high scoring back next year. Barkley will likely take a reasonable share of the carries and is very adept at catching the ball.
Fantasy Spin: Keep a keen eye on the draft to see whether Cleveland take Barkley in the first round. If they do, Hyde could drop from my current prediction as a low-end RB2.
Jerick McKinnon – San Francisco 49ers
Following the departure of Carlos Hyde from the Niners’ backfield, the gap has been filled by former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon. For the first four games of 2017, McKinnon was the no.2 back behind rookie Dalvin Cook. Despite Cook’s season ending injury, McKinnon stayed at no.2 with Latavius Murray assuming the lead back role. He ended the year with a career high in rushing, receiving and TD’s scored. He rushed for 570 yards, received 51 times for 421 yards and scored a total of five touchdowns. This led to rankings of 24th in standard leagues and 17th in full-PPR format.
2018 will be the first time that McKinnon will be the lead back for a team and in Kyle Shanahan he has a head coach who has experience in getting the best out of RB’s. With Jimmy G under centre, the 49ers are likely to be a much better unit than last year. Garoppolo likely continuing his upward curve to being a top-level QB can only be good for McKinnon as it will provide balance to the attack and also provide the potential to continue to receive the ball out of the backfield. Don’t be concerned if San Francisco draft a running back later this month, as it could ensure that McKinnon does not burn out over the season.
Fantasy Spin: Of all the free agency signings, McKinnon could make the biggest jump in terms of performance increase. He will get a significant increase in touches and providing he continues to have significant touches in the receiving game, he will be more valuable in PPR format. Currently he’s predicted to be a low-end RB2, but if you’re willing to take a punt on a player then McKinnon could be your guy.
So there we have it, the top-3 running back free agency moves for fantasy football. If you’re wondering where other free agent movers in Doug Martin (ranked 3rd standard / 4th PPR in 2015) and Jeremy Hill (ranked 10th standard / 11th PPR in 2014) are; they aren’t the players to be aiming for starting positions at RB1/2 or even flex. However, if they start to perform like their former selves; they may be worthy additions on the waiver wire.
Continue to look out for more insightful coverage from the Across the Fantasy Pond crew as we head towards the NFL Draft and full-speed into the new season.
By Adil Khan Deshmukh – @DillyToon