The free agency dust has (mostly) settled, and the running back musical chairs are complete. Unfortunately for guys like Todd Gurley, James Conner, and Le’Veon Bell, the music stopped and they didn’t have a chair. Still, free agency shook up a lot of backfields, and with every shakeup, there are winners and losers. Who are the fantasy football winners and losers at running back after free agency has (mostly) finished?
Running Back Winner: Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
This is the free agency winner that is most likely to end up a free agency & draft loser over the next month. But, as of right now, Chase Edmonds stands atop the Arizona Cardinals’ running back depth chart. Edmonds shockingly finished top-eight in running back targets last season alongside the now-Raider Kenyan Drake (more on him later). Unfortunately, Chase Edmonds hasn’t shown that he is worth a high-level pick in fantasy football drafts at this point. The third-year pro has three double-digit carry games, and averaged 3.8 yards per carry in those starts. He also averaged 81 rushing yards per game solely because the Cardinals went all the way in the tank for him, giving him 25 and 27 carries in two of the three games. This situation will undoubtedly change, but as of right now, he’s a winner.
Running Back Winner: James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars added Carlos Hyde, and fantasy football Twitter (who I can only assume hoped the Jaguars would add literally nobody) lost their collective minds. That was a pre-programmed mind-losing effort, as Carlos Hyde is the most anodyne possible running back for the Jaguars to add. He’s the classic “using a lifeline” signing, as his former head coach (Urban Meyer) and former GM (Trent Baalke) both reside in Jacksonville. This doesn’t scare me at all. People love to cite his percentage of running back touches being off the charts, and that number undoubtedly comes down. The Jaguars also hardly ran the football. By “hardly ran the football” I mean “passed nearly two-thirds of the time, the highest rate in the league.” If Carlos Hyde worried you, you were going to get worried about literally anyone the Jaguars added. It’s wheels up for the surprise UDFA sophomore running back.
Running Back Winner: Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
The Broncos jettisoned Phillip Lindsay, a move they telegraphed for years at this point. Lindsay is a Texan, and the Broncos replaced him with Mike Boone. Mike Boone is alright, he’s a decent back, but he’s no Phillip Lindsay. Remember Royce Freeman? He’s still there, apparently. It’s likely Boone spells Gordon as necessary, and Freeman handles random pass-catching duties. That means that it’s the Melvin Gordon show in Denver. The splits probably won’t be as cut-and-dry in 2020, but Melvin Gordon without Phillip Lindsay averaged an additional 14 rushing yards and three PPR fantasy points per game without Lindsay. Gordon was RB12 without Lindsay and RB29 with him. That’s it. That’s the long and the short of it.
Honorable Mention: Cam Akers (LAR)
Running Back Loser: Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
He lost 60% of his offensive line and the Raiders added Kenyan Drake to the backfield. It’s hard to find a guy who had as much go wrong for him this offseason as Josh Jacobs. This really crushes his fantasy football value, as well. The Raiders gave Kenyan Drake $8 million guaranteed, and unless you’re the 49ers with Tevin Coleman, you pay a guy that much money because you intend to use him. That hems in the miniature pass-catching revolution that Jacobs had last season (he caught 33 balls after talking a big game all offseason).
Josh Jacobs has turned into a two-down back who will rely on touchdowns to buoy his value in PPR and half-PPR leagues. In fantasy football calculator drafts, he dropped from a borderline first-round pick to the middle of the second. I’m not so sure this is a far enough drop, as he went from a possible RB1 to a clear backend RB2 with these moves. Think 2019 David Montgomery.
Running Back Loser: A.J. Dillon, Green Bay Packers
If Josh Jacobs had the most go wrong for him, then A.J. Dillon is a close second. In reality, one major thing went wrong for Dillon: the Packers re-signing Aaron Jones as their #1 running back. Losing Corey Linsley also hurts, but not as much as getting screwed to the bench for Jones. Luckily, the Packers decided to let Jamaal Williams ply his wares in Detroit, clearing up space for Dillon as the team’s 1B. The 2020 second-round pick likely steps into at least 150 touches next season, and he’s flashed a lot in his first year, despite getting limited touches. The Packers unleashed A.J. Dillon exactly once last season: 21 carries, 124 yards. Unfortunately, without an Aaron Jones injury, that’s unlikely to happen again in 2021.
Running Back Loser: David Johnson, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans’ entire franchise is in utter shambles. They have somehow managed to get worse since letting Bill O’Brien go for trading every single draft pick and valuable player they had (save for Deshaun Watson) for a Bam Abedayo NBA Top Shot moment and a sweet visor for his Madden Create-A-Player.
The Texans restocked the cabinet by adding a bunch of marginally talented wide receivers and running backs. For David Johnson, we are mostly worried about Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay. Neither one of these guys are good enough to steal the RB1 role from David Johnson, but they’re all close enough in talent level to make life a mess for DJ’s fantasy football value. On top of the messy backfield, if everything plays out as it looks it should playout that Tyrod Taylor is the Texans’ starting QB in week one in 2021. He’s dropped into the RB30 range after being borderline top-20 for me.