With free agency’s most impactful moves winding down (Green Bay please just sign a wide receiver) and teams turning their attention to the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s time we take a look around the NFL and figure out who are the winners and losers at the four major fantasy football-relevant positions for 2022 leagues. Who added or lost value in the first week of NFL free agency?
Running Back Winners
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
By a pure dollars perspective, no running back got a bigger contract than James Conner at this point in free agency. Leonard Fournette tied him at three years, $21 million. Conner also got $13.5 million guaranteed, more than former teammate Chase Edmonds, who received a two-year, $12.1 million contract ($6.1 million guaranteed).
Conner finished 2021 with 202 carries and 37 receptions, the second time in his career he topped 230 touches in a season. More importantly, he played the most games in his career last season, playing in 15-of-17 games. At 26, did he shed the injury-prone label? Even if he didn’t, Conner re-established himself as one of the better fantasy football options last season as the Cardinals used him as a battering ram on the goal line. In his five games without Chase Edmonds, Conner averaged 144 yards on 17 carries and 5 catches per game, scoring 8 touchdowns in five games. The road is plowed for Conner, he just has to cruise down it.
Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos didn’t go out and make re-signing Melvin Gordon a priority, and chances are Gordon will be out in free agency until after the draft. That means, for now, Javonte Williams is the biggest running back winner in free agency. Javonte Williams had 81 evaded or broken tackles last season, on 246 touches, meaning he broke a tackle on one-third of his touches last year. He’s one of the strongest young running backs in the league, and he bowling balls his way through would-be tacklers.
But he’s not a winner because he’s good, he’s a winner because he’s good and the Broncos haven’t made a concerted effort to give him a backfield mate AND they added Russell Wilson. Wilson will make the offense that much more potent, which will open up opportunities for Javonte to ball out.
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Rashaad Penny started five consecutive games last year, the first time in his career that he had sustained usage. He finished that run with 138 yards per game, and with six touchdowns in five games. The Seahawks rewarded him with nearly a million dollars per touchdown, signing him to one-year and $5.75 million
Running Back Losers
Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins quickly turned Gaskin from their second-or-third option on the offense to their sixth-or-seventh option after re-signing Mike Gesicki and adding Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmonds, and some guy named Tyreek Hill (did I spell that right?). There’s not a whole lot left for Gaskin, who disappointed last year by being pretty much what we drafted him to be (he was RB25, with an ADP around RB23). Alas, the Myles Gaskin Era is likely over… for now. The Edmonds-Mostert duo combined to miss 22 games last season, so if Mike McDaniel runs a system with a 1A and 1B, then Gaskin could be the super backup to both. For now, however, he’s just a loser from these developments.
Ronald Jones, Free Agent
As of right now, there’s essentially zero market for Ronald Jones. This comes as a big disaster one off-season after some thought (it’s me, I’m some) that he could be Tom Brady’s bell cow running back in Tampa Bay. Bruce Arians grew exceedingly frustrated with Ronald Jones and cast him into the shadow realm, giving him fewer than one-third of snaps in all but two games in 2021.
And now, there’s no market for Jones, at least not until after the draft. He’ll likely be relegated to a firm RB2 role at best wherever he lands.
Melvin Gordon, Free Agent
Melvin Gordon’s lack of interest in the open market is somewhat confusing. He can still run the football relatively well (70.7 yards per game on just 13.5 touches per game) and he had ten touchdowns on 231 touches last season. For whatever reason, whether it be high asking price, the turmoil surrounding moves around the league, or teams waiting for the draft, MelGo has almost no market. Wherever he lands, he has a shot at the 1B role at worst, but his fantasy value slips by the day as the NFL tells fantasy players all we need to know about how they value him.