Free Agency Frenzy - Runningbacks
A few days ago, a panel of our contributors brought you the quarterback version of our Free Agency Frenzy. Now, the We Know Fantasy crew has come together to project where the top six free agent running backs will take their talents for the 2020 season. On top of projecting where they'll land, the trio will talk fantasy football value with the anticipated landing space as well. Nate (@WeKnowFantasy), Brian (@BrianWentwrthFF) and Cody (@MasterSmithers) contributed on this article. From here, we'll tackle wide receivers an tight-ends.
San Francisco 49ers
Before you call me a homer, here me out. I know the 49ers are working with a small amount of cap, but Melvin Gordon would be an absolute game changer for the team. The 49ers have just over $12 million in available cap right now and can free up a bunch more if they are to move former first round draft pick Solomon Thomas. Beyond that, some more cuts and contract renegotiations will free up some more cap. This leaves more than enough to bring in Gordon. Now you’re thinking, the 49ers already have a crowded backfield. Matt Breida is on his way out. Tevin Coleman can be cleared from the roster this year without a cap hit. Jerick McKinnon said he’d do whatever it took to stay with the 49ers, which could include a re-worked contract. Raheem Mostert would remain on his time friendly deal. A true three-down back in Kyle Shannahan’s system would be deadly. It would keep the defenses guessing even more than they already are. It’s a match made in heaven. For a fantasy aspect, a healthy Gordon in San Fran’s run-first offense is someone you want to draft early and often. If he is to go there, don’t be scared by the rest of the “committee.”
Ideal Spot: Houston Texans
Most Likely: Buccaneers, Chiefs, or Texans
This is a very Texans' move to spend money on a big-name free agent running back, and it's something they are desperate for. I like the one two punch they had last season with Hyde and Duke Johnson, but giving them a true work horse veteran could be just what they need to get over the hump. He’s only 26-years-old with treed left on the tires and I think he brings Houston over the hump. It’s realistically hard to predict which teams will pay this price for a big name running back, and if one does, I believe one of these three teams will come out on top.
Look at the Houston offense and you’ll notice a glaring weakness. That weakness is the running back position. For the past few seasons, Houston has put one of the greatest quarterbacks in the league on the field in Deshaun Watson and one of the best receivers in DeAndre Hopkins. The problem is teams have been able to key in on the passing game due to a lack of a running game previously led by Lamar Miller and Carlos Hyde. Bringing in a big-name back such as Gordon would help open things up for the Houston offense. Last season the Texans ran the ball nearly 43-percent of the time – 10th most in the league. A back like Gordon can help improve their 4.6 yards-per-attempt from 2019. Plus, a washed-up Carlos Hyde ran for over 1,000 yards behind that line last season. Imagine what Gordon could do.
If it isn’t the San Francisco 49ers who land Melvin Gordon’s services, I think it’s the Houston Texans. However, with him off the board, the Texans go with the next best option in this year’s free agency class and bring in Kenyan Drake. Drake played himself into a nice upcoming deal with his performance with the Arizona Cardinals after being traded from the Miami Dolphins. In terms of pass blocking, the Texans’ offensive line is one of the worst in the league. When it comes to run blocking however, it’s not too bad. Veteran Carlos Hyde ran for 4.4 yards-per-carry and had his first ever 1,000 yard rushing season a year ago. Drake ran the ball for 5.2 YPC with the Cardinals behind a similar offensive line. If we split the difference and give him 4.8 YPC on Hyde’s 245 attempts last season, that’s nearly 1,200 yards of rushing. That doesn’t include his pass catching ability, which is significantly better than Hyde’s. I’d be all over Drake in fantasy next year if he was on the Texans. They’ve shown they’ll consistently run the ball with whomever is behind center and Drake would be a big upgrade over Hyde.
Ideal Spot: Arizona Cardinals
Most Likely: Arizona Cardinals
When it comes to Kenyan Drake, I believe he fits what Kliff Kingsbury wants, and does it well. Drake became the explosive back everyone had been wanted him to be with the Cardinals and was part of the reason their offense was in it each game. I’d imagine we see David Johnson moved, or cut, and Drake takes over this backfield for the foreseeable future with very little tread on his tires.
Although it seems increasingly unlikely that Drake stays out west in Arizona, this is clearly the best fit for him. Drake escaped Miami last season and broke out in the second half, posting numbers that would have placed in the fold as a start-able running back. Over the course of eight games in Arizona, Drake rushed for 643 yards and eight touchdowns, putting him on a full-season pace of 1,286 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns! Those stats projected over a full season would have placed Drake as the RB3 in 2019, behind just Christian McCaffrey and Aaron Jones. Drake is obviously a perfect fit in the Arizona offense, and if he returns, expect him to be a sneaky good draft pick for 2020 fantasy owners.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I struggled to think of a landing spot for the injury prone Lamar Miller honestly. After a bit of thinking I settled with the Bucs and I honestly think it’s a pretty good fit. There’s no doubt that the Bucs could use some help in the backfield. Ronald Jones II showed some flash of competence a year ago after a god-awful rookie campaign and Peyton Barber is more of a placeholder than anything. Miller didn’t play in 2019, but prior to that had a run of fantastic seasons, most recently being named to the ProBowl in 2018. This is a move that the Bucs can bring in a proven veteran back who is one of the best backs in the league when healthy on a nice deal due to his run of injuries and have him lead their backfield. Remember when David Johnson played at a fantasy football MVP level for the Arizona Cardinals? Bruce Arians was his coach. Miller’s game is much like DJs and Arians can get the most out of him. I’d honestly love to see this happens.
Ideal Spot: Seahawks
Most Likely: Raiders
With a backfield that dropped like flies at the end of last season, the Seahawks will need an extra veteran on their roster. Lamar will get a baby bump in value as Seattle does make the best out of their run game, however, I do not see him doing much but being the veteran safety blanket for the Seahawks. The Raiders could use a veteran to back up Josh Jacobs in case of injury. Gruden loves older veteran players and Miller is the perfect fit.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I believe Miller’s time in Houston is done. He was a non-factor last season after tearing an ACL in the preseason. Also see above my prognostication of Melvin Gordon heading to Houston this off-season and you’ll notice Miller isn’t a great fit to return. Miller’s best days seem to be behind him as a running back heading into his age-29 season. Miller fits best as a RBBC guy, and I believe Tampa Bay may be the best place for him to do that. Third-year back Ronald Jones still hasn’t proven he can take full control of the backfield, and Peyton Barber is more than likely on his way out. Miller could slide into the Barber role nicely, and possibly bring a bit more production so long as his knee holds up.
Kansas City Chiefs
As a Niners’ fan I’d hate to see Breida go but it’s inevitable. He’s played himself into a decent contract. The Chiefs are a team that need to be careful with where they spend their money because Patrick Mahomes is set to receive his payday soon, and what a payday that will be. In the meantime, they have to find talent on a budget to fill their holes and here’s a budget player for them. The Chiefs are even a better team than what they are with a strong running game. Breida isn’t a three down back but he adds an element of elite speed and play making to any backfield. Two years ago he posted over 1,000 total yards with the 49ers and topped over 800 total yards in 13 games in the league’s most crowded backfield last season. Also, two seasons ago he was tagged as the fastest player to cross the line of scrimmage in the NFL. Add that element of speed to this already freaky Chiefs’ offense and you’re in for a world of hurt for opposing teams.
Ideal Spot: Philadelphia Eagles
Most Likely: Detroit Lions
Doug Pederson refuses to use a work horse, although we saw Miles Sanders break that mold of Pederson last season. I feel it was more the situation based as opposed to Pederson’s real choice. Breida could be a nice compliment to the Philly offense with his lightning speed, and make a good piece to their running back rotation. The Lions seem to hate Kerryon though, and nothing would make more sense for Breida to land their ruining our love and hope for Kerryon to get the whole backfield to himself.
San Francisco 49ers
Though San Francisco has a surplus of running back talent, I believe Breida stays put unless a team offers him top dollar. Breida is a restricted free agent, meaning if another team offers him a contract, San Francisco will have a chance to match that offer and retain him. I expect San Francisco to do that, as Coach Shanahan shouldn’t want to change too many things on a team that was a late blown lead away from winning the 2019 Super Bowl.
Where better to kind of drift into the NFL shadows and lay low than on the Miami Dolphins? Kareem Hunt is one of the league’s most talented backs, there’s no doubting that. It’s his troubling past and actions that has teams choosing to pass on him and not wanting him on their rosters, and rightfully so. As the Dolphins continue their rebuild, now’s a perfect time to bring in Hunt as he works to better himself as a person and like I previously mentioned, kind of fly under the radar a bit in Miami. There is no real threat or competition around him in terms of backfield talent in Miami (baring the team drafting some.) Again, he’s a player the team can sign on a bargain contract and reap the benefits of it later. Last season, 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing. Something needs to be addressed. I’m jumping down Hunt’s throat in my fantasy draft if he lands in Miami.
With rumors the Falcons might move on from Freeman, and with Austin Hooper’s impending free agency, the Falcons need a good receiving back like Hunt. We know tigh-end and running-back targets have some correlation to each other, meaning Hunt can fill the role of both of these players if the Falcons are left dry. This would make him a locked in high end RB2 at the very least. The problem with finding his most likely landing spot, is currently Hunt has a history behind him and I don’t quite know which team would take the risk. There is a high chance we see him stay in Cleveland though, where he is still a must own.
I know I’m getting boring here picking everyone to return to their 2019 teams, but Hunt is in the same boat as Breida as far as being a restricted free agent. Hunt is far too valuable to the Cleveland offense for them to let him walk. Hunt can both run the ball to give Chubb a rest or work out of the slot as the team’s third wide receiver. Hunt didn’t have flashy numbers last season due to only playing eight games while sharing the backfield with Chubb, but he still had fantasy value. His stats projected over a full 16 games equate to 86 carries for 358 yards and four touchdowns, and 74 receptions for 570 yards and two touchdowns, placing him as the RB20; aka a nice flex piece.
Los Angeles Chargers
This is a pretty boring projection here. The Chargers are going to lose Melvin Gordon and inked Austin Ekeler to a long term deal. Ekeler isn’t a three down back and the Chargers need to find that third-down power back that can get short-yardage when need be. Hyde is that guy. Hyde showed that he has a lot left in the tank a year ago when he posted his first 1,000 yard rushing season in year six. As for fantasy value, I don’t find much if he ends up in Los Angeles. It’s Ekeler’s backfield and Hyde’s just playing in it.
Ideal Spot: Buffalo Bills
Most Likely: Houston Texans
Hear me out, but I think he would make a great replacement to Frank Gore for the Bills. Giving them another veteran back to go to so Singletary isn’t wearing his tires too much. He shouldn’t demand much on the market and the Bills will likely spend elsewhere and a cheap veteran to back up their star is a perfect fit. Unfortunately, though this will probably be ruined by Houston wanting to keep him and bring no youth to their backfield.
Los Angeles Rams
Carlos Hyde turned down an offer from Houston despite saying earlier this year that he wanted to return, so I expect the veteran to be somewhere else next season. I went out on a limb and chose the Rams as a potential destination because he would be a nice veteran presence and probably wouldn’t cost a ton for the salary cap-strapped team to bring in. The Rams need a change-of -pace back behind Todd Gurley to help take some of the load off, and it wouldn’t hurt to bring in a guy that just ran for over 1,000 yards in a resurgent 2019 season.