By: The Fantasy Football Clinic
One of the biggest questions asked by football fans during the NFL off-season is, “where is that guy going to sign?” This question is asked for several reasons. Fans may want a star to come to sign with their favorite team, or they may not want their team throwing money at washed up veterans (still wishing the Lions hadn’t signed LeGarrette Blount a few years ago, ugh).
As fantasy fans, our biggest concern almost always falls on where the top free agent running backs are going to land. Our most worrisome question is always, “I hope that guy doesn’t get stuck in a RBBC,” which is the dreaded running back by committee. In fantasy, running backs are often the most valuable, and riskiest, fantasy asset. Whether you are in dynasty or redraft formats, running backs always get paid extra special attention each off-season because they often have the most opportunity for a high volume of touches in an offense. The landing spots of the top free agent running backs can have massive implications for the fantasy world (as Le’Veon Bell owners cry in the corner).
We compiled a 2 part list of the top free agent running backs and their ideal landing spots in terms of potential fantasy impact. We are not so much concerned about scheme fit in this scenario, so we are playing fantasy matchmaker with the running backs. Let’s now dive in on the top free agent running backs and where we think they’d best thrive for fantasy owners!
Melvin Gordon (UFA)
Physical Metrics: 26 years old. 6-1, 215lb
Career Stats: 67 games, 1059 rushes, 4,240 rushing yards, 4.0 yards per attempt, 36 Rushing Touchdowns. 224 receptions, 1,873 receiving yards, 8.4 yards per catch, 11 receiving TDs.
Ideal landing spots for fantasy value: Houston, Washington, Atlanta
Remember this time last year when Melvin Gordon held out because he thought he was worth Zeke and Gurley-level money? Yeah, feels like forever ago, doesn’t it? After ending his holdout, it was apparent that Gordon was not among the elite running backs like he thought. He looked rusty in every sense of the word upon returning to games and never really seemed to get rolling. But, at 26 years-old, and under the right circumstances, Gordon still likely has a few good fantasy seasons left to give.
With now-official GM Bill O’Brien calling the shots, you never know what he’s going to do. He traded away a 1st round pick to fortify the porous O-Line with franchise Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil, so it’s obvious he values conventional football and “building the trenches.” If O’Brien decides to open up the checkbook to Gordon, it is the best possible scenario for fantasy owners. Both of the Texans running backs (Carlos Hyde and Lamar Miller) are unrestricted free agents, meaning there are hundreds of snaps for the taking in that offense. The Texans and O’Brien are in win-now mode, so they need to get a running back that gives them an immediate ground presence. While Gordon may not be the sexiest running back on the market due to his lack of burst, he could be a solid option for a team that always seems to be one piece away from a meaningful playoff run. If Gordon were to sign here, you could fully expect him to be a low-end RB1 in most league formats.
For as long as free agency in the NFL has existed, the Washington Redskins have had a knack for shelling out big bucks for their guy in free agency. Last year they did it with Safety Landon Collins, 4 years ago it was Josh Norman (who has been released), and the infamous Albert Haynesworth signing eons ago. It’s apparent the Redskins don’t care what the market value of a guy is, if they want him they’re going to sign him to the biggest contract they can throw. Ron Rivera comes from Carolina where there was a constant ground presence between the combination of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Now, Dwayne Haskins and Melvin Gordon aren’t in the same league as Run CMC and Cam, but this could bolster the ‘Skins ground attack nonetheless. With constantly-injured Guice and an ancient Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the Redskins could desperately use a true workhorse back to take the majority of the snaps. Gordon is likely a solid RB2 if he lands on the Redskins. We see him as a volume monster on a bad team, such as Le’Veon Bell was this past season with the Jets.
A few weeks ago, Atlanta would not have even been on the radar as a potential Gordon destination, but given the news that the Falcons may be parting ways with RB Devonta Freeman in the off-season, the pairing suddenly looks extremely tantalizing. If Freeman were to leave, Gordon could easily fulfill a capable RB1 role in most fantasy formats. We could see him being a Top-12 guy due to volume and downfield playmakers that Atlanta has, which would alleviate the pressure on Gordon to escape a stacked 8-man box.
Lamar Miller (UFA)
Physical Metrics: 29 years old, 5-10, 221lb.
Career Stats: 105 games, 1,354 rushes, 5,864 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 32 rushing TDs. 209 receptions, 1,565 receiving yards, 7.5 yards per catch, 8 receiving TDs.
Ideal landing spots for fantasy value: Houston, LA Chargers, Detroit
During his time in Houston, Lamar Miller has been the model of consistency. Yet another Dolphins RB that escaped and turned out to be pretty good (looking at you Kenyan Drake). Miller was always that guy in fantasy drafts that you weren’t excited about taking, but you knew you could lock him into your FLEX spot or even RB2 for 10-15 points a week. The injury bug finally caught up to Lamar, as he tore his ACL early in the 2019-2020 season, leaving Houston scrambling for options in the backfield such as Carlos Hyde. If Miller can make a full recovery, he could be a nice band-aid option for a team looking for a veteran running presence for the next year or two.
Going back to Houston may seem like a lazy answer, but hear me out. The Texans already know what they’re going to get with Lamar and he could be easily brought back on an affordable contract due to his injury. This would help if the Texans are not willing to shell out for one of the bigger names in free agency and want to draft a young RB to groom behind Lamar. Lamar could remain a low-end RB2/FLEX option in this offense, if healthy.
This circumstance assumes that Melvin Gordon jumps ship to another team. With the Chargers having a stellar receiving back in Ekeler (if he resigns), this could be a nice fit on a team that has the talent to win-now, pending the addition of a real NFL QB. Miller could fill-in Gordon’s role of the in-between the tackle runner and at a much cheaper rate than Gordon as well. Miller’s ceiling in this situation is a low-end RB2.
Although Kerryon Johnson is the presumed RB1 in Detroit, his health has not allowed him to put up numbers that represent his full potential. Detroit has a glaring weakness with the depth in their backfield, which they tried to patch together with signings of RBs such as Bo Scarborough (who performed well), JD McKissic, and CJ Anderson. The Lions have been missing a solid veteran presence in the backfield ever since Reggie Bush left the team. Miller could help decrease the workload on Kerryon, thereby increasing his career longevity. We’d like to see something along the lines of a 2-year, 10 million dollar contract here, giving the Lions a chance to figure out if Kerryon is “the guy”. Expect Miller to be a weekly FLEX consideration in what’s expected to be a more run-heavy Bevell offense.
Chris Thompson (UFA)
Physical Metrics: 29 years old, 5-8, 195lb
Career Stats: 66 games, 250 rushes, 1,194 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 5 rushing TDs. 212 receptions, 1,772 receiving yards, 8.4 yards per catch, 10 receiving TDs.
Ideal landing spots for fantasy value: New England, Seattle, LA Rams
We know what you’re thinking, Chris Thompson? You mean that guy who is injured EVERY YEAR and only has about 5 games of fantasy relevance? Yeah, him. We analyze the lower-impact as well as the higher-impact guys here at the Fantasy Clinic. We like to keep tabs on every player that could possibly have fantasy utility. In Dynasty and Redraft formats, Thompson’s price is likely at rock-bottom. We will include a disclaimer, you should not be seriously considering Thompson for much unless it is a Full PPR or half-point scoring format. He has little to no usefulness in standard scoring leagues.
Ah, New England, the kingdom of pass-catching RBs brought in off the streets. The Patriots have a history of signing injury-prone and older players to one-year “prove it” deals, only to cut them through training camp or during the regular season. If Thompson can stick on the Pats, he likely can be a weekly flex play given how much they use their pass-catching RBs. Now keep in mind, it’s the Patriots backfield, so we would never try to predict too much into what they’re doing. If he gets the snaps; Thompson could be a nice PPR FLEX option given his low price. DO NOT expect this guy to be a weekly starter on your team.
Thompson doesn’t fit the mold of the typical Seahawks RB, the in-between the tackles pounding guy. But, given the recent injuries to RBs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, it can’t hurt to have some depth. We watched them roll out a 2 yards per carry version of Marshawn Lynch in the playoffs, they NEED depth badly. Thompson could be a nice 3rd down option for the ‘Hawks to alleviate some of the workload on the injury-prone Carson. Frankly, they need to let Russell Wilson throw the ball more, so Thompson could provide a nice, cheap, pass-catching option for a team that always seems to be one or two short from a consistently great passing attack. Depending on injuries and usage, Thompson could be a rotating FLEX option in this offense. A lot is going to be dependent on weekly game script and match-up.
Todd Gurley’s health issues and the Rams offensive problems are well-documented at this point and we’re not suggesting that Thompson helps to fill Gurley’s role. But, this team obviously needs to sort themselves out on offense. They have a few young RBs in Henderson and Brown, but none have really impressed. Thompson could be a cheap option to take some work away from Gurley on obvious passing downs. McVay would likely utilize a player with Thompson’s skill set in the slot/out of the backfield, a la David Johnson a few years ago. Again, he’s a weekly FLEX consideration, dependent on how the team decides to use him. With the Rams playing catch-up in many of their games last year, they could still be throwing a lot.
Carlos Hyde (UFA)
Physical Metrics: 29 years old, 6-0, 229lb
Career Stats: 80 games, 1,072 rushes, 4,370 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 32 rushing TDs. 129 receptions, 709 receiving yards, 5.5 yards per catch, 3 receiving TDs.
Ideal landing spots for fantasy value: Atlanta, LA Chargers, Washington
Carlos Hyde, possibly the least sexy running back in the league. Bouncing from the 49ers, to the Browns, and most recently, to the Texans, Hyde has never been a player you get excited about owning in fantasy. But, much like Lamar Miller, he is always a consistent source of around 10-15 points. Hyde is about as nonexistent as they get as a pass-catcher, and is primarily an in-between the tackles running back. At this stage of his career, he could be a cheap value for a team not wanting to invest high draft capital or cap space to a premier option. The dude just gets the job done.
This fit only makes sense if Devonta Freeman is gone. Hyde is a far cheaper option with a very similar skill set (sans the pass-catching) that could provide the Falcons with a good short-term option. We would also expect them to spend a draft pick on a young RB to groom behind Hyde. In this scenario, we could expect Hyde to be a low-end RB2/FLEX if he gets the majority of touches. Hyde would benefit from the downfield playmakers Atlanta has to clear out the defensive box and create opening running lanes.
You’re probably sensing a pattern here. Many of these moves are dependent on other guys leaving. Hyde could slide right into the Melvin Gordon role in this offense, while Ekeler maintains his high volume receiving role. Hyde is a much cheaper option than Gordon at this stage in his career and could be just as effective on the highly-talented Chargers. We’d expect a mid-low RB2 performance from Hyde in this role.
AP isn’t getting any younger, Guice’s knees don’t have much left, and Bryce Love is a complete toss-up given the injury he suffered in college. Hyde would be a nice complement to Peterson in this offense, although the two have similar skill sets. Hyde could be a rotating FLEX option in this role, dependent on how the rest of the backfield shakes out in Washington and their weekly match-up.
Derrick Henry (UFA)
Physical Metrics: 26 years old, 6-3, 247lb
Career Stats: 62 games, 804 rushes, 3,833 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 38 rushing TDs. 57 receptions, 578 receiving yards, 10.1 yards per catch, 3 receiving TDs.
Ideal landing spots for fantasy value: Tennessee, Miami, Houston
We’ve finally made it to the big dog of the 2020 RB Free Agency class…literally, this guy is HUGE. Derrick Henry, AKA King Henry is reportedly seeking a minimum of $90 million for what will likely be his last major contract as an NFL player. He is asking for the Zeke contract to be the starting point of his financial demands, and to be honest, NFL teams would be wise not to pay that much. Not saying that Ezekiel Elliot is bad by any means, but given the salary cap hell the Cowboys are facing now, we can see why it’s tough to justify paying a running back premier money. Derrick Henry is a top 5 RB in the NFL, but given the contract demands he has, one has to wonder what team will sign him.
Let’s start with the obvious landing spot. The Titans literally rode Henry throughout the back half of the year and straight into the playoffs, nearly all the way to a Super Bowl berth. He was arguably the most important player on the team besides Ryan Tannehill in his comeback season. Tennessee loves the “ground and pound” offensive mentality and Henry is the perfect back for that offense. The problem is, Mike Vrabel and the Titans front office seem to be wise enough not to pay a RB who has logged a ton of carries throughout college and the NFL premier money. Just look at how happy the Rams are with Gurley’s huge contract, or even the Jets with Le’Veon Bell. We’re not saying Henry doesn’t deserve to seek/be given as much money as he can, but we find it unlikely that the Titans are going to pay him as much as he wants. HOWEVER, if he does resign with Tennessee, even with TD regression, we think you can lock him in as an elite RB1.
Okay, so let’s say the Titans aren’t willing to meet Henry’s demands. Let’s send him to a team that will. The Dolphins have many holes on their roster, but with having to start Kalen Ballage and Patrick Laird, it was brutally apparent that one of the largest holes is a starting caliber RB. The Dolphins have the most cap space in the league ($89 million – https://overthecap.com/salary-cap-space/), and have a history of signing free agents to massive deals—so they could afford Henry’s exorbitant figure. This would give the Dolphins a go-to workhorse RB for the foreseeable future. Lock Henry in as an every week starting RB1 if he goes to Miami. The volume will be ridiculous.
This is personally our favorite landing spot for Henry. If the Texans don’t resign Carlos Hyde and Lamar Miller, they could look at Henry. The sense coming from GM and HC Bill O’Brien is that the Texans are one star player away from a super bowl run. Partner Henry up with dynamic QB Deshaun Watson and one of the best WRs in the league in DeAndre Hopkins, and this offense could be downright scary. The Texans witnessed in the playoffs what a dominant RB1 like Henry can do for a team trying to be a contender. O’Brien isn’t afraid to go big or go home with his management, so keep an eye on the Texans as a prime landing spot for Henry if the Titans pass on him. Henry could finish as a Top-5 RB if he goes to Houston. Lock it in.
These are all hypothetical scenarios based on where we feel RBs could have the best fantasy utility. If you disagree, or have comments, please let us know at our Twitter @ClinicFantasy. We’re always happy to hear the thoughts of readers, thanks again for reading! Tune in next week for Part 2 which will be the next 5 RB’s!
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