Free agency is right around the corner and NFL teams will look to fix up their lineups for the immediate future and beyond. Which running back will land somewhere to boost his fantasy potential? @ItsMickyD discusses possible landing spots for eight running backs looking to hit the open market
A quality running game is a difference maker in the NFL. Fantasy teams covet the position as well. Will the Kansas City Chiefs replace Kareem Hunt with a superstar? Are the Indianapolis Colts going to add to their running back stable? How will the Oakland Raiders make the leap to a playoff contender? These questions and more will be answered as the top free agent running backs look for a new home. I will examine and discuss their potential new teams and the fantasy implications of this new and improved offense.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers:
ʇuıod ʎɯ pǝʌoɹd ǝʌ’noʎ 'buıʎɐs ɯ’ı ʇɐɥʍ ʇno ǝɹnbıɟ oʇ ǝɯıʇ ǝɥʇ buıpuıɟ ʎןןɐǝɹ ǝɹ’noʎ ɟı osןɐ˙˙˙poıɹǝd 'sɹǝǝd ʎɯ ɟo ʇsǝɹ ǝɥʇ puɐ 'ʎןıɯɐɟ 'ɟןǝsʎɯ ɹoɟ ʇɥbıɹ sı ǝʌǝıןǝq ı ʇɐɥʍ ɹoɟ buızıboןodɐ ʇou ɯ’ı
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) November 7, 2018
The 2018 Lev Bell saga is finally over with the Steelers’ season. As Pittsburgh misses the playoffs, Bell gets the last laugh as he and team brass butted heads over the guarantees in his contract so hard that the team decided to play the season without one of the best running backs in the NFL. For his next team, I’m looking for a team in the middle of a rebuild, losing their current running back(s) to free agency and/or retirement, plenty of cap space and a head coach who looks like a doll that haunted my dreams as a kid. That’s right! Bell will be wearing silver and black in 2019 with his fully guaranteed five-year, $60 million contract.
My Favorite Landing Spot: Oakland/London/Las Vegas Raiders – 5 yr/$60 million
The Raiders offense will immediately be upgraded with Bell at running back. Quarterback Derek Carr will become a fantasy threat once again as defenses struggle to contain both Bell and the two wide receivers the Raiders take on days one and two of the draft. I will not be surprised to see tight end Jared Cook re-sign and continue to build on his chemistry with Carr for another year or two. Tight end Lee Smith is the next man up should Cook hit free agency, but his pass catching ability is lacking in terms of fantasy production so avoid him until we see how the offense is running.
Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders:
Along with his dual-threat skill set, Richard has another very valuable commodity to offer: his youth. Having three years of NFL experience at only 25-years-old, NFL teams will be drooling. His size could be what holds cautious general managers back, however, as he is closer to Phillip Lindsay‘s height and weight than the league average. The Buccaneers drafted Ronald Jones early in the hopes of getting a franchise running back in the 2018 draft. Instead, they had a guy who was a healthy scratch for most of 2018. Jones will undoubtedly get a second chance, but an even time-share between him and Richard would be likely.
My Favorite Landing Spot: Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 5 yr/$20 million
The new coaching staff will look to dip into Jones’ potential. With Jacquizz Rodgers likely leaving, the backfield is a bit of a three-headed monster with Peyton Barber in the mix. Jones and Barber are better between the tackle runners so I’m looking for Richard to dominate third and throwing down snaps. Quarterback Jameis Winston will have a great check down guy and Richard will draw a defender out of coverage so the Buccaneers wide receivers will see a slight uptick in fantasy value.
Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons:
Tevin Coleman had an amazing opportunity to earn himself a record-breaking contract in the 2019 offseason when Devonta Freeman went to the IR. Instead, he left fantasy owners in that situation where you cannot play a guy and you cannot drop him because eventually, he will show up. Dynasty owners have been excited to see where he goes as the lead back in the hopes that holding a dud all season pays off for the 2019 season. Luckily for those owners, it will pay off when Coleman goes to the Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid knows how to game plan around a running back and Patrick Mahomes is more than capable of confusing defenses enough to create holes for Coleman.
My Favorite Landing Spot: Kansas City Chiefs – 5 yr/$40 million
The Chief’s high powered offense seemingly doesn’t need any help, but with the loss of Hunt, Coleman will fill the hole and supplement what Damien Williams has been able to accomplish as the interim starting running back. I’m looking for Williams to take a backseat to Coleman and the rest of the Chiefs offense to continue its dominance over the league in 2019. Williams is a high-value handcuff should Coleman prove me right by signing with the Chiefs.
Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles
Jay Ajayi’s knee cartilage issue is going to cost him suitors this offseason. When healthy, he is a very capable running back who can take over a game. I’m looking for him to go somewhere to join a timeshare that can limit the stress on his knees. My favorite place for Ajayi lands him back with the Miami Dolphins. With Frank Gore likely retiring and Kenyan Drake in need of a shared backfield, Ajayi will be able to play a limited roll in Miami. Kalen Ballage started to break out towards the end of 2018 so I am expecting a running back by committee situation.
My Favorite Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins – 3 yr/$10 million
The only fantasy relevant players on the Dolphins in 2018 were the running backs. In my quarterback free agency article, I said that Joe Flacco would be a Dolphin as well. These two changes to the lineup will change the way fantasy owners view Dolphins players. I would buy any of the three running backs, wide receiver Albert Wilson, and tight end Mike Gesicki for 2019.
Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens
Alex Collins burst on to the scene in 2017 after injuries to Kenneth Dixon and Buck Allen. With similar injuries to those same guys in 2018, Collins looked prime for a similar season until Gus Edwards performed his own Alex Collin’s Breakout impression. It doesn’t make sense for Collins to re-sign into such a crowded backfield that also includes Ty Montgomery now. The Philadelphia Eagles have three change of pace backs currently signed for the 2019 season, but none of the three seem to have the between the tackles grinding ability of Collins. By signing Collins to a relatively cheap deal, they can use the draft to shore up the offensive line and prepare for yet another playoff run in 2019.
My Favorite Landing Spot: Philadelphia Eagles – 4 yr/$8 million
The Eagles’ running game is one of the more frustrating for fantasy owners as any of the running backs can have a week-winning game, but it is always someone new. This will not change in 2019 with Collins in the mix. He will be the safest option because of his goal-line touchdown chances, but nobody in this backfield is someone I am rushing to sign or trade for just yet. Josh Adams seems to have the coaching staff behind him so if I had to choose between him, Collins, Wendell Smallwood or Corey Clement, I would take Adams and Collins.
TJ Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars
Up until recently, it seemed 99% likely that TJ Yeldon would be leaving Jacksonville. With the Jaguars punishing Leonard Fournette for his on the field actions and his attitude on the sideline, it is starting to look like Fournette may be the back leaving Jacksonville for the 2019 season. With $20 million still owed to Fournette over the next three seasons, I do not see the Jaguars cutting him, but I do expect them to field trade offers for their oft-injured franchise running back. This would create an opening for Yeldon to step up as the lead back for his Jaguars.
My Favorite Landing Spot: Jacksonville Jaguars – 4 yr/$30 million
If this re-signing plays out as stated above, I see Yeldon making a case for RB1 numbers in 2019. Carlos Hyde will be the immediate handcuff and the passing game will still be what it has been for the last two seasons. I am offering trades for Yeldon where I can and holding where I already own him.
— Tj Yeldon (@T_Yeldon) September 20, 2016
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Speaking of Alabama running backs re-signing with their current team, Mark Ingram. Ingram and Alvin Kamara are best friends and very publicly feed off of each other’s success in both the running game and through the air. Kamara is the primary running back, but Ingram has no problem playing his role on the Saints’ offense. With the first seed in the NFC in 2018 and a Super Bowl two wins away, I see Ingram staying put and making another run in 2019 with New Orleans.
My Favorite Landing Spot: New Orleans Saints – 2 yr/$8 million
“The two best friends that anyone could have” will be back and dominant in 2019. With an aging Drew Brees, the Saints will continue to count on their running game to keep the offense running at full speed. Brees spreads the ball around without prejudice so I am buying all of the offensive pieces and overcharging for the pieces that people want to trade for.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) January 2, 2019
Kareem Hunt, Free Agent
Will a team give Kareem Hunt a shot at a redemption story? Of course, they will. Hunt is too talented of a running back in a league with a premium on the position for someone to not give a second chance. Seeing as he will be facing a lengthy suspension in 2019, the team that signs him will have to be prepared to not have his services for most, if not all of 2019. I like the Bengals to be the team that gives him his shot. They did draft Joe Mixon while his domestic violence situation was playing out after all. Giovani Bernard will be hitting free agency in 2020 so the Bengals have the opportunity to shore of their backfield for pennies on the dollar with Kareem Hunt.
My Favorite Landing Place: Cincinnati Bengals – 3 yr/$3 million + incentives
The one-two combo of Mixon and Hunt will be deadly when Hunt is able to take the field. Both guys are dual-threat running backs and both will constantly be playing fresh with a Kamara/Ingram type of workload. Quarterback Andy Dalton will have fewer dime packages and that will open up wide receivers Tyler Boyd and AJ Green downfield. Buy Hunt now before he signs so you can reap the benefits of his second chance.