Fantasy Football 2014: Free Agent Running Back Landscape
Free agency is very, very fun.
It wasn’t as fun for fantasy football owners, however, as this year’s class was more defense friendly, which limits the amount of fantasy excitement. The running back position was probably the deepest offensive position, and finally, the free agents have found new homes, making fantasy owners take notice.
From Mile High to South Beach
After being declared a bust for the start of his career, Knowshon Moreno seemed like a lost cause. He struggled to get reps, was the opposite of explosive and didn’t bring much to the table.
Then 2013 and Peyton Manning happened.
Moreno benefited from Denver’s record-breaking offense, posting career numbers. He finished fifth in the NFL in total yards with 1,586 and tied for third in total touchdowns with 13. Moreno, a guy being drafted as the number 41 overall running back, would go on to finish as the fifth-best fantasy runner. But, for as good as he was last year, Denver considered him replaceable, and because the running back position isn’t what it used to be, Moreno wasn’t viewed as an every down back to the 32 teams in the league.
Enter the Miami Dolphins, who apparently enjoy causing fantasy football players pain. Already with a crowded backfield consisting of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, the team signed Moreno to a one-year, $3-million deal, creating a three-headed monster at tailback. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that this is no bueno for Moreno’s fantasy value. First of all, having those other two backs (not to mention promising sophomore Mike Gillislee) will limit his volume. But mainly, the Dolphins just aren’t the Broncos.
In 2013, Miami’s offensive line was very, very bad, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked a league-leading 58 times. The offensive line obviously went through their own issues last year, but hopefully that has been cleared up. Meanwhile, Denver was the most suitable situation possible for Moreno, as opposing defenses bailed out on the run and focused on the pass. And because of that, 192 of Moreno’s 241 carries last season came with six men or fewer in the box. That, via Christopher Harris of ESPN. It’s safe to say that opposing defenses won’t be solely focused on stopping the Dolphins’ passing game this year.
Meanwhile, Montee Ball will perhaps be drafted even higher than he was towards the start of last year’s draft season with Moreno out of the picture. I do think Denver brings in a veteran or drafts a guy, but this backfield clearly belongs to Ball, who really came on towards the end of last season. He improved on pass protection and served to be more explosive than Moreno, Playing with Manning alone will allow him to see ample touchdown opportunity. Moreno scored 13 total times last year, while guys with less talent such as Joseph Addai, averaged 8.5 rushing scores per game between 2006 and 2009, finishing as RB11, RB5, RB39 and RB9 during that span.
MJD + DMC?
We all knew that Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t going back to Jacksonville, but did anyone picture him going from a bad team to another one?
The Oakland Raiders have already had a busy offseason, but then they went ahead and signed MJD to the team, after already re-signing Darren McFadden. Jones-Drew hasn’t looked the same since suffering a Lisfranc injury two seasons ago, and dealt with more nagging injuries in 2013, making him a pain to own for fantasy purposes. Still, I’d bet that he enters the season as the starting running back, with McFadden as the backup and upstart Latavius Murray in the mix, too. I currently have MJD outside my top-30 at running back, with McFadden coming in at 40. I’m just not sure what the Raiders offense is going to look like this year, and I question just how much MJD has left in the tank.
Ben Tate to the Browns
Tate has always been an intriguing guy. For years potentially the best backup runner in football, Tate watched Arian Foster dominate, but whenever Foster was injured, Tate would step in and really impress. For instance, last year, Tate managed four touchdowns and is sporting a career 4.7 yards per carry. The Browns running back depth is laughable, so there is legitimacy to the possibility of Tate finishing top-five in the league in carries. Of course, durability is also a legitimate concern, as 24 games throughout his career. Still, based on a massive uptick in opportunity and usage, Tate should be considered a top-15 fantasy back.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.
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