Old Faces, New Places: Fantasy Implications for Free Agent Running Backs

By: Brandon Murchison – Fantasy Football Columnist.

The 2014 NFL season is officially underway with the opening of the free agency period. It was a whirlwind day of signings, some great, and of course, quite a few that left me scratching my head. But, when it comes to the land of Fantasy Football, we always pay close attention to the skill position players and what to expect from them in their new homes. This is my take on the top 5 running backs signed on day 1 of the free agency signing period.

1. Toby Gerhart (signed with the Jaguars) – Gerhart signed a 3 year/$10.5 million deal to become the new lead back for the Jaguars and this move has the biggest fantasy implication from day 1, as he will be given ample opportunity to be a workhorse back in Jacksonville; something that he wasn’t able to do as Adrian Peterson’s backup since entering the league. He’s sporting low mileage on the tires with only 374 career carries, but yielding a nice 4.7 ypc over that period. The only downside is the fact that he has only punched it in 5 times in his career which is a stat that must improve if you will be targeting him come draft time. Of course, the state of the Jaguars’ offense and lack of a QB is cause for concern for a back that has yet to be truly tested. They will need to add more weapons on the offensive side of the ball to help open up some running lanes for Gerhart. At this time, I’m looking at Gerhart as no better than a mid-tier 3rd back on fantasy rosters.

2. Darren McFadden (resigned with the Raiders) – Run DMC returns to the Raiders on a 1 year deal worth $4 million and this deal has all the makings of boom or bust for Oakland. Either McFadden finally shows the skills that he has flashed at times during his career and maintain health for a season, or he will again be an injury risk causing the Raiders to go to plan B. I’ll definitely be putting my money on the latter as he has never played in more than 13 games in a season, and has missed 19 of the last 41 games. Carrying a 3.9 ypc over the last 2 seasons is surprising for a back with such speed and agility. He will again be a huge question mark heading into drafting season again this year, and I do not deem him worth the risk. Stay away on draft day and let another owner deal with the headache that he will surely cause yet again this year.

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3. Rashad Jennings (signed with the Giants) – The Giants made one of the more surprising moves of the day in bringing in Rashad Jennings from the Raiders. Jennings undoubtedly helped carry some teams towards fantasy championships with his performance down the stretch in 2013. However, with how Andre Brown performed for the G-Men last year, along with the flashy David Wilson coming back from offseason surgery, it would seem that New York would be set with their backfield rotation. Andre Brown looks like he will now be allowed to walk, which puts Jennings in a prime spot to produce some numbers this upcoming season. He is the type of player that Tom Coughlin loves: a gritty, between the tackles runner, who can pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield. Not to mention, secure hands, which is a big sticking point for Coughlin, and will quickly land you in his doghouse if not used efficiently. With the uncertainty of Wilson coming back from neck surgery, Jennings could emerge as a lead back, which the Giants generally provide to fantasy owners. Draft him as a number 3 back, but don’t be surprised to see him finish around the top 20 at his position by season’s end.

4. Donald Brown (signed with the Chargers) – Donald Brown struck gold today signing a 3 year/$10 million deal to play in San Diego. Questionable, you ask? I agree, wholeheartedly. Signing a deal that could be looked at as starter’s money to be the technical 3rd back in San Diego is completely head scratching to me. Sure, he averaged 5.3 ypc to go along with 6 Tds last year, but he has yet to live up to the potential that the Colts thought they were getting when drafting him. Now, he moves on to the Chargers, to play 3rd fiddle to oft-injured Ryan Matthews and the always forgotten Danny Woodhead. This move puts Brown on my waiver wire watch list. I would not look to draft him, but see how the rotation plays out early on this season.

5. Joique Bell (resigned with the Lions) – Honestly, this could be the best signing of day 1 of free agency, as Bell returns to Detroit on a 2 year extension worth $7 million. Reggie Bush did have a nice first season in the Motor City, but Bush has always let the injury bug bite him at some point or another. Once Bell entered the game, in relief of Bush, he was a factor, averaging only 3.9 ypc but getting into the end zone 8 times on the year. Joique’s biggest contribution came to those who owned him in PPR leagues, where he was a fringe starter on a weekly basis. Now with this deal signed, he has a sure fire spot in this offense, and with Bush’s injury history, Bell could make some noise by the end of the year. Definitely keep and eye on him come draft time, and grab him as a number 4 back with nice potential.

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