Mar 12

NFL Free Agency Fantasy Impact Day 1: The day of the running back

We won’t be trying to sift through the signings all too intricately as they take place over the coming months, but do stay tuned for a post free agency review that hopes to capture the impact of all the transactions. Things further take shape after the draft, and heading into organized team activities at which time we’ll take a good look at any relevant player in the NFL who has had their context change significantly either by a new player joining their team, someone departing, or their presence on a new roster (as well as coaching changes and the like).

This is an interesting time in the NFL offseason and March-April has a bigger impact on fantasy draft plans in August than many realize.

With that in mind, lets take a look at some of the relevant transactions on day one as we saw a big shift in the fantasy RB landscape yesterday.

Jamaal Charles loses three linemen
With five touchdowns against the Raiders Jamaal Charles ran his way to the top of the RB leaderboard and our draft watch list for 2014 (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Jamaal Charles’ is coming off a monster fantasy season, but the guys leading the way from him are leaving town (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)


Things changed quickly for Kansas City on Tuesday. A surprise playoff team in 2013 after a dismal 2012 season, they turned it around under first year head coach Andy Reid. A lot of times, that helps a team keep its nucleus intact but that wasn’t the case for KC early in free agency, with the team suffering significant losses all over the field including two blockers up front.

Jamaal Charles remains, and he continues to be regarded as one of the top handful of picks in next year’s draft but it should be noted that he’s down a few key elements in Brandon Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz.

Charles excelled last year with only average run blocking (the line as a whole was the 11th best ranked in the league per Pro Football Focus) and while Albert’s best work came as a pass blocker, Asamoah and Schwartz ranked as the two best run blocking linemen on the team. Asomoah played RG in Kansas City, and Charles did his best between the tackles running in the gap between center and right guard.

Of course, it isn’t all bad in KC – the team is hopeful that Eric Fisher will develop heading into his second year and there remain opportunities for players presently on the roster or acquired elsewhere to step up, but blocking is a big part of a back’s success and at the moment it looks like Charles’ just became considerably worse.

Darren McFadden re-signs with the Oakland Raiders

This one was a bit of a surprise, but with the return of McFadden and the presumed departure of Rashad Jennings it looks like we’ll have one more shot at seeing Run DMC as a fantasy relevant tailback. With Taiwan Jones likely to be the only relevant back on the roster in short order, McFadden becomes a relevant RB2 next season. No longer draftable among the top 12, and still dealing with the same injury issues as he has throughout his career McFadden is a tough player to peg. The good news is, he finds himself (until we see how things progress with the draft) in a more favorable fantasy situation than last year with Jennings on the roster and he won’t cost you nearly as much on draft day.

The fantasy community has soured on McFadden – but it appears that the Raiders have not. It’s easy to see why of course, with just 379 yards on 114 carries last year (and just seven starts, running his three year total to a meager 26) but McFadden is still just 26 and is just two seasons removed from back to back 5+ YPC efforts. The price is right this year, and he may just be worth taking a shot on. Do note that while Oakland lost LT Jared Veldheer they have signed Roger Saffold and added Austin Howard from the Jets so the line seems to have netted out positively on the first day of free agency.

As for Jennings, it looks like he’ll head to the New York Giants as their feature back for this coming season. He showed us last season that he can be a starter on your fantasy roster and in the NFL, and with David Wilson‘s future uncertain and Andre Brown better suited for short yardage duties, Jennings should have plenty of chances to run for Tom Coughlin and Ben McAdoo. We’ll keep an eye on things as the offseason moves along, but as of right now I’m picking the Giant over the Raider.

On the topic of Saffold, the Rams are now also down two starting lineman with Chris Williams signing in Buffalo which is a situation to monitor regarding rookie star Zac Stacy‘s value moving forward.

Donald Brown leaves Indianapolis for San Diego

Donald Brown and his 2014 role was shaping up to be one of the more interesting stories of the 2014 offseason as he burst onto the scene in a big way over the 2nd half of last season after struggles to start his career. Brown finished second in the league in YPC for backs with over 100 attempts last year and scored eight total touchdowns on just 129 touches. He never topped 100 yards but the issue was more about volume than it was about his own production. Now, he heads to San Diego where a similar problem seems to await: the team has a muddled depth chart at RB presently including Danny Woodhead who the team used very effectively and Ryan Mathews, another former first round pick who really got it together in 2013.

The outlook for both Mathews and Brown who each would have warranted discussion for significant increases in their rank/ADP heading into 2014 before this signing is less exciting with them playing together. Mathews finished as the 12th best back in terms of overall fantasy scoring last season but will be hard pressed to top last year’s production with another mouth to feed. Perhaps San Diego will do something in the interim to free up what appears to be a log jam, but if not this is a potentially smart football move that could go poorly in the fantasy community.

As for the man left behind in Indianapolis, I’m not ready to shut the door fully on Trent Richardson just yet and it seems that the team is similarly inclined. Brown likely cost more than they were willing to pay after giving up a first rounder for Richardson, but with him standing as the only relevant back on the roster right now it seems that the team is planning to be all in on him for 2014. With another shot to be the man, he has to be drafted in your league next season and with 47 missed tackles last season he has shown to be a tough guy to bring down… if he can work on being more aggressive to the point of attack, Richardson may have some value left yet.

Toby Gerhart signs with Jacksonville

You have to feel like Jacksonville isn’t done here, as I doubt they’ll simply hand Gerhart and some combination of the other backs in town the keys to the run game next season but what it does signal is the likely end to Maurice Jones-Drew‘s Jacksonville career. The veteran RB kept himself in the fantasy conversation last year despite the team’s overall offensive woes and could make some contributions to the fake game next season depending on where he lands, but he is unlikely to be anyone’s starter in 2014 so our expectations should be tempered significantly.

For his part, Gerhart had a nice season last year with limited attempts – picking up a total of 371 total yards on just 49 touches. Therein lies the rub though, as he has never had more than 109 carries at the NFL level so don’t go taking his new contract as a sign of a big season to come.

Pierre Thomas stays with New Orleans

We’ll withhold judgement until we see how the rest of the backfield situation shakes out in New Orleans, but with the anticipated departure of Darren Sproles and Thomas extended through 2016 his situation got a lot better quickly. Thomas proved to be a more than capable high workload back as he topped 200 touches for the first time in his career last year, including 77 receptions. Sproles caught 71 balls of his own last year, and of course we won’t project Thomas to just subsume all of his touches (with Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson still on the roster) but he remains a candidate for 80 catches in an offense that uses the tailback very effectively as a receiver and could approach 250 touches this year. Given his finish as the 23rd highest overall scorer at his position last season, that could bode well for Thomas as a legitimate RB2.


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  1. racer-x

    You left out Latavius Murray as a relevant Oakland RB and included Taiwan Jones who has been converted to DB?

    1. Jon Collins

      I did leave out Murray – though, he has been discussed on the site before… he’s not a ‘relevant’ starter though. As in, that job is McFadden’s and he’ll get spelled by Latavius, at least for 2014. In my opinion, he factors in more significantly than Jones but we’ll see how the season progresses.

  2. steveo

    you’re partly correct f/a really hurt KC yesterday. but the only real loss was Schwartz. I’m glad that Albert ‘s gone. I’ve watched camp up close (you’ll never know how close) and Stephenson is a much better player, especially in the run game. Asamoah hurts too but only b/c we coulda dumped Jeff Allen if we’d resigned both.

    and while McCluster stings a very little, Jackson was a bust from the get-go. also the 2nd/3rd largest human being I’ve ever seen in my life. nice guy too. good luck to him and 22.

    to make matters worse, the only thing I’ve heard from Chefs so far is resigning nobodys. plus we could still lose A. Jordan at ILB. the discussions I’ve heard so far ALL concern bringing in old Eagles retreads outside maybe Avant.

    and wait til next year! we gotta resign Smith and Houston. but the good news is Bowe and Hali (both who I really like personally) and Flowers (who together cost us $33.8M this year vs the cap) will all either take a BIG pay cut or hit the bricks.

    all said, when you see Dorsey came in with a sh*%-ton of tight but Clark’s $ to spend, spent it- and only has a so-so record for it. DeVito, S.Smith were just OK, Fasano and Robinson were big busts (cut Fasasno and bring back TG so he can retire as he SHOULD- in a Chefs uni) with the bottom of the barrel picks performing better than the high priced guys.

    so find some spine, rework some contracts and bring in a pass-rushine DE, a GOOD and I mean good, FS and NOW a RG or we’re toast especially with that disastrously difficult schedule we got hosed with.

    1. Jon Collins

      Hi Steveo,

      Thanks for the comments. Clearly, you’ve got more insight into the team than I – and my chief Chiefs concern rests with Charles’ production yesterday but no matter how you slice it, whether losing dead weight, good bad, whatever, they saw a lot of bodies that logged a lot of minutes as part of a winning team last year leave the building yesterday.

      Each one of them can be replaced, and a very talented core remains but day one was a hit to their 2014… days 2-30 could be much better.

      About the line though, I think your point about Allen/in general makes sense. If you’re able to bring back two strong run blockers, or two of the three that left they don’t have a lot of work to do. Without them, they’re starting guys who weren’t good enough to start last season or having to find replacements through the draft/FA. Those strategies can work just fine, but it is hard to envision the 2014 version of that line being better than the 2013 version whether it is addressed through the draft (and development) or elsewhere.

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