It’s time to do one last round of dynasty moves/redraft strategy adjustments before camps open (fingers crossed) and values start to move on news and injuries. Running back is most mercurial of all positions and we will see values start to change at a whiplash rate once the season starter, or maybe even during camp. Get those offers in!
Miles Sanders, PHI - Don’t sell Sanders just because, but do probe to see if someone else in your league is so convinced that he’s the next perennial top 5 fantasy running back that they will pay that kind of price for him. The Eagles were *this close* to taking JK Dobbins in the second round of the draft and they have sniffed around enough veteran running backs to show that they don’t want Sanders to take on true feature back status, at least not yet. There’s a real risk that they sign someone during camp (or maybe even trade for Raheem Mostert), and next year during the draft, Sanders' fantasy teams might have to hold their breath on the second day when the Eagles are on the clock.
D'Andre Swift, DET - Swift is being valued as a top-five rookie pick and foundational dynasty team piece. That’s too rich for a player that will be mired in an RBBC for at least the next two years and if this current regime maintains control, perhaps long term as they don’t mind investing heavily in their running back room. Swift is not clearly superior to Kerryon Johnson, and the only real path to value over the next two years for him to help your fantasy team is a Johnson injury - which to be fair isn’t a remote possibility based on Johnson’s first two years in the NFL have gone.
Leonard Fournette, JAX - Fournette is a lame-duck running back, which injects a lot of uncertainty into his outlook this year. His targets and receptions are surely going to drop, although you could argue that Chris Thompson hasn’t proven he can stay on the field for more than half a season. By the time Thompson gets hurt, will the Jaguars have already turned to “look to future” mode? Why would they continue to feed Fournette when they need to see what Ryquell Armstead and at least one of Devine Ozigbo and James Robinson can do before deciding how to address the running back position in 2021. What if Fournette decides he doesn’t want to absorb a lot of punishment for an organization that has already effectively moved on from him after they dangled him in the trade market during the draft? How much of Fournette’s central place in the game plan came from Tom Coughlin, who was the driving force behind the team picking him fourth overall in 2017? Get out while you can.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn, TB - Vaughn has been vastly overdrafted in redraft and rookie drafts alike. He’s not advanced receiving back and is no threat to become the James White in the Tampa Tom offense. He isn’t a more talented runner than Ronald Jones II, and trusted Pewter Report beat writer Mark Cook wrote that the starting job is Jones' to lose and that there’s no reason to think he won’t be the starter unless he gets hurt or melts down in camp. He’s
Darrynton Evans, TEN - Evans is poised to be the backup to Derrick Henry - who did miss a game last year - and Henry hasn’t signed a long term deal, so he is gaining some momentum in rookie drafts and the late rounds of redraft leagues. He is an exciting runner in space, but his strengths don’t map well to the Titans running game and he’s not an inside runner, so they would have to reinvent their running game to embrace his skills. If you took him late in an early rookie draft, check around to see if anyone has developed a crush on him since April.
David Montgomery, CHI - Enough time has passed that Montgomery is becoming a fashionable pick on guaranteed volume. Maybe he can emerge in 2020 as a makeover running back with more burst/crispness in his change of direction and a more economical approach to running the ball, but the list of players who have done this is much shorter than the players who just remain who they have always been. If Montgomery doesn’t improve greatly in 2020, his trade value will be a fraction of what it is now. Holding him is basically betting on him doing a 180 in a Nick Foles/Mitchell Trubisky offense.
Todd Gurley, ATL - Being slightly patient with Gurley could pay off as four of the first five matchups on the schedule are against potentially soft run defenses (Seattle, Dallas, Green Bay, Carolina). After that, pull the ripcord. Despite turning 26 in a month, he is in the stage of his career that most 29- to 30-year-old backs are in. The cliff is coming up fast and we know he has a degenerative knee condition.
David Johnson, HOU - Johnson looking like a car without an engine last year before the Cardinals basically abandoned him is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 2019 season. It looked like he could be released, restructured, or traded in a salary dump move (ie with an accompanying pick a la Brock Osweiler), but instead Bill O’Brien welcomed his 10.2 million dollar salary and treated him as an asset in the DeAndre Hopkins deal. This signals a large workload, and hopefully Johnson being used a ton in the passing game, where he still shined last year. Johnson could even be a buy-low if the reasons for him being put on blocks in the shop were mental more than physical. If you trust O’Brien to make sound decisions, buy Johnson, If you don’t, sell while there is still some blood in this stone.
Sony Michel, NE - Good luck getting any value from Michel in a deal after the latest news of an offseason foot injury to relieve pain. It’s clear he’s never going to be the back he was at Georgia in the NFL. Michel is on schedule to be overtaken by Damien Harris this year and then he’ll be lucky if he’s a primary backup for a few more years.
Aaron Jones, GB - AJ Dillon being drafted was a real bummer for Jones' future fantasy value in Green Bay and there’s still the possibility that he re-signs in Green Bay, limiting his ceiling through his prime years. The saddest part of this saga is that Jones proved himself to be an excellent receiver when Davante Adams was hurt last year and a possible answer to the lack of other proven options in the Packers passing game. The team seems to have little will to feature Jones to the extent that his play has merited. It’s a calculated risk, but during this temporary dip in his value you might cash in next year when a team more open to putting Jones talents at the center of their offense brings him on board.
Kareem Hunt, CLE - Hunt might have one more strike before the Browns move on, and maybe one more team will give him a shot if that comes to pass, so there’s risk here, but Hunt reminded us last year that he’s still one of the best running backs in the league. He’ll get the lesser part of the Browns backfield this year and could well sign long term there, but if he hits the market and becomes a lead back, his value will at least double in dynasty leagues. In the meantime, his pass-catching ability and a running-back-friendly offense should allow him to be among the most productive per-touch backs in the league.
Tony Pollard, DAL - Pollard will require a three-year wait to realize value, but he is explosive enough to have desperation play value in a high octane offense and Ezekiel Elliott’s durability might not persist forever. Pollard would be a league winner if Elliott suffers a serious injury and his value can only go up from here even though the cat is out of the bag about how good he is.
Darrell Henderson, LAR - Henderson could be worthless by midseason if the Rams have given up on him, but he has at least a theoretical opportunity to prove he can/can’t play with Todd Gurley released. The Rams appeared to want to turn Henderson into a thinking-on-the-fly zone runner last year, which isn’t his natural game. They could run more gap with him or perhaps Henderson has started to figure out how to merge with what is expected of him in the Rams running game. His ability to rip off long runs after contact
Damien Williams, KC - Williams is for win-now teams. He could keep the goal line job and no-huddle offense job while Clyde Edwards-Helaire is eased into the offense with no offseason. We already know Williams is a perfect fit in the Chiefs passing game and the coaches will trust him in high leverage situations. The Kansas City offense is so good that we might be underestimating Williams' ceiling in a timeshare.
Raheem Mostert, SF - Mostert’s demand for a trade could result in a holdout or opt-out in a worst-case scenario, but his demands are modest and the 49ers could blink, reinstalling him as the most valuable back in a very efficient and productive backfield. There’s also a bet here on Mostert’s talent, wherever he plays in 2020 and beyond. I didn’t see a one-hit-wonder watching Mostert. He looks like a player who just never got an extended opportunity because of an ill-timed forearm injury and a nondescript pedigree.
Nyheim Hines, IND - Hines was underused last year with Jacoby Brissett, but Philip Rivers will rectify that. Hines was the most explosive player on the field for the Colts last year and the 23-year-old should make more big plays with defenses stressed by a stronger running game, healthier receivers, and better quarterback play.
Chase Edmonds, ARI - How quickly we forget Edmonds slicing and dicing the Giants defense to the tune of three scores before a hamstring injury opened the door for the Kenyan Drake trade. Edmonds will be a second fiddle this year, but the Cardinals only committed to Drake through this year. Edmonds is also an excellent pass-catching back, which can help him remain relevant in fantasy leagues down the line.
Duke Johnson Jr, HOU - Johnson is the perennial most underrated back in the league, even by his own coaches that pay a third-round pick to acquire him. If you think David Johnson is done, Duke should get more work this year unless you really think Karan Higdon is an obstacle to opportunity. Johnson could also benefit from a DeAndre Hopkinsless wide receiver group that will cause Deshaun Watson to find a new old reliable on third down.
Boston Scott, PHI - Not only did Scott perform well and put up fantasy-relevant numbers last year once he was given the chance, he did it while Miles Sanders was getting a lead back workload. It seems he is being dismissed as a late-season one year wonder, but it is much more likely that he will reside in and keep alive the Darren Sproles role in this offense.
Gus Edwards, BAL - In very deep leagues, don’t forget Edwards, who showed more burst last year and is on track to be a strong contributor somewhere eventually, even if it isn’t the Ravens.
Dare Ogunbowale, TB - Ogunbowale is a long shot, but the PPR upside is there considering Tom Brady’s history with players like Kevin Faulk and James White. It’s possible that he becomes the #1 back in no-huddle situations and otherwise fits a Brady Bucs offense better than Ronald Jones II or Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Cam Akers, LAR - Judging by dynasty startup ADP, Akers appears to be a tier below Taylor/Edwards-Helaire/Dobbins and a half-tier below Swift. If you don’t think Darrell Henderson will be a factor in the Rams backfield, Akers shouldn’t have such a gap between him and the other rookies and that gap will close quickly once the season starts. Akers is a true three-down back who can run routes out of the slot in addition to out of the backfield, so his ceiling is very high unless another Rams back stakes their claim to regular work.
Antonio Gibson, WAS - It’s not difficult to picture Gibson as the No. 1 Washington running back next year and a fantasy factor this year. The team obviously loves him, spending their only second-day pick on Gibson and announcing him as a running back despite having a quite full running back room after signing J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber in free agency. New Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner gave Curtis Samuel nine carries in the last four games last year after taking over playcalling from his dad in Carolina, so we know he’s not against players being in “slash” roles in the offense. Derrius Guice has played exactly four games in two years, so he might not be much of a hurdle for Gibson to get over for opportunity. Gibson can house any touch, so like 2015 David Johnson (who was a league winner in the fantasy playoffs as a rookie), a few early big plays might make him untouchable in dynasty leagues and set the stage for much bigger things in the near future.