by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Running back is a young man’s position, and it’s been proven over and over again that talent can be found late in the draft. However, that didn’t stop some teams from investing in running backs on the first day of free agency (and in some cases, in a puzzling manner). Let’s take a look at the moves that were made yesterday and check out their fantasy impact:
Toby Gerhart Signs With The Jaguars
Can Gerhart prove that he’s capable of handling the load as a lead back? Finally out of the shadow of Adrian Peterson, Gerhart is going to get his opportunity (based on the contract you would think he’s got the early lead over Jordan Todman).
That said, exactly what has Gerhart shown in the past? He’s never rushed for more than 2 TD in a season. Only once has he surpassed 322 yards. Sure he’s caught some passes (three seasons of at least 20 receptions), but this appears to be an awfully big leap of faith.
Even coming out of college there were concerns, as seen by this scouting report from Walter Football (click here for the full report):
“The thing that really concerns me with Gerhart outside of his limited physical tools is his running style. He is very up-and-down, and NFL linebackers are going to have a free shot at his legs, which means he is going to be easier to tackle in the pros than he was in college against small linebackers that play with poor technique. He doesn’t have the athleticism to be a No. 1 back, but he does have the skill to be an inside runner and end-zone threat for some team.”
In other words, all fantasy owners need to be targeting Todman at a discount on draft day. The chance of Gerhart emerging appears to be slim.
Darren McFadden Returns to Oakland
The Raiders needed running backs, so it makes sense to bring McFadden back on a “prove me” type deal. However, does anyone really expect McFadden to be able to prove anything?
Health has never been McFadden’s strong suit, never playing more than 13 games in a season. Only once has he exceeded 707 yards and over the past two seasons he’s had yards per carry numbers of 3.3 and 3.3.
There’s a good chance the Raiders add more talent as the offseason progresses, but for now McFadden will be sitting atop the depth chart. At the same time, would it be a big surprise to see Latavius Murray ultimately beat him out for the lead back job?
Murray is a sleeper we’ll be discussing in a lot more detail over the coming weeks, but his name is certainly one to keep a close eye on.
Rashad Jennings Signs With The Giants
It remains to be seen if Jennings can handle lead back duties, but in New York he hopefully won’t have to. There’s a good chance that he’s sharing time with David Wilson, if he’s healthy, otherwise Jennings is a viable fallback option.
He averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season (4.3 yards per carry for her career) and has always proven capable of catching passes out of the backfield (36 receptions for 292 yards in ’13). That’s a nice mix and a needed boost for the Giants backfield.
Even if Wilson is healthy, is there any guarantee that he finally puts things together? That makes Jennings an ideal flier, because regardless of what else the Giants do Jennings is going to be right in the middle of their game plan. Is he ever going to be an every down back in New York? It’s unlikely, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to see the biggest part of the rotation.
It’ll be interesting to see how things evolve this offseason, but consider Jennings well worth the investment as a low-end option.
Donald Brown Signs With The Chargers
This one is a curious move, to say the least. While Ryan Mathews does have a history of injury, he really turned it on late in 2013 and appeared to seize the lead back job. Throw in the presence of Danny Woodhead and you have to wonder exactly where Brown fits into the offense. Sure Ronnie Brown was in the mix last season, but everything changed late in the season an you would’ve thought the Chargers would’ve tried to fill that role a bit cheaper than this.
Brown is coming off his best season in the NFL (537 yards, 6 TD as well as 27 receptions for 214 yards and 2 TD), but it’s hard to consider him anything more than a Mathews handcuff. There just doesn’t appear to be a clear opportunity.
Joique Bell Returns To Detroit
With Reggie Bush injury prone and Bell having proven that he can thrive in the offense (1,197 total yards and 8 TD), it seemed like a no-brainer that he would return. While he’s not going to be the lead back, he’s obviously well worth the investment in all formats.
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