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NFL Free Agents - Running Back Preview

Melvin Gordon - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL Injury News

It's March, which means it's the month that NFL free agency begins. For a full explanation of how the process works, check out Frank Dyevoich's comprehensive breakdown.

Today, we're going to preview some of the running backs that will hit the market. Where could they go? Will a change of scenery help them in fantasy? Make sure to check back soon for the follow-up to this, as I look at wide receivers who are hitting free agency.

Players in this article are listed in order of the number of snaps they played in 2021.

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Leonard Fournette

2021 Recap: In his first season in Tampa, Leonard Fournette rushed for 367 yards and played 43% of his team's offensive snaps. It looked like the former top-five pick was heading for a career as a backup.

But Lenny looked rejuvenated in 2021. He nearly doubled his number of carries, from 97 to 180, and finished with 812 yards and eight touchdowns, plus had his second-best year as a receiver, catching 69 passes for 454 yards. Fournette showed that he can still make good things happen when he's running north/south and showed some solid pass-catching skills.

Future Outlook: Please, please, please give us Fournette in Buffalo. With Josh Allen there, he'd have ample room to run up the middle, and the Bills need to add someone who can be the lead back over Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. In the right spot, Fournette is a solid fantasy RB2.


James Conner

2021 Recap: Conner left the Steelers for Arizona, where he rushed for 752 yards and 15 touchdowns and also added three receiving scores.

That's...a lot of touchdowns and was the big reason why Conner unexpectedly finished as an RB1 last season.

Future Outlook: So, James Conner had 18 touchdowns in 2021.

Since 2017, there have been 11 seasons where a player scored at least 18 touchdowns. Two of those belong to Alvin Kamara. Two belong to Todd Gurley. The other names are Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones, Derrick Henry, Austin Ekeler, and Davante Adams. Those are really good names. Conner's presence on the list is...weird. He only had one other season with double-digit touchdowns. This number will go down in 2022, and his fantasy value will too. Regardless of the landing spot, don't expect another RB1 season, though if he ended up somewhere like Buffalo or Miami, he'd likely see the majority of the backfield work and would be an RB2 play.


Sony Michel

2021 Recap: Michel had a solid year in Los Angeles, turning 229 touches into 973 scrimmage yards. He did that while playing just 49% of the team's snaps, the highest mark of his career.

Michel has spent four seasons playing in less-than-ideal spots for fantasy. He was never on the field for more than 37% of snaps in New England, for example.

Future Outlook: In theory, Michel would be a great fantasy option if he landed a lead-back role. Get him on the field for 60% of the snaps and he'd be someone who would provide you some consistent numbers.

But, will that happen? As much as I like Sony Michel, it doesn't seem like he'll be more than a complementary piece on his next team. That will continue to limit his fantasy ceiling.


Melvin Gordon

2021 Recap: Gordon was just kind of annoying last year, as he blocked the way for the Javonte Williams breakout that everyone thought would happen. Gordon rushed for 918 yards and eight touchdowns and also added 213 receiving yards and two scores.

Future Outlook: Hopefully, for Williams' sake, Gordon isn't in Denver in 2022, though that's definitely something that's in play. Gordon's landing spot will be intriguing because he definitely still has the juice left to contribute. Unless he goes somewhere where he's clearly the best back (and again, I'll mention teams like Buffalo and Miami, even though everyone can't be signed by one of those teams), he'll likely do what he did in 2021: split backfield work and lower the fantasy value of his backfield mate while providing some serviceable RB2/3 numbers himself.


Chase Edmonds

2021 Recap: Even with James Conner siphoning off all the touchdowns, Edmonds had 903 scrimmage yards last season. His fantasy numbers would have looked better if he'd gotten more than two touchdowns, but Edmonds has never been a big TD guy, with just 14 over his four NFL seasons.

Future Outlook: I really like Edmonds as part of a committee, which is good because that's likely his 2022 situation, whether it be back in Arizona with Eno Benjamin or a free agent/rookie, or somewhere else. He's likely to be a solid flex guy somewhere, but don't get your hopes up about a fantasy breakout in his next home.


Cordarrelle Patterson

2021 Recap: The former wide receiver/return specialist was forced to be Atlanta's lead back this year, which was both very weird and very cool. Even more cool was that he delivered in his new role, finishing with 1,166 scrimmage yards, the most of his career. Patterson's always been an electric player, but now he's an electric player who proved he can carry the ball 150-plus times in a season.

Future Outlook: I think the best place for Patterson is Atlanta, but he could be a nice addition to a handful of teams. Atlanta would probably be the spot that would most use him like he was used last season, but I'm not as high on Patterson moving forward as others might be. Over the last four weeks of the season, he had just 71 rushing yards and averaged 2.29 yards per carry. Maybe he'd hold up better if he was in a smaller role, but I don't see him posting numbers that reach his 2021 levels.


David Johnson

2021 Recap: Yikes. Johnson played 13 games for the Texans, carrying the ball 67 times for 228 yards and adding 225 receiving yards and a touchdown. Once one of the NFL's most exciting backs, Johnson was routinely outperformed by Rex Burkhead last year.

Future Outlook: Johnson is done — not in the "won't be signed" sense, but just in the general sense. Maybe he winds up somewhere in training camp. Maybe he flashes some good stuff in the preseason and makes a final roster. Maybe he even has a good game or two on an NFL team in 2022. But I don't buy the argument that injuries are the only reason Johnson struggled last year. A healthy David Johnson won't bounce back and be the versatile option he once was. He's a backup going forward who might have situational fantasy value due to injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart.


Rashaad Penny

2021 Recap: Penny came on strong late in the season, with four 135-plus yard rushing games over the final five weeks of the season. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season and was one of the biggest surprises.

Future Outlook: Want to know more about Penny's fantasy outlook? Then check out Scott Engel's excellent piece on him from earlier this month.


Ronald Jones II

2021 Recap: Jones was expected to challenge Leonard Fournette for the lead role in Tampa, but Fournette snatched that, Gio Bernard took the receiving back duties, and Jones was left to just kind of...exist. After having 192 carries for 978 yards in 2020, he dropped to 101 carries for 428 this season. He played just 20% of Tampa's snaps and appears to be on his way out of town, though if Fournette leaves, Tampa could try to bring him back for cheap.

Future Outlook: There's still some juice left with RoJo. I think his best chance of having future value is to do a one-year prove-it deal in Tampa if Fournette leaves, as he wouldn't face too much competition for the lead role. If that happens, he's a low-end RB2, assuming the team doesn't do exactly what it did in 2020, which was to add another back to the mix before the season. If he leaves Tampa, it's hard to see him earn more than a 30% split of the snaps without an injury ahead of him somewhere, unless he winds up in some weird place like Houston.


Marlon Mack

2021 Recap: Coming off of a torn Achilles, Mack had 28 carries for 101 yards. Part of that was because he played behind Jonathan Taylor and Mack still being young is a good sign, but his stock is incredibly low after 2021.

Future Outlook: It's really hard to see Mack finding a solid role after his poor numbers last year. Achilles injuries have historically been bad for running backs and while there have been exceptions, I don't think Mack's upside makes up for the huge injury risk. Regardless of the landing spot, he won't be high on my draft board.

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