Everyone wants to know in today’s world whether these NFL teams are thinking of us fantasy football die-hards when they sign and draft players. That’s the goal of today’s column, I will help you decipher the best and worst landing spots for running backs in the 2021 free agency class. When it comes to my favorite landing spots for this free agency class, a line from the 1971 John Denver classic hit “Country Roads” is extremely applicable. The line: “Country Roads, Take me Home. To the place I belong.”
As of Monday March 29th, a handful of reliable running backs remain on the market. These include: Todd Gurley; James Conner; Duke Johnson Jr; Le’veon Bell; and Rex Burkhead. My favorite on this list is Conner. The best-case scenario for Conner’s landing spot is the Dolphins. While I am a true believer in Myles Gaskin’s talent, Conner can be brought in as a more experienced complementary back. Even in a perfect situation, it is hard to envision Conner as an RB2.
Let’s get into it. One of my personal favorites is Mike Davis, but we will discuss him momentarily. My favorite landing spots are Aaron Jones’ (four years $48 million) return to the Packers and Chris Carson’s (2 year $14.6 million) return to the Seahawks. Both running backs have spent the last two years in similar situations as they will find themselves in in 2021 and both have been top twenty PPR running backs during that time span. Jones finished number two in 2019 and fifth in 2020, while Carson finished 12th in 2019 and 19th in 2020 (while missing four complete games and being limited in a few others). For the 2020 season, Jones had 1459 total yards (on 248 touches) with eleven TD’s, while Carson had 968 total yards (on 178 touches) with 9 TD’s. With AJ Dillon being the competition in Green Bay for touches and no significant competition in Seattle, there is no reason why both Jones and Carson cannot match their performances over the last two years.
As mentioned previously, my other favorite landing spot is Mike Davis (2 years 5.5 million) to the Falcons… Davis was signed on Tuesday 3/23 by the Falcons. Both Todd Gurley and Brian Hill remain on the market, so Davis will get every opportunity to be the Falcons’ RB1 when the 2021 season begins. In 2020 (with the Panthers), Davis was the 12th ranked PPR fantasy RB (amassing 1015 total yards on 224 touches). At 3.7 yards/carry, the Falcons were the second least efficient rush offense in the NFL, but Gurley remained on the weekly RB2/flex landscape by scoring nine TD’s and hauling in 25 receptions on the season. With improved team efficiency, Davis has an opportunity to be a solid low-end RB2.
My two least favorite landing spots (not only for the player, but the entire running back room) are Jamaal Williams (two year $7,5 million) to the Lions and Kenyan Drake (2 year $11 million) to the Raiders. In both Drake’s and Williams’ cases, they possess a similar skill set to the incumbent (D’Andre Swift and Josh Jacobs respectively).
In 2020, Jacobs accumulated 1303 total yards (306 touches), while Devontae Booker (507 total yards on 110 touches) and Jalen Richard (271 total yards on 41 touches) pitched in. While Richard will be back, Booker signed a two-year, $6 million pact with the Giants. In 2020, Drake had 1092 total yards (264 touches). Jacobs was slightly more efficient (4.26 yards/touch as compared to 4.1 for Drake) performing behind the 24th ranked offensive line (Cardinals were 12th). Drake was the PPR 16th ranked running back, while Jacobs was 8th. Performing behind a worse offensive line with fewer touches, Drake’s value drops significantly and he should be viewed, at best, as a potential weekly flex who is best drafted in the 7th/8th round range. Jacobs, on the other hand, will also likely see a dip in touches and is best viewed as an RB2 with upside.
In 2020, Williams had 741 total yards (150 touches) while playing for the Packers. Meanwhile, Swift had 878 total yards (160 touches for 5.5 yards/touch). Although the Lions had the thirteenth ranked offensive line, they also had the third fewest rushing yards in the NFL. Along with that, the team has suffered a decline in talent level at WR. Although Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman were signed in free agency, they pale in comparison to Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. In addition, the trade of Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff is also a net loss for Detroit. The Lions only scored 377 points in 2020 and, with this loss of talent, it seems very likely that there will be a dip in point production for 2021. For 2020, Swift was the number 18 ranked PPR running back, while Williams was 38th. In a worse offense (with no guarantee for more touches), it is very unlikely that Williams exceeds that level of production and is best viewed as a mid-round (10th-12th) flyer with limited upside. Although I don’t see Swift’s value being affected drastically, I do believe that Swift is best viewed as a lower-end RB1 (as compared to the solid RB1 dynasty pick he would be under more optimal circumstances).