The running back position continues to evolve as more NFL teams utilize a committee approach. This has been an effective strategy for pro football franchises, but it makes for some tricky decisions for fantasy football players. Plenty of running backs move every offseason, and some see starting roles. Below is a look at some of the most important offseason acquisitions at the running back position and what it means from a fantasy football perspective.
Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons (from Carolina Panthers)
Davis impact: After a solid 2020 season with the Carolina Panthers, Davis signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency and could become their starting running back. The 28-year-old running back was a factor in both the running and receiving game as the Panthers were without Christian McCaffrey. Davis had a career-high 642 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns, along with 59 receptions for 373 yards and 2 touchdowns. He should receive a ton of looks in a Falcons’ offense that will look completely different this season without Julio Jones.
Panthers impact: The Panthers are losing a really good RB2 in Davis, who had five double-digit performances in fantasy football last season. However, they did draft Chuba Hubbard out of Oklahoma State in the 2021 NFL Draft, which should help out CMC. That being said, the offense still runs thought
Kenyan Drake, Las Vegas Raiders (from Arizona Cardinals)
Drake impact: Drake is leaving one running back rotation to join another in Las Vegas, where they already have Josh Jacobs. But between the two, Drake is the better receiving running back. The 27-year-old running back almost had 1,000 rushing yards last season, finishing with 955 yards and 10 touchdowns (career-highs). He served as a quality RB2 in fantasy football last season with 8 performances of 10 fantasy points or more. With the Raiders having a ton of youth at wide receiver, Drake could be a big factor in the receiving game.
Cardinals impact: The Cardinals will try to replace Drake’s production with the combination of James Conner and Chase Edmonds. Edmonds should be able to fill Drake’s void in the receiving game, but Conner should be the workhorse back. Last season with the Steelers, Conner had 721 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns, along with 215 receiving yards. If he can return to his 2018 form, then that would be a huge boom to the Cardinals’ rushing offense.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals (from Pittsburgh Steelers)
Conner impact: Conner dealt with injuries last season for Pittsburgh, but still managed to almost have 1,000 scrimmage yards. He’ll be joining a Cardinals’ offense, where he’ll be featured often with Edmonds as the backup. Conner can run in between the tackles and also be a factor in the passing game. Last season, the 26-year-old had a six-game stretch, where he averaged 15.1 fantasy points per game. That is top-tier RB1 territory from a RB, who is more of a RB2.
Steelers impact: The Steelers will not be losing much with Conner as they are replacing him with rookie running back Najee Harris. Harris will likely see a lot of touches in both the running and receiving game. Behind Harris, the Steelers still have Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, and Kalen Ballage. Snell Jr. could be the short-yardage back, while McFarland and Ballage battle it out for the third spot on the depth chart.
Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Cincinnati Bengals)
Bernard impact: The veteran running back has proved him as a viable pass catcher out of the backfield over the last few seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Last season, Bernard had 47 receptions (59 receptions) for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also added 416 yards on the ground and 6 scores. He’ll be joining a Bucs’ offense that already has the likes of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II. Ideally, Bernard would be the James White in the Bucs’ offense, which is a nice option to have on third down or passing downs.
Bengals impact: The Bengals will try to replace Bernard’s contribution with Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams. Perine had a couple of moments last season and finished with one of his better seasons (63 carries for 301 yards, 3 TDs). But Joe Mixon is still the king of this backfield and should be a weekly RB1 this season.
Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions (from Green Bay Packers)
Williams impact: Williams is joining a Lions’ running back room that has second-year running back D’Andre Swift and Jermar Jefferson. Williams showed last season with the Green Bay Packers that he can be a spot starter and quality RB2. The 26-year-old had 505 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns, along with 236 receiving yards and a touchdown. One would think that Swift will be the feature back, but we could see a RBBC between the three RBs.
Packers impact: The Packers will turn the RB2 job over to second-year back AJ Dillon. The former Boston College Eagle had 242 rushing yards on 46 carries (5.3 YPC) and 2 TDs. He should be featured often in Packers’ offense and would not be a bad option in later rounds of fantasy drafts.
Malcolm Brown, Miami Dolphins (from Los Angeles Rams)
Brown impact: Malcolm Brown was apart of a running back by committee last season with the Los Angeles Rams, but was eventually phased out due to the emergence of rookie Cam Akers. Brown did not start in a single game last season, played in all 16 games. He produced a career-high 419 yards on 101 carries and 5 touchdowns, along with 23 receptions for 162 yards. Brown was more so of a waiver wire/FLEX play add last season and will likely be the same this season with the Dolphins. Miami does not have a featured back and could go with the running back by committee approach. Brown will be competing with Myles Gaskins and Salvon Ahmed for carries.
Rams impact: The Rams should be able to replace Brown’s production with Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr. Akers had 625 rushing yards (145 carries) and 2 touchdowns, while Henderson Jr. recorded 624 rushing yards (138 carries) and 5 touchdowns. The two backs could be a good 1-2 duo this season in fantasy football as RB1/RB2.
Kerryon Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles (from Detroit Lions)
Johnson impact: The 23-year-old Johnson took a major step back with the Lions last season as he was surpassed by D’Andre Swift and Adrian Peterson. However, he’ll get a fresh start with the Eagles, who should have competition for the backup spot behind Miles Sanders in the preseason. Through his first three seasons, Johnson averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which isn’t bad considering that he has not rushed for 1,000 rushing yards yet. Johnson should be able to contribute right away for Philadelphia due to his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Lions impact: The Lions will move on from Johnson and insert Jamaal Williams, who is an upgrade over the former second round pick. The hope for Detroit is that second round pick D’Andre Swift becomes the feature back. Swift has the ability to do that based off what we saw last season. Now he has an offensive coordinator in Anthony Lynn and running back coach in Duce Staley, which should take him to another level.
Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans (from Denver Broncos)
Lindsay impact: Lindsay should give the Texans some explosiveness and a prominent feature back that they need. The former UDFA struggled last season, producing a career-low 502 rushing yards (118) and a touchdown in 11 games (8 starts). In his first two years in the NFL, Lindsay rushed for 1,037 and 1,011 yards respectively. The Texans hope that he can re-establish himself and become the team’s top running back. It won’t be a great season for the Texans, but there will be a ton of carries to go around.
Broncos impact: The Broncos lose an explosive running back in Lindsay, but added another running back in rookie Javonte Williams in the 2021 NFL Draft. Williams and Gordon should be a competent duo in the backfield for the Broncos. The 28-year-old Gordon had one of his better seasons, rushing for 986 yards on 215 carries and 9 TDs. He also had 8 games, where he produced 10-plus fantasy points.
Mark Ingram, Houston Texans (from Baltimore Ravens)
Ingram impact: Mark Ingram was a non-factor last season for the Ravens, with Baltimore turning the reins over to rookie J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Ingram will try to rekindle whatever he has left in the tank with David Culley in Houston. The veteran running back is currently the team’s third running back on the depth chart. But he’ll be competing with Rex Burkhead as both guys can be third-down backs and options in the receiving game.
Ravens impact: Baltimore should be fine in the backfield with Dobbins and Edwards this season. Edwards is more a short-yardage/powerback, while Dobbins is the versatile RB who can be productive in both the run and pass games. The second-year running back should see an uptick in production after finishing his rookie season with 925 yards of total offense. We also have to remember that Lamar Jackson will be an instrumental role in the Ravens’ rushing attack.