Since it has been almost two months since the NFL Draft has ended the football community is transitioning from draft coverage to prepping for Fantasy Football drafts. In the Fantasy Football world, the draft is a very important event because there is when fantasy team owners can discover positional players that can step into large roles on offense right away and get drafted or picked up off waivers at a premium value. However, it is also a time to recognize which players might be taking a step back because they are being replaced by a younger player who will have a large role with the team. Here are some of those players.
The waiver wire pickup of the year last season was Jacksonville Jaguars running back James Robinson. After going undrafted last season, the former Illinois State running back signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He performed so well in training camp that the Jaguars were comfortable releasing fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette who was the team’s workhorse the previous three seasons. Robinson was the Jaguars’ best offensive player a season ago and had no competition from anyone else in the Jaguars backfield. Robinson had 240 rushing attempts and rushed for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had 344 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 49 receptions. He finished the season tied for fifth in rushing yards, sixth in rushing attempts, and sixth in rushing yards per game.
For the entirety of last season, Robinson put up RB1 numbers. He had double-digit PPR fantasy points in every single game he played in last year. Robinson had 250.4 total PPR points in 14 games last season which made him the seventh-highest scoring running back fantasy last season. His 17.9 PPR points per game were the sixth-highest average points per game amongst running backs in the league (excluding Buffalo Bills running back Antonio Williams‘ Week 17 performance).
Before the 2021 NFL Draft, Robinson looked like he was going to be drafted as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2 in fantasy drafts. His value slightly decreased when the Jaguars signed Carlos Hyde to a two-year $4.5 million deal. But his value took a real hit when the Jaguars drafted Clemson running back Travis Etienne with the 25th overall pick. Even though new Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer described Etienne as a “third-down back” when asked about his backfield, he is expected to have a large role for the Jaguars offense.
Jacksonville is expected to have a three-headed monster at running back this season which does not bode well for those involved. Robinson and Etienne will likely battle for the majority of the snaps while Hyde will likely be used as an early-down change of pace back who can replace Robinson whenever he needs a break. What does bode well for Robinson’s value is that he has a different skillset from Etienne.
Robinson is more of a traditional running back who is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield, but is best when he could use his physicality running between the tackles. Etienne is more of a gadget back and could be used similar to his pro player comp Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Etienne can do it all, but specializes in outside runs, using his homerun speed, running routes, and catching the ball out of the backfield.
After the draft, it was revealed that Urban Meyer really wanted to draft Flordia wide receiver Kadarius Toney who was taken five picks prior by the New York Giants. Despite playing two different positions Meyer may look at Etienne more as a pass-catcher than running back and line him up at wide receiver. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, during the Jaguars mini-camp Etienne took all of his reps at wide receiver. This does benefit Robinson, because he may not lose as many snaps to Etienne as many would assume.
The best-case scenario for Robinson is that he splits snaps with Hyde in the backfield and Etienne lines up all over the fields as a gadget player similar to how the Carolina Panthers used Curtis Samuel this past season or how Cordarrelle Patterson has been used the past few seasons in New England and Chicago. There are a lot of questions about how the Jaguars plan on using their running backs, but it is safe to say that Robinson should be drafted as a low-end RB2 or a flex with a high floor.
In a puzzling move, last offseason the Denver Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon to a 2 year $16 million deal. This move was so puzzling because they already had Phillip Lindsay on the roster who was coming off his second straight 1,000+ yard and 7+ touchdown season. The Broncos decided to give second-year quarterback Drew Lock as many weapons as they can provide that offseason in order to get him to take a major leap from year one to year two.
Gordon was the team’s primary back leading the team in all rushing statistics. Gordon rushed for 986 yards and nine touchdowns off of 215 carries. He also had 32 catches for 158 yards and a receiving touchdown last year as well. As a fantasy running back Gordon as hard to trust on a week-to-week basis because he did not see consistent touches throughout the season. He also only had three games all season where he saw 20+ touches. Gordon was ranked every week between an RB2 and a flex depending on the matchup. However, he did finish the year as the 14th highest scoring running back in fantasy. He had 198.4 PPR points last season and his 13.2 PPR points average per game was 24th amongst running backs (excluding Buffalo Bills running back Antonio Williams’ Week 17 performance).
After Denver rescinded Phillip Lindsay’s original round restricted free agent tender, he signed with the Houston Texans. The Broncos didn’t necessarily need a running back with Gordon and capable backup Royce Freeman on the roster. But since Gordon had one year left on his contract is going to be 29 next offseason, Denver decided to address the running back position early in this past draft. The Broncos took North Carolina running back Javonte Williams with the 35th pick in the second round. Williams was considered the third-best running back in the draft by many but depending on who was asked was consider the second or even best running back coming out. Many felt he is just as talented as the two running backs selected before him.
The Broncos backfield may be more of an even split between Gordon and Williams to start the season compared to how they ran it between Gordon and Lindsay last year. But in all likelihood, Williams will likely take over this backfield by the end of the year. The running backs how were selected in the second round last year provide enough evidence that this will happen.
The Detriot Lions selected D’Andre Swift with the 35th pick in last year’s draft. After Adrian Peterson led the Lions backfield more a majority of the season, Swift became the team’s lead back by the end of the year.
The next running back selected that year was Jonathan Taylor of the Indianapolis Colts who was taken 41st overall. Even after Marlon Mack went down Week one with a season-ending injury, Taylor was sharing carries with multiple other backs. But by the end of the season, Taylor appeared to be the leader of the Colts committee and finished the year third in the league in rushing.
The third running back selected in the 2020 NFL draft was taken 52nd overall by the Los Angeles Rams. Los Angeles took Cam Akers who was a part of a committee with Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown for most of last year. Sean McVay rode the hot hand all season and when Akers finally got lead-back carries he did not look back and will likely retain that role this season.
Similar to what Denver is trying to do, the Baltimore Ravens looked to replace aging running back in Mark Ingram with J.K. Dobbins when they took Dobbins with the 56th overall pick last year. Dobbins split time with Ingram and Gus Edwards all season but took firm control of the backfield during the second half of last year.
So the writing is on the wall is for Gordon which should affect his fantasy value going into next season. Knowing that Gordon will lose snaps to Williams throughout the season should bump him down to a low-end RB3 or RB4. He should not be the best flex option for a team in standard leagues. His value will come from his consistent floor early in the year. But Gordon may be a player that fantasy owners may be dropping by Week 8 next season.
San Fransisco 49ers’ Running Backs:
Since Kyle Shanahan has taken over the San Fransisco 49ers, they have been one of the best teams running football during that stretch. What makes the production out of the 49ers backfield so amazing is the fact that Shanahan gets elite production out of seemingly washed-up veterans, Day 3 draft picks, and former undrafted free agents. This shouldn’t be shocking though considering he has done this everywhere he has been.
When Shanahan was in Houston his lead back Arian Foster was an undrafted rookie free agent who turned into a multiple-time Pro Bowler. Then when Shanahan was in Washington they took running back Alfred Morris in the second round and before Shanahan left Morris was named Second-Team All-Pro. For the season he was in Cleveland, Shanahan turned undrafted rookie free agent Isaiah Crowell into a multiple-year starter at the running back position. During Shanahan’s time in Atlanta, he had arguably his most dominant backfield. The Falcons backfield under Shanahan was led by former fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman and former third-round pick Tevin Coleman. Freeman became a multiple-time Pro Bowler and Second-Team All-Pro under Shanahan.
Shanahan has had multiple veteran running backs join him in San Fransisco. Both Morris and Coleman have reunited with Shanahan in San Fransisco. Former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon signed a four-year deal with the 49ers as well to play under Shanahan, but he only played one season in three years for the team due to multiple injuries. Multiple former undrafted free agent rookies have had success in San Fransisco under Shanahan as well. Those players include Matt Breida, Jeff Wilson Jr., and JaMycal Hasty.
But the most impressive running back who has played under Shanahan in San Fransisco is former undrafted free agent Raheem Mostert. At one point Mostert was considered just a special teams player who had been a part of six different teams before landing with the 49ers in 2016 and breaking out in 2019.
That season Mostert rushed for 772 yards and eight touchdowns off of only 137 carries. He also was extremely dominant that postseason including a 220-yard four-touchdown performance against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. He finished as the 26th highest scoring running back that season and only averaged 10.3 PPR points per game. But from Week 12 to the end of the season that year Mostert was the eighth-highest scoring running back in fantasy. He put up 104.5 of his 165.2 points during that stretch and averaged 17.4 PPR points per game.
This past year expectations were decently high for Mostert after his performance the season before. Unfortunately, Mostert missed eight games throughout the year due to multiple injuries. But during the eight games, he played Mostert rushed for 521 yards and two touchdowns off of 104 carries. That is the same rushing total that Lions running back D’Andre Swift had during the 13 games he played last year. He had 99.7 PPR points last year and the 12.5 he averaged a game was the 27th highest average among running backs last season (excluding Buffalo Bills running back Antonio Williams’ Week 17 performance).
The running back who took over for Mostert when he was hurt was Jeff Wilson Jr. He led the team in rushing with 600 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 carries in 12 games (three starts). Wilson only had 142.3 PPR points per game last year and averaged 11.9 PPR points per game. But during the eight games where Wilson received more than five carries he averaged 17.1 fantasy points per game which would have finished ninth amongst all running backs last season (excluding Buffalo Bills running back Antonio Williams’ Week 17 performance).between Nick Chubb and Jonathan Taylor.
Despite getting production out of the running backs currently on their roster the 49ers drafted Ohio State running back Trey Sermon with the 88th pick in the third round. Sermon is the highest-drafted running back Kyle Shanahan has had on any of his 49ers teams and the second highest-drafted running back he has ever coached (Tevin Coleman 73rd overall in 2015). Sermon started his college career at Oklahoma but transferred to Ohio State for his senior year.
He was considered a fringe Day 2-Day 3 prospect until Sermon’s final month of his college career. He rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown on ten carries against Michigan State. Two weeks later Sermon broke Eddie George‘s record for most rushing yards in a single game by an Ohio State Buckeye during the Big Ten Championship against a tough Northwestern defense. Sermon rushed for 331 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries during that game. Then during the first round of the College Football playoffs (Allstate Sugar Bowl) Sermon rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown off of 31 carries.
During his first season in San Fransisco, Sermon is expected to be more than a depth player for the 49ers. He is expected to carve a consistent role for the 49ers offense which will eat into Mostert and Wilson Jr.’s carries. His addition to the team should drop Mostert from a borderline RB2/flex to a low RB3 who can boom or bust on any given week. Mostert may be the 49ers lead back to begin the year and could yield carries to Sermon throughout the season, especially if Sermon gets hot. At worst Mostert could receive between five to nine carries a game as a change of pace back in this offense.
While Wilson Jr. goes from an intriguing sleeper running back to add to your bench back to a touchdown vulture who should stay on waiver wires throughout the season. Wilson Jr. will likely stay on waiver wires until he inevitably has a 2+ touchdown game at some point next season. He has had three multiple touchdown games over the last two seasons despite rarely getting the opportunity to be the team’s lead back.
Going into last season many thought Eagles running back Miles Sanders was to make a major leap forward, become the Eagles workhorse running back, and potentially become an RB1 in fantasy. When considering Sanders did miss four games due to injury, he did improve from the previous season. But Sanders did not meet the expectations many had for him coming into last season.
In 12 games Sanders rushed for 867 yards and six touchdowns on 164 rushing attempts. He also had 28 receptions for 197 yards which was significantly lower than what he did his rookie season. Sanders had 170.4 PPR points in 2020-21 which was the 23rd highest among running backs. His 14.2 PPR points per game average was the 19th highest among running backs (excluding Buffalo Bills running back Antonio Williams’ Week 17 performance).
During the third day of this past draft, the Eagles seemed to get a steal taking Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell with the 150th pick in the fifth round. Many projected Gainwell to go as high as the third round. Similar to his former Memphis teammate Antonio Gibson, Gainwell is a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield. He is an explosive runner that could carve a role in the Eagles’ offense as soon as next season.
From a fantasy standpoint, Gainwell will not take away a lot of Sanders’ value right away. Sanders is still expected to be the lead back in Philadelphia next season. However, the Eagles backfield did get a lot more crowded this offseason. Not only did the Eagles add Gainwell, but they also signed Jordan Howard and former second-round pick and Detriot Lion Kerryon Johnson. Add in Boston Scott who was the team’s primary change of pace back last season and the Eagles have a crowded committee in their backfield.
By adding all of those backs to their roster the Eagles may be getting ready to have a full-blown running back by committee despite having a capable workhorse back in Miles Sanders on the roster. New Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni has a history of running his backfield through a committee of backs. Last year in Indianapolis intending on splitting their backfield between Marlon Mack, 2020 second-round pick Jonathan Taylor, and Nyheim Hines. After Mack’s season-ending injury Sirianni decided to give the ball to whoever had the hot hand between Taylor, Hines, and Jordan Wilkins on a week-to-week basis.
It is very possible that Philadelphia has Miles Sanders takes on the lead role in the backfield as Jonathan Taylor had towards the end of the year in Indianapolis. Then Kerryon Johnson takes on the Jordan Wilkins and Marlon Mack complementary role and Kenneth Gainwell takes on the Nyheim Hines pass-catching change of pace role. Gainwell’s skillset matches what Hines did for the Colts last season.
This solidifies Sanders’ status as a true RB2 in fantasy. It is unlikely that Sanders breaks 200 carries next year for the Eagles but his talent will allow him to have some great games next season. However, Sanders’ owners must be wary of the fact that he may score under double-digit fantasy points a couple of times if the Eagles lose control of a game and must run a pass-heavy offense in order to make a large comeback early on in a game.
One of the more underrated signing this offseason was the New York Jets adding veteran running back Tevin Coleman. The former 49ers running back reunites with his former run game coordinator Mike LeFleur in New York. Since there was little to no competition at running back on the Jets roster, it was a safe bet that Coleman could start the year as the team’s starter and primary back. That type of value would have made him a fringe RB2/Flex since he would almost have the backfield to himself, he just wouldn’t have many opportunities to take over the game since the Jets will not be in the lead often. During his time in Atlanta, Coleman proved that he could be fantasy-relevant despite being in a crowded backfield.
However, that changes now that the Jets drafted North Carolina running back Michael Carter in the fourth round. Now it is possible that Coleman may not be the Jets primary running back throughout the season. Carter is a perfect fit for this offense that is set to mimic what LaFleur ran with Kyle Shanahan in San Fransisco. He has a fighting chance to win the starting job and become the team’s primary back sooner rather than later. This drops Coleman’s value to an RB4-RB5 in standard leagues and an RB3 in leagues deeper than 12 teams. It is hard to trust Coleman throughout the season he may get phased out of the offense as the season goes on.