No better time to start preparing for next fantasy season
While most of the sports world remains in hiatus, NFL free agency marches on. Agents are wheeling, teams are dealing and I am feeling the excitement for next season take over my entire being. Since the last edition of The Spectrum came out on March 12, there have been a lot of changes in the NFL. Arizona stole one of the best receivers in the NFL, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick split and the NFLPA agreed to the new collective bargaining agreement. With so much to cover, I’ll start with the position that will take up 50 to 80 percent of your draft’s first round: running back.
Head Coach Bill O’Brien became the most hated man in Houston when the Texans sent WR DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona for David Johnson. Hopkins, who has been an all-pro receiver three years in a row, is in the midst of his prime. Johnson, on the other hand, seems to be falling out of his prime. The Humble Rumble led the league in scrimmage yards in 2016 and hasn’t been the same since his 2017 wrist injury. On the field last season, he didn’t look as electric as he used to.
Now in Houston, he has a chance for a fresh start. Carlos Hyde, an outdated RB himself, eclipsed 1000 yards as a Texan last year. Johnson could be great next year, but he has to stay healthy. He fought through back and ankle injuries in 2019 and was ultimately phased out of the system towards the end of the year. I would consider him in the early-to-mid third round of your draft.
On the other side of the equation, RB Kenyan Drake signed with the Cardinals. In eight games with Arizona last season, Drake had eight touchdowns and over 800 scrimmage yards. He should be taken in the second round, and I won’t be surprised if he’s gone at the end of the first.
To the surprise of many, Todd Gurley, who signed a four-year deal in 2018, was released by the Rams. The Falcons picked him up on a one-year deal, and at the same time released Devonta Freeman. Much like David Johnson, Freeman has been underwhelming over the past few years. It feels a little like Atlanta traded Devonta Freeman for a slightly-fresher Devonta Freeman.
With Gurley comes major injury concerns. The Rams pulled back the reins on Gurley at the end of 2018, and his usage was limited in 2019 as well. He has arthritis in his left knee that will plague him for the rest of his career. Los Angeles all but removed him from their receiving game last season for seemingly no reason. I expect Atlanta to use him appropriately. He should be gone in the middle of the second round, but I won’t take him unless he falls to the back of the second. Devonta Freeman’s value depends on where he lands in free agency. Todd Gurley’s role in LA belongs to Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson or potentially an incoming rookie.
In a head-scratching move, the Broncos signed Melvin Gordon to a two-year deal worth $16 million. Denver’s backfield already has Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, two young backs with a lot of promise. With Gordon there, I’m not comfortable drafting any of them. Gordon will probably go in the third and Lindsay will go in the fourth. There’s potential for a three-back rotation here on a team that might not even crack the top 16 in offensive production. Do yourself a favor and don’t draft any of them. With Melvin Gordon gone, Ekeler figures to be the lead back for the Chargers. I’m expecting LA to make a move in free agency or in the draft to acquire a goal-line back unless they believe Justin Jackson is that guy. Ekeler should be taken in the early third round in PPR leagues and the mid-third in standard leagues.
Lost in the commotion of the other news, Howard signed with the Dolphins on a two-year deal. Can you name more than one RB that played in Miami last season? Kenyan Drake, Patrick Laird, Kalen Ballage and Mark Walton are acceptable answers. Howard is going to have a majority of this backfield to himself. Miami is in rebuild mode, and they can’t afford to spend high draft capital on the running back position. Jordan Howard is a sneaky fantasy option this season. Sure, he won’t catch many passes, but he’s going to find the endzone. I suspect he’ll go in the fifth round or something, and I’m comfortable adding him there as a flex option with RB2 upside.