There was a lot of movement this NFL offseason. That means there will be many different teams and players impacted in the fantasy football landscape. I’ve put together this series “Familiar Faces in New Places,” and you can view the rest of the series by clicking on the links below:
Now, let’s take a look at some familiar running backs in new places:
DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles & Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia Eagles
The conversation of running backs in new places has to start in Philadelphia, where the Eagles brought in not one, but two starting caliber running backs into the fold.
DeMarco Murray was a beast last season in Dallas, but did Dallas squeeze every last bit of effectiveness out of Murray, who had 403 regular season carries last season?
Statistically, the biggest impact for Murray moving from Dallas to Philadelphia will be in workload. The Eagles run a lot of plays, about 71 per game, but only ran the ball 42% of the time, compared to 49% in Dallas. Between the extra plays the Eagles run and the percentage difference, it amounts to one fewer rush per game for the Eagles.
However, the bigger workload impact will come in the Eagles’ habit of sharing the carries and the presence of the other free agent signing, Ryan Mathews.
Last season, former Eagles RB LeSean McCoy played every game and got 320 of the Eagles 477 carries, 67%. If the Eagles hold to even that level of sharing, it would amount to a 335 carry workload for Murray, leaving 155 carries for Mathews.
So what does that mean for Mathews? Last season, Mathews averaged 4.5 yards per carry, more than a full yard better than the Chargers’ team average. The Chargers were also graded out as the worst rush blocking team in the league, per Pro Football Focus. The best? The Philadelphia Eagles. That Mathews was able to excel behind a line that didn’t bodes well for his impact with the Eagles.
So with a shared workload built in and DeMarco Murray possibly feeling the effects of a 400 carry season, we could see Mathews emerge if given more of a chance, making him a great value.
If they both played a full season and the shared workload in Philadelphia was the same as last season, it would work out to Murray getting 1500 yards rushing and Mathews around 775 yards rushing.
Summary: The move devalues Murray a little from last season’s epic workload, but should still be solid and Mathews is in great position to be a sneaky value in 2015.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Alas, poor LeSean McCoy. Unlike his high profile brethren Murray and Mathews, McCoy heads to a much less savory opportunity in Buffalo.
Whereas the Eagles were the top ranked run blocking offensive line, the Bills were second to worst, and there was little done over the offseason to make that appreciably better. Bills backs ran for a miserable 3.7 yards per carry, including less than three yards per carry their last three games.
McCoy is a top flight talent, but there aren’t many running backs who can automagically make an offensive line block better. Making matters worse is the fact that the Bills quarterbacks are Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel, two of the 15 worst QBs from 2014 as rated by Pro Football Focus.
Further complicating things for McCoy is the presence of long time running back Fred Jackson, who has outlasted Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller in Buffalo and may be the kind of gritty guy new head coach Rex Ryan would love to have around and bleed some carries from McCoy.
Summary: McCoy is still a top running back, but his situation is such that it depresses his value, both in seasonal leagues and in DFS. Beware overpaying for his talents.
C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints
What to do with CJ Spiller? The perennial tease has left the scars of his time with the Buffalo Bills behind him and has signed on to be the dynamic back in the Saints system to Mark Ingram’s battle-ram role.
The Saints threw the ball to their backs a whopping 25.3% of the time and departed free agents Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet accounted for 106 targets that now must be filled. So we aren’t confused whether this volume is aberrant, Reggie Bush (2007-2009) and Darren Sproles (2011-2013) averaged a pace of 100 targets per year while they were filling this role, both being solid fantasy options while not being the bell cow back.
Spiller’s skill set is very similar to those two former Saints pass catchers and Sean Payton is already talking up the way Spiller will fill that role for his offense.
Summary: As long as Spiller stays on the field, he should have great success in New Orleans as both Bush and Sproles were top 20 PPR fantasy backs throughout their tenure as Saints.
Shane Vereen, New York Giants
Vereen was a tremendous pass catching back in his own right while employed with the current champs, the New England Patriots. Vereen finished as a top 30 PPR fantasy back in the last two seasons due to his receiving prowess.
The Giants threw the ball to their backs 16% of their 606 pass attempts, leaving Vereen ample opportunity to contribute. The Giants, with a new offensive attack last season, finished 11th in pass attempts per game.
Summary: Vereen was signed by the Giants to fill a specific role in their offense and it’s a role that he’s done well already with the Patriots, meaning that Vereen will have the chance to repeat his top 30 PPR running back numbers for a third straight year.
Shot in the Dark: Travaris Cadet, New England Patriots
A long shot in this mix, Cadet brings super low cost, potentially valuable production to the table. Playing in New Orleans, Cadet graded out well in pass catching and was targeted 43 times by Drew Brees in 2014. With the aforementioned Vereen taking his particular pass catching skills to the Giants, it leaves a gap where Cadet may just fit in well.
The Patriots threw the ball to their RB on 17.6% of their pass plays and Vereen accounted for 72% of those, leaving a significant role to fill. Cadet’s competition for this spot is James White, which is to say, not much, as White was a target for five passes all of last season.
Summary: If Cadet emerges as the third down back, he’s in position to take a great share of Shane Vereen’s Top 30 fantasy point per game production.
Two More Familiar Faces For The Road
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Lest we all think that Gore was finished last season, he graded out positive for the season running the ball and still average 4.3 yards per rush. However this was behind the third best offensive line in the league and the Colts, while not horrible or even bad, are at best average up front, leaving more to Gore’s well-worn tires.
Summary: Gore will get the opportunities that Trent Richardson, now in Oakland, was getting, which was 162 carries last season.
Darren McFadden, Dallas Cowboys
As we discussed up in the DeMarco Murray area, the Cowboys graded out as second best in run blocking last season. Oakland, for whom McFadden rushed for last season, was third to worst. McFadden was not blameless, however, as he carried a worse yards per carry mark (3.4) than the team itself (3.7) and he graded out extremely poor running the football, separate from the offensive line, grading out as the fifth worst back that carried 25% or more of his teams’ carries.
Summary: Dallas is hoping McFadden can be the top back, but both Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar graded out higher than McFadden last season and has been outperforming him in OTAs. He’s all name right now and very little fantasy value other than the volume of opportunity. If Randle and Dunbar are better, he won’t even get that.