by Kit Vidulich
Last year’s off-season was devastating to managers of mid-tier running backs who were supposed to have high upside. After the 2019 season, players like Kerryon Johnson, Mark Ingram, Darrell Henderson, Damien Williams, Marlon Mack and Phillip Lindsay all found themselves vying to become the next great high upside RB2. Unfortunately, the draft and free agency tanked the values of this group. While some did not totally lose their value, at this point you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who is excited about rostering any of these guys. In contrast, I believe that some players like David Johnson or Ronald Jones whose values had sunk so low last off-season, that they offered a great upside play for contending teams looking to make a push.
While last year may have been a little bit of an exception given the strength of the rookie running back class, I think it can serve as a lesson as to how we should approach any off-season. With that in mind, let’s dive into some tips about how to handle your roster’s running backs during the offseason, and call out some specific players that I think are particularly valuable to target and some who are better to trade away.
Trade away RBs without a strong hold on a starting position.
Currently, there are a number of running backs who had promising seasons, seem to have a fairly strong reputation and value on the basis of that performance, but still have a major risk in regards to their role next year. Most commonly I look for “name brand” players who are still valued highly, or young players with little draft capital who flashed for a number of games in a row. To be clear, none of these are sure things to lose their job or lose value, but it appears they are being valued much closer to their upside than their downside, and to me, it seems a lot closer to a 50/50 chance that they hold their value, if not worse.
Myles Gaskin looked legitimately good in his stretches between injuries. He finished 11th in points per game in half-ppr format, and showed some serious pass catching chops. While most projected Jordan Howard and Matt Breida to lead the backfield to open the season, Gaskin went off for 169 all purpose yards in week 2 and was basically established as the lead back. He missed a few games due to injury, but later returned to the lead role and had two strong performances to end the season. I think Gaskin will have a role next year, but Miami is flushed with picks. Their defense is set and the offensive line is in a place where they can afford to use a fairly early luxury pick on a back, and they have the cap space to sign a back like Aaron Jones to lead the charge. Most trade calculators value him somewhere between 2.01-2.03*, and I’ve seen a number of posts on Reddit trade threads indicating they would not move him for less than a late first. If someone in your league is willing to take on the risk for a pick in that range, especially in a draft where I believe there are a minimum of 18 quality prospects in Superflex formats, I would advise you to jump all over it!
After a disastrous start to the year in week one, Conner actually turned in a respectable year when healthy. Looking only at the games he played more than 46% of snaps (10 games), Conner averaged 15.5 half ppr points, which would have been good for RB15 in ppg. However it is just that extensive injury history–not always serious but often nagging and lingering–along with his contract situation that make his situation so risky. Teams generally don’t want to pay running backs real money on a second contract unless they are a transcendent talent. The Steelers, in particular, refused to meet the contract demands of reigning First Team All Pro Le’veon Bell, and Conner has not shown that he’s the type of talent to break that mold. Additionally, the Steelers are very squeezed with the reduced cap, and have other key players on expiring contracts they’d rather spend their money on in Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, and maybe even JuJu Smith-Shuster. That being said, I think Conner still carries some name value to many in the community. I’ve seen him traded for 2nd round picks (usually late), but I’d most like to use him as a sweetener to upgrade a position (maybe an Aiyuk or Claypool type and him for one of the 2020 rookie RBs that has looked promising).
This one stings because I really like Chris Carson and have rostered him in many redraft and dynasty leagues. I think he’s an undeniably great running back who is just awesome to watch. He has adapted his game to become a plus pass catcher compared to where he was two years ago, but the more we hear out of Seattle, the more it seems he won’t be re-signed. With that in mind, I begin to think he’s someone you should look to move while that perceived value is still high. I don’t think he’s quite good enough, young enough, or injury proof enough that we can project him moving to another team and taking over a bellcow role. I believe that the most likely outcome is that he signs somewhere else that is less devoted to the run, with a less prolific offense, and is in a timeshare, even if he is the 1A. Given his injury history and that he is currently being traded for a late first (you may have to throw in a sweetener now as rookie hype is building). Now seems like the perfect time to say farewell to a loyal soldier like Carson.
Zach Moss & Devin Singletary
This one is a little tougher because I am less sure that people in your league will actually value these guys high enough for it to be worth cashing out. I generally won’t trade any RB with even an outside shot at the 1A role in an offense for a third, even if that shot is a pretty long one. But I do think there are still truthers out there for both of these players. To be frank, though, I don’t like their situation. On top of cannibalizing each other for rushing work, Josh Allen has really acted as the primary goal line back. I’m not sure how much stock to put into pundits predicting they draft an RB early, but I’ve read it enough that it counts as an additional concern for me. Again, I’m not trading them away for nothing, but you probably drafted Moss between 2.03-2.06 in Superflex. If you can recoup that or even a later second and get a mulligan, I would advise you to do so.
Look for RBs the community has given up on, with a potential path to touches, or have highly volatile situations.
Look for players who have disappointed, have had nagging injury issues, or are older with a path to opportunity. They have shown talent at one time and don’t have an unreasonable path to a meaningful role, but they’re being treated as if they don’t.
Penny is my number one offseason target. This is tied to my belief that Carson will likely sign elsewhere, and this article probably comes a month and a half too late to truly capitalize on Penny being undervalued. It’s also tied to my belief in Penny’s talent. When on the field his first two years he absolutely flashed, and looked poised to challenge Carson for the starting role right before he tore his ACL two years ago. I was able to acquire him for what became 3.02 in one league, and more recently Logan Thomas in a non-TE premium league. He burned his managers, who likely used a very high rookie pick, and then watched him fail to earn the lead role his rookie year. After that he continued to sustain injuries, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many. As the buzz about Carson leaving has picked up, I’ve noticed his managers starting to value him with his upside in mind, but I still think there are plenty of opportunities to get him for cheap. I mentioned earlier I wouldn’t move any RB with a chance at a 1A role for less than a second, and I would also look for any RB with that potential for a third. With Penny, I think I would be willing to give up about 2.10 value or later if really pushed, but don’t think you need to do that at this point. The injury and competition concerns exist, but on a team whose coach has publicly stated he wants to recommit to the run, I think his upside will shine beyond his current consensus value.
David Johnson (Again!)
This is definitely a risky pursuit, but I think that there is both a decent chance that the Texans roll him back out there as the primary starter in a lost season, and that he can be acquired for a late third. He was actually very solid when he played last year (16th(!) in PPG in 12 games, despite leaving after the first drive in one of those games) and won some managers (Me!) a championship with his great performances in the playoffs. He’s not flashy anymore and I wouldn’t want to rely on him, but the stink of the Texans and his age means you could potentially acquire a viable flex for virtually nothing.
Phillip Lindsay has always passed the Good at FootballTM test for me. He runs hard, has great vision, and has enough speed to make a defense pay when they mess up. Last year was kind of a lost year for Lindsay between turf toe and hip injuries. He was coming off of back to back top 20 RB seasons to start his career, but saw his value dip somewhat with the addition of Melvin Gordon. With the addition of Gordon, who seems poised to remain on the team this year, his upside will likely continue to be capped. However, Gordon hasn’t been a picture of health throughout his career, but the addition of a more competent quarterback than Drew Lock (or far less likely, a leap in performance from Drew Lock) could set up a high powered offense that opens up more opportunities for all weapons. I think Lindsay has a good chance to offer value somewhere between weekly and occasional flex use, with added upside if Gordon were to miss any time. I think a lot of managers would part with him for an early third or a player of that value, especially if it’s a player that fills a need on their roster.
*All rookie picks are represented as 12 team Superflex picks
Kit Vidulich – Writer
Ride or Dynasty