The Output of Free Agent Running Backs
2018 Top 5 Free Agents (by the annual salary of new contracts)
McKinnon signed a 4 year $30million contract in 2018 after leaving the Minnesota Vikings. He was desperately unlucky and was out for two full seasons due to knee injuries, therefore his output was non-existent in 2018 and 2019. The 2020 backfield in San Francisco was crowded which probably explains the lower level of production compared to his 2017 output where for the majority of the season the Vikings had to lean on McKinnon and Latavius Murray to pick up the slack once Dalvin Cook went down.
2017 was a fantastic year for Carlos Hyde. He finished as an RB1 in every format then slid to become an RB4 within a season. Hyde played for two teams in 2018. He initially joined the Browns on a 3 year $15million contract and played 6 games before being traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a 5th round pick. Hyde found his 4th home in 2 seasons when he signed with the Chiefs before being traded to Houston shortly after and had a good season hitting over 1000 yards rushing and finished as a low-end RB2 in standard and a high/mid-level RB3 in half and full PPR. Unfortunately for Hyde, this did not last and he crashed back down to earth in 2020 and didn’t finish higher than RB 54 in any format and 2021 isn’t likely to change as, once again he is on the move, although this time it is in a familiar location as he finds himself back in Jacksonville albeit behind 2nd year back James Robinson.
Dion Lewis had a big change in circumstances moving from 2017 to 2018. He was the lead rusher for Super Bowl runners-up, the Patriots, to sharing a backfield with Derrick Henry in Tennessee. His 2017 season was a great one with Lewis putting up his best yards-per-carry statistics of a year where he played the full 16 regular-season games at 5.0. He crashed back to earth with his worth statistical yards-per-carry year after posting 3.3 in his first year with the Titans. It wasn’t all bad for him, however, as he did not have Rex Burkhead and James White to compete with for targets out of the backfield and we can see he had almost doubled the number of targets and catches in Tennessee. Although there some positives for his game i.e. more receiving work it did see his fantasy value take a hit as he dropped from a borderline RB1 in 2017 to an RB3 in 2018.
In 2019 Derrick Henry fully took over the backfield and Lewis’ share of the work shrunk and after the season he was released and signed by the New York Giants in April 2020. He was originally signed to backup Saquon Barkley and when he went down Lewis split carries with Wayne Gallman, Devonta Freeman, and Alfred Morris. 2019 and 2020 were even worse for Lewis from a fantasy angle with him being unusable in weekly line-ups.
Crowell is the first name on this list that has managed to hold his value since joining a new team as a free agent. He finished as a midlevel RB3 at the Browns and sustained that when signing a 3 year $12million contract with the Jets. In Cleveland Crowell mostly had the backfield to himself finishing with more than double that of Duke Johnson. This situation became murkier when he arrived in New York as he now found himself fighting off Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire, although he managed it fine as he beat their combined total in rushing yards combined.
2018 would be the last time we would see Crowell on an NFL field, however, in the following year he was released to make space for incoming running back Le’Veon Bell. Shortly after his release from the Jets he was signed by the Raiders and then suffered a torn Achilles injury during a team workout and was placed on injured reserve which would end his 2019 season.
Long-time Carolina Panther Jonathan Stewart was made a free agent following the 2017 season and signed with the New York Giants in a deal worth $6.8million. The Panthers were a very run-heavy team with Cam Newton, Stewart, and rookie Christian McCaffrey all having over 100 carries. This limited Stewart and meant he finished as a low-end RB3/RB4 in all formats.
Unfortunately for Stewart - and the Giants- his 2018 season was over after week 3 as he was placed on IR after sustaining a foot injury. The Giants did not take up the option on Stewart’s contact and he became a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. A few months later he signed a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Carolina Panthers.
Other 2018 Free Agent Signings
Chris Ivory- In 2017 Ivory acted mainly as the back-up to Leonard Fournette in Jacksonville and when signed by the Buffalo Bills he was part of a rotation with LeSean McCoy. Neither year was he very relevant for fantasy purposes, finishing as an RB 5/6 in both.
LeGarrette Blount- Blount officially retired in 2020, however, it was actually in 2018 where he played his last games in the NFL. In 2017 Blount was the lead rusher for Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles and then received the most carries in Detroit during 2018, although, he was outperformed by Kerryon Johnson.
C.J. Anderson- This was a drastic change between the two years. In 2017 Anderson ran for 1007 yards with the Broncos before becoming a free agent. 2018 was a rollercoaster for him as he first signed a 1-year contract with Carolina, playing 9 games before he was released. He was signed by the Raiders but was released without playing a game. He finally settled with the Rams playing 2 regular-season games before making it to the Super Bowl where he was on the losing side.
In 2019 Anderson signed with the Lions, however, he was released after only 2 games and then retired shortly after the beginning of the 2020 season.
Adrian Peterson- So far for the 2018 free agent running backs, it hasn’t been great reading. The next two players are exceptions. Adrian Peterson had a difficult 2017 after the Vikings decided not to extend his contract so he would join the Saints on a two-year contract but was traded in October of 2017 to the Cardinals. Between the two teams, he played 10 games which hurt his fantasy output.
In 2018, however, Peterson put it right after he joined Washington following being released by Arizona. In 2018 he managed a 1042 yard rushing season as he shot back into fantasy relevance going from a low RB5 to a mid-range RB2.
Doug Martin- Doug Martin started the 2017 season with a suspension thus only played in 11 games. He was then released after the season ended and later signed with the Oakland Raiders on a (1-year contract) who he played a full 16 game season for in 2018. He was resigned for the 2019 season, however, he was placed on IR and a few days later an injury settlement was agreed and he left the team.
Frank Gore- Frank Gore left the Colts at the end of the 2017 season, ending his three years with the team. He finished as the lead rusher at the team and moved onto a timeshare with the Dolphins where he split time with Kenyan Drake.
2019 Top 5 Free Agents (by the annual salary of new contracts)
We will begin the 2019 free agent summary with one of the most discussed situations of the 2018 season (and then into the off-season). Le’Veon Bell was placed on the franchis