Old Faces In New Places: Running Backs
John Tuvey
July 25, 2012
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OTHER POSITIONS:  Quarterbacks  |  Wide Receivers  |  Tight Ends

Vincent Jackson swapped coasts, Brandon Marshall rejoined Jay Cutler in Chicago, and Peyton Manning is now a horse of a different color. As your summer wraps and you return your undivided attention to football, here’s your one-stop shop for all the notable fantasy players who changed teams this offseason.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals

Cedric Benson is out in Cincinnati, so the Bengals brought in BJGE to pick up the slack. But while Law Firm has been a much more prolific scorer (13 and 11 touchdowns the past two years; Benson has never tallied more than seven in a season), he’s also not the workhorse Benson has been. In 2010 Green-Ellis carried a career-high 229 times, and he’s averaged 12.7 carries per game in New England the past two seasons. Benson averaged 17.8 carries a game or better each of his four years in Cincy, 19.8 per game for that span, and toted the rock 20 or more times in exactly half of his 56 games as a Bengal.

Not saying that BJGE can’t be a feature back, but his track record (six career games of 20+ carries, never in back-to-back weeks) gives no indication that at age 27 he can suddenly start carrying the load. The Bengals also have Bernard Scott and have talked about giving him a larger share of the backfield duties; Benson’s departure gives them the opportunity. Bottom-line, simply penciling in BJGE for Benson’s numbers is overly optimistic; the Huddle’s current 31 ranking for Law Firm hedges those bets appropriately. 

Peyton Hillis, Chiefs

Remember when Hillis went off in Cleveland in 2010? Thirteen total touchdowns, 1,654 yards from scrimmage, the cover of Madden… it was epic. Brian Daboll remembers; he was the Browns’ offensive coordinator as Hillis was blowing up, and as the Chiefs’ new OC he and Hills are once again reunited, and it feels so good.

Sure, the Chiefs already have Jamaal Charles but he’s a scatback coming off a knee injury who even in his busiest year averaged just 14 carries per game. Given Daboll’s familiarity with Hillis and the 60/40 split he used with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas last season Hillis certainly appears destined for more than just handcuff duties. The Huddle’s 39 ranking for Hillis suggests an RB4, but in the USA Today Sports Weekly mock the Huddle participated in July 24 Hillis went in Round 7—and not to the Charles owner, either. With no threat of wearing down, a coach who knows him, and a back who’s not going to take 20 carries off the top of the workload, Hillis may be a bargain at his current price.

Michael Bush, Bears

For a while there it looked as if Chicago’s signing of Bush might be the most fantasy relevant of the offseason, with the Bears and Matt Forte sparring over a contract. But even though Forte agreed to terms, there are reasons to view Bush as more than just insurance.

You can start wit the fact that Forte is coming off a knee injury that prematurely ended his 2011 season. By all accounts he’s in great shape for the start of training camp, but it’s a knee and it’s a running back—two compelling reasons to ease back on Forte’s workload. One way the Bears might do that is by using the 245-pound Bush at the goal line. Chicago OC Mike Tice frequently used players other than his feature back at the stripe during the four seasons he headed up the Vikings offense, and Bush is at least as talented guys like Moe Williams and Ciatric Faison, who led Minnesota running backs in rushing scores during Tice’s tenure. Bush could certainly step into a feature role if Forte goes down again, but the upside to his 43 ranking is as a potential goal line guy; those in TD-heavy scoring systems should plan accordingly.

Le’Ron McClain, Chargers

McClain joins the Chargers as a fullback, and there may be a mild temptation to slot him as a replacement for Mike Tolbert. After all, there was that one season back in 2008 where McClain was a hybrid feature/fullback for the Ravens, producing 907 yards and 10 touchdowns on 231 carries (a shade under 15 per game). In the three seasons since, however, McClain has totaled 89 carries for 316 yards and three TDs, reverting back to a primarily fullback role.

With Tolbert gone the Chargers’ backfield will be the Ryan Mathews show, but he’s missed six games in two NFL seasons and some consider him soft. However, Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle are more likely to pick up any slack Mathews might leave. McClain could catch some passes out of the San Diego backfield, stealing Jacob Hester’s thunder, and at 57 in the Huddle rankings McClain is the next Charger back after Mathews. However, that 57 also strongly suggests a belief that Mathews will inherit most of Tolbert’s touches, and if Mathews does go down it will be more of a committee approach than a straight line of succession.

Mike Tolbert, Panthers

Speaking of Tolbert, he leaves the sunshine and job share of San Diego for… the job share of Carolina. Tolbert took less money for the opportunity to return to his native South and raise his daughter, but as far as carries go they’ll be much more difficult to come by behind Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Cam Newton. The Panthers say they’ll find ways to use Tolbert, but with a current Huddle ranking of 69 he’s no longer viewed as the double-digit TD scorer he has been the past two seasons.

Brandon Jacobs, 49ers

Jacobs was the junior partner in the Giants backfield the past few seasons, but his carries per game have been on steady decline—from 18 in 2007 to 15 in 2009 to 10 a game last year. Leaving the pass-happy Giants for the run-heavy 49ers is a step in the right direction; however, San Francisco’s offseason moves—signing free-agent receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, drafting speedy running back LaMichael James—suggest they’re looking for something more explosive than what Jacobs brings to the table. Jacobs’ current 73 ranking is closer to last year’s 49er backup Kendall Hunter (79) than to either James (52) or starter Frank Gore (13), a taste of the hurdles he’ll need to clear to return to fantasy relevancy.

Mike Goodson, Raiders

With Greg Knapp and his 500 rushing attempts now calling the plays in Oakland, and Darren McFadden a sketchy-at-best bet to fill maybe half that total, there is fantasy value in the Raider running back depth chart. Two years ago in Carolina Goodson was called on for a pair of 20-carry games and produced 100-plus yards in each outing; last season he didn’t carry the ball once. The Huddle currently has Taiwan Jones (46) as the favorite for non-McFadden touches in Oakland, but if (when) Run DMC goes down expect more of a committee approach than a one-man show. The Raiders are also rumored to be in the market for Cedric Benson, who would likely leap to the second slot of Oakland’s RB depth chart if he signs. So while there’s an opportunity in Oakland, a Huddle ranking of 77 indicates Goodson isn’t in a great position to take advantage.

OTHER POSITIONS:  Quarterbacks  |  Wide Receivers  |  Tight Ends

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