Ideal Fantasy Landing Spots for Top Free Agent RBs

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystJune 13, 2013

Ideal Fantasy Landing Spots for Top Free Agent RBs

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    There are certain universal truths in fantasy football.

    One of them is that no matter how pass-happy the NFL becomes, running backs are always going to rule the roost.

    Whether it's the dwindling number of true "bellcow" backs, the injuries that shake up the position every year or just the personal preferences of fantasy owners, any running back with a pulse and a shot at playing time is going to be rostered in fantasy leagues.

    Sometimes, even backs that don't have jobs have fantasy value.

    For instance, fantasy owners who rolled the dice on Ahmad Bradshaw finding work were handsomely rewarded this week, as their lottery-ticket pick now has RB2 upside as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

    With that in mind, what landing spots could make the top remaining unemployed ball-carriers fantasy relevant again?

    Let's hop in the "what if" machine and find out!

    We're stopping at Quik Trip on the way though...I want a chili dog.

Willis McGahee

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    When the Denver Broncos drafted Montee Ball in April, many pundits speculated that the selection spelled the end of Willis McGahee's time in the Mile High City.

    That speculation came to fruition on Thursday. As ESPN reported, the Broncos parted ways with the 31-year-old to no one's surprise. That included McGahee himself, who said "I knew it was going to happen. It is what it is. They are going younger."

    McGahee gained 731 yards in 10 games last year before a knee injury ended his season, but McGahee put up nearly 1,200 yards the season before and says the knee is now 100 percent.

    From a fantasy perspective, an ideal landing spot for the 11th-year veteran might involve both a reunion of sorts and the chance for McGahee to stick it to the Broncos twice a year.

    Former Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is now the head coach of the San Diego Chargers, and starting tailback Ryan Mathews has shown a maddening inability to stay on the field for the Bolts.

    The addition of Danny Woodhead in free agency gives San Diego a third-down back, but McGahee would be a huge upgrade over Ronnie Brown as Mathews' backup.

    At the very least McGahee would be a much better "handcuff" for Mathews owners. If Mathews goes down (which has a tendency to happen) McGahee would vault into low-end fantasy RB2 consideration, the same territory he occupied the last two years in Denver.

    Best-Case Landing Spot: San Diego Chargers

Michael Turner

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    Running back Michael Turner gained over 6,000 yards and scored 60 rushing touchdowns in five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.

    However, age, injuries, and a heavy workload have conspired to rob the 31-year-old of his explosiveness, and at this point in his career, Turner is very much a plodder.

    That was evident during the 2012 season, when Turner gained a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.

    There hasn't been much interest in Turner to this point in the offseason. However, the 10th-year pro isn't ready to say "uncle" just yet, telling Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com after his release that "I have a lot left in the tank."

    At some point some NFL team will probably come calling, although it may take a training camp injury for this to happen.

    In fantasy, it might be best if that call comes from a name from Turner's past.

    Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner coached Turner in 2007 while the two were in San Diego, and there just might be a spot for Turner in Cleveland.

    Starter Trent Richardson struggled with knee and rib injuries during his rookie year, and now a shin injury may sideline him until August.

    Turner is a shadow of the back he once was, but were Richardson to go down, Turner could at least move the chains behind Cleveland's strong offensive line.

    That is, if Turner can show that he's recovered from the knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship game, of course.

    Sure, it's not a huge bump in fantasy value, but Turner in Cleveland would at least provide Richardson owners with a viable handcuff pick as insurance on their first round investment.

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Cleveland Browns

Beanie Wells

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    Of the backs we've listed so far, only Chris "Beanie" Wells has been invited in for a workout, although McGahee will no doubt generate plenty of interest in his own right.

    As John Breech of CBS Sports reports, the Jacksonville Jaguars had Wells, who gained 234 yards in eight games for the Arizona Cardinals in 2012, in for a visit.

    Granted, Wells was nothing short of awful last year, gaining a dismal 2.7 yards per carry. Durability has also been a major issue for the former Ohio State star throughout his NFL career.

    However, Wells is a former first-round pick and a player who topped 1,000 yards rushing in 2011. More importantly, he's shown when healthy to be a talented young back who is both fast enough to pick up yardage outside, and strong enough to be successful between the tackles.

    Meanwhile, the Jaguars have more than a little uncertainty at the running back spot.

    Maurice Jones-Drew still hasn't returned to the practice field after his 2012 season was cut short by a foot injury. He also showed up out of shape for OTAs according to ESPN, and spent part of the offseason rehabbing his fist into a security guard's face.

    The Jaguars are thin behind Jones-Drew, and assuming he's healthy, Wells would provide Jacksonville with some badly-needed depth behind the NFL's leading rusher in 2011.

    Wells would also offer fantasy owners gambling on Jones-Drew an insurance policy of sorts, albeit a sketchy one. In fact, were Wells to land in Florida, he could be an interesting late-round flier given Jones-Drew's uncertain status as things stand today.

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Jacksonville Jaguars

Kevin Smith

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    Frankly, it's a little surprising that there's been absolutely zero news regarding free agent running back Kevin Smith, who Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk recently made the starting tailback for PFT's "All Unemployed team"

    After all, Smith is only 26, he's a versatile back capable of picking up yardage as both a runner and receiver, and he's produced when afforded the opportunity over the past couple of seasons in Detroit.

    However, Smith has had trouble staying healthy, and the lack of interest may be due to a physical issue.

    Were Smith to be able to show he's healthy, then the sixth-year pro would be a good fit in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers.

    Sure, running back Doug Martin was a revelation as a rookie in 2012, but the depth chart behind the "Muscle Hamster" is pretty ugly.

    Smith would immediately move into a role as Martin's primary backup, could serve as a change of pace back as well, and would provide fantasy owners who spend a top-five fantasy pick on Martin with a solid handcuff.

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cedric Benson

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    Despite that fact that Cedric Benson topped 1,000 yards on the ground in three straight seasons from 2009-2011, and that the 30-year-old was relatively effective with the Green Bay Packers a year ago, it's been mostly crickets where news about Benson is concerned.

    That may be due to the Lisfranc injury that ended Benson's 2012 season, although Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk reported back in April that Benson was nearing 100 percent in his recovery from the injury.

    Granted, even a fully healthy Benson is a plodder, but a team that's been scraping the sides of the veteran barrel all offseason long would be well served to take a look.

    When Darren McFadden is your starting running back, depth is a priority.

    Yes, the Oakland Raiders drafted Latavius Murray to serve as McFadden's backup. However, Murray apparently is studying McFadden a bit too closely, as he's already hurt.

    Rashad Jennings, who came over in free agency, was horrible in Jacksonville last year, averaging a miserable 2.8 yards a carry.

    Benson would provide the Raiders with some cheap depth, and fantasy owners waiting for the inevitable McFadden injury with a speculative late-round running back.

    Best-Case Landing Spot: Oakland Raiders