Fantasy football still revolves around running backs, no matter how many quarterbacks throw for 4,000 yards and no matter how many receivers rack up 1,000 yards.
Several well-known running backs have signed as free agents with new organizations, so many in fact that I had to divide them into two separate fantasy columns. This is the second column about how well these running backs will fare fantasy-wise with their new teams.
So here are five more running backs that signed with new teams in the offseason and what their fantasy projections are for 2014:
Chris Johnson, New York Jets
Rex Ryan’s Jets needed speed on offense as badly as Johnny Manziel needs a party planner. The team certainly got speed in spades by signing quarterback Michael Vick, wide receiver Eric Decker and Johnson during the offseason.
Johnson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the first six seasons of his NFL career, and he topped the 2,000-yard plateau in 2009. He has also racked up more than 2,000 receiving yards and 58 total touchdowns so far in his career. Even last year, when some fantasy owners thought he had an off-year, Johnson managed 1,422 combined yards and 10 touchdowns.
Do not fret about Johnson having to share carries with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell in New York. He was at his fastest and freshest early in his career when he was spelled during games by the infamous LenDale White. Limiting his touch total to 15-18 per game should be ideal for his body. Johnson has proven in recent years that he is not as explosive when he has a heavy workload.
One thing that will be music to fantasy owners’ ears is not having to hear Johnson whine about his blockers. After a couple of years with leaky lines in Tennessee, Johnson will be running behind an above-average offensive line headed by Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold.
Johnson is not going to break the 2,000-yard barrier again, nor will he score double-digit touchdowns. Ivory and Powell will take too many carries away from him. That does not mean Johnson’s fantasy value will be nil, though, especially in distance leagues where he should break off a couple of long touchdown runs.
Projection: 1,052 rushing yards, 250 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Donald Brown, San Diego Chargers
Brown changed his image in 2013. Known to fantasy owners as a first-round flop who could never get on the field due to injuries and ineffectiveness, Brown rushed for 537 yards and a career-high six touchdowns as he easily outplayed Trent Richardson and was Indianapolis’ top tailback down the stretch.
While Brown’s fantasy value might have been better served if he stayed in Indianapolis and played semi-regularly while Richardson slow-stepped his way to second-string on the depth chart, he decided to sign with San Diego to be part of a three-headed rushing combo.
Brown’s competition for carries in San Diego is the never-dependable Ryan Mathews and sturdy third-down back Danny Woodhead. Mathews stayed healthy for a change last season and rushed for a career-best 1,255 yards. I would love to knock Mathews and say he cannot stay healthy and be productive two years in a row, but how can I when I can say the same thing about Brown?
Is Brown around as Mathews' insurance, or is he there to make sure Mathews does not get injured? Either way, Brown’s fantasy value is directly tied to Mathews. Woodhead’s touches do not affect the situation. If Mathews stays injury-free for a second straight season, Brown’s fantasy value gets speared.
Projection: 655 yards and five touchdowns.
Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars
I never knew there was a market for Gerhart, who has only shown that he is very good at watching Adrian Peterson break tackles from the sidelines during Gerhart’s four years in the NFL. Credit his agent for landing him a multi-million-dollar deal in an age when the NFL pays running backs like they are dishwashers.
Jacksonville must have liked something it saw on film about Gerhart. Maybe the Jaguars went back to his highlight reels from his Stanford days, or they noticed something special when Gerhart would spell Peterson. Gerhart did average 4.7 yards per carry as a part-timer during his tenure with the Minnesota Vikings.
Gerhart has no competition at the current time in the Jacksonville backfield. Unless Fred Taylor comes out of retirement or Denard Robinson gets the hang of being a tailback, Gerhart should get plenty of touches. He could go from 36 rushing attempts last year to 200 this year.
Gerhart enters the 2014 season as one of the biggest question marks and one of the most intriguing stories at the running back position in fantasy football. He could turn out to be a battering ram that pummels linebackers and churns out 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, or he could be the Shonn Greene of 2014. I favor closer to the former.
Projection: 878 yards and seven touchdowns.
Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins
Moreno really got the short end of the free-agent stick this offseason. Now that running backs are as highly thought of as waterboys in the NFL, Moreno had to settle for a ho-hum contract with Miami after coming off a season in which he amassed 1,538 combined yards and scored 13 total touchdowns in Denver.
I did not think Lamar Miller was all that bad in 2013, but obviously Miami was not sold on him or Daniel Thomas and thought bringing a veteran like Moreno into the fold would solidify the position. While this might stabilize Miami’s backfield, it will neutralize Moreno’s fantasy value.
Moreno can do it all. He can play on all three downs thanks to his pass-catching ability and pass-protection skills, he can run inside or outside and can find the end zone when given the ball down by the goal line. If it were 1979 or even 2006, Moreno would be a top-10 fantasy RB.
Moreno is well-known by injury experts. He missed 20 games between 2010 and 2012 before suiting up for all 16 contests in 2013. He is due for another major injury after his Brett Favre routine last season.
Moreno should be Miami’s main man heading into the season, but Miller, Thomas and Moreno’s banged-up body will prevent him from netting back-to-back 1,000-yard years.
Projection: 742 yards and five touchdowns.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland Raiders
Jones-Drew looked like a Tesla that had not been plugged into an electric socket last season. His 3.4 yards per carry was the lowest of his storied career, and he only had one 100-yard rushing game throughout the year.
Jacksonville’s substandard offensive line was no help, and defenses stacking the line because they laughed at the thought of Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne passing made Jones-Drew’s life harder, but there was no doubt MJD downshifted into a slower gear last year.
Jones-Drew signing with Oakland and teaming with Darren McFadden sounds interesting if you block out the notion that either could get injured. McFadden could probably pull a hamstring walking to the store or throw out his back after a sneeze.
Jones-Drew has been not been as unlucky during his career, but he did miss nine games in 2012 with a serious foot injury and has not been the same runner since. But this arrangement could be beneficial to both Jones-Drew and McFadden if splitting the carries keeps them fresher, faster and healthier.
If MJD bowled over defenders for 1,200 yards, I do not think most fantasy owners would be surprised, yet if he only ran for 500 yards at a 3.3 yards per carry clip, that probably would not shock people, either. I am going to pick a number in the middle.
Projection: 830 yards and six touchdowns.
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