It is hard to be a productive running back in the NFL these days thanks to the dreaded running back by committee systems more teams are employing and with passing numbers at record highs.
Quality running backs are flooding the NFL while the league is valuing them less and less. Running backs hardly ever get drafted in the first round or are among the highest paid players in the league anymore.
But even though quarterbacks, offensive tackles, defensive ends and receivers are worth more on the open market in the NFL, running backs still rule the roost in fantasy football.
This offseason has not been kind to many running backs thanks to new teammates or new situations, and their fantasy values are going to suffer for it in 2014. Here are four running backs whose fantasy values have gone down during the offseason.
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
If you think the 49ers selected Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde in the second round of the NFL draft so he could come up with ideas for Colin Kaepernick’s next tattoo, think again. While Gore has been a dependable warrior, rushing for over 1,000 yards in seven of the past eight seasons, the team knows the tread on his tires has to be getting thin.
Gore’s 4.1 yards per carry in 2013 was the lowest of his storied career. It is time to lessen his workload and freshen his legs, and giving the ball to Hyde 8-10 times per game is the way to do accomplish both.
Gore’s competition in recent years has been weaker than Floyd Mayweather’s. Kendall Hunter? Anthony Dixon? LaMichael James? Hyde is a true threat to Gore reaching the 1,000-yard plateau in 2014, though. Look for Gore’s touches to go down this season and for him to be phased out in 2015 if Hyde shows he can be the top tailback.
Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Ivory went from being a fourth-string back in New Orleans to splitting the starting duties with Bilal Powell in New York last season. The well-deserved playing time translated into a career-high 833 yards and a 4.6 yard-per-carry average for Ivory. His between-the-tackles, rough-running style meshed nicely with New York’s bruising blockers.
But just when Ivory thought he was on the verge of his first 200-carry campaign, the Jets signed Chris Johnson. Johnson has averaged 290 carries per year in his six NFL seasons. He likes having the ball in his hands…a lot. And because the Jets desperately need speed on offense, Johnson should receive plenty of touches, and probably more than Ivory.
A Johnson-Ivory tandem could be awesome if used correctly by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Johnson can be the lightning, Ivory can be the thunder and Powell can be shuffled in on third downs occasionally. But unless the usually durable Johnson breaks down, Ivory’s fantasy worth will take a huge Ed Reed-like hit.
Bryce Brown, Buffalo Bills
It feels like only yesterday that Brown was subbing for a concussed LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia and breaking tackles like Gale Sayers. During a two-game period in 2012, Brown rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns, which made fantasy owners happier than Richard Sherman is when a microphone is put in front of his face.
Brown did not do much last season, however, as McCoy kept himself healthy and left Brown on the sidelines. And after Philadelphia signed Darren Sproles this offseason, Brown was traded to Buffalo for a draft pick. Now his value has dropped quicker than California Chrome’s.
Brown now has to battle C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson for carries and receptions. Things could turn out well for Brown when the smoke clears. Spiller gets banged up so often you wonder if he is Darren McFadden’s twin, and Jackson is 33 years old and could run out of gas at any moment.
Brown’s fantasy value is tied to simple math. In Philadelphia, he was No. 2 on the depth chart behind McCoy. In Buffalo, he is No. 3 on the depth chart behind Spiller and Jackson. Feel free to stash him on your roster in dynasty leagues though, because Spiller or Jackson probably will not be with the Bills in 2015 and Brown could have a chance to become the featured back then.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
“The Law Firm” already lost fantasy value last year with the arrival of phenom Giovani Bernard. Green-Ellis went from being a 1,000-yard rusher to a 750-yard rusher thanks to Bernard injecting himself into the offense with his breakaway speed and his pass-catching ability.
If Bernard was not enough of a nuisance to Green-Ellis’ fantasy value, Cincinnati went and selected LSU’s Jeremy Hill in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft. Now not only has Green-Ellis lost his spot as Cincinnati’s most valuable running back to Bernard, he may fall to third in the pecking order behind Hill, who is a pound-between-the-tackles back like BJGE is.
Green-Ellis is what he is: A dependable, straightforward runner who does not fumble, does not get injured and has a knack for getting tough yards and scoring touchdowns. He is not flashy. He does not break long runs or many tackles. You know what you are going to get with him, and while it is decent, it is not amazing.
But if Hill pans out and runs in the NFL like he did in the SEC, then Green-Ellis has two younger backs stuffing him down the depth chart. He might be better off getting released during training camp as a salary-cap casualty and getting a chance with another team not loaded with young runners. Green-Ellis could be down in the 400-600-yard range if he stays in Cincinnati.