As we close the book on the 2017 season, it’s time to take a look at 2018’s free agent market. In this series I will identify free agents I find fantasy relevant, rank them by position, and include my projected landing spots. As each player is signed to a contract I will give that player a specific write up providing you with everything you need to know about their fantasy value in their new home.
Le’Veon Bell, 25
In Le’Veon Bell’s first 5 seasons he has played a full 16 games only once. Nearly every game missed was due to suspension.
Through Bell’s first 3 years with the Steelers he averaged 18 carries per game. His number of carries per game jumped to 21 in 2016, and 2017. Paired with the 106 targets in 2017 it started to feel like the Steelers were trying to get their money’s worth while they still could.
Bell managed to gain only 23 more yards in 2017 despite having 60 more attempts than 2016. He also had only 10 more receptions in 2017 despite playing in 3 more games than the previous season. Bell in undoubtedly a generational talent, with running backs around the country trying to emulate his patient run style, but his decline suggests that this massive workload is starting to wear on him.
Bell played under the franchise tag in 2017 and suggested prior to the AFC Championship game that he would not do so again. He even went as far as to suggest he’d either sit out the 2018 season or retire if Pittsburg attempted a second tag.
Another franchise tag would cost the Steelers approximately 14.5 million. With only around 3 million dollars in projected cap space, the Steelers are currently in no position to tag Bell. They will have to make some key cuts to “Keep the band together” for one more run at the Super bowl, but there’s a better than zero chance that we see Bell elsewhere in 2018.
The Browns have an outrageous 111 million dollars in cap to go along with their 2 top 5 picks in the draft. I’d like to see the Browns sign Bell, draft their QB of the future for the first pick, and draft Minkah Fitzpatrick at fourth overall. Cleveland has 8 more picks in the top 5 rounds after the 1st and 4th they can use to fill out the rest of the holes in their roster.
Carlos Hyde, 26
Carlos Hyde has earned himself a starting job somewhere in 2018. He’s proven his versatility and ability to adapt by transforming his play with the acquisition of head coach Kyle Shanahan. In Shanahan’s offense, Hyde doubled his previous career high receptions and receiving yards from 27 to 59, and 163 to 350 respectively.
Hyde has also gotten it done on the ground. He rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in each of his last 2 season. In 2016, he was on pace for over 1,200 yards had he not missed 3 games to an A/C joint sprain and an MCL tear.
He’s only 26 years old and has an ADP of 41.5 according to DLF’s December ADP data. At his current market value of RB15, Hyde is being undervalued.
San Francisco edges out Cleveland for the most projected cap space in 2018 with 115 million. Though they have the money, I see this coaching staff moving on from Hyde. They seem to like what the saw from the rookie Matt Breida, and also have Joe Williams whom Shanahan reportedly “pounded the table” to draft.
I’d love to see Hyde land in Indianapolis. With Josh McDaniels coming over from the Patriots and what he was able to do with Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, and James White, I’m sure he will capitalize on Hyde’s versatility. The arrow is pointing up for Andrew Luck’s shoulder recovery. With an offense led by Luck, T.Y. Hilton and Carlos Hyde the Colts may just right the ship in 2018.
Isaiah Crowell, 25
When describing Isaiah Crowell I would not go as far as to say he is talented but I would say he presents an amount of upside. In 4 years with the Browns he has not missed a single game. His carries have increased in each season since coming in to the league, capping off at 206 in 2017.
In 2016, Crowell had 952 yards rushing along with 40 receptions, and 319 receiving yards. In 2017 he rushed for 99 less yards, and caught 12 less passes for 137 less receiving yards. His dip in production between the past two seasons likely came in part with the increased usage of Duke Johnson, who saw career highs in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and total touchdowns this past season.
Crowell is only 25, and has shown superior physicality when used as a feature back. He would likely need to remain a part of a comittee but could still see the volume to produce RB2 numbers.
If the Giants trade back from their 2nd overall pick as they should, to address their subpar offensive line before they draft a running back, then they would be a great fit for Crowell. He could be paired with one of those young backs in Darkwa or Gallman to provide affordable productivity. Unfortunately, New York will likely draft the NFL’s shiniest new toy in Saquon Barkley and keep a below average offensive line for him to run behind.
Jerick Mckinnon, 25
Jerrick Mckinnon came out of college as a quarterback with impressive measurables. He rushed for 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last season with the Georgia Southern Eagles. In his first 2 season’s in the NFL after converting to running back, he was mostly a mixed bag. He was viewed predominantly as a change-of-pace back. Through his last 2 seasons his usage has settled out.
With 2016 and 2017 combined McKinnon averaged 154.5 attempts per year while averaging just 3.6 yards per attempt. Over that same two year span he averaged 47 receptions a year while averaging just 338 yards receiving.
The Vikings brought in veteran running back Latavius Murray to replace Mckinnon, and be their workhorse. Minnesota then jumped on the opportunity to draft Dalvin Cook as he fell farther than expected in the draft. Mckinnon then found himself as 3rd on the depth chart coming in to 2017.
Dalvin Cook excelled early in his rookie campaign before tearing his ACL in week 4 against the Lions. This injury presented an opportunity for Mckinnon to showcase himself prior to his 2018 free-agency and he did show flashes in spot duty.
Mckinnon has expressed interest in being a featured back but will likely end up playing a 3rd down role similar to that of Washington’s Chris Thompson. If the Titans end up releasing Demarco Murray due to his large contract, then McKinnon could fit in nicely with Derrick Henry in the Tennessee backfield.
Dion Lewis, 27
In Dion Lewis’ 3 years with the Patriots he has been electrifying, but he had not registered a full 16 games until 2017. In fact, in 2015 and 2016 combined Lewis only totaled 14 games played. The injury issue had become a concern and it showed early in the 2017 season with his limited usage by the Patriots coaching staff.
With addition of Rex Burkhead, and the usage of James White, Lewis was able to register a full 16 game season. He had 180 attempts for 896 yards, and 3 touchdowns, while averaging 5 yards a carry. He also has proven to be dynamic in the receiving game, catching 32 of his 35 targets for 214 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Lewis has the ability to be a 3 down back, but perhaps not the durability. Considering Burkhead would likely be the cheaper of the two options at running back, it would be the “Patriot way” to keep him. With that being said, New England won’t pay two backs so Lewis is likely going to be sent packing.
Lewis would fit in nicely in Washington with Chris Thompson in the 3rd down role. Rob Kelley and/or Samaje Perine would take some of early down pressure off to recreate the rotation the patriots used to keep Lewis healthy. The Redskins have 52 million in projected cap for 2018, though that will change once the agreed upon trade for Alex Smith goes through in March.
Rex Burkhead, 27
Playing only 10 games in the 2017 season, Burkhead had 64 carries for 264 yards, and 5 touchdowns on the ground. He also had 30 receptions for 254 yards receiving, and 3 touchdowns through the air.
Burkhead fits the perfect Patriots “Swiss army knife” roll. He could play on any down, rushing from the “I” formation, route running out of the back field, splitting out wide for deep routes, and even plays special teams. In the second half of the 2017 season Buckhead also took on a short yardage roll, totaling 13 rushes inside the 10 yard line.
The Patriots want the most “bang” for their buck. Although I see Dion Lewis as the better NFL running back, the Patriots are likely to keep the cheaper more versatile option. If Lewis walks and the Patriots get a deal done with Burkhead the two backs will switch positions in my rankings.
For all your favorite running backs that I had “forgotten about” please check in next week for “Free Agent Market: Running Backs (Deeper Dive)”.