NFL Free Agency Fantasy RB Preview: Le’Veon Bell Prediction, a Top Sleeper and More
Now that the Scouting Combine is finished, the next big marker on the NFL Calendar is the opening of the free agency period on March 13. Here is how the field looks for fantasy purposes at the running back position as NFL teams prepare to pounce on the available options next week. Of course, there is one big name that we know stands out above all the others, but there are other potential difference-makers available for some teams that may not have the cap room to contend for the prime free agent prizes.
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NFL Free Agency Preview: RB
Le’Veon Bell, obviously stands out as the huge marquee acquisition, and fantasy players are looking forward to taking him as an RB1 again in 2019 drafts. A year off may be more of a positive than a negative, as it could mean he will be fresh and also very determined to get back into action. Even if reports of weight gain are somewhat true, as long as he is in shape by the time he reports to training camp, there should be no worries. If you find an owner in a dynasty or keeper league that has Bell-related anxiety, swoop in and make a trade offer.
The Jets are the best fit for him. Only the Colts have more cap space, and Bell is the perfect player to ease pressure on Sam Darnold and also help him as a pass-catcher. Plus, if he eventually boosts the Jets into Super Bowl contention, he would become an icon in New York City and could reap additional financial rewards as a personality and endorsement star. He could be the savior for a long-starved fan base. The Colts have adequate RB options in place and the Eagles have the least amount of cap money of any team in the NFC. If Bell wants to win sooner, though, Houston is fourth in available cap space and has not been mentioned enough as a potential suitor. The Buccaneers need to clear more cap room to be a serious contender, and Oakland has money, but not enough else to surround Bell with for any hopes of winning soon.
Mark Ingram has publicly said he wants to stay in New Orleans, but it makes sense for him to pursue a starting job somewhere else. He has already been rumored to be linked to the Ravens. Ingram is 29 years old but he has not operated consistently as a featured back for most of his career, so spare me worries about age. There is not enough mileage on him yet to start being concerned about a decline in the near future. He could be the missing ideal RB piece for a team like Houston. Ingram could be handsomely compensated if he hits the open market as the top alternative to Bell. He would make a lot of sense for the Jets if they missed out on Bell. Ingram would be a potential high-end fantasy RB2 if he starts somewhere in 2019.
Tevin Coleman is already a rumored alternative to Bell for the Jets, and he would be a disappointment as a consolation prize. He did not take advantage of the chance to prove himself as a No. 1 RB for Atlanta this past season and may not be built for anything more than a timeshare. In New York, he would likely split some work with Elijah McGuire. If you can find a dynasty owner that believes Coleman will shine once he leaves Atlanta, try to trade Coleman to that person. The Bills could afford Coleman and ease him in as LeSean McCoy is phased out, or he could enter into a split role in places like Baltimore or Houston. The Raiders would also seemingly be logical to spend on Coleman as a starter and then see him flame out again. Wherever he lands, I don’t see him as more than a flex play.
Latavius Murray already openly said he wants to start somewhere else and leave Minnesota. A fine goal-line area runner with some deceptive quickness, he could be an option for a team that has an RB need but less cap space or misses out on a big name. Washington, Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia could all be possibilities. A team can do worse than Murray if they are looking for an adequate option.
Mike Davis is a real sleeper candidate that no fans would get excited about acquiring, but he could turn out to be the top gem from this year’s RB free agent class, He was both versatile and productive whenever the Seahawks pressed him into service, especially in 2018. He is 26 years old and has not been more than a backup or spot starter until now, but deserves an opportunity to compete for more playing time outside of Seattle. He could be a very nifty find for a cap-strapped team like Philadelphia, which could watch him emerge from a committee situation, or for the Bills, who may see Davis shine if McCoy cannot stay healthy. The Buccaneers could also use Davis as the stopgap until Ronald Jones is ready to blossom, but he may seize the job and not give it back if he gets it. If Davis finds his way to opportunity in 2019, you could see pretty good production. He is a great low-level dynasty trade target and later Best Ball selection.
C.J. Anderson seemingly has earned a shot to leave the Rams and contend for a starting job after he performed well down the stretch and in the playoffs for Los Angeles. But if the Rams do have reservations about Todd Gurley’s health, they could push to keep him. Anderson would likely welcome the opportunity to start anywhere after bouncing around the league in 2018, making the Raiders a possible top destination, as they would maybe offer him the most money combined with the lure of the largest potential workload. He could also be seen as a missing piece in Philadelphia or Tampa Bay.
Jay Ajayi is expected to be gone from Philadelphia and may have to sign a “prove it” deal with another team. We have all seen how effective and sometimes explosive he can be when he is healthy, but staying on the field has been an obviously big issue for him. He’s a risk, but one that could produce well at times. Ajayi could be the type of guy who signs later on when some team is in need of depth because of another injury. If the Redskins cannot count on Derrius Guice to return any time in the near future, Ajayi could be worth the add.
More players and situations to watch: Washington could also give Adrian Peterson another go-round, or AP could play wait-and-see to possibly land in another situation where he gets a lot of work . … T.J. Yeldon and Bilal Powell are good fits for teams with complementary pass-catching needs at RB. … There is no solid indication yet if Marshawn Lynch wants to continue playing, and he still has fantasy RB3 appeal if he does. … Spencer Ware is a free agent, as is LeGarrette Blount. I would watch where both of those guys land as possible handcuffs or fantasy depth pieces. … If the Bears trade Jordan Howard, they could possibly get into the free agent mix for a complement to Tarik Cohen. … If the Ravens do not go after Ingram, they may want to do better than Gus Edwards/Kenneth Dixon, and Alex Collins is already gone, so they could be aggressive players as well. … Ultimately, the Eagles could be forced to wait until Draft Day to truly address their RB needs.
Scott Engel is an inaugural member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s Hall of Fame and a four-time award winner. He was one of the driving content forces in the rise of RotoExperts.com and was the lead host on the RotoExperts in the Morning for six years on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. He was also instrumental in the launch of the FNTSY Sports Network. Scott was the first-ever Senior Writer and Managing Editor at CBS SportsLine and won a company Hall of Fame Award. He was also an Associate Editor and Fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He has been the featured Fantasy Writer on Seahawks.com since 2012 and his work has been syndicated to the Associated Press, NFL.com, New York Daily News, New York Post, Yahoo Sports, Bloomberg Sports, Sports Illustrated and many others. He is a credentialed media member who won an FSWA award in 2016 for his Insider Fantasy Reporting. Known as “The King”, Scott is on Twitter @scottTheKing
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