The NFL Draft is the last big roster-shaping event on the offseason calendar, and in the weeks that follow we have a much clearer picture of what 2020 rosters will look like than we did at the end of the 2019 season. Of course, that doesn't mean everything is decided on, and especially at the running back position where we saw LeSean McCoy land with the Chiefs and Carlos Hyde move from Kansas City to Houston in August of last year, and both of those veterans played a role in the 2019 Fantasy Football story.
Predicting those types of moves can be difficult, but it's a useful exercise to consider heading into an uncertain summer. At the same time, it's not unprecedented for teams to have thin-looking running back depth charts, and being early on predicting potentially valuable handcuff roles can have its usefulness. I'm less inclined to make that type of speculation in Best Ball leagues, but in deeper Dynasty formats it's always worth filling out the last few roster spots with guys who could find some stand-alone value or potentially be an injury away from a starting job.
The biggest veteran backs still on the free agent market this offseason are Devonta Freeman, Hyde and Lamar Miller, all of whom are either 28 or 29 years old. There are a couple on the wrong side of 30, like McCoy and Marshawn Lynch, who has recently been connected to the Seahawks, and several potential pass-catching options like Theo Riddick, Ty Montgomery, Devontae Booker and others. I'm going to go team by team, quickly notating what the current backfield outlook is and what it could be by Week 1, 2020.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills draft rookie Zack Moss in the third round, and there's talk he could work in on early downs and fill the Frank Gore role. Devin Singletary and Moss will likely form a 1-2 punch, with T.J. Yeldon still around as the third back.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins gave Jordan Howard a solid $4.75 million guaranteed in free agency, then traded for Matt Breida on Day 3 of the draft. Expect the duo to work in tandem ahead of Miami's returning names from 2019. Patrick Laird could still figure into a passing downs role.
New England Patriots: New England added UDFA JJ Taylor out of Arizona, but the top of their depth chart looks unchanged with Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead leading the way, and 2019 third-round pick Damien Harris yet to make an impact.
New York Jets: Fourth-round pick La'Mical Perine will compete for backup touches with Trenton Cannon, Kenneth Dixon, Josh Adams and perhaps most importantly the recently-added Frank Gore. Le'Veon Bell remains the clear starter.
Baltimore Ravens: Mark Ingram is joined by second-round pick J.K. Dobbins, who fits well in the Ravens run-pass option (RPO) offense after succeeding in a similar offense at Ohio State. Baltimore likes to rotate backfield touches, but the addition of Dobbins thins the potential touches available for Gus Edwards and Justice Hill considerably.
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Mixon is on a contract year and is a holdout candidate after back-to-back 1,400-yard seasons. He's backed up by Giovani Bernard and 2019 sixth-round picks Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson.
Cleveland Browns: Kareem Hunt returns, and his presence notably cut into Nick Chubb's receiving work in the second half of last season. The duo is backed up by Dontrell Hilliard and D'Ernest Johnson, who both had brief flashes as pass catchers during Hunt's 2019 suspension.
Pittsburgh Steelers: With James Conner suffering through an injury-plagued 2019, Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell were fairly average as replacements. Pittsburgh added fourth-rounder Anthony McFarland in the draft, and McFarland's 4.44 40-yard dash should provide a spark in what could be a wide open backfield in a contract year for Conner. Conner still projects as the lead, of course.
Houston Texans: The Texans paid a pretty penny to acquire David Johnson, and if that trade agreement and the contract they took on are any indication, they must hope he can return to his elite 2016 production. He's backed up by Duke Johnson and little else.
Indianapolis Colts: Second-round pick Jonathan Taylor will compete with contract year player Marlon Mack for early down work, while Nyheim Hines still figures to lead the way on passing downs. Mack's days look to be numbered while Taylor looks like the future workhorse for the organization in 2021 and beyond.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars tried to trade Leonard Fournette and declined his fifth-year option, meaning he'll be a free agent after the 2020 season. He's backed up by 2019 fifth-rounder Ryquell Armstead, 2019 UDFA Devine Ozigbo and several 2020 UDFAs, most notably James Robinson from Illinois State. Veteran pass-catcher Chris Thompson figures to cut into Fournette's 100 targets if Fournette is indeed on the roster for the whole 2020 season, but he'll also be a potential in-season trade candidate. Armstead looks like a priority handcuff at this stage, but it wouldn't be surprising to see another free agent land here.
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry is back on the franchise tag, while backup Dion Lewis is gone and replaced by third-round pick Darrynton Evans out of Appalachian State. Evans is an athletic 203-pounder, and should be a similar undersized change of pace to the role Lewis played.
Denver Broncos: The Broncos added Melvin Gordon over the offseason, a year after Royce Freeman handled more passing downs work and Phillip Lindsay was the clear leading rusher. Expect Gordon to take over those passing downs and also cut into Lindsay's early-down work, but the shape of Lindsay's role might not change much. Freeman looks headed toward a role as one of the league's best No. 3 backs.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kansas City made Clyde Edwards-Helaire the only first-round back in the draft, and he figures to compete with Damien Williams for the lead role right away. Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson return as depth, but the Chiefs also added free agent DeAndre Washington from the Raiders, plus Elijah McGuire in a lower-profile move. All of these backs will not be on the Week 1 roster.
Las Vegas Raiders: The Raiders gave efficient pass-catching back Jalen Richard $3.375 million to return this offseason, plus they announced third-round pick Lynn Bowden — who mostly played slot receiver and quarterback at Kentucky — as a running back. Josh Jacobs remains the lead back but his passing game role is still in question.
Los Angeles Chargers: Gordon is gone, and the Chargers added fourth-round rookie Joshua Kelley in the draft. Austin Ekeler's new contract ensures he'll be the lead back and remain in his high-value passing downs role, but how much early-downs work Kelley and/or Justin Jackson take remains to be seen. The Kelley/Jackson No. 2 battle will be one to watch.
Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders had a huge late-season role ahead of Boston Scott as the primary No. 2, and Jordan Howard is now gone after his 2019 injury opened up that structure. Scott was an effective PPR option, while Sanders would be an easy top-10 back in that setup. Veteran Corey Clement and UDFA Michael Warren are the most interesting names currently behind them, but the bigger concern is Philadelphia landing one of the free agent veterans between now and Week 1.
Washington Redskins: My pick for the most muddled backfield in the league, Derrius Guice remains the likely lead option in a committee if he can stay healthy. The most intriguing names behind him are dynamic rookie Antonio Gibson, taken in the third round of the draft, and Bryce Love, the 2017 Heisman runner-up while at Stanford who followed that up with an injury-plagued 2018 that ended with a late-season ACL tear. That injury cost him what would have been his 2019 rookie year, but Washington still invested a fourth-round pick in him last year knowing that was the likely outcome, and he could play a role in 2020 if he's back to full health. Then Adrian Peterson returns, and Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic joined in free agency.
Chicago Bears: The Bears have little depth at RB and David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen look likely to reprise their 2019 roles, though Chicago could certainly add a veteran at some point. Ryan Nall is currently the only other back on the roster.
Detroit Lions: Second-round pick D'Andre Swift is the big addition, but Detroit also added undersized-but-explosive pass-catching option Jason Huntley in the fifth round. Kerryon Johnson missed most of 2019, but is a former second-round pick himself with two years left on his rookie deal, and he figures to compete with Swift for the majority of the work. Most of Detroit's 2019 contributors are back as well in Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson and Wes Hills, but none figure to factor into the equation too much, with the possible exception of Scarbrough as a goal-line option.
Green Bay Packers: Second-round pick A.J. Dillon was one of the shocking picks of the draft, and assuming the Packers have a plan for the 247-pound back, it likely spells bad news for Aaron Jones trying to repeat his 19 touchdowns from 2019. Jamaal Williams could still figure in on passing downs, as the Packers have preferred him as a pass blocker to Jones, and Dillon doesn't profile there.
Atlanta Falcons: Todd Gurley replaces Devonta Freeman as the lead back, but his workload will be is a big question. Atlanta added no backs in the draft and just one UDFA, so the backup role appears to be an open competition between Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison and Ito Smith. Freeman could feasibly find his way back as a late offseason veteran addition.
New Orleans Saints: After a high-ankle sprain limited him in 2019, Alvin Kamara returns to the same role with only 30-year-old Latavius Murray and Dwayne Washington as significant options behind him. Murray should again have some standalone value.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn gets praise for his pass blocking, which is something Bruce Arians cited as a factor in limiting Ronald Jones' 2019 role. Jones figures to play on early downs, with Vaughn the passing downs back, but seventh-round pick Raymond Calais, Dare Ogunbowale or a free agent addition could also find snaps.
Arizona Cardinals: Arizona moved on from David Johnson and guaranteed Kenyan Drake a healthy $8.483 million on the transition tag. Drake figures to remain in the lead back role he took over after being acquired midseason in 2019, while Chase Edmonds and seventh-round pick and pass-catching option Eno Benjamin will compete for No. 2 duties.
San Francisco 49ers: We know San Francisco will rotate backs, but it appears likely 2019's late-season top option Raheem Mostert will start the season as the No. 1, and Tevin Coleman will be the clear No. 2 and involved from the jump. Matt Breida is gone, and Jerick McKinnon will try to return to his first regular season snaps since 2017 alongside Jeffery Wilson and a trio of UDFAs as the depth options.
Seattle Seahawks: Chris Carson is hoping to return from a hip injury, while Rashaad Penny suffered a December ACL tear and may not be ready by Week 1. Behind them are Travis Homer, fourth-round pick DeeJay Dallas and potentially Marshawn Lynch. This backfield is fluid as we await more information on Carson's and Penny's rehabs.
Los Angeles Rams: Second-round pick Cam Akers profiles as a three-down back who should be the favorite to replace Todd Gurley, but 2019 third-rounder Darrell Henderson and veteran Malcolm Brown will likely round out a three-headed backfield.
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