RBs in new uniforms causing fantasy shake-up

Posted April 03, 2010 @ 11:42 a.m.
Posted By Michael Blunda

Thanks to all the restrictions put in place for the uncapped 2010 season — the "Final League Year" — player movement through free agency has not been as prevalent as in years past. However, some marquee names still have found new homes over the past month, making for some interesting fantasy situations.

Most notably, a handful of key running backs have landed in different cities since free agency began on March 5. Here is a look at the five most prominent rushers who have switched teams this offseason and what fantasy owners can expect from them in the upcoming campaign:

LaDainian Tomlinson / Jets (cut by Chargers)
When it comes to the running back position, there's been no one better over the past decade than Tomlinson, the active leader in rushing yards and total touchdowns. However, after turning 30 years old before last season, L.T.'s production declined steeply in 2009, as he had by far the worst year of his career. Diminishing performance coupled with a hefty contract led San Diego to release him in February, but he had a number of suitors and eventually decided on the Jets. Although no longer a statistical stud, landing in New York could allow Tomlinson to still be relevant in fantasy circles. Starter Shonn Greene showed last season that he clearly has a lot of upside, but he's only in his second year and has never before carried the load in the NFL. Even though Leon Washington is also around to handle work on passing downs, there's definitely a spot for L.T. in this backfield, likely as a short-yardage and goal-line option. If he gets around 10 touches per game, he could be a quality flex player in most leagues.

Thomas Jones / Chiefs (cut by Jets)
Over the past two seasons, you won't find many backs who posted better numbers than Jones, who ran for a whopping 2,714 yards and scored 29 times in that span. But with the Jets having younger, cheaper options in Shonn Greene and Leon Washington, they decided that Jones was not worth the money and let him go. With a clear need for a bigger runner in their backfield, the Chiefs scooped him up for a relatively modest sum to pair with '09 revelation Jamaal Charles, giving them one of the league's more impressive one-two punches. The slightly built Charles is still expected to handle most of the early-down work, but that leaves quite a few carries for Jones, whose play has not slowed down at all even at age 31. He'll likely be the guy K.C. goes to when it gets into the red zone or needs tough yards, and if he sees the ball 12-plus times each week, he has the look of a nice No. 3 fantasy back.

Larry Johnson / Redskins (Bengals UFA)
A former fantasy monster, Johnson appeared to be on his last legs before the Chiefs cut him midway through last season. But the 30-year-old ballcarrier appeared rejuvenated running behind a better line in Cincinnati, which added him for the final seven games. He gained 4.4 yards per carry while with the Bengals, allowing him to build his value back up heading into free agency. The Redskins, who parted ways with most of their backfield this offseason, added L.J. to give them a badly needed option outside of Clinton Portis, riddled by injuries for much of '09. Johnson and Portis are expected to compete for the starting job and likely will wind up splitting carries fairly evenly, limiting the upside of either back. Johnson's value is further diminished by Washington's weak offensive line and feeble passing attack, both of which could hinder the running game. However, new head coach Mike Shanahan has worked wonders with running backs in the past, so it's possible that L.J. could surprise. As long as Portis is healthy and seeing roughly half the workload, though, neither member of "Port-a-John" is better than a No. 4 fantasy option.

Chester Taylor / Bears (Vikings UFA)
The most coveted unrestricted free-agent running back on the market, it didn't take Taylor long to find a gig — the Bears gave him a healthy contract on free agency's opening day. Stuck behind arguably the NFL's best rusher — Adrian Peterson — in Minnesota the past three seasons, Taylor has watched his playing time and numbers steadily decline, resulting in just 138 touches for 727 yards and two TDs last year. A move to Chicago, though, should lead to more action and increased value. A skilled, prolific pass catcher, Taylor, 30, should be a perfect fit for Mike Martz's offense, which often sees backs used as receivers. Taylor's exact role, however, is still up in the air, as the Bears have a back in Matt Forté who looked great as a rookie in '08 before falling into a sophomore slump last season. The two could battle for the starting job in camp, although they'll both play either way, probably depending on game situations. Given how much Chicago paid him, Taylor is going to be a major contributor to this offense and could wind up as a decent flex player or better in 2010.

Mike Bell / Eagles (Saints RFA)
Written off after falling out of favor in Denver before the '07 campaign, Bell re-emerged with the Saints last season and had an adequate year in an overly crowded backfield, rushing for 654 yards and five TDs on 172 attempts. The Eagles, lacking depth in their backfield stable after dumping Brian Westbrook, came calling for Bell this offseason, signing him to an offer sheet that New Orleans opted not to match. Although LeSean McCoy remains the likely starter in Philly, there's a clear opening for Bell to fill the role of the pounding, short-yardage back, as McCoy is more of an outside runner and pass catcher. Such a function could lead to Bell finding paydirt often in this potent offense, but he might have to fend off FB Leonard Weaver for goal-line work. If Bell, who turns 27 in April, establishes himself as the definite No. 2 RB in camp, he's someone to keep an eye on in the later rounds of fantasy drafts, as he has sleeper potential.


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