An action-packed game of musical chairs played out at the running back position during the NFL offseason. Todd Gurley is no longer a Ram and Melvin Gordon is no longer a Charger. Between free agency and a loaded draft class, multiple teams made moves at the position heading into 2020. While the moves themselves generate endless discussion, there is an aspect worth diving into.
Similar to Vacated Targets at the wide receiver position, Vacated Carries indicate how many running back carries are available after offseason losses. How many carries did Gurley and Gordon leave behind in L.A.? With the aide of advanced stats and metrics, this information can reveal a glimpse into expectations for this coming season; here’s a look at the top five squads with the most carries unaccounted for.
Houston Texans – 254 Vacated Carries (No. 1)
One of the biggest news items of the offseason was the trade of DeAndre Hopkins. While the elite receiver was the hot topic, another name was involved; David Johnson. The new starting running back for the Texans arrives in Houston where there are 254 carries unaccounted for from 2019. Gone is Carlos Hyde and his 245 (No. 12 among qualified running backs) carries; he joined Seattle in free agency. Lamar Miller is a name of the past.
Another Johnson, Duke Johnson, remains on the team. Though his player profile indicates he has the talent to be an all-purpose back, Houston coach Bill O’Brien has yet to commit. In 2019, with Hyde on the team, Duke managed a disappointing 83 (No. 49) carries, despite averaging 4.6 (No. 9) True Yards Per Carry. For context, Hyde only averaged 4.1 (No. 33) True Yards Per Carry. Duke did, however, chip in with 44 (No. 16) receptions; expect more of the same in 2020.
The incoming Johnson will have lead back duties in Houston like Hyde did last season. If he can stay healthy, he can be productive in the Texans offense while garnering the bulk of the workload. During the first six games of the 2019 season, before he sustained an injury, Johnson finished as an RB1 five times. The veteran is getting older, but volume alone indicates a big 2020 is in the cards.
L.A. Rams – 234 (No. 2)
This offseason, Todd Gurley and the Rams split ways. Losing Gurley, who accounted for 223 (No. 17) carries, is a tough blow. Despite running behind an offensive line that was far inferior to the one that made the Super Bowl run a year prior, Gurley finished 2019 with 14.5 (No. 17) Fantasy Points per Game. The production will be tough to replace, but the Rams have excellent options.
Sophomore Darrell Henderson didn’t impress in 2019, but he’ll have an opportunity to change the narrative this season. With a 4.49 (80th-percentile) 40-yard Dash and a 102.4 (72nd-percentile) Speed Score, the youngster flashes high-end speed. His 8.9 College Yards Per Carry mark ranks in the 98th-percentile. There’s reason to believe Henderson will carve out a role deserving of more than 39 (No. 74) carries.
The team also drafted Cam Akers, a highly-touted rookie from Florida State. At 5-10 and 217-pounds, the former Seminole runs a 4.47 (87th-percentile) 40-yard Dash. He excelled in the Speed and Burst Scores. Akers also garnered a 10.4-percent (78th-percentile) College Target Share en route to a 39.8-percent (89th-percentile) College Dominator Rating. Much like Gurley, Akers’ production in 2019 came behind a porous offensive line.
The Rams also employ incumbent Malcolm Brown. Undrafted out of Texas in 2015, he has yet to make an impact, though his continued employment suggests the team still sees value. However, despite an 11.01 (90th-percentile) Agility Score, there is little to like about Brown’s player profile. He is a replacement-level talent, leaving Akers and Henderson to be the beneficiaries of Gurley’s available touches.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 215 (No. 3)
It may come as a surprise to some, but Peyton Barber tallied 154 (No. 28) carries in 2019. He and Ronald Jones teamed up to account for over 300 touches for the Bucs last season. In 2020, Barber will play in Washington. The remaining Vacated Carries are primarily attributed to former quarterback, Jameis Winston and his 59 (No. 8) attempts. It isn’t probable that Tom Brady racks up even 20 rush attempts, so where do all these available carries go?
While an uptick in touches for Jones is a solid assumption, the addition of rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn provides intrigue at the position. The Vanderbilt product produced a 40.4-percent (90th-percentile) College Dominator Rating while posting upper-percentile marks in the 40-yard Dash and Speed Score. Vaughn’s Best Comparable Player is Dalvin Cook.
Though Jones found some semblance of success in 2019, he didn’t show coach Bruce Arians enough to warrant the bulk of the carries. Dare Ogunbowale will be involved, but is more ideal as a passing down specialist. With the talented Vaughn entering the picture, expect the rookie to make an instant impact; demanding a large share of the available carries.
L.A. Chargers – 191 (No. 4)
The other L.A. team also underwent significant changes to their running back room. Melvin Gordon, the long time Chargers lead back, is now headed to the division rival Denver Broncos. He leaves behind 162 (No. 27) of the 191 Vacated Carries. Fortunately for L.A., they’ve experienced time without Gordon recently due to his holdout at the beginning of 2019. While away, another back was able to make his mark.
Austin Ekeler, an undrafted free agent from Western Colorado State, will take over the starting duties for the Bolts in 2020. At 5-9 and 199-pounds, the fourth year back has impressive workout metrics and was a high-end producer in college; his 45.7-percent College Dominator Rating ranks in the 96th-percentile. Ekeler finished 2019 with 19.3 (No. 6) Fantasy Points per Game despite Gordon returning in Week 5. He drew 108 (No. 2) targets, recording 92 (No. 2) receptions with 993 (No. 2) receiving yards.
Check out Austin Ekeler’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:
Ekeler won’t be the only Chargers back to benefit from the available carries. Third year back Justin Jackson, who boasts an impressive player profile, played second fiddle to Ekeler rather well in Gordon’s absence last season. One stat that pops out is his 2.53 (No. 4) Yards Created Per Touch. Though the two incumbents will garner more carries, there’s a good chance the team’s fourth round rookie will also make some noise.
Joshua Kelley posted a 4.49 (80th-percentile) 40-Yard Dash with a 104.3 (78th-percentile) Speed Score, as well as a College Dominator Rating in the 77th-percentile. There’s a lot to like about the rookie’s profile. At 5-11 and 211-pounds, he has a bit more size than Ekeler and Jackson; a fact that could potentially lead to a Gordon-like role. There are enough available carries to go around that Kelley will be able to produce in year one.
Atlanta Falcons – 190 (No. 5)
Similar to the Rams, the Falcons lost a long-time starter at running back during the offseason. While Devonta Freeman has been in decline the past few seasons, Atlanta featured him as a starter; in 2019 he commanded 184 (o. 21) carries in 14 games. To replace Freeman, the team brought in Todd Gurley, who returns to Georgia after his run with the Rams. The new addition is certain to garner the majority of the available snaps, but there is intrigue elsewhere on the depth chart.
Fourth year back Brian Hill contributed last season when Freeman was hit by injury. Hill does have a solid profile with above average workout metrics across the board, but he lacked efficiency when on the field. Sophomore Qadree Ollison is an average talent with little on his profile to get excited about. The real wild card here is Ito Smith, who has flashed potential but struggled with injuries and consistency.
Smith has a solid player profile with above average metrics and a 4.50 (77th-percentile) 40-Yard Dash. In addition, the third year pro has had a difficult time staying healthy, and his 99.4 Fragility Rating ranks at No. 1 at the position. If Smith can remain on the field, however, his talent level supersedes that of Hill and Ollison, indicating he is the best bet to garner productive carries behind Gurley.