The Fallout of Roster Cuts at the Running Back Position

by The “Mad Chatter” Ryan MK, September 8, 2020

Every year, fantasy gamers keep a watchful eye on NFL rosters as the cut deadline approaches. Which late round rookies impressed enough to stay on their respective teams? What veterans were salary cap casualties? While there is nothing normal about the 2020 offseason, this aspect remains unchanged. With the deadline now in the past, a dissection of the results is necessary. We can use PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats and metrics to see how we should play the roster cut fallout for fantasy purposes.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Leonard Fournette trade rumblings could be heard throughout the offseason, but died down in recent weeks. Then the Jaguars flat out cut the veteran running back, opting to go with the youth in their backfield. Fournette did make it through waivers unclaimed, but reached a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shortly after. Jacksonville has made it known that a rebuild is in order, and the continued jettison of talented players acts as confirmation. Though there is a good chance the Jaguars add a running back in free agency or the draft next offseason, 2020 will be an audition for the remaining backs on the team. Devonta Freeman recently had a visit, but did not sign a contract. That leaves three names to monitor in Jacksonville this season.

Backfield Roulette

At 5-11 and 220 pounds, Temple product Ryquell Armstead boasts an impressive 4.45 (91st-percentile among qualified running backs) 40-yard Dash and 112.2 (94th-percentile) Speed Score. His 11.31 (59th-percentile) Agility Score is average, though his 108.0 (7th-percentile) Burst Score leaves much to be desired. Armstead’s 4.2-percent (17th-percentile) College Target Share is also a concern; a complete back he is not. Armstead is currently on the COVID list, opening the door for the other backs in the room.

Ryquell Armstead Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

An undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, Devine Ozigbo initially signed on with New Orleans in 2019, only to find his way to Jacksonville later in the season. His profile isn’t overly exciting, but he holds high Burst Score and Agility Score marks, with a 7.1 (93rd-percentile) College YPC and a 9.4-percent College Target Share.

Devine Ozigbo Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Another undrafted free agent, James Robinson joined the Jaguars this year and looks to make his mark right away. At 5-9 and 219-pounds, he lacks speed but has college production to back up his case. In his senior season, he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 18 touchdowns, recording a 48.7-percent (98th-percentile) College Dominator Rating.

James Robinson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The Jacksonville backfield might look entirely different in 2021, but this year’s group can certainly provide fantasy value. While there are reasons to like both Ozigbo and Armstead, Robinson is the back to own here. With an FFPC ADP of 302.25, he is as cheap as they come. Not to mention, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone praised Robinson’s camp and admitted it aided in the decision to cut Leonard Fournette. Wheels up.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The new-look Buccaneers have been hard at work all offseason. After signing future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Tom Brady, they added Rob Gronkowski to the offense. Tampa Bay is priming for a Super Bowl run, but questions remained concerning the running back position. Aside from mainstays Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale, the Bucs added Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais in the draft, as well as LeSean McCoy in free agency.

Tampa head coach Bruce Arians must have had some questions about the position himself; the team signed Leonard Fournette after the vet cleared waivers. While this answered some questions, it also raised others. Jones truthers refuse to believe the signing is an indictment on the back’s play, but rather for added depth. Perhaps Vaughn is struggling to prove his worth. Others believe the Fournette addition says more about the Bucs’ third year back.

Ronald Jones vs. Leonard Fournette

With Dare Ogunbowale and Raymond Calais released, LeSean McCoy a shell of his former self and Ke’Shawn Vaughn yet to impress, the backfield comes down to Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette for now. Despite yielding a 5.9 (69th-percentile) College YPC, Jones has yet to prove he can produce at that level in the NFL. In 2019, he averaged 3.9 (No. 33) True Yards per Carry with a +2.2 (No. 33) Production Premium. The former Jaguar was worse in both categories last season, despite the better production.

Both Fournette and Jones faced over 7.0 Average Defenders in Box last season, as well as the No. 5 and No. 6 Stacked Front Carry Rates. One key difference between the two was volume; Fournette finished with a 91.7-percent (No. 2) Snap Share, 265 (No. 7) carries and 100 (No. 4) targets. Jones ranked much lower in all three categories.


Check out Leonard Fournette’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:


 

Where Fournette has the advantage is in the passing game. While playing for LSU, he averaged an 11.9-percent (85th-percentile) Target Share. He’s been just as good in the NFL. In 2019, he posted 522 (No. 5) receiving yards on 76 (No. 5) receptions. Jones hasn’t proven he’s capable. His College Target Share falls in the 18th-percentile, while his usage in the NFL to this point speaks volumes.

Coach Arians has previously stated he’d like a more complete back. Despite the Jones hype this offseason, there is a reason the Bucs went after Fournette; they are all in for 2020, and that “complete” back may prove significant. Fournette’s pass-catching chops give him the season-long edge. However, the rookie Vaughn must not be ignored. His player profile alone is reason to practice patience.

Washington Football Team

From an organizational standpoint, the Washington Football Team have had one hell of an offseason. From a new coaching hire to the decision for a name change to accusations of sexual harassment in the workplace, the brass in Washington are surely in need of respite. With the start of the season ramping up, perhaps the games being played will bring some sign of progress for the NFC East bottom dwellers. Speaking of games being played, the running back position will be one to watch in Washington. With Derrius Guice cut early in the offseason due to legal issues, Adrian Peterson became the leader of the backfield. However, Peterson was a casualty of roster cuts and eventually landed in Detroit. According to the vet, coach Ron Rivera has his eye on one player in particular; Antonio Gibson.

David Johnson 2.0?

There is reason for the excitement around Gibson. His player profile reveals elite speed; his 4.39 40-yard Dash ranked in the 98th-percentile, his 122.8 Speed Score in the 99th. Listed as a wide receiver during his final year at Memphis, he rushed the ball 33 times for 369 yards, in addition to his 735 receiving yards. This “hybrid” type of player is what has coach Rivera thinking of the next Christian McCaffrey. Not so fast.

Antonio Gibson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

While the idea of Gibson is appealing, he’ll have to prove it on the field. While he may be in the perfect spot to do so, the other backs can’t be ignored; Bryce Love, in particular. Though the Stanford product is a bit of a “black box” prospect due to the lack of workout metrics, there is intrigue here. In his junior season, Love rushed for over 2,100 yards with 19 touchdowns. A knee injury derailed his senior season and cost him workouts at the NFL Combine. Now healthy, this is an opportune time to make his mark.

Bryce Love Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The other backs on the roster, Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic, must be mentioned, as well. McKissic is more of a depth player, but Barber might see some action early. However, he was nether efficient nor productive with his opportunities in Tampa Bay. This backfield will showcase Gibson, with a dash of Love, by mid-season.

Honorable Mentions

Peterson to Detroit- Adrian Peterson’s arrival in Detroit is, in part, due to familiarity with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, whom Peterson played under with the Vikings. In addition, the coaching staff seemingly has no faith in Kerryon Johnson, and rookie D’Andre Swift is battling an injury. Though Peterson is far past his prime, last season he recorded 11 (No. 8) Breakaway Runs and 77 (No. 11) Evaded Tackles with a 33.8-percent (No. 2) Juke Rate. Good enough to be a nuisance, but not a threat to Swift.

Bowden traded to Miami- While not technically a roster cut, Jon Gruden and company decided they had no need for the third round rookie. It seems the attempt at converting to running back wasn’t working out. In Miami, Lynn Bowden is running with the wide receivers, which is the position he played in college. A black box prospect with little college production aside from one season, heis worth stashing to see what he becomes in Miami.

Rams cut Kelly- The significance here is more about who the Rams kept, rather than the release of John Kelly. Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown figure to spearhead the backfield, but Darrell Henderson looked good before suffering an injury. The hype around Akers is justified, but any of the other three backs behind him could ascend to the No. 2 chair. That’s where Xavier Jones comes in. At 5-11 and 208-pounds, Jones is yet another black box prospect. However, there must be something coach Sean McVay saw to keep the undrafted free agent over Kelly, who has a better player profile than Brown. His College Dominator Rating and Yards Per Carry were lowered by his injury-riddled junior campaign at SMU, but he averaged a 9.6 (71st-percentile) Target Share. Stash him; in this offense, his ascension is possible.