Running Backs Who Can Be Reborn with Fresh Starts

by The “Mad Chatter” Ryan MK · Fantasy Football

Once upon a time, trades in the NFL were not a common occurrence. For the NBA and NHL, trading is a fundamental aspect of team building. The trade deadline brings excitement to fans as teams scramble to improve their squads for a playoff run, or offload costly players to save cap space. In recent years, trading has become more prominent in the NFL as general managers and coaches take cues from other leagues.

Over time, the sport has evolved; teams have adjusted their approach to team building. Due to how the salary cap and rookie contracts are structured, teams have found the benefit of playing younger talent. This has impacted the running back position significantly. Teams are less likely to pay an aging back, instead choosing to rely on inexpensive players on their rookie deals.

In addition to the added potential of players contracting COVID-19 this season, injuries are expected to be higher in a year with no preseason and a lack of training camp time. A contender could lose a starter, or maybe a team decides they need to juice up their run game. There are a handful of running backs that could find themselves in new homes by season’s end. PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats and metrics can help illuminate what a fresh start would mean for their fantasy stocks.

Leonard Fournette

Whispers of a Leonard Fournette trade swept through the offseason, yet no deal has been made to this point. It’s clear the Jaguars are content with working on a rebuild, putting Fournette’s future in doubt. This despite a productive 2019, where he finished as the RB13 in fantasy football. Not to mention he faced 7.1 (No. 4 among qualified running backs) Defenders In the Box and had a 32.1-percent (No. 5) Stacked Front Carry Rate. While he has played well since being drafted, he has finished as an RB1 in fantasy football only once.

It’s possible Fournette fulfills the final year of his contract with the team before moving on to free agency in 2021. However, a split between he and the Jaguars might be exactly what both sides need. Jacksonville would receive compensation they otherwise wouldn’t if Fournette left in free agency. They’d also have the opportunity to observe the younger backs on the team. The change would give him the chance to reestablish himself as a quality starter in the league.

Any team that trades for the fourth-year back will expect production; and Fournette will have to be damn good to garner a lucrative second contract. By declining his fifth year option, the Jags have shown that he is not in their future plans. A trade would benefit both parties now and into that future. The addition of a player of Fournette’s caliber would provide instant payoff to any offense.


Bringing in Nick Foles at his salary almost guarantees he sees the field in Chicago at some point, if not right away. The veteran quarterback will provide consistency to an offense that has struggled under Mitchell Trubisky. Though they have playmakers at receiver in Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, the team lacks punch at running back.

David Montgomery disappointed in his rookie year with the Bears, and might be more suited for a depth role. His workout metrics revealed concerns, and his efficiency in 2019 was lackluster at best. Unlike in Jacksonville, loaded boxes and stacked fronts weren’t an issue for the Bears offense. Chicago is two years removed from winning the NFC North, and adding Leonard Fournette would put them squarely in the mix in 2020.

Le’Veon Bell

Le’Veon Bell’s dominance as a runner seems a distant memory in 2020. His time off, and subsequent signing with the Jets, has not produced the results Bell or his fans expected. Jets coach Adam Gase hasn’t exactly rolled out the welcome mat; rumors from last season claimed he wasn’t thrilled about the Bell signing. Recent reports from this year’s camp have Gase indicating new addition Frank Gore will get a decent workload to lessen Bell’s. Yikes.

It’s fair to question if Bell can still produce at a high level, however. In 2019, he averaged 3.2 (No. 62) True Yards Per Carry and 4.0 (No. 51) Yards per Touch. In fairness, the offense struggled for most of the season and went without quarterback Sam Darnold from Weeks 2-5. Despite that, Bell did post a 23.2-percent (No. 21) Dominator Rating.

Check out Le’Veon Bell’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

While it does seem Bell is a shell of his former self, a trade could turn things around for the veteran back. Joining a potential contender needing a veteran presence would be ideal. The Jets (cough-Gase) likely wouldn’t miss him, and aside from Gore, they have some intruding names on the depth chart in Josh Adams and rookie Lamical Perine.


The Bills believe they are not only contenders for the AFC East, but for the Super Bowl. They have the offense built to run the ball, yet Devin Singletary and rookie Zack Moss may not be enough punch. Josh Allen failing to improve on his passing game would further exacerbate this point.

Adding Le’Veon Bell would provide that veteran presence the Bills once had with Frank Gore, and they have the cap space to make it happen. In the Buffalo offense, there is potential for Bell to thrive and become what the team wants Singletary to be. A slow start for the Buffalo run game could be disastrous, necessitating an upgrade at the position in a year of title contention.

Justice Hill

If Baltimore’s running back room wasn’t a bit crowded before the 2020 NFL Draft, it is after the team selected J.K. Dobbins in the second round. The rookie joins veteran Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill. The talk is that the backfield will eventually belong to Dobbins. Until then, Ingram should continue to lead the way while the other backs contribute sparingly.

Hill’s player profile reveals a talented back with high marks in both Speed Score and Burst Score. His 4.40 (97th-percentile) 40-yard Dash time is equally impressive. The potential is there for him to be a three-down back. While no teams are likely to trade for him to be their starter, there are certain squads that can use a direct backup to their own starter.

Justice Hill Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

When 2021 rolls around, the Ravens backfield will look much different. Ingram will be in consideration to be cut if Dobbins meets expectations and Edwards will be a free agent (though, a “team friendly” extension isn’t out of the question). The Ravens could hold on to Hill for the backup role when the dust settles next season, but moving him now might prove beneficial, and would really open things up for Dobbins, whom they are so excited about.


Many consider Christian McCaffrey the top running back in the league. It’s hard to disagree, though he isn’t invincible. Behind McCaffrey is Reggie Bonnafon; a third-year undrafted free agent from Louisville. While Bonnafon’s workout metrics aren’t terrible, there is little to get excited about with his player profile. The rest of the depth chart follows suit.

The Panthers are in an awful position should McCaffrey have to miss time, whether for injury or COVID. Adding Justice Hill to the roster would provide him with a capable backup who could handle a sizable workload with the lead back out of action. In the most abnormal NFL season ever, it would behoove Carolina to upgrade behind their star running back, and Hill is the perfect target.

Royce Freeman

There was some excitement around the fantasy community when the Broncos selected Royce Freeman in the 2018 NFL Draft. Since then, he has played second fiddle to undrafted back Phillip Lindsay. The situation worsened for him this offseason with the addition of Melvin Gordon to the Denver backfield. It’s fair to wonder if his future lies elsewhere.

The former Oregon Duck was a workhorse producer during his college tenure. Through four seasons, Freeman maintained a 6.0 (73rd-percentile) yards per carry mark and a 30.4-percent (68th-percentile) College Dominator Rating. He accrued 79 receptions during that time, yielding an 8.3-percent (60th-percentile) Target Share. Three-down back potential lies within Freeman.

Royce Freeman Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

For the Broncos, parting ways with the young back would seem logical; Freeman won’t see much playing time behind Gordon and Lindsay. Undrafted rookie Levante Bellamy has impressed enough that Denver cut ties with speedy, fan-favorite Khalfani Muhammad. Sending Freeman away for any compensation would be better than cutting him; and he deserves another opportunity elsewhere.


The return of Drew Brees to the Saints signals the team is all-in for one last run with the veteran quarterback. They’ve signed Jameis Winston for the Teddy Bridgewater backup role and added Emmanuel Sanders to the receiving room. One area that needs an upgrade in depth is the running back position.

Alvin Kamara is the top back in New Orleans, but he is coming off an injury-plagued 2019 season; he recently admitted suffering a tear in his knee early in the year. Latavius Murray has been capable, but is not nearly dangerous enough to scare defenses. Should Kamara miss time, the Saints will need more than just Murray to aide their aging signal-caller. Royce Freeman could step right into coach Sean Payton’s system and thrive if given the opportunity, making him a far better backup than Murray.