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Leonard Fournette, Cordarrelle Patterson Among Running Backs Whose Fantasy Value Could Rise in Free Agency

Several big-name backs are available and where they sign will have an impact for fantasy managers.

The start of the NFL free agent period begins on Wednesday, March 16, so we’ll soon start to see changes to rosters, depth charts and, of course, fantasy football values.

With that in mind, I’ll be covering the four major fantasy positions and listing the top available players, including their best fantasy fits. I started things off with quarterbacks, so let’s move on to what some would argue is the most important position in fantasy, the running backs. Unlike the signal-callers, there are several big-name players who will be free and available for interested NFL teams this offseason.

Let’s take a look at who could be on the move…


1. Leonard Fournette

Fournette was one of the top running backs in fantasy football last season, averaging a career-best 18.3 fantasy points per game. Unfortunately, the retirement of Tom Brady and questions on the offensive line due to free agency and the sudden retirement of Pro Bowl G Ali Marpet leaves the Buccaneers offense in a state of limbo. Tampa Bay could remain his best landing spot since Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard are free agents.

Best fantasy spots: Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Falcons, Texans

2. James Conner

Conner finished fifth in fantasy points among running backs last season, scoring a total of 18 touchdowns while in a committee with Chase Edmonds. That touchdown number will be difficult to duplicate, however, so a decline in his fantasy draft value seems to be imminent. He’s probably better off being the lead back in a committee because of his past proneness to injuries, and I see him as a No. 2 fantasy runner or flex for 2022.

Best fantasy spots: Bills, Cardinals, Dolphins, Falcons, Texans

3. Cordarrelle Patterson

Patterson broke out in his age 30 season, posting career bests across the board in his first run with the Falcons. That was due in large part to the fact that head coach Arthur Smith utilized Patterson as both a running back and wide receiver in a sort of “wide back” role. I’d have a difficult time seeing Patterson, whose numbers tailed off badly late in the season, getting back to his impressive 2021 totals if he’s not used as a dual-threat option once again. Remaining with the Falcons is likely his best-case scenario.

Best fantasy spots: Bills, Cardinals, Dolphins, Falcons, Texans

4. Melvin Gordon

Gordon split the workload with Javonte Williams in Denver last season and was still able to finish 20th in fantasy points among running backs. He averaged 4.5 yards a carry for the second straight season, too, and at age 28 (he’ll turn 29 in April), he still has tread left on his tires. Gordon told me during an interview on Fantasy Dirt SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio that he’d like to remain in Denver and rush for 1,000 yards with Williams, but his best fantasy outcome would be as the lead runner on a different team.

Best fantasy spots: Bills, Cardinals, Dolphins, Falcons, Texans

5. Chase Edmonds

Edmonds recorded career bests in scrimmage yards and average fantasy points per game this past season, but his ceiling was stunted significantly with Conner in the mix. He’s still a young running back at the age of 25, but Edmonds doesn’t seem to be seen as a true featured back in the NFL. Whether he remains in Arizona or moves on to another team, he’ll likely be in a committee and be seen as a flex starter in 2022 drafts.

Best fantasy spots: Cardinals, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Falcons, Texans

6. Rashaad Penny

Penny looked more like a million dollars down the stretch of 2021, leading all runners in fantasy points in the final six weeks. He hadn’t lived up to his first-round expectations in the past, however, as injuries had limited him to just 13 combined games the previous two years. He could see a rise in value if he lands with a running back-needy team that sees him as a starter, but it would take the perfect spot for me to target Penny highly. Despite his success, I still remain skeptical he can avoid injuries.

Best fantasy spots: Cardinals, Falcons, Dolphins, Seahawks, Texans

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7. Sony Michel

Michel was a useful option for fantasy managers down the stretch last season, scoring a combined 52.9 points in Weeks 15-17. With Cam Akers projected to be the lead runner and Darrell Henderson Jr. under contract until 2023, the Rams backfield will be crowded. That could leave Michel on the outside of their 2022 plans. He’d be better off landing with a team for which he could play at least a secondary role in their offense.

Best fantasy spots: Chargers, Dolphins, Falcons, Seahawks, Texans

8. J.D. McKissic

McKissic has produced 123 receptions and over 1,500 scrimmage yards during the last two seasons, proving that he can be an asset for fantasy managers in PPR formats. His best role will remain as a pass catcher and third-down option with Washington or elsewhere, but his ceiling will always be limited as a committee back in fantasy football.

Best fantasy spots: Broncos, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Commanders

9. Ronald Jones

The Buccaneers have Fournette, Jones and Giovani Bernard all heading to free agency this offseason. Jones could be the least likely to return, and his best landing spot would be outside of Tampa Bay’s backfield if the Buccaneers decide to retain Fournette. At this point, Jones doesn’t appear likely to make a significant fantasy impact next season.

Best fantasy spots: Chiefs, Giants, Raiders, Saints, Texans

10. Marlon Mack

A former 1,000-yard rusher, Mack has played in just seven games the last two years due to injuries and the emergence of Jonathan Taylor. He’s still young, entering his age 26 season, but Mack’s chances of landing a prominent fantasy role are likely limited.

Best fantasy spots: Broncos, Cardinals, Saints, Seahawks, Texans

Other notables: Darrel Williams, Raheem Mostert, David Johnson, James White, Phillip Lindsay, Jeff Wilson Jr., Tevin Coleman, Latavius Murray, Giovani Bernard

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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!