After recent free agent signings, some have cooled on running backs entering their second season. Jonathan Tayor, D’Andre Swift, and James Robinson have seen their value dip with the worry of a veteran backup coming in to take some of the workloads. I firmly believe there is nothing to worry about with these three backs, but I wanted to see if the numbers back me up. Here’s what I found.
The Colts’ Stable
Jonathan Taylor was set to be a lock for an RB1 finish. He had the backfield mostly to himself, with only the occasional vulturing from Nyheim Hines. Brining back Marlon Mack, after a torn Achilles, has shaken that belief in some. His value isn’t dropping much in dynasty, but some believe it has moved from mid-late first to early second in redraft leagues.
Taylor finished the 2020 season with a 50% snap share, only going under 56% once from Week 11 on. He saw 59% of the RB attempts and accounted for 64% of the rushing yards and 73% of the rushing TDs. Marlon Mack put up similar numbers in his final season as the workhorse in 2019. What this means is that, if Mack doesn’t have a large role, we could see Taylor putting up finishes similar to his final six weeks (RB13, 3, 2, 15, 7, 1).
The main issue with Mack will be his recovery from a torn Achilles. A recent study of 95 NFL players showed that it was a career-ending injury for nearly 28% of them. According to this study, players that have suffered an Achilles tear have a significantly shorter career, and in running backs, there is a noticeable drop-off in performance.
So what does this mean? The Colts like Marlon Mack. He was a good leader in their locker room, and he was supposed to mentor Jonathan Taylor before he departed and left him the entire backfield in 2021. That obviously didn’t happen. I tend to believe that this signing is more of a good-faith move by the Colts. Whether or not Mack returns to full and actually poses any real threat to Taylor is still unknown. At best, I think he absorbs the Jordan Wilkins role.
The Lions’ Pride
After Dan Campbell showed up in Detroit talking about biting off kneecaps a lot of people immediately tuned him out. Those that didn’t hear him talk about how he intended to get D’Andre Swift more involved in the offense and began salivating over the 22-year-old-RB.
Campbell just talked about moving D'Andre Swift into the slot and letting him go 1-on-1 vs. linebackers. This is all going very well today.
— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) January 21, 2021
The hype train began to derail when the Lions signed Jamaal Williams. Swift saw 47% of the snaps last season, a number that was likely low because of how little he was used before the Week 5 bye (44%, 34%, 9%, 38%). Despite his low usage early on, Swift accounted for 47% of the rushing yards and 65% of the running back targets. Campbell wants D’Andre Swift to become Alvin Kamara. Since he is a smaller back, he needs to be more efficient in a limited role.
Jamaal Williams is being brought in to be the Mark Ingram in this tandem. Except he’s much closer to the Mark Ingram of today than we’d like to admit. Williams is fairly inefficient in his work. Compared to his counterpart Aaron Jones, he has averaged 1.2 fewer yards per rush on the career.
The Takeaway? Williams signing with the Lions means that Adrian Peterson probably isn’t coming back and/or Kerryon Johnson could be cut or traded. I don’t think he’ll eat into Swift’s role. What he will do is kill drives for an offense that could already be a fairly anemic offense, to begin with. People that were after Swift knew what they were getting into though, so his value shouldn’t change much in my opinion.
The Jaguars’ Shadow
I know what you’re thinking, yes, a group of Jaguars is called a shadow. And this actually works great because that’s also what Carlos Hyde currently is: A shadow of his former self. Hyde saw a boost in his workload at the end of last season with the Seahawks, but it came mostly as they were trying to preserve Chris Carson after he returned from injury. Hyde only out-snapped Carson in one game after he turned in Week 12.
James Robinson will see a reduction in work. That has nothing to do with the addition of Carlos Hyde. Robinson saw insane usage last year: 70% of snaps, 96% of rushing attempts, 96% of rushing yardage, and 100% of rushing TDs. This isn’t common. This workload is likely why he was injured and unable to finish the season. Hyde should provide Robinson a rest from time to time.
The Jaguars offense should be better in 2021. They will draft Trevor Lawrence and with some new additions on the other side of the ball, their defense should be able to get off the field. While the workload for Robinson will likely go down, his efficiency should offset any negative effects.
What to Do With This Information
To recap: For Jonathan Taylor, the Mack signing could equate to nothing; for D’Andre Swift, the Williams signing will hurt the offense overall, and so it may limit his ceiling; and for James Robinson, the Carlos Hyde signing shouldn’t do anything that the improved offense won’t offset. In short, I think all these players are worth rostering. This could be the last dip in value where trading for them actually makes sense. It is worth reaching out to managers in your league about all these players to see if they are wavering at all because of the free agency news.
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