In a matter of about four hours Thursday, three backfields were given a makeover for 2019. It started with Isaiah Crowell signing with the Raiders late Thursday afternoon and ended with the Bears trading Jordan Howard to the Eagles at night.
All three teams involved — Oakland, Philadelphia and Chicago — should benefit from these moves. And so should Fantasy players.
Let's start with the Howard trade: Jay Ajayi, who is a free agent.in exchange for a 2020 sixth-round pick, which could become a fifth-round pick, according to ESPN. He is expected to be the starter in Philadelphia in place of
Eagles add Howard
Howard, a fifth-round draft pick out of Indiana in 2016 for the Bears, just had his worst season in his three-year career, finishing with 250 carries for 935 yards (3.7 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, along with 20 catches for 145 yards. He was the No. 20 PPR running back in 2018.
Despite the down season, Howard still has the third-most rushing yards over the past three seasons with 3,370 yards, trailing only Ezekiel Elliott (4,048 yards) and Todd Gurley (3,441 yards) over that span. At 24, Howard steps into a positive situation with the Eagles.
Philadelphia has a crowded backfield with Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and Josh Adams behind Howard, and they could still bring back Darren Sproles. Coach Doug Pederson talked about Sproles coming back at the NFL's annual league meeting Tuesday.
"I'd like to have him," Pederson said of Sproles, 35, who is contemplating retirement. "I can't speak for Darren, obviously. This is his time to make his decisions, but I would love to have Darren back."
Even if Sproles does return, Howard should be the starter, get most of the work on rushing downs and get touches at the goal line. Philadelphia's running backs combined for 12 rushing touchdowns in 2018, and Howard should lead the Eagles in rushing scores if he stays healthy.
His drawback is in the passing game, as Howard's best season catching the ball was in 2016 as a rookie with 29 receptions for 298 yards and a touchdown. I wouldn't expect more than 30 catches, which lowers his value in PPR.
But a realistic expectation for him is to replicate his 2018 production with about 1,000 total yards and eight touchdowns. That makes him a No. 2 running back in non-PPR leagues worth drafting in Round 5. And in PPR, look for Howard in Round 6 as a potential flex option.
Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen get a shot
In Chicago, the Bears already made plans to replace Howard when they signed Mike Davis as a free agent in early March to a two-year contract worth $6 million. He will work in tandem with Tarik Cohen, and both running backs should benefit with Howard gone.
Cohen, who was the No. 12 PPR running back last season with 99 carries for 444 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, as well as 71 catches for 725 yards and five touchdowns, told me on radio row at Super Bowl LIII he wanted more work this season. Now, he has the chance to get it.
But we'll see if Bears coach Matt Nagy agrees. At the NFL's annual league meeting, Nagy said of Cohen "you can't overload him." Still, even the slightest uptick in touches — from 170 to hopefully close to 200 — could only enhance his Fantasy value. He's worth drafting as a No. 2 PPR running back in Round 4 and as at least a flex option in non-PPR leagues in Round 5.
As for Davis, he's getting a huge boost with the chance to take over for Howard. Last year with Seattle, Davis had some positive moments while working as the No. 3 running back behind Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. Davis had five games with double digits in carries, and he scored at least 14 PPR points in four of them.
I consider Davis a high-end flex option in all formats worth drafting in Round 6, and Nagy is excited about his outlook this season.
"I thought he had really good vision," Nagy said. "He was a guy that can make you miss between the tackles. He has that in him. We liked that. We thought that would be a good addition to our side of the ball on offense. We're intrigued to get him in and start learning who he is as a person. From all the research we did on him, we thought it was a great fit."
Raiders add big-play ability in Crowell
In Oakland, we were waiting to see what the Raiders would do at running back since Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin are free agents. Enter Crowell, who signed a one-year deal worth up to $2.5 million, according to ESPN.
Crowell had 143 carries for 685 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and six touchdowns, along with 21 catches for 152 yards, last year for the Jets in 13 games. Just keep in mind he had 219 of those yards in one game against Denver in Week 5.
Oakland still has Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington and Chris Warren on the roster, and Crowell will likely work in tandem with Richard. It's best to view Crowell as a low-end flex option, only worth drafting with a mid-round pick in most leagues.
Richard is still worth a late-round flier, especially in PPR, as he had 55 carries for 259 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and one touchdown, along with 68 catches for 607 yards in 2018. Despite scoring just the one touchdown, he still managed at least 11 PPR points in nine games.