The 2021 NFL offseason officially kicks off on March 17, when free agency begins. Most years, there is a deal or two done within the first 15 minutes. However, with the salary cap decrease, deals may be a bit slower to happen this year. While each team’s fan base is hopeful their team is active in free agency, fantasy football players are anxious to see who signs with what team as it impacts the player’s fantasy value. In a four-part series, I give the best fantasy landing spot for the top five free agents at each position. Next up is running backs.
I didn’t include restricted free agents in this article as they usually end up back with their current teams. Also, salary cap situations did play a role in the pairings. As much as everyone wants to see the best free agent wide receiver end up with the Green Bay Packers, their cap situation guarantees it won’t happen. So without further ado, let’s dive into it.
Aaron Jones → Miami Dolphins
Reports are the Packers are hopeful they can re-sign Jones. However, he is likely to get a better offer on the open market. That is exactly what fantasy owners are hoping happens. If Jones remains in Green Bay, he will be in a split backfield with AJ Dillon. However, if he signs with the Dolphins, Jones would be in a featured role on an offense that features the running back. While Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed played well last season, they would take a clear step behind Jones or could even end up traded. Over the past two seasons, Jones averaged 1,094 rushing yards, 48 receptions, and 15 total touchdowns per year. He would be able to keep up that level of production behind an improving Miami offensive line.
Chris Carson → Seattle Seahawks
While Carson has dealt with injuries in his career, he played in 12 or more games in each of the last three seasons. During that time, he averaged 14.4 or more fantasy points per game in each season. Even with Rashaad Penny and other running backs cutting into Carson’s featured role, he has been the lead back for Seattle during his career. Carson has averaged 4.4 or more yards per carry in each of his last three seasons. Furthermore, during that span, Carson had nine total touchdowns in each season. Carson finished last season as the RB17, and if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. If Carson is back with the Seahawks, he remains a mid RB2 in 2021.
Leonard Fournette → Pittsburgh Steelers
After his playoff success, Fournette appears to have plenty left in the tank. With the Buccaneers’ tight cap situation and Ronald Jones‘ emergence, Fournette likely won’t be back in Tampa next season. Meanwhile, the Steelers have drafted four running backs over the last four years, and none of them have been able to fill Le’Veon Bell‘s shoes. With James Conner likely leaving in free agency, Fournette would be an excellent replacement. His physical running style and ability to catch passes out of the backfield would give the Steelers’ offense exactly what they need. With Fournette on the roster, he would have a featured role, with Benny Snell and others providing depth. Depending on how other things shake out, Fournette could end up being an RB1 next season in Pittsburgh.
Kenyan Drake → New York Jets
Last season Drake played on the transition tag but failed to separate himself from Chase Edmonds. Unless Drake takes a massive pay cut from his 2020 salary, the Cardinals will head in another direction. Meanwhile, the Jets will likely use a draft pick on a running back, but adding Drake would provide them a veteran starter with limited mileage on his legs. However, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Jets spend a prime draft pick on a running back as they have several other needs. If the Jets build up their offensive line in free agency and the draft, Drake could find himself in a featured role and a position for a top 20 finish.
Marlon Mack → Arizona Cardinals
When the Indianapolis Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor last year, it signaled the end of Mack’s time with the franchise. Unfortunately, Mack tore his Achilles in Week 1 and missed the rest of the 2020 season. However, he is still a capable running back and would be an excellent RB2 in Arizona behind Edmonds. Despite splitting the workload last season, Edmonds averaged 10.5 fantasy points per game, while Drake averaged 12.8 per game. Mack would cost the Cardinals very little and would be in a prime position to remain a flex option despite Edmonds taking over as the starter. This match is almost perfect, so don’t be surprised to see Mack sign with the Cardinals.