The annual running back changes are something that football and fantasy football fans need to keep tabs on. Every year there is turnover. For some teams it’s just depth. For others, well, they’re in the market for a new starter. Teams that are in the market will have to weigh the price of signing free agents like Dion Lewis or Carlos Hyde versus using a draft pick on the very deep running back class. The teams of the NFC East are no exception to these general decisions.
NFL Running Back Changes for 2018 – NFC East Edition
Ezekiel Elliott reigns supreme here. End of story. The only thing to figure out here is who will play second fiddle to Elliott’s violent one man band. Currently, Rod Smith would be the best option, seeing as he and Trey Williams are the only other running backs on the roster right now. Well, that and last season proved to be a fairly productive one for the former Ohio State running back. Smith averaged 5.9 yards per touch, and scored five touchdowns this past season.
One problem with just assuming the Dallas Cowboys will hand Smith the job is that they didn’t hand him the same job this past season. When Elliott was suspended, the team turned to Alfred Morris more than Smith. And while Morris is currently a free agent, the team is going to be in the market for depth. In other words, Smith’s hold on the job is tentative at best right now.
No disrespect to Paul Perkins, but the New York Giants started Paul Perkins this past season. So, yes, the team is going to be in the market for a starting running back. The fact that both Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa are impending free agents further emphasizes the need for change.
Currently, the Giants have about $23 million in cap space, which they could use towards finding someone who isn’t Perkins. However, they are limited by impending contract extensions for Odell Beckham Jr. and Landon Collins. In other words, they are more likely to address the position through the draft, where they could use their high draft position to find a cheap, talented starter in the early rounds.
Unlike the Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles have only a few decisions to make. Darren Sproles and LeGarrette Blount are free agents next season; Jay Ajayi, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, and Donnel Pumphrey are on the 2018 roster. In short, the Eagles will have a full backfield if either Sproles or Blount (or both) walk.
This full backfield is important for a few reasons. First, it most likely means that the team won’t be signing players in the running back market (free agency or otherwise) this off-season. Second, next year’s starter is already on their roster. When the Eagles chose to trade a fourth-round pick for Ajayi, they decided to bring in a starting option for the upcoming season. Keep in mind that starting for the Eagles doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as it does for other teams. Blount led the team with 181 touches, which is two less than Tevin Coleman. If Ajayi starts for the team in 2018, as expected, keep hopes tempered.
The Washington Redskins are a lot like the Eagles, just with less certainty. Robert Kelley carries a reasonable cap number ($631,000), and Samaje Perine is also cheap ($719,947). In other words, their cap numbers will hardly be an issue. What is an issue though is that Perine couldn’t surpass Kelley because of fumbling issues, and Kelley was hardly impressive this past season.
In short, outside of Chris Thompson, the Redskins could use an upgrade at the position. They could choose to move on from Kelley and only carry over $1,000 in dead money. Perine is hardly a lost cause at this point though. The team recently used a fourth round pick on him, and he did have some good games. However, he is limited as a receiver, which makes him one dimensional. While the Redskins have an affordable backfield, don’t count them out of using some of their cap ($52 million) or a draft pick to upgrade from Kelley and Perine.
The NFC East will see some changes at the starting running back position, but the Cowboys will only be in the market for depth. The Giants figure to have a big role in the potential changes as they will need both a new starter and depth. The Eagles, on the other hand, have a pretty stable situation. They could choose to bring back Blount, but their backfield is already full. The Redskins are more of a wildcard than the Eagles, in part because, outside of Thompson, their options aren’t as good. The good news for their fans is that they have the cap room and, of course, the draft capital to upgrade at the position.