2017 Fantasy Football Running Backs: Surprising Cuts
Dan Malin takes a look at the running back casualties of cut down day across the NFL.
So the preseason is finally over and the 53-man rosters are set. There were a lot of surprise cuts to RB’s specifically that this piece will focus on. But first…
Update on Ezekiel Elliott
Zeke was away from the team last week in New York due to his appeal hearing regarding his six-game suspension. Perhaps the most damning part of this case is that the NFL’s lead investigator on the issue recommended no suspension at all for Zeke prior to the handing down of the six-game suspension he’s now fighting. A decision could come down at any moment so fantasy owners will wait with bated breath for the final word. If a ruling isn’t issued by 4:00pm today then Elliott will automatically be eligible to play week one against the Giants. If the judge rules in favor of Elliott’s side then the suspension is dropped.
Cardinals cut Chris Johnson
In a somewhat surprising move the Arizona Cardinals cut Chris Johnson who would have been an ideal handcuff to David Johnson again in 2017. Johnson turns 32 in a couple weeks and perhaps a pair of fumbles in his last preseason game played a role, but the ousting of CJ2K opens the door for Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington to backup David Johnson. There won’t be much work for them as there’s the possibility DJ touches the ball 25-30 times a game. The only way they find work is if there’s a serious injury to Johnson.
Bucs waive Hard Knocks star Jeremy McNichols
After the Bucs invested a fifth round pick on McNichols he was released after totaling just 79 yards on 24 carries without a single catch in the preseason. Reports coming out of Tampa suggest he struggled to develop pass protection skills as well as learn the playbook. It’s somewhat surprising the Bucs were so quick to give up on him, but low and behold Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch swooped in and signed McNichols to the 49ers practice squad. Tampa Bay will roll with Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims for Tampa’s first three games while Doug Martin serves his suspension.
The Bears Give Up on Jeremy Langford
Langford was somewhat of a fantasy darling in 2015. But heading in to 2016 there were concerns about Langford as a pass catcher. The Bears were clearly higher on Jordan Howard as evidenced by Howard’s rise last season. Langford was cut, but quickly found a new home on Baltimore’s practice squad. The Bears oddly enough went out and signed Taquan Mizzell, who was released by the Ravens. So it was somewhat of an odd trade off between the two teams.
The Bills Unexpectedly Cut Jonathan Williams
Williams was supposed to be the backup to LeSean McCoy this year, but the Bills apparently felt different. What’s even more surprising is that Williams went unclaimed by 31 other teams and is now a free agent. There’s still the possibility he finds a job somewhere, but it’s still shocking he was let go. For now, Bills head coach Sean McDermott suggested the Bills would take a committee approach for the backup position. So if you drafted LeSean McCoy, unfortunately there isn’t a clear handcuff right now.
The 49ers Bid Farewell to Tim Hightower
Hightower is getting up there in age, but it’s a bit odd that they let him go because they placed Joe Williams on IR (thus suspending his debut until 2018) so it leaves the 49ers a little bit thin at the running back position. It shows that San Francisco feels very confident in Carlos Hyde and he could very well have a huge year if he’s fed the ball enough. Matt Breida will serve as Hyde’s backup heading into the season.
Matt Jones Cut By Washington
This was probably one of the least surprising cuts that happened around the NFL. Washington is currently comfortable running the ball with Rob Kelley while Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine serve as the back ups. There simply wasn’t any room for Jones who was fortunately claimed by the Colts. It’s a bit unclear how the Colts will go about using Jones, but he grew up a Frank Gore fan and looks forward to learning from him.
It wasn’t a surprise that the Steelers cut one of these guys, but they did cut both of them. Le’Veon Bell finally signed his franchise tag and reported to camp, but his backup heading into the year will be James Conner, an unproven rookie who was the feel good story of the offseason. The Steelers did re-sign Toussaint to the practice squad, but if there’s any rust with Bell to start the year this backfield could get off to a rough start.
The Eagles Kept FIVE Running Backs
LeGarrette Blount and Donnel Pumphrey were both at some point attached to rumors of being cut. Alas the Eagles held on to both guys as well as Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement. There is certainly room for adjustments, but it’s tough to tell what it really means. Do they want to stay patient with Pumphrey and Smallwood? Will Sproles remain as an option in the passing game? At this point it looks like a good possibility. Are the Eagles concerned about LeGarrette Blount as a lead runner? That’s a possibility as well. It’s not unusual for teams to be almost too thin at RB, but this is a rare case where the Eagles may be too thick at the position because this leaves them thin in other areas. There’s still a very realistic possibility they make some changes with their backfield, but for now the Eagles certainly don’t lack any depth.
Ravens Backfield Looks Rather Thin
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Eagles lie the Baltimore Ravens. But like the Eagles there could be adjustments in the near future. The Ravens are heading into 2017 with just Terrance West, Javorius “Buck” Allen, and Danny Woodhead. They did add Jeremy Langford and Alex Collins to the practice squad so there’s a chance one of them eventually makes it to the main roster. But they head into their season opener with West, who didn’t look stellar in the preseason, and Woodhead, who is getting up there in age while also carrying baggage in the form of a history with injuries. The Ravens have been dealt a ton of bad luck so far in the offseason and it’s just a bit of a head scratcher that they wouldn’t carry more depth in the backfield.