There's been quite the shuffle at the offensive skill positions during free agency. NFL Network analyst and former NFL rushing champion Maurice Jones-Drew surveys the recent relocations of four notable running backs -- Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Jordan Howard and David Johnson -- and projects their stats for the 2020 season.
Old team: Los Angeles Chargers
Though Gordon ended up taking less money in this contract ($16 million over two years) than the Chargers offered last offseason before his holdout (roughly $10 million per year), I think Denver is a really good fit for him. His skill set is a blend of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, making Gordon the workhorse of this offense. This three-headed backfield has become one of the best in the league overnight, and it will allow second-year signal-caller Drew Lock to thrive off play-action. Because Gordon will share the load, his production won't exceed his numbers from 2017, when he logged 284 carries and 1,105 rushing yards in the only 16-game season of his career to date, but count on him to be used plenty at the goal line.
2020 production: 240 touches, 1,000 rush yards, 200 rec. yards, 10 total TDs
Old team: Los Angeles Rams
There was a lot that went on in Los Angeles last season that affected Gurley's performance, from injury concerns to questions about how he was used in the offense. Ultimately, I think this relationship ran its course. In his return to Georgia, there's no doubt that the former Bulldog will want to prove he's worth the big contract (he's set to make $11 million in 2020, with $6 million coming from the Falcons on his one-year deal) he's carrying over from L.A. He'll join a Dirk Koetter-led offense in which he'll thrive. During my time with Koetter in Jacksonville, I had three 1,300-plus rushing seasons, so I know Gurley is in good hands. The veteran back should stay relatively fresh all season because he won't have to carry the load, with quarterback Matt Ryan and wideouts Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley stretching the field. This is the most talent the sixth-year pro has had around him in his career, laying the foundation for a big comeback from 2019, when he hit career lows in carries (223), rushing yards (857) and scrimmage yards (1,064).
2020 production: 280 touches, 1,200 rush yards, 500 rec. yards, 19 total TDs
Old team: Philadelphia Eagles
In signing with the Dolphins, Howard becomes a starter on a team that wants to run the ball. That's the ideal situation for a running back, and it should help reverse the decline in production that's been a constant of Howard's career going back to Year 2: Every year, his rushing yards total has dipped, from 1,313 in 2016 to 1,122 in 2017, 935 in 2018 and 525 in 2019. The thing is, even last year's career-low output would have led the '19 Dolphins, with no Miami running back managing to crack 250 yards (or surpass 37-year-old QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's 243 rushing yards). This team desperately needs a back who can make defenses respect the run game and wear down his opponents, which is exactly what Howard will do on the way to his first 1,000-yard season in years.
2020 production: 280 carries, 1,100 rush yards, 8 rush TDs
Old team: Arizona Cardinals
I like this fit for Johnson, but the key for the trade acquisition is staying healthy. We know how valuable he can be as a runner and a receiver; since he entered the NFL in 2015, only he and Christian McCaffrey have logged seasons of 800-plus rushing yards and receiving yards. Johnson has the potential to be precisely the type of weapon Deshaun Watson needs, and in turn, the mobile Watson should help Johnson thrive, given that Johnson won't face nearly as many loaded boxes as he did during his best campaigns, when Carson Palmer was under center. Johnson logged just 130 touches in 2019 with the Cardinals, so he should be fresh and ready to go when the NFL season gets underway. The flip side of that is, Johnson made just nine starts while dealing with injuries and falling behind Kenyan Drake on the Cardinals' depth chart. Johnson will be in a position to succeed -- he just has to be available. I can't stress that enough.
2020 production: 250 touches, 700 rush yards, 600 rec. yards, 10 total TDs