Saturday September 13th, 2014

Running back committees long ago changed the way fantasy football is played. By our count, at least 17 teams employ two running backs that our widely owned in fantasy leagues. Some of those backfields have oneplayer who is entrenched as the top guy, while others are close to true 50/50 timeshares. Every week, we’ll take a look at the breakdown in these split backfields in the Running Back Committee Watch.

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Not all committees are created equally. Rashad Jennings does not share the Giants’ backfield with Andre Williams in the same way Reggie Bush and Joique Bell split carries in Detroit. If a running back is the clear No. 1 option on his team, he’ll be tagged as the committee’s chairman. If someone is considered a “ranking member,” that means he’s a guy who could be a flex play, but is clearly behind the chairman on the depth chart. No tag denotes a player who is worth owning in fantasy leagues, but isn’t quite a regular starting option, while a player tagged as a “junior member” is not quite relevant in fantasy leagues, but is someone owners should continue to watch. Finally, two players who are co-chairmen are in near equal split backfields.
 
With that, let’s get to the Running Back Committee Watch after the first week of the season

Eagles

Chairman: LeSean McCoy – 58 snaps, 21 carries, six targets
Ranking member: Darren Sproles – 33 snaps, 11 carries, six targets

 
There’s no questioning that McCoy is the lead dog in Philadelphia. His owners won’t ever be able to complain about 27 touches in a game. A total of 15 touches in the first game for Sproles, however, signalsthat he isn’t just going to have a token presence in the offense. As good as the Eagles were last year, they didn’t really have anyone capable of taking the pressure off McCoy and still bring the sort of explosion to the table prized so highly by Chip Kelly. Sproles can do that, and it’s clear that Kelly is going to use that to the Eagles’ advantage. His usage in the first week of the season suggests that Sproles can be a flex play.

Giants

Chairman: Rashad Jennings – 42 snaps, 16 carries, five targets
Andre Williams – 20 snaps, five carries, zero targets

 
Until further notice, this isn’t a committee Jennings owners need to worry about. The starter played double the snaps and got 11 more carries, while Williams didn’t receive one target. Jennings was also handed eight pass blocking assignments, and handled all of them with aplomb, allowing zero pressures on Eli Manning. Jennings looks capable of being a true three-down back for the Giants, and that would make him one of very few in the league. Most importantly, on a 1st and goal from the 2-yard-line, the Giants handed the ball to Jennings on consecutive plays. He punched it in from theone, notching himself his first goal-line score of the season. That was supposed to be Williams’ bailiwick, but it seems Jennings has possession over goal-line carries, as well.

Lions

Co-Chairman: Reggie Bush – 31 snaps, nine carries, six targets
Co-Chairman: Joique Bell – 35 snaps, 15 carries, one target

 
This is going to be the most interesting committee allseason long. Game situation could very well dictate which back between Bush and Bell gets more work. If Week 1 was any indication, Bell will be the primaryrunner, while Bush will get his fair share of carries and play more often on obvious passing downs. The latter was on the field for 20 Matthew Stafford dropbacks, but only had two blocking assignments. Bush also got 2.72 receiving yards per route run, which was third most among backs with at least four targets, trailing only Le’Veon Bell and Rashad Jennings. Over the final 17 minutes of the game, the Lions never led by less than 13 points. In that stretch, Bell got eight of his 15 carries, including a three-yard touchdownrun. It has just been one game, but these roles seem clearly defined.
 
If you own Bell or Bush, you’re going to have to consider what sort of game you expect for the Lions. Games that figure to be close would favor Bush, while potential Lions’ blowouts would likely result in a heavier dose of Bell. Both are RB2s over the course of the full season, but rarely will they both register as top-24 backs in the same week.

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Falcons

Chairman: Steven Jackson – 33 snaps, 12 carries, three targets
Jacquizz Rodgers – 30 snaps, six carries, one target
Junior member: Devonta Freeman – five snaps, two carries, two targets

 
While Rodgers played nearly as many snaps as Jackson, the veteran is clearly the lead back in Atlanta. Freeman barely showed up on the field in Week 1, and while he could be more of a factor later in the season, he doesn’t appear to be in the Falcons’ short-term plans. Unless you are in a deep league or have deep benches, you can feel free to cut Freeman.

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Rodgers’ usage could certainly cut into Jackson’s numbers, but the latter is the only Atlanta running back really worth owning in fantasy leagues. He’s definitely the only one who could be considered for a starting spot at this point. He picked up 52 yards on his 12 carries against the Saints, but the game situation put the ball in Matt Ryan’s hands more often than not. This is going to be a high-volume passing offense all season, so Jackson’s ceiling may be that of a low-end RB2. His backups are barely worth owning.

Panthers

Chairman: DeAngelo Williams – 26 snaps, 14 carries, zero targets
Jonathan Stewart – 25 snaps, nine carries, three targets
Junior member: Mike Tolbert – 33 snaps, seven carries, four targets

 
Williams is clearly in control of this backfield and yet, I would be very uncomfortable with him as anything more than my fourth running back in a 12-team league. He ran well against the Buccaneers, picking up 72yards on 14 carries. That should be enough to keep him in the chairman’s seat for the foreseeable future. At the same time, it’s clear the Panthers favor both Stewart and Tolbert on passing downs. With a situation this muddy, fantasy owners simply don’t want to be too invested in the Panthers’ backfield.

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Saints

Co-Chairman: Pierre Thomas – 35 snaps, seven carries, seven targets
Co-Chairman: Mark Ingram – 20 snaps, 13 carries, one target
Khiry Robinson – 12 snaps, six carries, one target

 
Thomas has become one of the premier pass-catching backs in the league, and in an offense like the Saints’, he’ll always have a significant role. Week 1 was all about the potential emergence of Ingram in the offense. In a game that was close throughout, he got 13 carries, churning out 60 yards and two touchdowns. That the Saints turned to him so frequently in the second half of a close game suggests that this could finally be the season in which he gets enough touches to be relevant to fantasy owners all year, rather than just once in a great while. Thomas is close to chairman status here since we know he will be a big part of the gameplan every week, but with the roles so defined, Ingram deserves a share of the chair.
 
Robinson, meanwhile, should be owned, but appears comfortably behind Ingram on the depth chart.

49ers

Chairman: Frank Gore – 42 snaps, 16 carries, zero targets
Ranking member: Carlos Hyde – 15 snaps, seven carries, zero targets

 
Gore is undoubtedly still at the top of the totem pole, but Hyde made an impression against the Cowboys in Week 1. It wasn’t just that he picked up 50 yards and a touchdown on just seven carries. It was the way helooked when he ran the ball. He resembled, if you will allow the comparison, a young Frank Gore. Hyde is about four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Gore, but that belies his sneaky speed and shiftiness. This is a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, and they’ll need Gore healthy in December and January to realize that goal. He’ll lead the team in carries, but don’t be surprised to see Hyde featured in a game or two along the way.
 
As for this week, you want both Gore and Hyde active. After seeing what the Bills did to the Bears last week, Jim Harbaugh and company have to be giddy at the thought of getting the two backs, as well as Colin Kaepernick, as many carries as possible.

Rams

Chairman: Zac Stacy – 31 snaps, 11 carries, two targets
Benny Cunningham – 33 snaps, six carries, four targets

 
The Rams got away from the run game last week in their attempts to chase down a huge deficit, but to say that Stacy was a disappointment would be putting it mildly. He ran for just 43 yards on his 11 carries, with a long run of seven yards. He also allowed a quarterback hit on one of his five pass blocking assignments. It’s clear that Cunningham is going to have a role in the St. Louis offense, and Stacy is a guy who needs all the volume he can get to be a useful fantasy player. While Cunningham isn’t nearly explosive enough to turn his limited touches into fantasy production, he has enough of a presence to already put Stacy on the road to being one of this year’s biggest busts.

Dolphins

Chairman: Knowshon Moreno – 49 snaps, 24 carries, zero targets
Ranking member: Lamar Miller – 26 snaps, 11 carries, five
targets

After piling up 134 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries against the Patriots last week, Moreno looks like a potential RB2 for the rest of the season. The one hindrance will be the continued presence of Miller, who, though he lost a fumble, had a useful game of his own in Week 1. He picked up 59 yards on his 11 carries, and also had four receptions for 19 yards and atouchdown. Moreno is undoubtedly the primary runner, but Miller will be on the field on obvious passing downs. That will keep something of a lid on Moreno’s overall numbers. He padded his stats last year with 60 receptions for 548 yards and three touchdowns, and it appears that those opportunities won’t be there for him this season. Still, owners who spent a 10th-round pick on Moreno – his average draft position for much of the draft season – have to be doing backflips after his Week 1 performance.

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Jets

Chairman: Chris Johnson – 34 snaps, 13 carries, five targets
Ranking member: Chris Ivory – 30 snaps, 12 carries, zero targets

 
Fantasy owners made the mistake this draft season of assuming Ivory was nothing but a bruiser. He already proved that wasn’t the case last year when he ripped of eight carries of at least 20 yards, but herambled to a 71-yard touchdown in Week 1 just to drive the point home. Still, this is clearly Johnson’s backfield. Ivory had just 31 yards in his 11 other carries. Johnson was consistent all game, racking up 91 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. You may not believe it, but Johnson scored the ninth-most fantasy points among running backs in standard-scoring leagues last year. Johnson may not have been the most fun name to call in a draft, but he’s going to prove to be one of the more productive at his ADP.

Bills

Co-Chairman: C.J. Spiller – 29 snaps, 15 carries, three targets
Co-Chairman: Fred Jackson – 28 snaps, seven carries, three targets

 
I was tempted to make Spiller the chairman and Jackson the ranking member, but so long the latter continues last year’s trend ofout-gaining the former on fewer carries, he has to be considered just as much the lead dog. Jackson got all the carries in the red zone, while Spiller received a target inside the 10-yard-line, which he turned into a seven-yard touchdown reception. From the snap count to the division of labor, this is as true a 50-50 timeshare as there is in the league. It keeps both Spiller’s and Jackson’s ceiling down, but it also ensures both will be productive over the entire season. Smart money has both inside the top 30, with at least one inside the top 24.

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Patriots

Chairman: Shane Vereen – 61 snaps, seven carries, seven targets
Stevan Ridley – 22 snaps, nine carries, two targets

 
This will be a hard situation to gauge from week to week because of Bill Belichick’s modus operandi. One thing we know is that Vereen’s role in the offense is on solid footing, while Ridley’s depends on the vagaries of a famously mercurial coach. Given Vereen’s skill set and the Patriots offensive inclinations, he’s going to be an RB2 in most weeks. Ridley will depend a whole lot more on the matchup and game situation.

Bengals

Chairman: Giovani Bernard – 58 snaps, 14 carries, eight targets
Jeremy Hill – 10 snaps, four carries, zero targets

 
Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said that Hill will be more involved in the offense going forward, but it’s clear that Bernard is a bellcow for the Bengals, at least in terms of touches. He got 20 last week, and that seems like a safe floor for him given how integral he is to the passing game. He had two carries inside the 10-yard-line last week, picking up a total of five yards. It would be a bit extreme to say he failed in short-yardage situations, since those carries were from the 9- and 6-yard-line. It stands to reason that even if Hill has a larger role, and even if that includes getting goal-line carries, Bernard would be on the field in those longer goal-to-gosnaps because of his ability to catch the ball. Don’t be scared away from Bernard because of Jackson’s future plans for Hill. The second-year man out of North Carolina is dug in.

Titans

Chairman: Shonn Greene – 33 snaps, 15 carries, zero targets
Bishop Sankey – 11 snaps, six carries, zero targets

 
Can anyone explain why Sankey is more widely owned than Greene? Shouldn’t this be, at worst, a devil you know against the devil you don’t situation? The Titans have made no secret for at least a month now that Greene is, and has been, their guy. He played with the first team all preseason. Sankey didn’t get one snap in a preseason game with Jake Locker on the field. He played triple the snaps and could more than double the carries than Sankey in Week 1. He was also more productive on a per-carry basis, getting 71 yards on 15 carries (4.7 ypc) versus Sankey’s 25 yards on six totes (4.2 ypc). It’s possible the Titans plan on working Sankey in more as the season progresses, and that’s why he still definitely belongs on fantasy rosters. However, it’s clear that Greene is the starter for now, as well as the foreseeable future. He’s not necessarily someone you want to start every single week, but he’s easily the best option in Tennessee.

Colts

Trent Richardson – 30 snaps, six carries, four targets
Ahmad Bradshaw – 45 snaps, three carries, six targets

 
There’s the trusty Richardson and his 3.3 yards per carry. Richardson was his usual uninspiring self last Sunday night against the Broncos, and the Colts are ultimately going to have to turn to the veteran Bradshaw, so long as he’s healthy. He was, quite simply, better than Richardson in every facet of the game. He only had three carries, but he managed to run for 15 yards. He caught five passes for 70 yards. He had eight pass blocking assignments, second most in the league among backs in Week 1. He didn’t allow any pressure to reach Andrew Luck. Bradshaw isn’t yet in the chair, but he will be before long. He’s the Colt running back you want to own.

 

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