Friday September 19th, 2014

A handful of backfield committees were thrown into flux with all the injuries that hit running backs last week. It’ll take a week before we have a really good handle on how those backfields will shape up with the starter on the shelf, but there were interesting developments outside of injuries as well. We start, as we always should, in America’s heartland.

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Indianapolis

Co-Chairman: Trent Richardson – 31 snaps, 21 carries, one target
Co-Chairman: Ahmad Bradshaw – 46 snaps, 13 carries, six targets\

Richardson may have gotten eight more carries than Bradshaw last week, but Bradshaw was the superior player for the second week in a row. He had 5 yards per carry to Richardson’s 3.8, a per-carry average the latter can call a good day. He got double the targets in the red zone than Richardson did anywhere on the field, and turned both of those into touchdowns. Richardson fumbled twice, while Bradshaw never put the ball on the carpet. That Bradshaw out-snapped Richardson by 15 in a game that was close throughout should tell you all you need to know about this situation. The veteran is slowly but surely taking over as the man in Indianapolis.

Richardson has an advantage over Bradshaw in one place. The Alabama product has four red-zone carries, while his nominal backup has just one. However, all four of Richardson’s red-zone carries have been inside the 10, and one was inside the five. He hasn’t found the end zone on any of them. It might be time for the Colts to give Bradshaw a shot on those, as well.

Buffalo

Co-Chairman: C.J. Spiller – 25 snaps, 12 carries, one target
Co-Chairman: Fred Jackson – 31 snaps, 12 carries, four targets

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The numbers from last week suggest that Spiller significantly outperformed Jackson, but that simply wasn’t the case. His touchdown was on a kick return, and he used a 47-yard run to get to 69 yards on the ground. In truth, the Bills almost completely shut down both Spiller and Jackson before the former ripped off one big carry.

It’s clear that Spiller is again going to have to do all or most of his damage from distance. Jackson has eight carries in the red zone while Spiller has just one. This is very close to a 50/50 timeshare. Spiller has the higher ceiling and is the homerun hitter, while Jackson has a surer route to touchdowns since the Bills trust him near the goal line. It’s hard to have a ton of confidence in either of them from week to week, even though chances are at least one will score like a starter in 12-team leagues.

Philadelphia

Chairman: LeSean McCoy – 50 snaps, 20 carries, five targets
Ranking member: Darren Sproles – 24 snaps, four carries, seven targets

Sproles went off for 152 receiving yards and a rushing touchdown against the Colts last week, but that just makes him a great candidate to sell. No one is questioning who owns this backfield, least of all Chip Kelly. It’s not surprising that he has been able to figure out ways to get McCoy and Sproles on the field at the same time and make both productive. Still, McCoy has 41 carries and 51 touches this year. Those numbers for Sproles are 15 and 26, respectively. With or without Sproles, McCoy isn’t going to get much more than 25 touches per game, anyway. You remember last year, when he totaled 2,146 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns, right? He got just fewer than 23 touches per game. He already has nine rushes in the red zone, including two inside the five. Last year, he had 36 red-zone rushes and 10 inside the five. McCoy also has one red-zone target after having just four all last year. If anything, he’s an even bigger part of the Philadelphia offense this year. Don’t worry about Sproles’ presence.

Detroit

Co-Chairman: Joique Bell – 42 snaps, 10 carries, 11 targets
Co-Chairman: Reggie Bush – 31 snaps, six carries, three targets

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It’s a challenge to draw conclusions about any team from just two games, but it’s doubly hard for the Lions because both of their games have been decided by at least three scores. It’s hard to understand what their tendencies might be because we can safely assume they’ll play a few close games before it’s all said and done. Having said that, Bell has out-snapped and out-carried Bush in each of the first two games this year. After serving as the Lions’ 1a back last year, Bell may have surpassed Bush, at least on the fantasy depth chart.

The fantasy community should get some clarity this week. The Lions host the Packers in what figures to be a shootout, with Vegas setting the over/under at 53. Bell and Bush both figure to play a lot on Sunday, and chances are the game is close enough that the Lions aren’t either chasing the game or protecting a big lead. If that’s the case, the true No. 1 back in Detroit should emerge. Both should start for fantasy owners this week, as there should be enough scoring to go around to make both of them top-25 backs.

New York Jets

Co-Chairman: Chris Johnson – 27 snaps, 12 carries, three targets
Co-Chairman: Chris Ivory – 27 snaps, 13 carries, one target

This has been closer to an exact split of the workload than any other committee in the league. Johnson has played a total of 61 snaps and has 25 carries, while Ivory has been on the field for 57 snaps, also carrying the ball 25 times. The one big difference is in the passing game, where Johnson has eight targets and Ivory has just one. Ivory, however, evens that out by owning red-zone carries. He has six such totes, while Johnson has just two.

We can safely say that Johnson and Ivory will both be fixtures of the Jets’ offense all year long. Whether or not they should start in fantasy leagues will be something we have to check week to week. With a great matchup against the Bears on Sunday, both belong in starting lineups in Week 3.

Cincinnati

Chairman: Giovani Bernard – 46 snaps, 27 carries, six targets
Jeremy Hill – 33 snaps, 15 carries, two targets

The situation in Cincinnati is similar to that in Philadelphia. Both players can be fantasy starters, but there is a very clear No. 1 and No. 2. What’s more, Bernard and Hill are better in tandem, at least for fantasy purposes, than your typical committee. Rather than working at cross-purposes, they each have very clearly defined roles. After giving Bernard 27 carries last week, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson made clear who is bell cow is. Hill may pop up into the flex discussion in the right matchup, such as against the Titans this week, but Bernard is a week-in, week-out RB1.

New England

Co-Chairman: Shane Vereen – 20 snaps, six carries, two targets
Co-Chairman: Stevan Ridley – 37 snaps, 25 carries, zero targets

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The roles in the New England backfield are as clear as they come. Vereen is the pass catcher, and Ridley is the primary runner. Vereen will get a marginal number of carries per game, but he’s at his best when he’s running routes. If you can predict what kind of game the Patriots will play, you can decide between starting either Vereen or Ridley from week to week.

Let’s use this week as an example. The Patriots host the Raiders, a team most expect them to lose badly to the Pats. That would suggest a run-heavy game plan in the second half, which would trend in Ridley’s favor. At the same time, if the Patriots are going to get that lead, though, it would most likely be on the arm of Tom Brady in the first half. This is a simplified outlook, but it illustrates how Vereen and Ridley share this backfield and how game situation influences the Patriots running backs perhaps more than any other duo in the league. As for this week, you want to start both of them.

Tampa Bay (includes Week 2)

Chairman: Doug Martin – N/A
Bobby Rainey – 92 snaps, 33 carries, 11 targets

I’m not ready to say that the Tampa Bay backfield is in the hands of Rainey, and I don’t think the Buccaneers coaching staff is either. He lost two fumbles in the Buccaneers’ humiliating loss to the Falcons on Thursday night and didn’t look that effective until garbage time. He still ended up having a useful fantasy game with 105 total yards, but most of his damage was done with the Falcons sitting way back on defense, allowing him to chew up yards on dump-offs. It’s possible, and perhaps even likely, that both backs are involved when the Buccaneers next take the field, but this is not Rainey’s starting job.

Five peas in a pod

Miami
Kansas City
San Diego
New Orleans
Minnesota

That would be one mighty big peapod, but the point here is that so much has changed in these backfields since last week that it would be foolish to include them in a Committee Watch.

In Miami, Lamar Miller should take over as a workhorse of sorts, with Damien Williams potentially mixing in. Miller was a major disappointment last year, but he has 105 yards on 22 carries this year and already has 10 targets, including four in the red zone. Don’t discriminate against him because of last year.

The Chiefs are going to provide us with the headache of the week after Jamaal Charles practiced on Thursday. They have a late afternoon kickoff at Miami on Sunday, which just further complicates matters. Charles could suit up and play his normal snaps. Or Charles could be active and then not get one carry. Or Charles and Davis could split carries and kill each other’s value. I’d be ready to go in another direction on Sunday.

San Diego and New Orleans are in very similar situations. Each has a back who is primarily a pass catcher – Danny Woodhead and Pierre Thomas – who gets a marginal bump, but whose role shouldn’t change much because of the injuries in their respective backfields. Each has another back who is now thrust into prominence – Donald Brown and Khiry Robinson – because of those same injuries. I prefer Brown to Robinson, but we’ll still have to see how these situations shake out this week. Both Ryan Mathews and Mark Ingram are expected to be out about a month, so all four of these guys will be potential fantasy starters at least until the middle of October.

Finally, Matt Asiata is the man for now in Minnesota, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Jerick McKinnon will play this week and that he could rely on the hot hand. The bottom line is that both players have a low ceiling, and this offense as a whole just isn’t that good without Peterson. I wouldn’t expect too much from either this season.

Out of Committee

New York Giants
San Francisco
St. Louis
Tennessee
Baltimore

Until further notice, these backfields simply aren’t interesting enough to discuss in this space. Rashad Jennings is essentially all alone for the Giants. Frank Gore has distanced himself from Carlos Hyde. Zac Stacy has done the same in St. Louis, giving Benny Cunningham the stiff arm. Shonn Greene remains atop the depth chart in Tennessee, but neither he nor Bishop Sankey are intriguing. Justin Forsett is no more than a change-of-pace back, while Bernard Pierce is the clear No. 1 back for the Ravens.

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