In this week’s Running Back Committee Watch, we take a look at the six most interesting backfield timeshares across the league. Not all committees are created equal, and the ones below need to be watched most closely by fantasy owners in the coming weeks. From a potential changing of the guard in Tennessee to the emergence of a veteran presence in Indianapolis, the committees below have separated from the pack in terms of fantasy importance.
Co-Chairman: Trent Richardson – 40 snaps, 14 carries, four targets
Co-Chairman: Ahmad Bradshaw – 27 snaps, nine carries, three targets
Once again, Richardson spent more time on the field and got more touches than Bradshaw. Once again, Bradshaw did far more damage than Richardson when he got his hands on the ball. Bradshaw had 65 yards on his nine carries, good for 7.2 yards per carry. Richardson picked up just 57 yards on 14 totes, an average of 4.1 yards per rush. Bradshaw converted his three targets into two catches, including his third receiving touchdown of the season. Richardson contributed 23 yards on three receptions, a nice total but still short of Bradshaw’s yards-per-catch total. We’re now through three weeks of a similar breakdown in the touches, so it’s not like Richardson is just going to go away. However, Bradshaw is going to remain the more productive back for the Colts. The best thing about Richardson from the perspective of a Bradshaw owner is that he helps to keep the relatively injury-prone back healthy by helping to shoulder the load. Bradshaw has proven he can be a fantasy starter even if he’s just getting about 15 touches per game.
Co-Chairman: Reggie Bush – 37 snaps, 12 carries, eight targets
Co-Chairman: Joique Bell – 36 snaps, 15 carries, zero targets
Last week was the second time this year Bush and Bell played essentially the same number of snaps. Bell has been on the field for 15 more plays this season, but nearly that entire difference was from Detroit’s Week 2 loss to Carolina. They were actually just about even in that game until the final drive, when the Lions were in a hurry-up and unable to make substitutions. For the third straight time this season, both Bell and Bush were outside the top-40 fantasy running backs when the curtain dropped on the week. That continues a trend from last year, when they both put up fantasy starter’s numbers in just three games all season.
If you own one of these guys, you always have to consider the matchup. Let’s use this week as an example. The Jets have one of the best run defenses in the league. They’ve allowed the fewest points to running backs through three games, have shut down Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte, and are sixth best against the run according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, they’ve allowed the fifth-most points to quarterbacks and fourth most to receivers. The Lions are going to throw the ball a ton on Sunday, and that sort of gameplan would favor Bush. That’s why I would start him and sit Bell this week.
Co-Chairman: Fred Jackson – 45 snaps, six carries, 10 targets
Co-Chairman: C.J. Spiller – 25 snaps, 10 carries, three targets
With the 20 more snaps Jackson played than Spiller last week, he has now out-snapped him by 27, 105-78, on the season. Jackson has been on the field for 56.1 percent of Buffalo’s plays this year. Spiller checks in at just 41.7 percent. As is the case with Bush and Bell, at least one of Jackson and Spiller has put up numbers worthy of a fantasy bench in each game this year. There’s little reason to expect that to change in the future. With this standing as a pretty strong division of labor, that means Jackson and Spiller owners must go through the same process we detailed with Bush and Bell above. Unfortunately, there’s not quite as clear a delineation of duties in Buffalo as there is in Detroit. Given that the Bills trust Jackson far more in pass protection – he has been given 10 pass blocking assignments this year to Spiller’s four – he seems to have the leg up because he’s on the field more often. The red thread running through Spiller’s productive games? Big plays. He had a kickoff return for a touchdown and a 47-yard run that accounted for 10.7 of his 13.8 points in Week 2. In Week 1 against the Bears, he found the end zone on a pass play that saved what would have been an otherwise pedestrian fantasy performance. The needle points more frequently to Jackson.
New York Jets
Chairman: Chris Ivory – 25 snaps, 10 carries, four targets
Ranking member: Chris Johnson – 27 snaps, 10 carries, two targets
Ivory ascends to the chairman’s spot for the Jets based both on his performance against the Bears and what Rex Ryan said about him earlier this week. Ivory was clearly the better back last week, running for 44 yards on his 10 carries and catching four passes for 52 yards. Johnson looked sluggish, running 10 times for 34 yards. Johnson has played six more snaps than Ivory, but they’ve both racked up 35 carries. Ryan then suggested that the team will have to get Ivory more touches.
There’s no doubt that Ivory has been a very impressive runner this year. He’s getting 3.88 yards after contact per attempt, which ranks first among all backs who have at least 25 percent of their team’s carries. He has forced 12 missed tackles, the sixth most for running backs. All but one of the five guys ahead of him have at least 16 more carries. According to Pro Football Focus, his elusive rating, which measures “a runner’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers,” is the second best in the league. By contrast, Johnson ranks 31st of 47 running backs in elusive rating. Ryan saying that Ivory will get more playing time isn’t just bluster. He has to given how much better he has played than Johnson this year. He can easily be a flex play every single week.
Chairman: Shonn Greene – 14 snaps, 10 carries, zero targets
Ranking member: Bishop Sankey – 29 snaps, 10 carries, one target
Greene is still atop the depth chart in Tennessee, but it appears Sankey’s time is near. He ran for 61 yards on 10 carries against a strong Cincinnati defense last week, and only his last few touches were in garbage time. He held down the backfield for one drive when the score was 10-0 and ran for 18 yards on four carries. The fantasy community knows who Greene is. He doesn’t exactly command a starting gig in the backfield. Sankey is clearly the more talented back in Tennessee, and with the Titans offense foundering the last two weeks, head coach Ken Whisenhunt is going to have to get Sankey more involved. With six teams and five regular starting fantasy backs on bye this week, Sankey is a sneaky option as a flex play this week.
Chairman: Bernard Pierce – N/A
Lorenzo Taliaferro – 32 snaps, 18 carries, zero targets
Justin Forsett – 38 snaps, 11 carries, five targets
It’ll be interesting to see how the Ravens divide their carries with Pierce set to return from the minor thigh injury that sidelined him in Week 3. Taliaferro can’t be ignored after running for 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in the win over the Browns last week. Head coach John Harbaugh praised him after the game, saying that “the results speak for themselves,” and that what he brings to the table is “an element that is a big plus for an offense.” At the same time, the Ravens seem committed to Pierce as the starter. Given that he has been a full participant in practice this week, it will be hard to trust Taliaferro as a starter. There has been a lot of hand-wringing among fantasy owners over this backfield, so it’s worth noting that the Ravens have produced a top-12 running back in two of the first three weeks of the season. Of course, it was Forsett in Week 1 when Pierce got the start, and Taliaferro last week when Forsett got the start. This is going to be a hard backfield to project for at least one more week, but with Pierce and Taliaferro the viable starting options and Forsett more of a change-of-pace guy, one of the first two will ultimately be the guy in Baltimore. The ceiling, however, remains low.