With four weeks in the books, a lot of roles across the NFL have solidified. With all the injuries and shifting duties in backfields, though, many running back committees remain in flux. In Indianapolis, New York and Detroit, backs have begun settling into roles, but things are rapidly changing in other cities. The nine backfields given the full treatment below are the most interesting, and the ones fantasy owners need to keep track of with a watchful eye this week.
Chairman: Bishop Sankey – 22 snaps, six carries, two targets
Shonn Greene – 11 snaps, three carries, zero targets
That month of fantasy relevance for Greene sure was fun. It was almost like he was running over people in the playoffs for the Jets or dominating at Iowa City again. Of course, he didn’t actually do anything with his status as the Tennessee starter, and now he gives way to the rookie Sankey. Sure, he still may be the nominal starter for a few more weeks, but the Sankey era in Tennessee has begun. He has scored each of the last two weeks, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt finally got over his belly-aching about Sankey’s footwork, saying he will get more touches and be involved earlier than usual this week. That usually happens when one back is so obviously more talented. The Titans’ offense has really struggled in the last few weeks, but Sankey can help stanch the bleeding. So long as he gets 15-plus touches per game the rest of the season, he can be an RB2. Before long, you’ll be able to cut Greene. But keep him around for now, just in case.
Co-Chairman: Trent Richardson – 49 snaps, 20 carries, five targets
Co-Chairman: Ahmad Bradshaw – 32 snaps, nine carries, two targets
The fantasy community should be used to the above breakdown at this point. Richardson was again terrible from a yards-per-carry standpoint against the Titans, getting just 47 yards on his 20 totes, but he’s going to continue to get about 1.5-to-2 times the touches Bradshaw gets. That might not seem ideal for a Bradshaw owner, but it is helping to keep him healthy. He was in a walking boot after hurting his foot last week and didn’t practice earlier in the week, so it’s unlikely he’d be able to handle a full workload. He is expected to play this week, but now might be the time to cash in on his hot start. Andrew Luck loves him in the red zone, but he isn’t going to be able to keep turning one-fourth of his targets into touchdowns. He has yet to score on the ground this season.
Bernard Pierce – N/A
Justin Forsett – 39 snaps, 14 carries, four targets
Lorenzo Taliaferro – 22 snaps, 15 carries, zero targets
This is the hardest backfield to figure out in the league. They’ve had a back finish in the top 24 at the position every week, and in the top 12 three of four weeks, but rarely is it the guy fantasy owners have rallied behind. For the time being, the only one I can get behind with any confidence is Forsett. While Pierce and Taliaferro have ping-ponged the greater share of carries based on health, Forsett has had at least 12 touches per game. Moreover, he’s the only one with a guaranteed role in the offense, given that he is a superior pass-catcher to Taliaferro and Pierce. Taliaferro, the rookie out of Coastal Carolina, has played very well in the last two weeks, running for 149 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, but he has done all that damage with Pierce on the sidelines. With Pierce likely to have some role in the offense this week, it’s nearly impossible to trust any of these runners. Right now, we know that Forsett’s role in the offense is safe. We also know that there is going to be a timeshare all season long. Forsett is the only one I’d even consider starting this week.
New York Jets
Chairman: Chris Ivory – 40 snaps, 17 carries, six targets
Chris Johnson – 18 snaps, six carries, two targets
This backfield is coming dangerously close to falling out of committee. In the first week after head coach Rex Ryan proclaimed that Ivory needed the ball in his hands more often, he got 11 more touches than Johnson and was on the field for 22 more plays. Johnson made one big play, running for a 35-yard touchdown, but it’s clear that Ivory is now the man in the Jets’ backfield. And he has earned it. Ivory has rushed 50 times for 274 yards this year, good for 5.5 yards per carry. He leads the league with 3.56 yards after contact per attempt and is third in the NFL with 15 missed tackles forced on his 50 carries. His Pro Football Focus elusive rating of 118.7 is the second-best in the league. He has also proved himself an adept receiver, catching seven passes for 71 yards on the year. At this point, it’s hard to imagine the Jets going back to something close to a 50/50 split between Ivory and Johnson. With the backfield in his command, Ivory is an RB2 going forward.
Co-Chairman: Fred Jackson – 40 snaps, seven carries, seven targets
Co-Chairman: C.J. Spiller – 32 snaps, 15 carries, three targets
While Jackson and Spiller nearly split the workload right down the middle, this is a relatively easy committee to figure out. Both guys are going to get their snaps. In most weeks, one will put up an RB1 or RB2 score, and the other will be outside the top 30. Occasionally, both will be outside the top 30. Rarely will both be inside what proves to be the starting class of running backs in typical fantasy leagues. Given that reality, Jackson and Spiller owners cannot consider their Buffalo running back as anything better than a situational RB2. Jackson ranks 24th among running backs in fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues, while Spiller ranks 31st (minimum two games played). I wouldn’t feel good with either of them as anything more than my third running back, unless I employed a zero-RB strategy on draft day.
Co-Chairman: Reggie Bush – 39 snaps, 12 carries, six targets
Co-Chairman: Joique Bell – 26 snaps, eight carries, three targets
Bell suffered a concussion last week, and third-string running back Theo Riddick had to leave the game with a hamstring injury. That opens the door for Bush to get a huge workload against the Bills on Sunday. Before Bell’s concussion, he and Bush had been in essentially an equal split in the Detroit backfield. To this point of the season, Bell has played 139 snaps, rushed the ball 48 times, and been targeted nine times in the passing game. Bush has been on the field for 137 snaps, and received 39 carries and 23 targets. Four of Bush’s targets have been in the red zone, and he has nearly as many red-zone carries (five) as Bell (six). Add it all up, and I think the needle points just slightly in Bush’s favor, even when both backs are 100 percent. His greater presence in the passing game for a team that loves to throw the ball gives him more opportunities to find the end zone, especially since he can still hit a home run in his ninth year in the league. As for this week specifically, you want to start Bush and sit Bell, who has been ruled out because of the concussion. The Bills have allowed the sixth-fewest points to running backs this year, but Matt Forte had eight catches for 87 yards, and Arian Foster racked up 55 yards on seven receptions. They can be burned by good receivers out of the backfield.
Chairman: Jamaal Charles – 35 snaps, 18 carries, three targets
Knile Davis – 30 snaps, 16 carries, two targets
There isn’t any doubt who owns this backfield, as long as he’s healthy. Charles returned after a one-game absence and racked up 108 total yards and three touchdowns. He admitted to feeling a little sore after the game, but this is his show. Davis ran well again, piling up 107 yards on 16 carries, but he got 11 of his carries in the second half, when Charles was resting and the Chiefs’ blowout of the Patriots was in its late stages. Davis will certainly have a role in the offense while Charles continues to rehab his ankle injury, but it likely won’t be large enough for fantasy owners to count on him most weeks.
Chairman: Matt Asiata -- 89 snaps, 35 carries, seven targets
Jerick McKinnon -- 65 snaps, 25 carries, eight targets
The Vikings actually ran the ball pretty effectively on Thursday night, picking up 111 yards on 25 carries. Of course, that's not exactly the most impressive showing against a Green Bay defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs. Asiata is clearly in control of this backfield, but he is rarely going to give fantasy owners a useful game on yardage alone. He needs to find the end zone to put up starter's numbers, so you'll always have to consider how the game will unfold when deciding whether or not to play a borderline guy like Asiata. McKinnon is far more explosive, but he's comfortably behind Asiata on the depth chart. It's always hard to count on a sure-thing backup, as game-flow frequently determines how much he'll play. As an example, McKinnon got 18 carries in the Vikings win over the Falcons, and just seven in the blowout loss to the Packers on Thursday night.
Committees of lesser importance
Jacksonville – Toby Gerhart remains the starter – and underwhelming – but he nearly split carries with Denard Robinson last week. Gerhart is an RB3 at best, while Robinson’s value remains nil.
San Diego – Donald Brown has been terrible since taking over as the starter, running for just 81 yards on 41 carries. Branden Oliver got nine carries last week, just one fewer than Brown. It won’t much matter in a few weeks, with Ryan Mathews on track to return from his sprained MCL.