Fantasy owners have been impatiently waiting for C.J. Spiller to take over as the true feature back in Buffalo ever since the Bills selected him with the ninth overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The 27-year-old Spiller has gone north of 1,000 yards just once in his career, posting a monster 2012 season in which he put up 1,244 rushing yards, 459 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. In 20 games since that season, he has a total of 1,439 yards from scrimmage and three scores. Meanwhile, the 33-year-old Fred Jackson continues to get more playing time, more touches, more yards and more fantasy points. He performs despite his age and is enjoying yet another season of fantasy relevance this year. Jackson is the player in control of the Bills' committee and the only Buffalo running back fantasy owners can trust right now.
Spiller’s average draft position this year among running backs was 19.2, while Jackson’s was 33.8. Judging by what has happened on the field, you would think those numbers were reversed back in the summer. Below is a comparison of their game-by-game numbers in 2014.
|week||Snap %||RUsh||Rush yds||TGts||Recs||Rec Yds||TDs|
|week||Snap %||RUsh||Rush yds||TGts||Recs||Rec Yds||TDs|
Spiller has been marginally more productive on the ground, but Jackson has been on the field for a significantly higher percentage of snaps and is a key part of the Buffalo passing game. What’s more, Jackson also has 11 red-zone carries and four red-zone targets. Spiller has received just three carries and two targets inside the 20-yard-line. It’s clear who the Bills view as their primary running back. It is not the young man, but rather the older one who continues to get the job done. There has yet to be a week this season where both Jackson and Spiller finished inside the top-30 running backs. To expect that to change all of a sudden would be folly. Given the numbers laid out above, there is no way for fantasy owners to go with Spiller over Jackson, barring a change in their usage rates.
With that, let’s check out a pair of the other most intriguing backfields in this week’s Running Back Committee Watch.
Chairman: Justin Forsett – 43 snaps played, 72 percent snaps played, six carries, eight targets
Lorenzo Taliaferro – 9, 15, 5, 0
Bernard Pierce – 6, 10, 4, 0
After torturing owners for the first third of the season, it appears the Ravens have finally settled on a primary back. Those of you who paid a hefty price for Forsett after he starred in place of the fumbling Pierce in Week 1 are certainly enjoying the dividends. Through five games this year, Forsett ranks 11th in fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues among running backs who have played at least four games. In PPR leagues, he has been a rock-solid RB1. Pierce had his shot to take control of the job at the beginning of the season, but he had a nasty case of butterfingers in Week 1, then suffered a thigh injury that forced him to the bench. Taliaferro looked like he’d get a shot to take over, but he’s not a threat as a receiver and hasn’t proven himself a more explosive runner than Forsett.
On 50 carries this season, Forsett has five runs of at least 15 yards. Taliaferro has gone for 15 or more yards twice on 38 carries. Forsett is getting 2.64 yards after contact per attempt. Taliaferro checks in at 2.55. Forsett has forced a total of 16 missed tackles on 73 touches. Tacklers have whiffed at Taliaferro just six times on his 38 touches. In every way imaginable, Forsett has been the best back in Baltimore this year.
Forsett has looked like the safest fantasy play for the last few weeks thanks to his status as the team’s best pass-catching back. Now that he has also been the team’s most-used back for three weeks running, it’s safe to say he’s who they’re going to lean on for the foreseeable future. He may never be a true workhorse with Taliaferro and Pierce around, but he’s a strong bet to lead the team in touches every single week given his ability as a receiver. He’s also great in pass protection, having allowed just two hurries on 36 total pass blocking assignments, according to Pro Football Focus. Of the 14 running backs who have been called upon to pass protect at least 25 times this year, only LeSean McCoy (24-for-25), Frank Gore (33-for-34) and Ahmad Bradshaw (37-for-37) have a better success rate than Forsett’s 95.8 percent. He’s looking like a solid RB2 for the remainder of the season in standard leagues, and a potential RB1 in full PPR leagues.
Indianapolis Colts (Weeks 5 and 6)
Chairman: Ahmad Bradshaw – 88, 52, 26, 11
Ranking member: Trent Richardson – 84, 50, 26, 5
Bradshaw and Richardson have split the duties in the Indianapolis backfield about as evenly as possible over the last two games. Bradshaw has played four more snaps and received six more targets, but they have the exact same number of carries. With that nearly even division of labor, Bradshaw has been the better performer week after week. The eight-year veteran out of Marshall has outscored Richardson in five of six weeks this year. In the lone week that Richardson scored more fantasy points, Bradshaw still found the end zone and put up 11.2 points. Bradshaw has one monster week (21.6 points against the Eagles Week 2) and has scored at least 8.5 points every week this year. That’s the sort of consistency you’re looking for in a player you start most every week. Bradshaw is a nice, steady RB2.
While this space is often used to exalt Bradshaw and trash Richardson, the latter does have some flex appeal, depending on the week. He has had at least 14 carries four times this year, gone north of 20 twice, and hasn’t had fewer than 13 total touches since the first week of the season. Given Bradshaw’s injury history, the Colts aren’t about to turn away from Richardson and make the former a workhorse. Richardson’s role in the offense is guaranteed, and while he may not convert that into a huge fantasy season, there are still 22 bye weeks coming across the next six weeks. Richardson will prove to be a nice depth back to have on your roster.
We should get some clarity on the following teams on Sunday:
Tennessee Titans – Shonn Greene outcarried Bishop Sankey 11-8 last week, but Greene could miss this week’s game with a hamstring injury. Whatever makes head coach Ken Whisenhunt finally see the light to get Sankey more involved, even if it’s football’s version of forcibly holding his eyelids open, works for us.
Miami Dolphins – Lamar Miller has scored the ninth-most fantasy points per game among running backs, but Knowshon Moreno may return from his dislocated elbow this week. It’ll be interesting to see what head coach Joe Philbin decides to do with this pair if and when both are healthy.
Denver Broncos – It looks like Ronnie Hillman will get the first crack at the starting gig with Montee Ball (groin) on the shelf, but Juwan Thompson got the goal-line carries in Ball’s stead last week. With C.J. Anderson in the mix as well, we’re going to have to see this play out on the field before we can have a really good idea about who, if anyone, will dominate the touches.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Toby Gerhart has been one of the most disappointing players in the NFL this year, and the Jaguars are going to have to look in another direction to get their running game going. That could mean rookie Storm Johnson, who was a college teammate of Blake Bortles at UCF, former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, or some combination of the two in addition to Gerhart.
Out of Committee
New York Jets – Chris Ivory has taken over as the workhorse, playing 49 percent of the snaps the last two weeks against Chris Johnson’s 30 percent. He has 128 yards on 26 carries in that span, while Johnson has 68 yards on 13 totes, with 35 coming on one play.
Cleveland Browns – Ben Tate returned from a knee injury last week and rushed 22 times for 124 yards. Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell combined for 50 yards on 13 carries. There’s no doubt as to who owns this backfield.