Come the middle of March, there’s always one particular non-serious discussion in college basketball circles that I find interesting. Heading into the conference tournaments, pretty much every single major conference has a team or two on the bubble that could make a strong case with one more signature win, and they typically get the opportunity for that win right off the bat against one of their conference’s heavyweights. So, the discussion goes, would the conference as a whole be better off if the Goliath, whose place in the field is secure, fell to David, thus getting David into the tournament as well? It’s a fun question to consider, but there is no objective answer, and it doesn’t much matter once the two teams hit the court. It’s just another one of the many fun sports topics to debate.
The fantasy football version of that played out in Detroit last year. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell each finished the season as top-20 running backs in standard-scoring leagues. Figured crudely, both were RB2s in 10-team leagues in 2013. Specifically, Bush ranked 10th while Bell checked in at 17th. However, and this is where the college basketball comes into play, Bush and Bell were rarely in the top 20 in the same week. In fact, it happened just three times in the 14 games each of them played together. However, in the other 11 games, one of the two was a top-20 back eight times (Bush was 21st once, as well). It was almost as if they took turns being the heavyweight and the bubble team for the sake of both of them ending the year in the top 20.
That right there illustrates why it’s so important to understand how touches are being divided in a running back committees and the specific skills each back brings to the table. Bush and Bell may have both been winning fantasy backs over the course of the entire season, but they were each outside the starting class about half of the time last year. This is again one of the most interesting, and potentially lucrative, timeshares in the league. The Lions figure to have both Bell and Bush on the field for the first time since Week 4 and, coincidentally enough, I believe this is one of the rare weeks in which both will be worth starting in 10 and 12-team fantasy leagues.
The Lions will once again be without Calvin Johnson as he continues to rehab from a high-ankle sprain. The team cruised to a 17-3 win over the Vikings last week, but the offense had little to do with it. Or, more specifically, the passing attack was almost non-existent. Matthew Stafford threw for just 185 yards, 5.6 yards per attempt, and one touchdown. This week, New Orleans comes calling to Detroit, and before you go writing off the Saints’ defense, recall that the Vikings’ unit that just shut down the Megatron-less Lions isn’t exactly lights out against the pass. Even after last week’s game, Minnesota ranks 16thin YPAallowed. Take that game out of the equation, and they’re 23rdin YPA allowed. The Vikings are also 16thin pass coverage and 28th in pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus.
Bell is fully recovered from the concussion he suffered three weeks ago, while Bush reportedly could have played through an ankle injury last week, but was held out purely for precautionary reasons. With both at 100 percent and the Lions’ passing attack missing the only wheel that actually matters, expect the team to lean on its backfield this week. Bell and Bush putting up starter-worthy numbers in the same week is like a narwhal not a unicorn. It’s rare, not mythological. Everything sets up for that rare sighting this week. Make sure you’re ready by getting both of them active on Sunday.
If you didn’t know anything about what happened in the Ravens’ win over the Buccaneers last week, you might look at those numbers above and think we were back to having a true committee in Baltimore. Of course, context matters, and the context in which Forsett and Pierce got their touches tells a much different story than the raw numbers.
We will forever remember Sunday, October 12, 2014, as the day when anything could truly happen. After all, it was the day that Joe Flacco threw five touchdown passes in the first 16:03 of a real-life NFL game. Forsett played a big role in the first half, running 10 times for 88 yards. With the game well in hand, he got just four carries in the second half, spending most of his team on the sidelines.
Pierce did get six carries before halftime, but he did nearly all his damage in the second half, and his “damage” was essentially just a four-yard touchdown run with the Ravens already up by 28 points late in the third quarter. All told, he ran nine times for 20 yards in the second half and picked up a grand total of 32 yards on his 15 totes.
There is no doubt about who the top dog is in Baltimore. Forsett will continue to hoard the touches, at about an 80-20 split. Pierce will be involved in some way, and Taliaferro may have a token role, but this is Forsett’s show.
New England Patriots
It was plain to see on Thursday night why Vereen is the only running back in New England that fantasy owners can trust. With Stevan Ridley (knee) out, this had all the makings of Vereen’s breakout game. He came through with five receptions, 114 total yards and two scores. Vereen has solidified his role as the primary pass-catching back for the Patriots, and they could very well lean on the pass even more with Ridley out. He’s likely to be an RB2 for the rest of the season.
On almost any other team, a Brandon Bolden type would be immediately hustled to the top of the depth chart, rushed into the lineup, and given the bulk of the carries. That’s just not how Bill Belichick and the Patriots operate. Bolden played all of one snap, while Gray, who was on the practice squad until Ridley’s injury, essentially served as Vereen’s backup. James White was inactive.
At this point, I would not advocate adding Bolden, Gray or White in any but the very deepest of leagues. Just because Gray played the most of the three last week doesn’t mean that will be the case again at any point this season. The Patriots aren’t likely to rely on any of the three enough to make them fantasy relevant. If you are determined to take a shot on one of them, make Gray the priority.
Out of Committee
Miami Dolphins – Knowshon Moreno is out for the season with a torn ACL, opening the door for Lamar Miller to be an RB1. He’s ninth among running backs in points in standard-scoring leagues, and eighth in points per game among backs with at least four games played.
Denver Broncos It was just one game, but Ronnie Hillman thoroughly dominated the touches last week. He had 24 carries, five targets and played on 74 percent of the snaps. Juwan Thompson had eight carries and one target. C.J. Anderson saw the field for one play.
Out of (This) Committee (Column)
We talked at length about the Colts’ backfield after their Thursday night game against the Texans last week. They haven’t played since then, so please check out that story for our genius take on the situation in Indianapolis.