I’m sure you all have taken note of the top running back handcuffs heading into the 2015 season. If not you can find that information here. Now that my esteemed colleague Headley has schooled you on the “must have” handcuffs allow me to guide you through the muddy waters of NFL Running Back committees.
Don’t expect any current running back committee to have the success the 2008 triumvirate of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw did for the New York Giants. Both Jacobs and Ward rushed for over 1,000 yards and all three backs averaged at least 5.0 yards a carry. Collectively they scored 19 touchdowns. It was an aberration. Committees are the worst. Steer clear. Avoid them at all costs! Alas, if things were only that simple.
Running back committees are all the rage now because there are SO many injuries and SUCH a short shelf life for running backs in this day and age. I think at times this notion that running backs don’t last is overblown. Considering that the average NFL career is only three years or so, why are running backs singled out?!? I’ll tell you why. Because front offices don’t want to PAY. When average quarterbacks command $100 million contracts, the rules of the game are designed to promote passing, and you have to field a 53-man roster under a salary cap teams are reluctant to give hefty and lengthy contracts to promising talents at the position let alone average ball-carriers. Obviously, there are still some featured backs in the NFL but with the emphasis placed on the quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive line and cornerback positions being greater than ever the running back position will never be the focal point of an offense to the same degree that it was ten years ago.
As a fantasy owner, running back committees can be the bane of your existence. However, you can still extrapolate value out of the myriad of running back committees by doing the following:
1. Identify the running back in the committee that gets the goal line touches.
Touchdowns drive fantasy and even if a running back is splitting carries, if he is the player the coaching staff turns to inside the five he likely holds the highest value in the running back committee. Keep in mind I am not referencing a TD vulture, I am referencing the early down back that gets touches between the tackles and in the red-zone.
2. Identify the running back that has the best receiving skills.
Points Per Reception leagues have become common place in Fantasy circles and the NFL is a pass first league. Passes to running backs are typically high percentage throws and often times lead to mismatches against linebackers in space.
3. Identify the running back that has the coaching staff’s trust.
In other words, this member of the running back committee is the individual that the coaching staff trusts in terms of ball security (he doesn’t fumble) and is dependable in pass protection. He may not be the most gifted ball-carrier in the committee but his playing time is secure because he doesn’t make mistakes. (Typically a short term option in fantasy leagues)
2015 Backfield Committees of note
New England Patriots – LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet, Tyler Gaffney, Jonas Gray, James White and Dion Lewis. I listed all the running backs on the Patriots’ roster to illustrate a point. Obviously, the Patriots won’t carry seven running backs. But don’t bother trying to make sense of this running back committee. Bill Belichick is fickle when it comes to running backs. At this point the only running back among this group that should be drafted is LeGarrette Blount.
New York Jets – Chris Ivory, Stevan Ridley, Bilal Powell, and Zach Stacy. Lots of guys with similar skill sets makes for an unsavory running back committee. Chris Ivory is the safest bet among this group. Ridley may be the most talented but he’s coming off an injury and didn’t play on passing downs in New England.
New York Giants – Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Shane Vereen. Vereen is clearly the 3rd down receiving back. Williams is the most talented ball-carrier and Jennings is the most complete. The question is who is going to get the goal line touches? Understand your league scoring format and make an educated decision come draft day.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James. Martin and Rainey both performed better than Sims but Sims is Lovie Smith’s and Jason Licht’s guy. The Bucs’ offensive line is atrocious and Demar Dotson is holding out. I recommend monitoring the wavier wire to determine which member of this running back committee separates himself from the pack but I wouldn’t invest a draft pick here.
Cleveland Browns – Isaiah Crowell, Terrence West and Duke Johnson. This is a talented group in what will be a run first offense. I think Crowell is the early down guy as Duke Johnson will be slated for passing down and kickoff return duties. West has skill but ball security is a question mark and that may relegate him to spelling Crowell. That being said they will all get touches and effectively limit each other’s fantasy upside.
Don’t confuse committees with timeshares. Committees are much more unpredictable. Week-to-week a different running back could lead their respective team in touches. Timeshares are devoid of a featured back similar to committees but they are much more static. Generally timeshares include just two running backs and they alternate series. The carry distribution is typically consistent each game.