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2nd Back Corollary - Beyond the Bromide
Joe Leavitt
2002

Now that the National Football League has expanded to 32 teams, you would think that it would be easy for everybody in your fantasy league to get a couple of terrific running backs. To accomplish this, most people would turn to the tried-and-true stud running back theory: draft running backs early.

Supposedly, this theory ensures that you end up with consistent, strong scores from the running back slots on your roster. It presumably also creates a simultaneous diminished return at running back for your opponents. This theory is practiced for a good reason. It allows nearly any owner to deal with running back supply and demand issues in fantasy football in an average league. While this general rule can greatly benefit the majority of owners the majority of the time, it isn't a guarantee of success. What about the times when that theory isn't enough?

The fact is, due to injuries, holdouts and sub-par play not every professional team has or retains a single, dominant halfback. And, most owners suffer when these problems affect players on their team. It is important to ensure that you have a backup plan to find running backs who will put up weekly statistics for you even if you run into a predicament. You need a more powerful platitude, and one that is complementary to but a step beyond the stud running back theory. You need to use second back corollary: risk a few middle or late-round draft or auction picks on talented backup running backs.

Each year in the NFL there are a significant number of secondary running backs who, for various reasons, outperform those players originally deemed the starters on particular teams. These secondary players could be bona-fide backups or offseason acquisitions, committee backs or rookies. Some of these backs become fantasy studs. But, even those who don't surpass the original starter statistically contribute well enough for consideration during bye weeks or against tough defenses. When you use the second back corollary to target and hit upon a few of these guys, you have bought yourself insurance for the season to help you persevere during possible adversity.

An Analysis of 2001 Regular Season*

Take a look at these two lists of running back statistics to see how the second back theory played out last season. Second backs are in bold type.

AFC Player

Team

Yds

Att

Avg

TDs

Long

Priest Holmes
Curtis Martin
Shaun Alexander
Corey Dillon
LaDainian Tomlinson
Antowain Smith
Dominic Rhodes
Jerome Bettis
Lamar Smith
Eddie George
Stacey Mack
Charlie Garner
Travis Henry
Terrell Davis
Mike Anderson
Edgerrin James
Terry Allen
James Jackson
Jason Brookins
Kordell Stewart
Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala
Jamel White
Amos Zereoue
Steve McNair
Shawn Bryson

KC
NYJ
SEA
CIN
SD
NE
IND
PIT
MIA
TEN
JAC
OAK
BUF
DEN
DEN
IND
BAL
CLE
BAL
PIT
PIT
CLE
PIT
TEN
BUF

1555
1513
1318
1315
1236
1157
1104
1072
968
939
877
839
729
701
678
662
658
554
551
537
453
443
441
414
341

327
333
309
340
339
287
233
225
313
315
213
211
213
167
175
151
168
195
151
96
120
126
85
75
80

4.8
4.5
4.3
3.9
3.6
4.0
4.7
4.8
3.1
3.0
4.1
4.0
3.4
4.2
3.9
4.4
3.9
2.8
3.6
5.6
3.8
3.5
5.2
5.5
4.3

8
10
14
10
10
12
9
4
6
5
9
1
4
0
4
3
3
2
5
5
3
5
1
5
2

41
47
88
96
54
44
77
48
25
27
54
38
25
57
62
29
26
22
25
48
46
51
32
24
68


NFC Player

Team

Yds

Att

Avg

TDs

Long

Stephen Davis
Ahman Green
Marshall Faulk
Ricky Williams
Garrison Hearst
Anthony Thomas
Emmitt Smith
Tiki Barber
Michael Pittman
Maurice Smith
Ron Dayne
James Stewart
Michael Bennett
Mike Alstott
Richard Huntley
Duce Staley
Correll Buckhalter
Troy Hambrick
Kevan Barlow
Donovan McNabb
James Allen
Warrick Dunn
Trung Canidate
Daunte Culpepper
Thomas Jones

WAS
GB
STL
NO
SF
CHI
DAL
NYG
ARI
ATL
NYG
DET
MIN
TB
CAR
PHI
PHI
DAL
SF
PHI
CHI
TB
STL
MIN
ARI

1432
1387
1382
1245
1206
1183
1021
865
846
760
690
685
682
680
665
604
586
579
512
482
469
447
441
416
380

356
304
260
313
252
278
261
166
241
237
180
143
172
165
166
166
129
113
125
82
135
158
78
71
112

4.0
4.6
5.3
4.0
4.8
4.3
3.9
5.2
3.5
3.2
3.8
4.8
4.0
4.1
4.0
3.6
4.5
5.1
4.1
5.9
3.5
2.8
5.7
5.9
3.4

5
9
12
6
4
7
3
4
5
5
7
1
2
10
2
2
2
2
4
2
1
3
6
5
5

32
83
71
46
43
46
44
36
42
58
61
38
31
39
25
44
48
80
25
33
19
21
45
34
21

In 2001, stud running back theory could have left you with Edgerrin James, Terrell Davis, James Stewart, James Allen or Warrick Dunn. If you had to count on these players last year, you were in trouble. By adding the second back corollary, you would have greatly improved your chances to field a strong fantasy squad.

Last year, four second backs in the AFC and three in the NFC compiled more yards rushing than at least one team's designated starter in the respective conferences. Both conferences showcased a number of other legitimate second backs, many of whom scored a notable number of touchdowns.

In the AFC, Shaun Alexander, Dominic Rhodes, Stacey Mack and Mike Anderson ran for over 600 yards as backups. Alexander, Mack and Anderson are classic backups, who performed well when their starters were out. Alexander in particular was primed to excel. Rhodes is the exception in the AFC. He was an undrafted rookie who filled in superbly for Edgerrin James.

The NFC witnessed Anthony Thomas, Maurice Smith and Ron Dayne all rush for over 600 yards as well. Thomas was a hard-plugging rookie, Smith a classic backup and Dayne a committee back.

Both conferences had second backs that scored a lot of touchdowns. The American Football Conference saw Mike Anderson rush for four more touchdowns than sporadic starter Terrell Davis, Jason Brookins rush for two more than Terry Allen, and Jamel White cross the stripe three more times rushing than James Jackson. In the NFC, Mike Alstott had seven more running scores than Warrick Dunn, Kevan Barlow tied Garrison Hearst with four rushing scores, Correll Buckhalter tied Duce Staley at two and Thomas Jones had the same number as Michael Pittman for Arizona. Troy Hambrick had only one fewer running score than Emmitt Smith.

2nd Back Theory Tips

Though owners search furiously to find these particular backups, it is surprising how often they slip through fantasy cracks anyway. There are a few specific ways to target these running backs. The first is the simple handcuff method.

You have probably used the handcuff method before. It is when you select a starter on a given team early in a draft or auction, and grab his backup later as a safeguard. I am applying that method here in a precise manner. It isn't worthwhile to just select the backups for each running back you pick early. If you did that, you could have easily ended up with the unimpressive Sedrick Irvin of the Lions or the easily topped Terrell Fletcher of the Chargers on your roster last year. You must handcuff the right players. Usually, that means relying more on finding highly productive offensive systems geared toward the run than on your own knowledge of a certain back. If you look back at the 2001 season with this in mind, predicting that big things were possible for Dominic Rhodes or Trung Canidate isn't so surprising. 

A second way to acquire this type of back is to pay attention to studs standing on the sidelines. There are always second and third-year players who are very talented, but who haven't been quite ready themselves or haven't been given the opportunity for serious playing time because the starter is in his prime. Taking a middle to late-round gamble on these guys sometimes pays off big. Two years ago, Ahman Green was this type of player for Green Bay, and last year Shaun Alexander fit this mold with the Seahawks.

Another method is to fixate on backs in committees. Finding these committee second backs can sometimes be more lucrative than simply holding out and hoping that a starter suffering a lame season on another team will begin to be more productive. A few teams in the league have starters who aren't quite tough enough to take on a full load of carries year in and year out. Players like Charlie Garner, Warrick Dunn, Tiki Barber and Duce Staley are all running backs who have outstanding talent between the twenties and in open space, but who often get pulled near the goal line in favor of bigger backs who can barrel in for a short score. Last year, for example, Ron Dayne helped owners on occasion, and second back Mike Alstott had a career year, scoring ten rushing touchdowns. The year before that, Tyrone Wheatley was more valuable than Garner.

The fourth second back acquisition technique is to scout rookie tailbacks drafted to backup starters who possess passable talent. 2001 Rookie-of-the-year Anthony Thomas is a prime example. He was drafted in the third round by the Bears to gain experience behind starter James Allen. By midseason, Thomas was racking up 100-yard games and Allen was an afterthought. Rookies with talent always have a chance to unseat mediocre incumbents.

Predictions for This Season

Here is a beginning for you in your search for second-back steals this fall:

NFC

Cowboys - Troy Hambrick:  Don't be surprised to see Smith phased out of the offense soon after breaking the all-time rushing record, which he will get this season.

Giants - Ron Dayne:  If Ron is ever going to amount to much, this is the year he will take a big step forward statistically. He already scores touchdowns for the G-Men, and if Barber gets hurt again mid-season, Ron will get his run on.

Lions - Luke Staley:  This seventh-round pick could end up being important for the Lions down the stretch simply because James Stewart isn't even an adequate NFL back. Plus, Stewart is often injured.

Panthers - DeShaun Foster:  If he is behind Lamar Smith to start the season, look for that to change once John Fox figures out why Smith ran for such a low yards-per-carry average last season.

Forty-Niners - Kevan Barlow:  Hearst could injure himself again at any time, and Barlow, though injury prone himself, showed some real talent in stretches last year.

AFC

Dolphins - Travis Minor:  Travis would play a major role in the offense immediately if Ricky Williams has to sit out part of the season. Since 2001 was Ricky's first injury-free season, this is a distinct possibility.

Jaguars - Stacey Mack:  Fred Taylor's backup is always a decent late-round addition. Mack isn't anything too special, but even an inconsistent back can score significant fantasy points over a large part of the season.

Texans - Jonathan Wells:  James Allen probably is a stopgap solution at tailback for the NFL's newest franchise. Wells is a complete back who will do as well as could be expected on an expansion team if he beats out Allen during the season.

Any theory that can't be put into practice provides minimal value in fantasy football. The second back corollary is one you should keep in mind on draft day, and use to your advantage in the later rounds. When used in conjunction with the stud running back theory, it is a nearly unstoppable combination.