Stud Running Back theory in fantasy football dictates
you select halfbacks with your first few picks in a
draft. It can be an effective strategy since finding
talent at the running back position proves difficult
later in a draft relative to other positions. Scarcity
at the running back position is a problem for all fantasy
owners. One of the reasons why is that nearly one third
of the teams in the NFL currently employ a running
back by committee (RBBC) approach to rushing the ball.
This method means that a team uses multiple running
backs with different skill sets to attack a defense,
instead of relying on one back to carry the ball. Whether
the pro teams choose this tactic as a strategy or because
no one back is talented enough is irrelevant to fantasy
owners. What is relevant is that this system makes
it harder to find viable fantasy running backs for
Ten teams in the NFL are splitting significant carries
among multiple backs. For a point of reference, I have
chosen an arbitrary cutoff of 50 carries through
the first three or four games (depending upon whether the team has had its
bye week yet) to determine which teams use a sole stud runner and which use
a committee of runners. Teams that have a back with 50+ rushing attempts
at this point have a lone back, the others are committees.
Exceptions to this
rule are teams affected by injury. For example, the Broncos and Rams run
lone-back offenses, but their starters (Clinton Portis
and Marshall Faulk, respectively)
do not have 50+ carries. Another exception is Chicago. The Bears have seen
Kordell Stewart leave the pocket on 24 occasions, which has cut into Anthony
Thomas’s carries. Cutting against the grain is Minnesota. The Vikings
are moving into a committee situation despite 69 rushes by Moe Williams.
All of this means that fantasy owners are having
to scramble to find talent at the running back position.
Consider that because 10 of 32 NFL teams are
using RBBC, in an average 12-team fantasy league where every owner must
start two running backs each week, there are only 22
primary backs to be had. Two
owners at a minimum will be forced to find a committee back to start each
week. And, the actual number of owners who must find a committee back is
higher because some owners choose a third back before selecting from another
position. This does not bode well for consistent fantasy production from
the running back slots from every owner. Even some of the owners who do
primary backs starting on their roster will be featuring the likes of Emmitt
Smith or Curtis Martin, two older backs that are shells of their former
fantasy selves right now.
While there are a couple of committee backs who can
hold their own statistically this season – Amos Zereoue and Garrison Hearst come to mind – the
condition is generally one that splits statistics enough that counting on a
particular back in a particular week is a very iffy chance. It’s time
to quickly go through the NFL’s committee backfields and figure out where
the fantasy value lies within them.
Pittsburgh Steelers [Amos Zereoue and Jerome Bettis]
If he can stay healthy, look for Zereoue to hoist
more than Bettis the rest of the season. The Steelers
will continue to spell Amos with Jerome because it
helps keep them both fresh.
New England Patriots [Kevin Faulk and Antowain Smith]
Right now, the repetitions for these two players are
about as even as could be. Smith actually has one more
carry than Faulk, but with fewer yards. Neither has
scored yet this season, and the offense is in a state
of constant flux. Clouding the issue could be another
third running back. Fresh off his four-game suspension
is former Chief Mike Cloud. If he shows signs of success,
this backfield will be more than crowded.
Oakland Raiders [Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley and
Nagging ailments has slowed Charlie Garner, leading
to carries by Wheatley and Fargas. If Garner does not
get better soon, you will see an increased workload
for the other two. Fargas is the future at tailback,
and in the NFL, the future at a position becomes the
present in a bone-crunching moment.
Washington Redskins [Trung Canidate, Ladell Betts]
has fewer carries than Betts so far this year, but
has more yards because he rushes for more
per attempt. This is a very split backfield. You can’t
count on either player to score points for you from
week to week. To add to the headache, Rock Cartwright
is vulturing some rushing touchdowns.
San Francisco 49ers [Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow]
many people thought this season was going to be Barlow’s big breakout. It hasn’t happened,
and the 49ers are once again platooning their two backs.
Kevan can’t stay healthy, which is why he never
takes over the majority of the carries. They both have
a touchdown so far this season. They are ok bye-week
fill-ins, but nothing more in this circumstance.
Detroit Lions [Shawn Bryson and Olandis Gary]
Bryson and Gary are each seeing time until James Stewart
returns. But, this could be a committee backfield all
year for two reasons. One, Mariucci likes to employ
a running game with role players, and two, the team
needs to find out what rookie Artose Pinner can do
once he is healthy. Detroit is not going to help you
from the RB position this season.
Atlanta Falcons [T.J. Duckett and Warrick Dunn]
duo is a committee right now, but will begin to feature
Duckett as the season wears on because he
is now healthy and playing with more intensity. He
has ten fewer carries than Dunn, but 32 more yards,
and has scored twice. Dunn has only scored once
for Atlanta. Expect Duckett to relegate Dunn to third-down
duty by year’s end.
Philadelphia Eagles [Correll Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook
and Duce Staley]
Brian broke off a long run last
week, but you got the impression it was a fluke. Nobody
knows who is
going to run the ball well from week to week for this
team. It isn’t a good idea to count on any of
them for a fantasy contribution.
Minnesota Vikings [Moe Williams and Onterrio Smith]
is third in the NFC with 326 yards rushing, but he
is watching Smith begin to siphon off some of
the carries. This is a classic case of experience versus
talented young exuberance. Williams is still an ok
fantasy start, but for how long? Remember too that
Michael Bennett is closing in on his return to the
field. How that will impact the running game is anybody’s
guess, but it looks like a committee to me.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers [Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott]
The two Mikes have split the duties this year in the
backfield. Look for the early trend to continue, with
Alstott scoring (2 touchdowns in 2003 so far) and Pittman
gaining yards. Like other RBBC situations, it is hit
or miss with these guys, which can spell disaster for
your fantasy squad.
Though some committee backfields offer viable fantasy
starters, in the majority of cases it is better to
look for production elsewhere, either by identifying
committees that may soon break up (Atlanta) or by taking
a flyer on sleeper backs at this point in the season.
Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes for www.cnnsi.com
and www.thehuddle.com. He is a member of the Pro Football
Writers of America and a devoted Detroit Lions fan.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.