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Get Back in There! RBBC 2004
David M. Dorey
August 11, 2004

After an inspiring drive to the goal line, it happens. Here comes the new tailback. There goes your fantasy stud... doh.

Each summer there is an outcry from the fantasy world lamenting the use of Running-Back-By-Committee (RBBC) in the NFL. When the Huddle began in 1997, the "new" problem was Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott tearing up leagues by taking turns. "Thunder and lightning" is hardly a new concept and has been used successfully for decades. Ask your grandfather about Army's Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis about 50 years ago if you don't believe me. Heck, I even used the approach as a PeeWee football coach though mostly because neither tailback could remember more than six plays.

The reality with runners sharing carries is twofold really. Running backs split the load because that is the offensive scheme employed or because there simply is no known "best" runner for the team. In many cases, the lack of that dominant runner is not yet known due to injury or the team has a new set of runners. No coach yanks a hot player from a game just to satisfy a game plan. They will use what works and what wins. For some teams, that means more than one runner.

Every team will - given an option - use the running backs to win the game. There is simply far lesser risk handing the ball off than executing a pass play which can result in a sack, interception or incompletion. If a team is ahead on the scoreboard, they want to run the clock out. Passing often kills the clock, running usually doesn't. This is why running backs are the most consistent and productive fantasy scorer. Beyond Coach-speak, reporters stretching a story or the endless speculation or mind games, remember this single truth:

The best players play. Guaranteed. Period. It's about winning.

This time of the season is rife with speculation and innuendo. Let's look at facts, changes and best probability. The greatest factor on a RBBC situation is if that offense is designed to use "specialists". Just because the #1 RB for a team is not yet know does not necessarily mean the team will take 16 games to make a choice if they prefer a primary back instead of RBBC.

The statistics you will see are derived to show who the primary ball carrier was for each team last year. The stats are computed by each game played and which runner had the most carries in that game. Sum it up and you get how many games each player was the primary ball carrier for his team and the averages of all runs and catches of all team rushers in that game. Reviewing this from a per game perspective is much more accurate than merely doing math to total season numbers. For our purposes, I am defining a team to be RBBC if the lead carrier does not receive at least 75% of the rushing plays considering all runners used in a game, including fullbacks.

Let's take a look at what we are likely to see with how running backs are used this season:

Arizona New Offense Yes New RB's No RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Marcel Shipp 12 18 80% 3 43% 20 72%
Emmitt Smith 4 15 80% 2 25% 17 69%

Arizona has a new head coach with Dennis Green and an entirely new offensive scheme being installed. Green initially named Marcel Shipp as the starter and then flip-flopped that and said Emmitt Smith was the starter. Then Shipp broke his leg and made all the speculation moot. Problem is currently in Arizona the primary ball carrier will be 35 years-old and proved last season he was certainly mortal. Behind him is Damien Anderson who is recovering from a car accident in the off-season and has yet to show much, Josh Scobey who is intriguing with speed but also has an injury history and yet no actual NFL game carries and finally Larry Croom who was undrafted this spring.

This will be RBBC both because Green has always used specialists (think Robert Smith/ Leroy Hoard or Michael Bennett/Moe Williams) and there is simply no apparent RB in Arizona capable of being a complete full-time back. They cannot over-use Emmitt. This is like the worst of all RBBC situations.

Atlanta New Offense Yes New RB's No RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
T.J. Duckett 10 17 73% 1 20% 18 63%
Warrick Dunn 6 16 68% 6 70% 22 69%

The Falcons have been RBBC since Dunn was brought on board and this season the offense changes. New Head Coach Jim Mora, Jr. comes to town and brought along OC Greg Knapp from the 49er's to install the west cost offense in Atlanta. They already have two backs suited well for the scheme and there is no reason to assume anything different will happen. The only "blessing" to avoiding this sharing scenario would be if Dunn is hampered by his leg injury from last season or he picks up a new one this year. Here's a hint - it happened in San Francisco last year with Hearst injured and Barlow still only averaged 69% of the carries in games he was the primary. The Falcons have a nice schedule and a new offense, but there is no reason to expect any runner there will become a 75%+ carrier.

Baltimore New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Jamal Lewis 16 24 81% 2 41% 27 76%

No concerns here other than Jamal Lewis late in the season trading Monday Night commentators for Court TV reporters. Lewis is used heavily and while not exclusively, he invariably gets all his carries first and only later is relieved. If Lewis does leave for a stretch, it is likely that the offense will tend towards yet another similar runner like Musa Smith.

Buffalo New Offense Yes New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Travis Henry 14 23 89% 3 49% 26 82%
Joe Burns 2 7 65% 3 68% 10 66%

This is one interesting situation. The Bills did not use RBBC last season and they had Henry with a fracture in his leg. You cannot dispute his toughness and determination. He accounted for one of the highest percentages for carries by a running back in games that he was the primary runner. There are now two elements to consider this season. The new head coach Mike Mularkey comes over after heading up the offense in Pittsburgh the last three years and brought his QB coach Tom Clements as his offensive coordinator. While with the Steelers. Last year they attempted to open up the offense with bad results. They did use Bettis right at 75% of the running plays once they realized their Amos Error. Henry is a complete back and Willis McGahee could be as well.

What is telling here is that Mularkey had the #1 rushing offense in 2001 and yet the best runner was Bettis with only 225 carries. Zereoue had 85 and even Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala had 120. In 2002, the split between Bettis and Zereoue with carries was 246/132. Last year the was the closest Mularkey has come to a non-RBBC situation and that was only 75% of the carries to Bettis. Now the Bills have Henry and McGahee has already impressed. Will the Bills choose just one runner to stick with most of the time? Not by Mularkey's history. Given McGahee is returning from injury and Henry has been worn down before, there are more reasons to assume the sharing will happen unless - and only unless - one of the two are injured or if McGahee actually does show to be a super back.

Carolina New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Stephen Davis 12 24 85% 2 31% 26 75%
De'shaun Foster 4 19 64% 4 59% 23 62%

Davis was a clear primary back last season and only when he was injured did Foster take a prominent role. The party line now is that Foster gets more carries and takes away from Davis. Back in week six of last season, Foster ran 16 times for 85 yards and led HC John Fox to say he would be including Foster into the mix and added "You're running with the ball and there's five, six, seven guys hitting on you on every play. I just think it's important to keep guys fresh". The next week, the Davis/ Foster sharing was 11 to 2. The following week it was 31 to 3. The next - 30 to 3. They never approached a close ratio until the last game of the season when Davis was pulled to rest for the playoffs.

Short of injury, there has never been a pattern of RBBC here even when the coach says it would happen. Davis is no spring chicken and the argument is made he needs to be kept fresh all year. But he is the superior runner and the better player. Foster had two games with a lot of carries - 22 carries for 56 yards ( TB) and 21 carries for 76 yards (DET). He never scored a rushing touchdown during the regular season. There is not enough historical facts to believe that Davis is going to incur any significant loss of playing time. Yes, Foster had a nice 33-yard touchdown run in the Super Bowl. He only had two other carries that day. Foster had his best games last year in the playoffs when Stephen Davis had a pulled quadricep. On a fantasy team, if you own Davis, having Foster too is pretty prudent as Davis was banged up several times last year. But will the two become more equals this year? Not by their history and not by the demonstrated superiority of Davis.

Chicago New Offense Yes New RB's Yes RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Brock Forsey 2 23 90% 2 75% 25 88%
Anthony Thomas 13 19 85% 1 20% 20 77%
Adrian Peterson 1 16 67% 1 33% 17 63%

The Bears will sport a new look this year thanks to new head coach Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Terry Shea. Smith was the defensive coordinator in St. Louis and there is no doubt that is where his expertise and primary focus will be. Chicago could use the help. But he brought along Shea who was the Chiefs QB coach for the last three years in order to install a KC-variant of the west coast offense. What is the difference with the KC-version? They use a primary back and not much else. It would be easy enough to say Priest Holmes made that an obvious choice.

To some extent, that style of offense has helped make Holmes since he has been a major receiver for the Chiefs in addition to rushing duties. He's never been worse than the #2 receiver on the team thanks to those Shea-coached quarterbacks. The Bears have already deemed Anthony Thomas as the backup as he clearly is not cut in the mold of that style of offense. Thomas Jones could well be. Priest Holmes was nothing special until he got there and then exploded. Jones may have faltered in Arizona as has pretty much everyone, but he showed some talent in Tampa Bay last year. Regardless, this offensive style has never been about sharing carries, it is about using a primary back and making him a prime passing target.

Cincinnati New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Rudi Johnson 9 20 69% 2 35% 22 63%
Corey Dillon 6 15 59% 2 32% 17 54%

Rudi Johnson takes the torch from Corey Dillon this season. Same offense. Same coaches. He had some monster games last year when Dillon was lost in the stadium parking lot still hunting for a spot. But when Dillon returned, the two runners would share almost equally. By the end of the season when it was well known Dillon was on the outs, Johnson still shared with him about 2:1. Even Brandon Bennett threw a few carries in a game.

Johnson was huge in four games - 101 yards (SEA), 182 yards (HOU), 165 yards (KC) and 174 yards (SF). Notice all four were at home . Two were without Dillon. In his other five games as the primary runner he varied between 29 and 69 yards per game. There was a reason why the Bengals spent their first round pick on Chris Perry. Other than some home games against bad defenses, Johnson was not a huge factor last year and the Bengals only signed him to a one year contract. History says Rudi will be the primary but Perry will figure in an RBBC that will get worse in a game unless Johnson really breaks out.

Cleveland New Offense Yes New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
William Green 7 20 88% 2 40% 22 75%
James Jackson 5 18 84% 3 34% 20 69%
Jamel White 2 18 79% 2 40% 20 80%
Lee Suggs 2 23 79% 2 19% 25 73%

The Browns showed last season that they preferred - in that system - to use the primary back and not share. It was either Green or it was Suggs. Right now, it is Suggs still. even when the team had to use James Jackson or Jamel White, they stuck with who started. Compounding this all is that Green and Suggs are locked into a training camp battle so who is #1 on the depth chart has not yet been determined (regardless of a long run by Suggs in a scrimmage game). Suggs has the upper-hard right now and may keep it.

Compounding this further though is that the new offensive coordinator this season is Terry Robiskie who was the running backs coach in Oakland. He brings with him an offensive style that has never preferred heavy use of a single runner. He has not only been a part of RBBC in Oakland, but even that changed every season from player to player. That is not to say that the #1 runner could not have value - Garner was a gem in 2002. But with a daunting schedule, a training camp battle ensuing and a new OC that has never indicated he would dole out a 320 carry season to back, the safest bet here is that RBBC will be in Cleveland this year anyway.

Dallas New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Troy Hambrick 13 19 66% 2 17% 21 55%

There is no doubt that Parcells will use RBBC this year - he did it last year though admittedly he had no major back to use. This year he may have two with Eddie George signing a nice one year deal and Julius Jones trading in his gold helmet for a star. Parcells will go with the hot hand when it is present. A bit of history shows that Parcells actually is not a RBBC guy when possible. Curtis Martin always had 300+ rushes under him and in his final two season with the Tuna, Martin had 367 carries and 369 carries ('98 and '99). Even in 1997 when Martin was still in New England, Parcells allowed Adrian Murrell to have 300 carries that year.

Parcells is not necessarily an RBBC proponent and his history goes against it. It is muddled this year with a new rookie and an old veteran. George is a one year thing in Dallas and can supply sure hands and goal line runs. But Julius Jones has opportunity given Parcells has always loved the primary back. What would have to happen would be Jones to explode in some games to curry the needed favor to take a big role. Otherwise, you know what George is and does. Until Jones shows he can be at least Emmitt-lite, he'll likely figure in as a 3rd down guy. Safest bet here is RBBC given the players but Parcells prefers the big-time runner.

Denver New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Clinton Portis 11 24 85% 5 75% 29 83%
Quentin Griffin 3 19 72% 3 65% 22 69%
Mike Anderson 2 15 51% 3 55% 18 51%

The Broncos were not RBBC last season with a top notch runner in Portis. The sharing increased in games without Portis, but that is masked by Portis playing partially in some games while getting hurt (or again getting hurt). in his rookie year (2002), Portis shared with Mike Anderson during his first four games but mainly because those first four games came against decent defenses of BUF, BAL, STL and SF. He was not ready to pick up the blitz and the Broncos did not run much in those four weeks other than against the Bills when Portis had 18 carries to Anderson's seven. Mike Anderson held pretty steady around that 7-10 carry mark for those four weeks and then dwindled down to only two or three from week five on. Back in 2001, the total numbers suggest that there was perfect sharing between Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson. The reality was that when TD was able, he got around 20+ carries a game. When he was not, Anderson took the 20 runs. The previous season was when Mike Anderson lit it up for 1500 yards. Before him, Olandis Gary had 1159 yards in 1999.

Shanahan can say whatever he wants, but the reality over the past five years is that Denver uses one running back heavily in almost all games. And it can be a top back like Portis or Terrell Davis, or it can be "RB of the Year" in Gary or Anderson. But he has never shuttled RB's in and out of games much. That makes the question who the RB is in Denver, not the style of play to fear. Griffin looked sharp in the HOF fame game. Until there is a reason, he will likely be a heavier use player. Tatum Bell was actually drafted higher than Portis was. If he gets the start, expect him to be the man. Denver's style has never been with specialists.

Detroit New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Olandis Gary 4 12 63% 2 16% 13 48%
Shawn Bryson 10 13 59% 6 51% 18 56%

The Lions drafted Kevin Jones this spring and hopes soared again in Detroit that Barry Sanders was back. Failing that, an actual NFL quality running back would still be more than fine. Steve Mariucci blended Olandis Gary and Shawn Bryson last season with very little success. Before you anoint Kevin Jones as a 360 carry rookie, realize that his system has always used more than one back.

In 2002, even though Garrison Hearst was gaining 4.7 yards a carry, he still used Kevan Barlow in a 60/40 time share. In 2001 when Hearst averaged 4.8 yards per run, it was still about 60/40. Jones still needs to wean on the passing game in DET and there is no reason to assume that RBBC will not continue. That is Mariucci's style. Jones can turn in some good games, but likely more when he learns the offense.
Green Bay New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Ahman Green 16 22 77% 4 42% 26 70%

Green was easily the primary ball carrier in Green Bay last season and will continue so this season. He is also a wonderful, if not painful, example of coachspeak, over analysis and the frenzy of speculation that happens every summer. Last year, it was a hot topic. Najeh Davenport was going to spell Ahman Green, take goal line carries and bring some RBBC to the Packers. He was described as a "wrecking ball" last year and he lit up some preseason games with nice runs and scores. RBBC was going to diminish what Green could do, take away his scores and make him rest when your fantasy team needed him.

The end result of all that coaching talk about Davenport and sharing carries? He had 77 on the season compared to Green's 355. A touchdown hawk? Davenport had two scores and Green only managed 20 on the season. Green was the best player and he was used extensively. Davenport did more mop up than anything and averaged less than five carries a game.
Houston New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Domanick Davis 11 19 86% 5 86% 25 86%
Stacey Mack 4 17 64% 3 36% 20 61%

The Texans had true RBBC in their first season since they had no actual running backs. In 2003, Stacey Mack assumed a heavy role in his first two games and split with Davis in the next two. By then, it was evident that Mack was not the answer and Davis was. From then on, Davis not only figured in heavily in the rushing game, he also averaged five catches a game. Tony Hollings is now the subject of speculation and even coaches' statement that the Texans will be using him "10 to 12" times a game. Nothing in the usage of Davis last year indicated that the Texans are using a system of specialists. If either Davis or Hollings proves superior, the Texans under Dom Capers have not been likely to split carries.

However, going back farther into Capers background shows a big willingness to use multiple backs. In Carolina, he used both Tim Biakabutuka and Fred Lane for two seasons. Prior to that was Anthony Johnson and Biakabutuka. It is hard to evaluate given the time passed and the fact that Biakabutuka was very injury prone. OC Chris Palmer came from Cleveland where he was the QB coach and his last year there used both Jamel White and James Jackson but only as taking turns as primary runners (plus he was only the QB coach).

This is one situation that you have to balance a coaches' statement about sharing against the history of the team and coaches. That is muddled here but most notable was that Davis always had his biggest games last year when the Texans won. At this point, the safest assumption is that Hollings will get playing time but it all smacks of so many other situations where the best player ended up as the dominant runner and fantasy value and the specter of RBBC was overblown.
Indianapolis New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Edgerrin James 13 24 90% 5 82% 29 88%

Edgerrin has one of the highest percentage of carries of any runner in the league last year. If you recall healthy James prior to his knee injury, he would actually end up going weeks with every single carry for the Colts. No worries here who is top dog and the heavy load.

Jacksonville New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Fred Taylor 16 22 79% 5 50% 26 71%

Taylor had 345 carries last year and had seven scores compared to the three by LaBrandon Toefield and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. This was a significant departure from 2002 when he had only 287 carries to 98 for Stacey Mack and Mack actually scored more touchdowns (9 versus 8). It was the touchdown hawk that is so hated in fantasy football. It did not happen last season because Mack left but more importantly, so did Tom Coughlin. The offense under HC Jack Del Rio never resorted to a goal line specialist.

This season Greg Jones was selected high in the draft and he could make for a nice short-yardage player. But nothing under Del Rio's scheme has shown that his offense will change from the same use of last season. Taylor put together a very nice season and remained shockingly healthy in spite of it being an odd-numbered year. Jones could get some play if Taylor goes down, but RBBC is not here.
Kansas City New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Priest Holmes 16 20 83% 6 67% 26 79%

If you need explanation on this one, I want you in my league. Even when his hip hurts him he still is the primary runner and while three rushing scores went between Larry Johnson and Derrick Blaylock, 27 went to Holmes. In the average game, he was only resting for two or three carries.
Miami New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Ricky Williams 16 25 90% 4 65% 28 84%

My how things change. The Dolphins were the one offense you could 100% rely on using a single back heavily. Then Ricky "hey - you got a match?" Williams loses interest and quits. This is a situation that will be RBBC only so far as it is needed to find the primary back. Right now, it is Travis Minor who is the best runner on the team, easily. It is just that compared to other #1 RB's in the league, the Fins look a bit short-handed. This will not be RBBC, but it will be confusing and likely ugly. The Dolphins are reticent to trade a 2005 draft pick to get a rusher from another team since even they realize that draft pick is looking like it might be single digits. It's called "bite the bullet and hope next year comes".

The situation is worth watching, but the offensive is having quarterback struggles, David Boston is in surgery and the notion that someone will be carrying the ball 35 times in one game this season is only being expected by the ball boy.
Minnesota New Offense No New RB's No RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Moe Williams 9 14 68% 6 69% 20 68%
Michael Bennett 4 17 66% 2 16% 18 52%
Onterrio Smith 3 20 64% 4 54% 24 61%

This is RBBC. Go ahead, look at it but don't touch. In addition to Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper, HC Mike Tice inherited a fondness for specialist and relief backs. In almost every game, one player will get around 60% or so of the carries. Quite often another gets that percentages of the scores. What you have now is a big speed back in Bennett for the yards and occasional score (though normally long), a short yardage/goal line guy in Moe Williams to take the scores. in case either of those are unable to play, Onterrio Smith becomes Bennett and rookie Mewelde Moore is slated to become Moe Williams. No one is slated to become Randy Moss since no one has the hair for the job.

Guaranteed here - RBBC.
New England New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Antowain Smith 9 17 65% 2 19% 19 56%
Kevin Faulk 7 17 65% 5 63% 22 65%

Since the Patriots greeted Bill Belichick as head coach, there has been a whole lot of sharing going on. In all facets. The passing game is a mess to forecast since no one is allowed to do well in successive games and the rushing game has been lackluster the entire four seasons. They've won two Super Bowls in that time, so I do not think Bill really cares.

While it is folly to think that liberal use of Kevin Faulk is going to go away, there is hope that newly acquired Corey Dillon has a shot at a nice year. In 2002 and 2001, Antowain Smith had between 250 and 280 carries and gained 1157 and 962 yards those seasons. He scored 12 times in 2001 though only six in 2002. Dillon is not likely to have a 300 carry year, but he will be a primary ball carrier and likely have nice opportunities for at least touchdowns. This is RBBC by design, but if Dillon can contribute a strong rushing game he can be a nice fantasy value. With a strong defense, the position should result in some consistent numbers even if he does share. He may actually end up as the only consistent player for the Patriots if he stays healthy.

New Orleans New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Deuce McAllister 16 22 91% 6 86% 27 90%

It does not get better than Deuce McAllister when examining the role of the running back in the scheme and the usage of only one player. There is no concern here and thought the Saints picked up Aaron Stecker as a back-up and relief player (wink), McAllister is one of the safest possible runners you can draft. The Saints do not use any touchdown hawk either and many forget that Deuce scored16 touchdowns in 2002. He only had 8 last season, but they were all his.
New York Giants New Offense Yes New RB's No RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Tiki Barber 16 17 79% 6 73% 23 77%

During his first week as the new Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin was returning from lunch when he noticed a box sitting near the dumpster. When he explored it - lo and behold - there was Ron Dayne. Shielding his eyes from the bright sun, Dayne squinted and said " I'll trade you a Heisman Trophy for a bite of that sandwich".

This is definitely slated to go into RBBC. Coughlin used Stacey Mack to take scores from Fred Taylor and about a 1:2 carry ratio. In Taylor's best season under Coughlin, he did have 292 carries for 1399 yards and 12 scores, but six other running backs had carries that year and four them also scored. Before that it was Taylor and James Stewart sharing. Before that it was Taylor with a nice year of 264 carries, 1223 yards and 14 scores but six other runners combined for 153 carries, about 600 yards and four scores.

Problem is that Barber is not really a Coughlin sort of player in that he is smaller and prone to fumble. This is not to say that Ron Dayne will suddenly rekindle his college years and he will become that 250 carry guy, but the writing is on the wall when even Barber admits that Dayne is likely to have more carries. The only question here is who will the other four backs that manage to have carries this season. The "Thunder and Lightning" that was planned years ago with the two will once again be attempted.

New York Jets New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Curtis Martin 16 20 88% 3 40% 23 75%

Each year we hear that Lamont Jordan is going to steal away all the touchdowns from Curtis Martin. That he was a high draft pick and is being slid into place to replace Martin. That Martin has lost a step and needs relief. ... yeah. Sure.

Curtis Martin has always been the primary back for the Jets and the best season ever for Lamont Jordan was 2002 when he had 84 carries to Martin's 261. Last year, it was 323 to 46, advantage Curtis. In 2001, it was 333 to 39, advantage Curtis.

Now this season is the final one of Jordan's rookie contract. He plays this out and he is a free agent. All things being equal, using Jordan heavily knowing it is only driving his value higher does not make a lot of sense. Martin still has been the better back all these years and it is highly unlikely that Herman Edwards thinks Jordan is the better choice since he is the HC that drafted him in the first place. There is no credible reason to assume that Jordan will take a prominent role in the offense unless Martin is hurt. This is not RBBC and it is not the ideal situation for Mr. Jordan.
Oakland New Offense Yes New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Tyrone Wheatley 6 18 63% 2 28% 20 55%
Charlie Garner 9 10 54% 6 67% 16 59%
J.R. Redmond 1 9 36% 2 67% 11 39%

The Raiders have historically been very content with RBBC using specialists like Charlie Garner and Zack Crockett. Now that HC Norv Turner and OC Jimmy Raye are in town, there are plenty of reasons to expect that to end. Turner is considered a brilliant offensive mind and his offenses have always relied on the primary runner - Emmitt Smith, Stephen Davis and Ricky Williams. The only factor impeding that style of play is a general lack of players that even come close to approaching the abilities of those three mentioned players.

What the Raiders currently have looks exactly what old Raider backfield would look like. Tyrone Wheatley, Troy Hambrick, Amos Zereoue and Justin Fargas all have individual talents and arguably none are the complete package nor likely to be productive in a full-time role. Wheatley is considered the front-runner but in ten seasons in the NFL, he has never had more than 242 carries in a season and that was back in 1999. He's also 32 years old. Troy Hambrick is young and more the size of a typical Turner-back, but he is not even being talked about in the Raider camp and was jettisoned by the Cowboys after a lackluster year as a full-time back. Justin Fargas is very fast and could easily display the best talent but has always been injury prone and never had a carry last year before hitting the IR. Amos Zereoue also started last season as a full-time back but he was unable to show the ability and talent to get the job done either.

This offense is very curious to analyze. Turner and company made no movement in the NFL draft to acquire a runner and opted instead to collect league has-beens to add to an over-the-hill runner and a preseason wonder that cannot stay healthy. Absolutely contradictory to what the offensive style would suggest they would do. You must consider this offense as an RBBC because there is no clear cut best back here. Justin Fargas is the most intriguing but also the least likely to play two consecutive weeks healthy. It all smacks of a trash rebuilding year for the Raiders. Chances here are that Rich Gannon and Jerry Rice will retire soon (Gannon at least) and as early as next year this offense will look entirely different. Without the sort of players that fit into the offensive scheme, this has to be considered as an RBBC season even though it is not preferred and should not continue in the future. It would be no shock if every single runner on this team was gone next year.
Philadelphia New Offense No New RB's No RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Correll Buckhalter 6 14 58% 2 17% 16 48%
Duce Staley 4 8 55% 4 45% 12 51%
Brian Westbrook 6 11 50% 6 63% 16 54%

The Eagles have always been a prime RBBC team under HC Andy Reid and there is no chance that will change. In print there has been plenty of speculation that the loss of Duce Staley means pumping up the numbers for Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter. While it may actually increase their plays, there is an equal chance that Reno Mahe steps up and enters the mix. There is also an excellent chance that the addition of Terrell Owens and the realization that a lack of passing game has been the death knell in the last three NFC Championships means that there will simply be less rushing this season.

Regardless of which player is being used as the primary back, the best any back did last year was to get less than 60% of the rushing plays. This is west coast football Philly-style. Westbrook scored well last season and most of them were long plays because he is not, obviously, a short yard back. Buckhalter gets goal line action and short yardage plays, but is less likely to see first and second down work.

This is RBBC by design and given the best runner is considered to be Westbrook who could not remain healthy with a heavy load, the same will continue here. That means the best fantasy aspect to this backfield is likely Westbrook with high yardage though inconsistently and Buckhalter in TD-only leagues though inconsistent as well.

Pittsburgh New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Jerome Bettis 11 20 75% 2 26% 21 65%
Amos Zereoue 5 15 66% 4 56% 19 64%

This is not a new offense though there is a new offensive coordinator in Tim Whisenhunt who was merely promoted up from being the tight ends coach when Mike Mularkey bolted. You can expect more of the same here in terms of offensive style because HC Bill Cowher will continue to have input and Whisenhunt is learning the ropes. Last season it appeared that Bettis was struggling out of an RBBC situation with Zereoue and this year Duce Staley was acquired giving hopes that Pittsburgh would use one back more heavily. That is not likely given history.

Staley comes from one of the premier RBBC teams in the league and the Steelers like to have a big ground game but have not used one player to attain it in many years. For the past three seasons, the best runner versus carries shared with other running backs had ended up as this: 225 - 205, 193 - 230 and 246 - 132 last year. Bettis is not a primary runner now and barely made the team this year thanks only to a major pay cut. But Staley turns 30 years-old in February and has only once had a full-time load in 1999 when he had 325 carries in a season that all other Eagle runners were injured. It was a product of a lack of options, not planned scheme.

If a team wants to continue an RBBC scheme, there could be few better runners to acquire than Staley who is a great pass catcher and can be used in many capacities depending on team needs. He is actually a bigger back at 242 pounds but all of the Steelers' history suggests that he could be pulled at the goal line for the bruiser Bettis. Staley is a quality plug-in into a system that needed a good runner that would not be a long-term solution. Staley has hardly been a paragon of durability himself. Given the historical use of Steeler backs and the aging status of Bettis and Staley, along with their injury potential, RBBC must be assumed here.

San Diego New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Lad. Tomlinson 16 20 93% 8 80% 28 87%

Okay, so maybe creating an offense around a single player may not prove to be a successful formula in the NFL, but this has been golden for fantasy football. Tomlinson received a higher percentage of running back work than any other player in his position last season. As if rushing the ball over and over was not enough, he was also tops in catching the ball. There is a reason why LT goes first or second in every draft. As still a relatively young buck at 25 years of age, he should continue that trend with less chance of injury than likely any other back out there.

San Francisco New Offense Yes New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Kevan Barlow 5 19 69% 5 61% 24 67%
Garrison Hearst 11 15 58% 3 54% 18 57%

The 49ers spent the off-season stripping away all their expensive players (AKA "talent") but left Kevan Barlow behind to shoulder what appears to be the entire load. The West Coast offense has finally evolved to where no west coat teams are using it. Now that there are zero expectations on the offense this season, HC Dennis Erickson has finally been given the keys to the car now that offensive coordinator Greg Knapp left for Atlanta and Ted Tollner was promoted to help Erickson bring a little PAC-10 flavor to the offense. Not only will the players be all different this season, the scheme is changing as well.

There is every intention to get Barlow around 20 or 25 carries a game and it may be the only way to keep the opponents off the field. Barlow showed enough last season to warrant the heavy use and though he has often been nicked up, he is clearly the best back on the team and the 49ers will be reverting to a more traditional offensive style this season with more one back running and deep throws.

It is a tough schedule with marginal players and already looks like a lost season, but at least Barlow should prove to be the lone consistent player on the team thanks to heavier use and less sharing than any time in the past 20 years for the 49ers.

Seattle New Offense No New RB's No RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Shaun Alexander 16 20 81% 4 59% 24 76%

Not unlike Ahman Green, the last two preseasons have been filled with talk of Maurice Morris. He looks great in camp. HC Mike Holmgren said the rookie Morris was exciting and deserved playing time. For 2002, Alexander had 295 carries to only 32 for Morris. In 2003, Morris looked just too good to sit and would water down Alexander's production for sure that year. Alexander ended with 295 carries and Morris rocketed up to 38 on the season.

The Seahawks do use a fullback in their scheme and Mack Strong was more of a threat to Alexander than Morris was last year. This season, once again, there are Morris talks during our annual speculation and over-analysis. It just has never happened. There is no reason to believe it will, even if Holmgren (for the third season) says it will happen. Alexander is the best back on the roster and this is not an RBBC team.
St. Louis New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Marshall Faulk 11 19 88% 6 84% 25 87%

The Rams have had the luxury of owning one of the premier running backs in the NFL for the past five years. When Faulk is used, it is effective and rather often. In the event that he is injured, the Rams continue to heavily use the primary tailback whether it is Arlen Harris, Lamar Gordon, or Trung Canidate. This is a one back offense by design. The drafting of Steven Jackson suggests the baton is getting passed soon, but in this offense you can be sure that the guy with that baton will be in a one back offense getting a lot of carries.

By scheme, this team will use Faulk as much as they can get from him. When he is injured, and he will be injured, the replacement if Steven Jackson and he will get big use. But by offensive scheme and historical use, the chance that Faulk and Jackson will cut into each other's numbers is false. It is only a question of which game they are playing in.
Tampa Bay New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC Yes
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Thomas Jones 4 21 80% 3 21% 24 59%
Michael Pittman 11 15 64% 7 59% 22 62%

HC Jon Gruden continues to build his RBBC empire by bringing in Charlie Garner, Jamel White, Brandon Bennett and two more fullbacks to add to Michael Pittman. Thomas Jones started to look like a full-time back last year and was allowed to leave. It is obvious that Gruden enjoys the specialist roles of runners and his prize acquisition was a running back who is 32 years old and has never had more than 250 carries a season (which was four years ago anyway). Oh yes, and he is recovering from injury anyway.

The Buccaneers scheme has long been RBBC and did not change with Gruden's arrival. It only made it worse. Expect to see Garner, Pittman and White used this season and no stud to emerge from the group.
Tennessee New Offense No New RB's Yes RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Eddie George 15 20 74% 2 49% 22 71%

With the departure of George last season, Chris Brown takes the reins of an offense that likes to use a single back. Eddie George has played for eight years and never fallen below 312 carries a season and that was 2003. His use was typically much higher than the 74%. The Titans offense intends to to throw the ball more in 2004 but you can be sure that if Brown is successful rushing, the ratios and opportunities will not decrease because this offense is all about the single back approach. You cannot reasonably assume what an non-George offense looks like since George has been in every game since 1996, but the scheme clearly calls for a one back approach and Brown has similar characteristics to George in style and size.

The Titans have brought on board Antowain Smith and there are valid reasons to have a veteran back on the team, even if he is not used. Smith has only reached a 4 yard per carry average once in the past six years. The only chance that Smith figures in is if Brown develops a fumbling problem near the goal line or he gets injured. So far, Brown has yet to fumble in the NFL.

Washington New Offense Yes New RB's Yes RBBC No
2003 Primary RB #GMS Rushes Rush % Catches Catch % Plays Play %
Rock Cartwright 5 13 71% 3 55% 16 65%
Trung Canidate 7 15 54% 2 24% 17 47%
Ladell Betts 3 13 52% 3 44% 16 50%

Deja-vu. Gibbs is on the sideline again and there's still a Bush in the Whitehouse. This situation is not destined to be RBBC given the costly acquisition of Clinton Portis and the vow by Gibbs to run him "until his tongue hangs out". Gibbs actually did use RBBC, but that was over 12 years ago and entailed Ricky Ervins and Ernest Byner. His tenure in Washington in the 80's actually had tremendous RBBC going on but luckily there are no other runners for the Redskins that even approaches Portis. Best man plays until his tongue hangs out.

The RBBC Score Card

Team RBBC Likely? Risk of sharing? New Offense Scheme? New Primary RB?
Arizona Yes High Yes No
Atlanta Yes High Yes No
Baltimore No None No No
Buffalo Yes High Yes Maybe
Carolina No Low No No
Chicago No None Yes Yes
Cincinnati Yes High No Yes
Cleveland Yes High Yes Maybe
Dallas Yes High No Yes
Denver No None No Yes
Detroit Yes High No Yes
Green Bay No None No No
Houston No Low No No
Indianapolis No None No No
Jacksonville No None No No
Kansas City No None No No
Miami No Low No Yes
Minnesota Yes High No No
New York Giants Yes High Yes No
New York Jets No None No No
New England Yes High No Yes
New Orleans No None No No
Oakland Yes High Yes Yes
Philadelphia Yes High No No
Pittsburgh Yes High No Yes
San Diego No None No No
San Francisco No None Yes No
Seattle No None No No
St. Louis No None No No
Tampa Bay Yes High No Yes
Tennessee No None No Yes
Washington No None Yes Yes

The final score: RBBC 14, Non-RBBC 18
Teams with new offensive schemes: 9
Teams with new primary RB: 14
Teams returning same primary RB, same offensive scheme and unlikely to use RBBC: 12 ( 38%)

This season is not unusual in the number of new offenses and really not that high with new primary runners. But mixing in nine new offenses and fourteen new potential primary backs into a league that has 14 teams with indicators to being RBBC means that there are only 12 teams that return the same running back, same offensive system and will not likely be using an RBBC scheme this year. BAL, CAR, GB, HOU, IND, JAX, KC, NYJ, NO, SD, SEA and STL.

Just because a team uses RBBC does not make the running back worthless in fantasy football, it just limits what he can do on a weekly basis and has a bigger effect on the consistency he can offer. Complicating the review is that it cannot consider what injuries may happen this season so 38% is only a starting point.

What impact this has on fantasy football can be significant. Top backs that never share are obvious first round picks, but value can be found in the position later by taking backs that are in an unknown situation and yet the eventual "best player" there will be an 80%+ carry running back. That would include players like Willis McGahee, De'Shaun Foster, Tony Hollings, Travis Minor, Quentin Griffin and the like. Knowing the likely style of play for a team allows a better shot at sleepers that hit big. You can draft all the Kevin Faulk equivalents you want and they are #2 on the depth charts. But they will never turn in a difference making season.

You may disagree with some of the categorizations of the above, but before you add any more teams to the RBBC list, consider the history of the coach and the difference between finding the best player and a true scheme employing specialists. By the same token, watch out for the rampant coach-speak and reporter embellishments during the summer. There's a whole lot of microphones being shoved into a faces right now and they have to say something.

Chances are it won't be something to help opponents prepare. It will be some quasi-truthful accolades or barbs with an agenda that will mask the inevitable truth for most teams and schemes.

The best players play.