They are four innocuous words – “Running Back by Committee” – but together they constitute the most terrifying phrase in the fake football lexicon. Whether it’s a scheme hatched by Mike Shanahan deliberately designed to confound fantasy managers or the necessary result of an NFL team with two or three equally-talented (or equally-untalented) rushers, the RBBC is a part of the game that we have to deal with. In this piece, I will try to make sense of the NFC’s most nebulous ball-carrying committees.
The Incumbent: Chris “Beanie” Wells (ADP: 81.0*)
This guy has been injured so many times since he entered the league in 2009 that it’s a wonder there are any beans left in the bag. Still, Beanie topped 1000 rushing yards for the first time and tallied 10 touchdowns last season. On the other hand, Wells doesn’t catch passes and he’s looked mediocre in the preseason.
The Challenger: Ryan Williams (113.3)
After missing all of 2011 with a ruptured patella tendon, Williams has looked pretty good this preseason in limited time. He is the more elusive back in this platoon and will get more work in the passing game than Wells.
The Dark Horses: LaRod Stephens-Howling & Alfonso Smith
Stephens-Howling could be a sneaky play in a deep return yardage league, but leave these two on the waiver wire otherwise.
In any sort of PPR format, Williams is the clear choice, but he is probably the better pick in non-PPR due to the fact that he can be had almost three rounds later than Wells.
The Incumbent: Michael Turner (36.9)
Turner becomes less of a “burner” every season and he’s looked glacially slow in the preseason, but he’s averaged over 4 yards per carry and 10 TDs each of the past three seasons. Regardless, nothing lasts forever, particularly running backs in the NFL, so it will be interesting to see if Turner can hold off his competition for one more season.
The Challenger: Jacquizz Rodgers (121.7)
With the Falcons offense skewing more towards the passing game in 2012, Rodgers’ workload will inherently increase. If the head honchos in Atlanta truly believe he is an every-down back and not just a change-of-pace guy, this should be the season that Rodgers usurps the starting role from Turner.
The Dark Horse: Jason Snelling
The emergence of Rodgers has made Snelling something of an afterthought in this committee, but he will be in line for some work if Turner or Rodgers gets hurt.
If you use your top picks on quarterbacks, tight ends, and/or wide receivers, Michael Turner might be a necessary evil for your squad. Otherwise, I’m all-in on the upside of Rodgers.
The Incumbents: Jonathan Stewart (86.1) & DeAngelo Williams (91.4)
Despite the monster contract that Williams penned before the 2011 season, he couldn’t separate himself from Stewart on the field. Both players averaged 5.4 yards per carry and while Williams had 2 more total TDs, he only had 971 all purpose yards to J-Stew’s 1174. The Daily Show was clearly more valuable last year and is being drafted accordingly, but after sustaining a vague ankle injury against the Jets in the preseason, this position battle is far from clear-cut heading into Week 1.
The Dark Horse: Mike Tolbert (136.3)
After proving he could kill the value of a single running back in San Diego, Tolbert went to Carolina to try his hand at ruining the value of two running backs at the same time.
I was pretty high on Stewart before the ankle injury, but now I’m staying away from all of these backs. If I had to pick one guy from the bunch, I’d take Stewart because he still has the most upside and his injury is being reported as minor. I’m worried that we’ll see a repeat of last season, where neither back will separate from the other and both will feel like wasted picks.
The Incumbent: Kevin Smith (94.6)
Smith is the incumbent by default, but assuming good health, he will be the starter for the Lions in the first two weeks of the season. Unfortunately, we can never assume good health with Kevin Smith. He’s won’t play in Detroit’s final preseason game, as he’s currently nursing an ankle injury, but the team hopes he will be ready for Week 1.
The Challenger: Mikel LeShoure (125.2)
LeShoure is suspended for the first two games of the year, but he’ll be in the mix after that. Check out my bold predictions to see what else I have to say about Mikel LeShoure.
The Dark Horses: Jahvid Best (143.4) & Keiland Williams
Best will start the season on the PUP list and miss at least his team’s first six games. Williams is merely a safety net in case Kevin Smith isn’t ready to go in Week 1. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
I like Kevin Smith’s talent a lot, but he can’t stay on the field. Mikel LeShoure is the Lions running back I want this season.
The Incumbent: Adrian Peterson (18.9)
“Wait,” you say, “Adrian Peterson is the feature back for the Vikings. That’s not a committee!” Sorry disembodied voice, I don’t care how much of a “physical freak” he is, there’s no way Peterson will be even close to 100% to start the season. He tore his ACL and his MCL in December of 2011 and we’ve seen time and time again that it takes a year to recover from those types of injuries.
The Challenger: Toby Gerhart (114.5)
Gerhart is one of the best kept secrets from last season’s second half. As a starter, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry, 65.6 rushing yards per game, and 25.0 receiving yards per game.
This one isn’t close for me. I’m not touching Peterson in drafts before the 4th round and he’s always taken before that. Give me Gerhart.
New Orleans Saints
The Incumbents: Darren Sproles (42.8), Mark Ingram (101.6), & Pierre Thomas (129.5)
The Saints backfield is a true committee and one of the biggest headaches for fake footballers. Sproles is your man in PPR and return yardage leagues, but in standard formats, Ingram and Thomas muck up the picture. Ingram has been dinged up in the preseason and he hasn’t proven he can be much more than a short-yardage back, so I don’t understand why he’s being drafted an average of 28 picks ahead of Thomas.
The Dark Horse: Chris Ivory
Ivory is productive when he’s plays. In 18 career games, he’s averaged 5.0 yards per carry. On the other hand, he only has 1 career reception in a pass-first offense.
Sproles is my favorite here only because his role is so well defined. I also like Thomas at his current ADP, mostly because his flexibility in running and catching the ball should keep him on the field in more situations.
San Francisco 49ers
The Incumbent: Frank Gore (46.0)
The Niners clearly believe Gore is on his way out of football, so they stockpiled even more RB assets in the offseason. He’s being drafted on average in the 4th round, regardless. The major red flag with Gore in 2012 was his lack of involvement in the passing game. He went from 52 catches in 14 games in 2009, to 46 catches in 11 games in 2010, to only 17 catches in 16 games in 2012.
The Challengers: Kendall Hunter (135.9) & Brandon Jacobs (133.2)
The signing of Jacobs was a bit of a head-scratcher because Gore is still a capable short-yardage back. Meanwhile, Kendall Hunter now has a year of NFL experience under his belt as he looks to take over the reins of the San Francisco rushing attack.
The Dark Horses: LaMichael James (121.5) & Anthony Dixon
The rookie James injured his ankle in a scary-looking preseason play against the Texans, but it’s not believed to be serious. Dixon appeared to be on the chopping block based on the 49ers’ depth at RB, but he’s put in enough work during camp learning the fullback position that he should end up on the final roster.
Unsure of how much Frank Gore has left in the tank, Kendall Hunter is the only 49ers running back I want in 2012. If Gore holds off Hunter and produces another 1000-yard season, I’ll tip my cap to the owners bold enough to have drafted him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Incumbent: LeGarrette Blount (125.6)
Oh, what a difference a year makes. One of last year’s preseason darlings, Blount has fallen off the fake football map. Chet has pointed it out with fancy moving pictures and I’m going to say it with a crude allegory: Blount has looked slower than a wet turd sliding down a dry rock in his exhibition games.
The Challenger: Doug Martin (48.0)
Despite early preseason declarations by the Bucs that Blount was still the starter, fantasy owners are jumping all over Doug Martin. The ADP listed of 48.0 is actually a little low thanks to draft results from earlier in the preseason. Martin is creeping up into the 3rd and even the 2nd round in many leagues.
This isn’t really a committee at all anymore, but in case you were working with a fantasy magazine from July, Doug Martin is the Tampa Bay running back you want.
The Incumbents: Roy Helu (95.2), Evan Royster (140.0), & Tim Hightower (148.1)
All three of these guys started for the Redskins at some point last season and all three have dealt with injuries this preseason. Hightower missed 11 games with a knee injury in 2011 and has battled soreness in that knee all offseason. Royster looked good at the end of last year and appeared to be the favorite to take over the starting role, but he got dinged up and Helu turned in a massive performance – 15 carries, 90 yards, and 2 TDs – in a preseason clobbering of Tampa Bay.
The Challenger: Alfred Morris (146.2)
When there were questions about whether or not any of the three incumbents would be healthy enough for Week 1, Morris was pegged as the likely starter by default. With Royster and Helu healthy enough for preseason games, Morris will crawl back into Mike Shanahan’s dungeon and await further instructions.
There’s an old saying in Washington D.C. that goes “Shanahan me once, shame on… Shame on you. Shanahan me—you can’t get Shanahan-ed again.” Roy Helu is the most talented back on the ‘Skins and I’ll draft him over all the others, but I’d try to also draft Royster and/or Morris as handcuffs if my bench was deep enough.
Refreshingly absent from this list of teams and committees were the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and St. Louis Rams. These teams are each kind enough to offer a clear starter-and-backup dichotomy at running back. If we can’t all manage to draft those featured backs for ourselves, at least we know they still exist.
*The ADP values listed in this piece are the averaged values from ESPN, Yahoo, and Fantasy Football Calculator, taken from FantasyPros.com on August 30th.