Fantasy Football: An Analysis of Running Back Committees

Kyle WinslowCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2009

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Running back Derrick Ward #28 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs the ball against the Dallas Cowboys during the game at Raymond James Stadium on September 13, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

My favorite line from the Star Wars Trilogy:

Solo: "No time to discuss this in a committee!"

Leia: "I am NOT a COMMITTEE!"

Unfortunately, almost every backfield in the NFL is a committee now, and this can mean disaster or opportunity for your fantasy team. There aren't as many running backs that offer consistent production, but the waiver wire might be a treasure chest if you know what to look for.

After just one week of action, you can't judge a player's potential by points alone. You also have to take into account how many opportunities individual players are getting on a weekly basis.

Here is an analysis of all the rushing performances by running backs from Week One in the NFL, ranked in order from highest percentage of one player getting carries to lowest. Although this list is focused on percentage of rushing attempts, rushing yardage and number of targets in the passing game are also included where the data is relevant.

St Louis Rams

Stephen Jackson—16 carries (67 yards): 100 percent.

The least committee of any backfield, yet still minimal fantasy production. He's a must-start every week, but I can't say he was a must-draft. He also got zero targets as a receiver out of the backfield in Week One.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Maurice Jones-Drew—21 carries (97 yards): 95.45 percent.

Montel Owens—one carry (three yards): 4.55 percent.

Jones-Drew is also a must start, and it doesn't look like his backup, whomever it is, will have much fantasy value unless there's an injury. MJD was targeted eight times as a receiver against the Colts.

Atlanta Falcons

Michael Turner—22 carries (65 yards): 91.67 percent.

Jerious Norwood—two carries (seven yards): 8.33 percent.

Obviously, Turner is one of the few feature backs in the league, but Norwood was targeted six times in the passing game and Turner wasn't targeted at all. In PPR leagues, Norwood could still be a decent flex option or bye week sub.

San Francisco 49ers

Frank Gore—22 carries (30 yards): 91.67 percent.

Moran Norris—one carry (two yards): 4.17 percent.

Glen Coffee—one carry (negative three yards): 4.17 percent.

I heard several pundits rave about Glen Coffee before the season, but he doesn't warrant a spot on your roster at this time. Frank Gore was targeted five times out of the backfield, while Coffee and Norris had no targets.

Chicago Bears

Matt Forte—25 carries (55 yards): 89.29 percent.

Garrett Wolfe—three carries (15 yards): 10.71 percent.

Matt Forte is obviously a must-start, but I was surprised that he had no catches and no passes thrown his way. Garrett Wolfe was targeted once.

Washington Redskins

Clinton Portis—16 carries (62 yards): 88.89 percent.

Ladell Betts—two carries (negative one yard): 11.11 percent.

Betts was targeted by two passing attempts, Portis by one. Feel free to drop Betts if he's on your team.

Buffalo Bills

Fred Jackson—15 carries (57 yards): 88.24 percent.

Xavier Omon—two carries (eight yards): 11.76 percent.

How do you lose that game? You have to try to lose that game. McKelvin is such an appropriate name...his brain is absolute zero. Or some frozen McDonald's sandwich. 

Anyway, Jackson played great in Marshawn Lynch's absence, catching five of seven passes thrown his way for 83 yards. He's a must-start these next two weeks, and I think he'll still be a decent fantasy option once Lynch returns from suspension.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cedric Benson—21 carries (76 yards): 87.50 percent.

Brian Leonard—two carries (six yards): 8.33 percent.

Bernard Scott—one carry (negative six yards): 4.17 percent.

It might surprise you to look at Cedric Benson as a good fantasy option, but he's way up high on this list and he was targeted as a receiver twice as much as any other Bengals' running back in their first game (four times for Benson, twice for Leonard). 

The offense might not be very good, but Benson is a good start whenever the Bengals play a weak defensive team.

Green Bay Packers

Ryan Grant—16 carries (61 yards): 84.21 percent.

DeShawn Wynn—three carries (eight yards): 15.79 percent.

Second-string RB Brandon Jackson was injured for this game, but it doesn't look like he will get many carries when he returns. This game was a defensive battle and Grant still had a decent day. I expect him to have a much better fantasy year than last year.

Detroit Lions

Kevin Smith—15 carries (20 yards): 83.33 percent.

Jerome Felton—two carries (four yards): 11.11 percent.

Aaron Brown—one carry (nine yards): 5.56 percent.

Kevin Smith is another one of the few RBs not part of a committee, although he plays on a poor team. Still, he's a good start regardless of the matchup. He was the target of nine passes and caught seven of them.

New Orleans Saints

Mike Bell—28 carries (143 yards): 80.00 percent.

Reggie Bush—seven carries (14 yards): 20.00 percent.

This is pretty telling—in a game where Pierre Thomas was injured, Bush still only got seven carries. He's still a good receiving threat and he was targeted six times in this game. 

It will be interesting to see how many carries Bell gets when Pierre Thomas returns from his MCL sprain.

Minnesota Vikings

Adrian Peterson—25 carries (180 yards): 75.76 percent.

Chester Taylor—seven carries (17 yards): 21.21 percent.

Naufahu Tahi—one carry (two yards): 3.03 percent.

I recommend starting Adrian Peterson.

Houston Texans

Steve Slaton—nine carries (17 yards): 75.00 percent.

Chris Brown—three carries (15 yards): 25.00 percent.

Don't worry, the Texans' offense will get it together. Don't trade away Slaton or Andre Johnson yet. Matt Schaub, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about.

Kansas City Chiefs

Larry Johnson—11 carries (20 yards): 68.75 percent.

Jamaal Charles—four carries (eight yards): 25.00 percent.

Jackie Battle—one carry (negative one yard):  6.25 percent.

Not a very good offense, but rarely do teams run the ball well against the Ravens.  Since Johnson is getting the bulk of the carries, I would consider him a decent fantasy starter, although Charles was targeted four times to Johnson's one in the passing game.

Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson—15 carries (57 yards): 65.22 percent.

Lendale White—eight carries (28 yards): 34.78 percent.

Johnson was targeted twice for passes and White was targeted only once. This stat is probably unique to this particular game plan, because normally Johnson is a great receiving option out of the backfield on screens and check-downs.

Dallas Cowboys

Marion Barber—14 carries (79 yards): 63.64 percent.

Felix Jones—six carries (22 yards): 27.27 percent.

Tashard Choice—two carries (10 yards): 9.09 percent.

At this point, Barber is the only RB on the Cowboys that can be considered an every week start. Neither Barber nor Jones were targeted for a pass, but Choice had two receptions on two targets. 

If there's any injury, I really like Choice a lot.  If you're in a keeper league, find out when he'll be a free agent and draft him the year before.

Cleveland Browns

Jamal Lewis—11 carries (57 yards): 61.11 percent.

James Davis—four carries (five yards): 22.22 percent.

There really aren't any good fantasy options on the Browns. Lewis probably shouldn't be started unless he's got a good matchup. He was targeted three times as a receiver out of the backfield, whereas Davis was targeted four times.

Indianapolis Colts

Joseph Addai—17 carries (42 yards): 60.71 percent.

Donald Brown—11 carries (33 yards): 39.29 percent.

Donald Brown actually looks like the better running back, but Addai is still the better fantasy start. Even if Brown does turn out to be better, the Colts are the kind of team that wouldn't significantly increase his carries (or start him over Addai) until the playoffs.

Addai was targeted six times in the passing game and Brown was targeted twice.

San Diego Chargers

LaDainian Tomlinson—13 carries (55 yards): 59.09 percent.

Darren Sproles—nine carries (23 yards): 40.91 percent.

I said it during the B/R Writers' Mock Draft and I'll say it again. I would rather have Sproles in the ninth round than Tomlinson in the first, and now I think I might just rather have Sproles outright. 

They're splitting the carries pretty evenly, and Sproles caught five of the seven passes thrown his way for 43 yards compared to Tomlinson's one catch for one yard. And when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Sproles was on the field, not L.T.

If you get points for return yards, Sproles is ridiculous. I bet Sproles has a lot more fantasy points than L.T. at the end of the year, and I think he'll be taking more and more of the workload as the season progresses.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Willie Parker—13 carries (19 yards): 59.09 percent.

Mewelde Moore—five carries (eight yards): 22.73 percent.

Rashard Mendenhall—four carries (six yards): 18.18 percent.

It looks as though Willie Parker is the only viable fantasy starter on the Steelers, although Moore was targeted for seven passes whereas Parker only had one target.  Unless he gets a lot more carries next week, Mendenhall can be dropped.

Oakland Raiders

Darren McFadden—17 carries (68 yards): 58.62 percent.

Michael Bush—12 carries (55 yards): 41.38 percent.

This is a much more balanced timeshare than many predicted and both backs ran the ball well. McFadden is a great start any week, and Bush is definitely somebody to keep your eye on. McFadden was targeted four times in the passing game, Bush was targeted once.

Seattle Seahawks

Julius Jones—19 carries (117 yards): 57.58 percent.

Edgerrin James—11 carries (30 yards): 33.33 percent.

Justin Forsett—3 carries (17 yards): 9.09 percent.

Most of Jones' yards came from one big play, so I would still play him for desirable matchups and sit him for poor ones until he proves he can be consistent. He was targeted twice as a receiver. 

Edge doesn't look like he's going to be very productive and he wasn't involved at all in the passing game.

New York Giants

Brandon Jacobs—16 carries (46 yards): 57.14 percent.

Ahmad Bradshaw—12 carries (60 yards): 42.86 percent.

The Giants are a good rushing team and even though neither put up big numbers against the Redskins, both of these guys are good starts on any week. They don't have to face Albert Haynesworth every week.

Philadelphia Eagles

Brian Westbrook—13 carries (64 yards): 56.52 percent.

LeSean McCoy—nine carries (46 yards): 39.13 percent.

Leondard Weaver—one carry (11 yards): 4.35 percent.

So far this is a lot more of a balanced committee than many would have expected.  Westbrook was targeted four times as a receiver, McCoy was targeted three times. McCoy might be a good flex option by the end of the season.

New York Jets

Thomas Jones—20 carries (107 yards): 55.56 percent.

Leon Washington—15 carries (60 yards): 41.67 percent.

Tony Richardson—one carry (two yards): 2.78 percent.

Love Leon Washington this year. I think he'll be getting more carries than Jones by the end of the year, and I consider him a solid flex starter.

Baltimore Ravens

Ray Rice—19 carries (108 yards): 54.29 percent.

Willis McGahee—10 carries (44 yards): 28.57 percent.

Le'Ron McClain—six carries (19 yards): 17.14 percent.

A lot of people are going to be tempted to start McGahee after his two touchdowns, but if he gets less than 30 percent of the carries all year, he's not going to score consistently. 

He's going to lose a lot of goal line carries to McClain and he was only targeted one more time than the other two backs as a receiving option, getting five looks to Rice's and McClain's four each. 

If he scores again next week but still gets a low percentage of touches, trade him while he's hot.

Arizona Cardinals

Tim Hightower—eight carries (15 yards): 53.33 percent.

Chris Wells—seven carries (29 yards): 46.67 percent.

This is why I included targets. Hightower was targeted 14 times and caught 12 of them for 121 yards. 

I know Wells went higher in most drafts, but Hightower isn't a bad flex option if he can continue catching that many passes out of the backfield. I wouldn't start Wells until he starts getting more touches.

Miami Dolphins

Ronnie Brown—10 carries (43 yards): 52.63 percent.

Ricky Williams—seven carries (39 yards): 36.84 percent.

Lousaka Polite—two carries (five yards): 10.53 percent.

There were also a few carries by QB Pat White and WR Ted Ginn Jr.  The wildcat offense makes running back production for Miami difficult to predict. I didn't like this backfield fantasy-wise before the draft, and I don't like them any better after one game.

Carolina Panthers

DeAngelo Williams—14 carries (37 yards): 51.85 percent.

Jonathan Stewart—11 carries (35 yards): 40.74 percent.

Mike Goodson—two carries (one yard): 3.70 percent.

We all knew this would be a committee, but when you look at it in this scope and consider that teams can load up against the Panthers' running game while Delhomme and the passing offense is in shambles, is DeAngelo Williams really a top six or seven fantasy RB? 

Williams was the target of five passes, Stewart was the target of three.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cadillac Williams—13 carries (97 yards): 48.15 percent.

Derrick Ward—12 carries (62 yards): 44.44 percent.

Clifton Smith—one carry (four yards): 3.70 percent.

Earnest Graham—one carry (one yard): 3.70 percent.

This is bad news for people who drafted Earnest Graham, and great news for people who picked up Williams off waivers. Looks like Williams and Ward will split things fairly evenly, although Williams is the starter.

Ward was targeted three times in the passing game and Williams was not targeted at all.  

New England Patriots

Laurence Maroney—10 carries (32 yards): 45.45 percent.

Fred Taylor—nine carries (25 yards): 40.91 percent.

Kevin Faulk—three carries (seven yards): 13.64 percent.

Not a single RB in this high powered offense is a reliable fantasy start. 

Faulk might be the most productive out of all of them, since he was used religiously on third downs and heavily in the passing game. He was targeted eight times and had 51 receiving yards. 

Maroney was targeted twice in the passing game, but Taylor did not have a pass thrown his way. Sammy Morris did not have a carry despite being listed as No. 1 on the depth chart. 

I can't believe Buffalo lost that game.

Denver Broncos

Correll Buckhalter—eight carries (46 yards): 42.11 percent.

Knowshon Moreno—eight carries (19 yards): 42.11 percent.

LaMont Jordan—two carries (five yards): 10.53 percent.

Peyton Hillis—one carry (two yards): 5.26 percent.

Considering Moreno was questionable for the game with an MCL sprain, he may have more upside than Buckhalter in the future.  Even though he didn't do much with the carries, he still got the same number of chances as Buckhalter. 

When he's completely healthy he might get more of a workload.


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