NFL Running Back By Committee (RBBC) 2011 Preview
There will at least ten teams entering the 2011 season with something close to a running back by committee (RBBC) approach. These teams include the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders and Washington Redskins. But every team has a No. 2 running back who steals carries -- whether it's a third-down back or a back used to spell the starter.
I've listed each NFL team by their current starter's last name.
RB Joseph Addai, --- - Bye Week Fill-in
The Indianapolis Colts most certainly have a RBBC on their hands between Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and rookie Delone Carter. Given Addai's draft position (87.16), there isn't much risk involved as long as he is healthy. But that is of course the main concern. Addai has missed anywhere from one to eight games every year he's been in the league (excluding his rookie year). Early reports from The Indianapolis Star have indicated that Donald Brown, who failed to do much with his opportunities as a starter last season, may be enjoying his last season on the Colts. Assuming he plays at least 12 games, Addai is a solid option as RB3 with decent upside. Given the number of options the Colts have, there's no reason to overwork him. Although there may be a temptation to consider Hart, Brown or Carter as a late-round flier, it's too early to tell which player will emerge as a RB2 on this team. Indy will likely work that out from game to game during the season.
RB Cedric Benson, --- - Bust (overvalued)
With new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in Cincinnati and QB Carson Palmer having one foot out the door, it's hard to know where potential free agent RB Cedric Benson fits in for the Bengals next year. Benson had the fifth most touches of any back in the NFL last season, yet was generally ranked in the mid-teens for total fantasy points at his position, depending upon the scoring system. Although many owners are drooling at the thought of RB2 Bernard Scott having a breakout year, Benson is still a relatively "young" 28 years old, considering he did not eclipse 200-plus carries until playing for the Bengals in 2008. But there is no ignoring the potential that Benson has been overworked with 667 touches over the last two seasons. And when factoring in his big dropoff in yards per carry from 2009 to 2010 (4.2 ypc down to 3.5), the trend isn't headed in the right direction. For owners who like to grab RBs early and often in drafts, Benson is a solid RB3 but a worrisome RB2. If rookie QB Andy Dalton is at the helm of this offense, it's hard to imagine the less than fleetfooted Benson succeeding against crowded eight-man fronts. His longest run in 2010 was only 26 yards and had only two runs of 20-plus yards all year. Benson isn't a bad selection if he falls in the draft a little bit, but reaching for him is definitely out of the question. He may improve slightly this year, but the performance numbers indicate he may have peaked in 2009. Finally, Scott is a decent late-round flier, but as long as Benson is healthy he's the man.
RB Jahvid Best, --- - Quality Backup
Jahvid Best started last season red hot by scoring five touchdowns in the first two weeks. After that, not much else happened. For PPR leagues, he put up steady points, but he only managed one more touchdown all season and it didn't come until week 16. The Detroit Lions made a statement by taking rookie Mikel Leshoure in the second round. Although Best showed a lot of promise in his first year, Detroit is moving forward with a two-back system. The Lions have a lot of potential on offense (particularly if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy). Best remains the RB1, but fantasy owners shouldn't expect an increase of his touches. Head coach Jim Schwartz has said publicly that Leshoure will be utilized to kill the clock and in short-yardage situations. When the Lions have the lead and want to pound the ball in the second half, Leshoure will eat into Best's production. Between Detroit's top four backs last season, there were 102 carries when Detroit had the lead. Assuming Detroit improves, there's a good shot for 100-plus carries for Leshoure, but that's an optimistic projection of course. Best is a very good flex option, but he's not much of a RB2 if the Lions stick to a timeshare. While it may seem like this is a favorable situation for Leshoure (and he does have some late-round value), it is restricted to deep-league formats only.
RB LeGarrette Blount, --- - Sleeper (undervalued)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are easy to root for. They're young and outperformed their expectations last season. This includes their RB1 LeGarrette Blount. In spite of becoming the starter in week 11, Blount made the most out of it by rushing for 648 yards in his seven starts. At that pace for a full 16 game season, Blount would have rushed for nearly 1,500 yards. This is why many fantasy analysts are listing him as a potential sleeper, which is a fair assessment based on his performance. Blount took many teams by surprise and defenses now have more game tape of him to figure out how to best effectively stop him. It's important to remember: Blount is a big back who is going to take a lot of punishment. While the distinction of being a sleeper is hard to argue against, he has to stay healthy and the Bucs don't have much behind him to give him rests. Backup Earnest Graham may be released, while rookie Allen Bradford will likely be limited to a short-yardage role. Blount should improve upon his 2010 total, but don't expect a huge leap in his production.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw, --- - Sleeper (undervalued)
Assuming the Giants re-sign Bradshaw, he should have no problems duplicating his 2010 numbers (1,245 rushing yards and 8 TDs). RB2 Brandon Jacobs is one of the most valuable backup RBs in the league and makes for a great flex play considering the Giants' willingness to use both he and Bradshaw in the red zone. On the off-chance that Bradshaw does not return, RB3 Danny Ware becomes a great sleeper option. But again, assuming Bradshaw is back, he's undervalued. The Giants definitely had a great thing going between he and Jacobs last season. Both players combined for over 2,000 yards and 17 TDs. Bradshaw is only 25 years old and even when considering his fumbling problems, he should remain a highly productive RB2 with even more value in PPR leagues.
RB Jamaal Charles, --- - Stud (low risk)
The scary thing about Jamaal Charles is that he finished second on the team with 230 carries behind Thomas Jones (245), yet outrushed him by nearly 600 yards. Head coach Todd Haley has implied that he plans on giving Charles a larger workload. Just for argument's sake, if Charles had 300 carries and maintained his yards per carry average (6.4), he'd accumulate 1,915 yards on the season. But let's not get too carried away. There is a case to be made that Charles has not yet peaked statistically and could potentially be the No. 1 fantasy back in the league next year if he can stay healthy and take on a bigger workload. RB2 Thomas Jones is an adequate flex option but there's only so many touches to go around. Haley also suggested Jones was "running on fumes" late last season and asked him to slim down. Jones is somewhere between a flex option and a bye week fill-in player. As for Charles, he's an unquestioned fantasy stud who should be taken no later than with the fourth pick in all leagues.
RB Matt Forte, --- - Solid/Safe Pick
Forte is one of those backs with mixed opinions on his projected value due to his breakout rookie year, sophomore slump and playing somewhere in-between in his third year. On paper, this is a great situation. He is the clear RB1 with no real threat behind him. RB2 Chester Taylor averaged a preposterously low 2.4 yards per carry last year. Behind Taylor, there isn't much else other than mop-up duty guys like Garrett Wolfe, Harvey Unga and Kahlil Bell. It's important to remember that Chicago's offensive line is below average and in spite of that, Forte put up good numbers. Think of him as a Ray Rice-lite: Great yardage, plenty of receptions out of the backfield and a solid number of touchdowns. The Bears added OL Gabe Carimi and even with the lockout, he's one of the more ready-to-play rookie linemen. Forte will certainly produce in a very reliable way and although there isn't much upside, he's much safer than some of the older backs who will be available when Forte goes off the board. He's in the prime of his career at the age of 25 and in all likelihood, he has not yet peaked.
RB Arian Foster, --- - Stud (low risk)
For those fantasy owners looking for a reason to doubt Arian Foster's talent, it won't be found here. There is a reason he had so many touches and raked up the production, and it's because he's supremely talented. There is an argument to be made for four backs (Foster, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles) to be the No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts, but consider this: which offense is the safest bet? Minnesota will definitely give Peterson the ball as many times as they can, but do they have a quarterback to keep defenses honest? That's unknown. The same can be said about Tennessee with Johnson. Charles might get more touches, but Thomas Jones will still take a bite out of his numbers. So ultimately, Foster may be the safe selection amongst the four. That said, Houston's RB2 Ben Tate will spell Foster on occasion and it seems very unlikely Foster will match his 393 touches from last season. This certainly will not be a timeshare though. Foster owners should consider adding Tate as a handcuff but his value doesn't go much further beyond that.
RB Frank Gore, --- - Bust (overvalued)
The problem with Frank Gore has always been the same. Fantasy owners are left to hope he's able to stay healthy. 2010 was an example of a year where he could not. Injuries forced him to miss six games, including the game he was ultimately injured in. Up until that point, he had been spotty at best and for those who used a first-round pick to select him, they had to have been disappointed in his performance up until that point in the season. This year, Gore will likely be selected around the end of the first round or early in the second. For owners wanting to succeed during their fantasy playoff stretch, counting on an injury-prone back is a serious concern. While he remains the clear-cut, unquestioned top back in San Francisco (unless he falls towards the latter half of the second round), he's not worth the risk. Of course, he could rebound and put up numbers similar to his 2009 season where he had over 1,500-plus total yards and 13 TDs, but that's a very optimistic point of view since his healthy has always been a concern. San Francisco still lacks a QB and is under a new coaching staff. Gore makes for a great RB2 on your roster, but he's too risky as a RB1. RB2 Anthony Dixon isn't a bad option as a handcuff since Gore may end up hurt again.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, --- - Bye Week Fill-in
Just when you thought it was safe to draft a New England Patriots' running back, they went ahead and further muddied their depth chart by adding two more backs in the 2011 NFL Draft. BenJarvus Green-Ellis should still be considered the RB1, but with the presence of RB2 Danny Woodhead (131 touches in 2010) and rookies Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, it's impossible to even assume to know how this will play out. BJGE's success was largely based on opportunity last year. It should be a foregone conclusion that there will be a drop in his touches, and so goes his fantasy value. So while he will remain the RB1 on paper, he's a flex option at best. Woodhead has some value in deeper PPR leagues. The two rookies, Vereen and Ridley, are unlikely to garner enough carries to have any impact.
RB Shonn Greene, --- - Sleeper (undervalued)
The New York Jets run the ball a lot and head coach Rex Ryan has repeatedly and consistently said they are going to give Shonn Greene more opportunities. Although there is the perception that Greene has been a relative disappointment, he still hasn't been given enough of a workload to solidify that opinion. Greene should eclipse LaDainian Tomlinson as the Jets' primary back. Tomlinson has also said publicly he wants to be the third down back, making for a 60-40 split of the carries. At that rate and given last season's number of carries between the two backs, Greene should see at least 250 carries and 1,000-plus yards. The Jets still don't score enough points to make Greene a potential top 10 back, even in a career year. But he's still improving and has yet to reach his statistical ceiling. As for Tomlinson, he's a great flex option for PPR leagues as long as owners don't reach for him.