Several years ago, “running back by committee” was not a widely used phrase. Most teams used a primary running back for the majority of carries and then may insert a backup in certain situations or to give their starter some rest. One of the more prolific early running back by committees was the Kansas City Chiefs’ combination of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. Due to their strong skill set and differentiated running styles, both backs had productive seasons behind Kansas City’s offensive line. Today, we see teams using both strategies, which can serve as both obstacles and opportunities for fantasy owners. Evaluating career stats, health, running style, goal line scenarios, and more all factor into how teams use their running backs.
As millions of fantasy football owners prepare to draft over the next week, I hope to provide clarity on the current running back situations in both the NFC and AFC. Many of these situations will not change this season except for major injury, while others may be in flux from week to week.
Let’s start off with the NFC!
St Louis Rams – Committed
Daryl Richardson has been named the starter for Week 1 by coach Jeff Fisher. Richardson performed well behind Steven Jackson and should maintain the starting gig if he remains productive. Isaiah Pead has been subpar this preseason, and would stand next in line for carries.
San Francisco 49ers – Committed
Frank Gore used to be the running back that owners cringed at drafting due to his poor health history. Gore has not missed a game over the last two seasons. Kendall Hunter is likely Gore’s backup with LaMichael James running in third.
Seattle Seahawks – Committed
Marshawn Lynch’s career was rejuvenated when he arrived in Seattle. Coming off career highs in total rushing yards and yards per carry, Lynch is a workhorse and will receive the bulk of the carries. Robert Turbin has been productive as Lynch’s insurance policy and Christine Michael will also see work especially after a solid preseason.
Arizona Cardinals – Committed
Rashard Mendenhall missed most of 2012, but found himself back in the starter’s role with his new team. Despite having five backs on the roster, including Ryan Williams, Mendenhall is the clear starter and should hold onto the role if he remains healthy.
Dallas Cowboys – Committed
DeMarco Murray has the talent and the job, but may lack the necessary durability. Since breaking onto the scene in 2011 with a record-breaking performance, Murray has been hindered by injury. With an average of more than four yards per carry and fantastic pass-catching ability, he has the opportunity for a breakout season if he can stay on the field.
Washington Redskins – Committed
Alfred Morris was not on the fantasy radar entering 2012. The running back will now be a first-round pick in 2013. Morris is more of a downhill runner and may yield third down opportunities to Roy Helu. Regardless, he should have another productive season, but owners should always beware of coach Mike Shanahan’s history of indecisiveness with running backs. It should be noted that Shanahan recently complimented Morris’ offseason improvement in catching passes.
Philadelphia Eagles – Committed
LeSean McCoy has averaged more than four yards per carry and caught at least 50 passes since entering the NFL in 2009. No matter who the quarterback is in Philadelphia, McCoy should excel, especially in coach Chip Kelly’s spread offense. Bryce Brown is an attractive handcuff and should receive some of the workload, but McCoy is a first-round pick this season.
New York Giants – Committed
David Wilson was named the starter by general manager Jerry Reese and has been exceptional this preseason. However, Wilson has lost the bulk of work on third down to Andre Brown, who also had a solid 2012 campaign. With Andre Brown fracturing his leg in the last preseason game, Wilson’s stock is on the rise.