I saw a great question on the Shark Tank this week from ricanpassion: “Running back by committee…it kills from a fanatsy perspective…don’t you agree? But it seems like more and more teams are going to this method and as a fantasy team owner (2 leagues these year) it kills the RB scoring…any thoughts??”
I do have thoughts on the Running Back by Committee (RBBC). So many thoughts, in fact, that as I was writing my response on the message board, I realized this subject really needed its own article. Any Shark can benefit from knowing more about this growing trend around the league.
So, ricanpassion, you’re absolutely right on two points:
1. RBBC kills your fantasy squad.
2. More teams around the league are doing it.
Why? I’m glad you asked.
On the field, RBBC makes sense for a lot of teams. Washington is in the top half of the league in rushing, despite using the RBBC and running Steve Spurrier’s pass-happy offense. They have a speed guy in Trung Canidate who can get to the outside, and a big guy in Ladell Betts who can pound it up the middle. The Vikings employ a similar scheme with Onterrio Smith (speed) and Moe Williams (pound it). The results? Minnesota is 5-0 and 4th in the league in rushing. Both of last year’s NFC Championship teams used the RBBC – Tampa with Pittman and Allstott, and Philly with Staley and Buckhalter.
There is another reason RBBC makes sense – business. Tony Holm provided an excellent example of this in our Fox Sports Radio interview a few weeks ago. Speaking on the Redskins, Tony said that with Canidate and Betts in the RBBC, what they’re getting, for a much lower price, is essentially a Ricky Williams. The Redskins dumped the high-priced Stephen Davis off their roster and went with a configuration that is a much better fit for the style of offense they run. The cap room freed up by this transaction allowed them to add Laveranues Coles and Chad Morton (another small piece of the RBBC.) And I think most of us would agree that the offense, and the Redskins in general, are much improved this year.
The other business reason behind the RBBC is injuries. When teams sign a big-name back to a multi-million dollar contract, and he gets hurt, a big chunk of that team’s salary cap is just sitting in the training room with a cast on. In the front office, teams compete for dollars and cents before they can compete for wins and losses. Tying up a large portion of your cap in one player is a dangerous move in today’s NFL. Teams would rather spend the bucks on a big-name coach who can take two or three low-priced players and get production out of them.
Coaches know that forcing their running back to make 30 or more carries per game is a recipe for disaster. Terrell Davis and Jamal Anderson are just two recent examples of backs who left the game before their time because of overuse and injuries. Even those who come back, like Edgerrin James and Fred Taylor, are often not the same until two or three years later, if ever. Across the NFL, teams are starting to realize that the RBBC has its advantages. Expect to see even more teams using this approach in the coming years.
How do we deal with this trend from a fantasy perspective? It’s hard enough to secure a stud running back on your team when so-called “sure things” like LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk aren’t producing. Throw the RBBC into the mix, and the stud running back will become an even more rare and precious commodity in fantasy football. If you’re not lucky enough to get one of the top 8 picks, you probably won’t be able to build your team around a stud back. And if you do score a stud back, his risk of injury is considerably higher than other players.
Sharks look for different ways to build a winning team – know your scoring system, examine team schedules, and look for those young players who are on the cusp of greatness. Work the waiver wire every week and trade for up-and coming players while their value is low. Very few championship fantasy teams are made at the draft. Now that the season is in full swing, you have to spot the trends and make the right tweaks every week to push your team over the top.
Stud backs still rule fantasy football, but some years, you just can’t get one. If you’re stuck with a RBBC player (or two or three!), make the most of it. Examine the schedule carefully and look for the good matchups. Make the NFL defensive rushing stats part of your weekly rotation. Take a look at the full game’s stats for each of your players and look for trends – who got the most carries? Who is making catches out of the backfield? Who do they use close to the goal line? If you know your players and their tendencies, you can make the most out of RBBC, just as so many NFL teams are now doing. Like the Redskins, you can simply “get by” at running back while filling the other positions on your team with top players. It may not be the same as having Priest Holmes put up a 40-spot every week, but it can be enough for the win.