OpinionMay 19, 2009

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RBBC: The Advantage

By Todd Ransom

Running Back by Committe (RBBC for short) has taken the league by storm. Numerous teams have opted to use a stable of backs vs. one featured RB, and sometimes you’re left to guess which back is best to own, or how the carries will be divided. It’s an ever-changing process, and some teams vary in their approach. Here’s a look at some key backfields next year, who may be splitting carries, and how that will pan out:

Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, & LeRon McClain

This was a backfield that saw all three of these backs have their time to shine. Baltimore is no doubt a smash mouth football team made to run the ball. McGahee was the starter at the beginning of the year, but he’s a shell of his former self, being consistently banged up the entire year. He finished second in carries with 600 yards and 7 TDs, a season well below his career averages. LeRon McClain, who came out of nowhere, led the team in carries, yards and TDs with 900 yards and 10 trips to the end zone. Even Ray Rice had to take a back seat to McClain most games, who made the most of his opportunities.

The problem with McClain going into 2009 is that Lorenzo Neal is gone and the team wants McClain to play a traditional FB role, negating a large portion of those 200+ carries he received last year. Those carries will most likely be distributed down to Ray Rice, who finished last year with 700 total yards but didn’t reach the end zone. McClain’s value won’t be diminished outright, as he will still be a likely choice in goal line situations and could still see 8+ TDs with the way this offense sticks to the ground game. In standard scoring leagues, McClain should be targeted for a bye-week filler.

McGahee will still garner carries, but with the injuries piling up recently they will not give him 22-25 a game like they used to. Honestly, you don’t want to deal with the headache that he’ll be week-to-week. He only had three games over 65 yards rushing last year, and those were mixed in with a lot of disappointing weeks that killed many starting lineups. All signs point towards Baltimore giving Rice more opportunities out of the backfield, and he’s also shown he’s a great receiver. I think Rice has a great chance to lead Baltimore in carries next year and should be the biggest fantasy producer in PPR leagues from this backfield. In standard scoring leagues, McClain will probably be the back you can rely on week-to-week with a huge chance to punch in a couple TDs.

Advantage: LeRon McClain, Ray Rice (PPR)

Deangelo Williams & Jonathan Stewart

This backfield has been highly debated in the fantasy football community all off-season. You have the hot shot rookie who came in from Oregon as a highly-touted prospect with incredible physical traits, a punishing runner with elite speed and double digit TDs as a rookie. The only problem is that in front of him is 2008 Fantasy MVP Deangelo Williams, who is coming off a 1,600-yard, 20-TD season.

No doubt about it, both these guys are extremely talented, and both should again be big fantasy producers. One thing that gets lost in this debate about who will take a back seat to who in 2009 is that John Fox is loyal to his veterans. Just a few years ago, nobody could understand why he wouldn’t bench Deshaun Foster for the obviously more-talented Deangelo Williams, even though Deangelo was the first round pick and had been producing better in limited fashion. Fast-forward to 2009, Deangelo is now the veteran, but now he is coming off a career year and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s also not on the downside of his career. He’s still the starter, and he’ll remain the starter in 2009 unless he is injured.

Make no mistake about Jonathan Stewart, he has potential to be a top-five RB at some point if he ever gets the touches, but he will still be playing second fiddle in 2009 to Deangelo. He’ll get at least 1.000 yards and 10 TDs or more again, which is very respectable, but Deangelo should crack 1,300 yards at the very least and can still score double digit TDs without all the goal-line carries. Don’t expect John Fox to just hand this job over — Deangelo will out produce Stewart as long as he is the starter and in his prime.

Advantage: Deangelo Williams

Marion Barber III, Felix Jones, & Tashard Choice

In 2008, Marion Barber first saw an expanded role in the offense, and it started with him being one of the leagues top scorers. A toe injury suffered on Thanksgiving changed everything, and he took a back seat to Tashard Choice the rest of the season. The forgotten Felix Jones started 2008 on fire, scoring a TD in the first four games he touched the ball — you can’t argue with that type of production, especially considering these were coming on limited touches. He went down early in the year and was put on IR, so we never got to see a full sample, just a few flashes.

Flash to 2009 and the situation isn’t as clear as it was last year. Felix Jones is back to 100% and cutting on his toe, and Jerry Jones has hinted at making him the starter more then a few times. Jerry definitely wants to get Barber back to his “closer” role, pounding the ball in the 4th quarter, so that could diminish his value throughout the game. He’ll still get the goal line carries and Dallas will most certainly get plenty of chances to punch one in, and there is no reason to go away from the Barbarian there — he’s been money at the goal line since he was drafted. Felix should rack up the most yards in this backfield, if the coaching staff is determined to give him 15-20 touches a game the way they sound, and he can still score at any time from anywhere on the field.

Tashard Choice shouldn’t be forgotten: Wade and Jerry both have said they want to see all three backs utilized, and what Choice did last year when he was called upon to start was pretty special for a rookie. The team knows they have to get him the ball some as well. Sadly, those things are easier said then done. Not many teams can find ways to get three backs touches during a game, unless they are predominantly a running team, and with Jason Garrett leading the offense, Dallas will still be a pass-first team. Choice will get a few carries to give someone a breather, but unless an injury occurs he won’t see much action.

The handcuff for Barber that you want to have is Felix Jones, but Choice can be had much later and serve the same purpose. If Barber goes down, Felix Jones and Choice would split carries with the goal line work going to Choice, so if aren’t a firm believer in drafting a handcuff and you already have Barber, opt to look at Choice late and ensure yourself the goal line RB for Dallas all year. Barber should still see 10+ TDs if healthy so this is still his job, but Felix Jones is the best play-maker this team has now, so don’t be surprised to see him take command of this job and not look back.

Advantage: Marion Barber III

Knowshon Moreno, JJ Arrington, Lamont Jordan, & Peyton Hillis

Another year, another mess in the Denver Broncos backfield. Some things never change I guess. Only difference is Moreno is the highly touted first rounder, drafted by Denver at that. People will point to the fact that McDaniels used a RBBC in New England, but there was a huge reason for that: nobody stepped up.

I don’t see that happening in Denver, as Moreno should get a majority of the carries, I’d expect 17-20 a game with some receptions, and he’ll get first crack at goal-line carries to see what he does with them. Everyone else in this backfield isn’t on the same level as Moreno, being all average RBs who will chip in to spell Moreno. Barring injuries, Moreno will be the guy to own in this backfield, and I wouldn’t expect any of these backs to steal half of the carries, unless someone is added to the RB core in the near future.

Advantage: Knowshon Moreno

Joseph Addai & Donald Brown

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. One year Joseph Addai is a top-five fantasy pick across the board and the feature back for the Colts offense; after just one injury plagued year, he’s not considered a first rounder anymore and the Colts, who were felt to be high on Addai, take a RB in the first round, threatening Addai’s carries.

It’s no secret the Colts’ ground game took a step back last year. The loss of Jeff Saturday took some of the blame, and Addai’s constant injuries took some as well. The facts are that he didn’t look very good last year and he couldn’t stay healthy. In steps Donald Brown, the NCAA leading rusher in 2008 and a guy who is used to carrying his team on his back. Brown’s measurables and physical traits were too much for the Colts to pass up, and that isn’t a good sign for the incumbent, judging from the season Addai had.

I fully expect the Colts to use both backs, riding the hot hand, so the starter (likely being Addai) won’t matter much because I think it will be close to an even split. Addai barely cracked 1,000 yards his first two seasons in the league, and his yards-per-carry has dropped significantly since his rookie year. I find it hard to see him breaking 1,000 yards this year with a dip in carries. Brown is going to give this offense a big spark, and I expect him to take hold of this job by the end of the year. Addai shouldn’t be forgotten, but I feel Donald Brown is the most talented back and he’ll be the guy you want to own out of this backfield.

Advantage: Donald Brown

New Orleans
Reggie Bush & Pierre Thomas

In 2008 we saw some flashes of brilliance from both of these players, and going into 2009 both are expected to see an increased workload as the top two backs on the depth chart. I think the jury is out on Reggie Bush — he’s not an every down RB and never will be, but he’s a very explosive complementary back and, if utilized properly, can be one of the best weapons in the NFL. Last year at one point he was the #1 RB in fantasy. That’s the upside you get with him: he can take over games and singlehandedly win your fantasy games in some weeks. Then a few weeks later, you’re reading reports about him having a knee sprain and you’re trying to guess how long he’ll be out and whether he’ll be the same for the ever-so-crucial playoff run. That’s the downside you get with him.

He’ll be used all over the place in 2009, but he’ll be more of a gadget player, while Pierre Thomas will play more of a traditional RB in their system. Pierre already had 12 TDs in limited fashion last year, which trumps the eight that Reggie Bush tallied as a rookie (his highest season total). It’s safe to say Pierre will lead the Saints in carries and total TDs, and he has the potential to rack up 15 TDs in that high powered offense. With 31 receptions, he’s no slouch catching the ball.

This is the classic case where both RBs should be fantasy producers in 2009, and the player you select first depends on who you want to take a chance. Reggie Bush can still finish the season as the #1 RB in PPR leagues if he can stay healthy, as the Saints will try and give him 70 or more catches, giving him some big games, but you cannot ignore the injury risk. Pierre is a safer option, will get more carries, and still has a lot to prove. Expect both to be involved in the offensive gameplan every week.

Advantage: Pierre Thomas

Brian Westbrook & LeSean McCoy

Westbrook is crossing the 30-year-old threshold and has many fantasy owners worried that he’s nearing the time when his body starts to break down. These past few years he’s had nagging injuries — some weeks you never know if he’s going to play until minutes before the game (those Monday Night games get even more crucial). The week you decide to bench him, he explodes for a four-TD game. That’s typical Westbrook: you know what your getting, he’ll be on the injury report as questionable more weeks then not, but he always has the chance of being a top scorer, though the recent drafting of McCoy has some thinking his time has passed.

One thing about Philly is they love to use one RB. Westbrook has been used as a receiver, inside runner, short yardage runner, and goal line runner; even if McCoy is the heir apparent, Westy will be the man until he has to miss a game. We should see some McCoy this year, but he won’t take a job from the guy coming off a 1,300-yard, 14-TD season. Of course that’s viewed as a down season after his 2,000 yard season, but he’ll come back as a starter in 2009 and will lead this team in carries. As soon as 2010 rolls around, you could see McCoy take this job and running with it, as he’s got a skill-set that is eerily similiar to Westbrook. McCoy is an in-state guy from Pittsburgh with incredible production on his resume and a great receiver out of the backfield. For now, he’ll have to take a back seat to Westbrook.

Advantage: Brian Westbrook

San Diego
Ladanian Tomlinson & Darren Sproles

2008 was a rough season for LT: he battled various injuries throughout the season and was less then 100% almost the entire year. What gets lost in the shuffle is that his “down year” came with 1,500+ total yards, 12 TDs, and over 50 receptions — I think most fantasy leaguers would gladly take that type of season from their starting RB this season. There is no reason to think that will change in 2009.

Norv Turner is talking up LT winning the rushing title already — that may be a bunch of hot air, but it shows his commitment to LT, as does the fact that he was able to get his contract done to stay in San Diego. That being said, Darren Sproles is a must-have handcuff, because he has proven to be a playmaker, and the Chargers will continue to find ways to get him the ball. He will get his 10 touches on screen passes and outside handoffs, getting him into space however he can, and he’ll likely do very well in that role. He shouldn’t be forgotten in PPR leagues, because he should total 1,000 yards himself rushing and receiving.

If LT has to miss any time or gets knicked up, Sproles should be the biggest beneficiary, but keep your eye on Gartrell Johnson. He’s drawn some praise early on and may poach some goal line touches early in the season to keep LT fresh and would probably carve out a nice role in the event that LT misses a game. For now, this is still LT’s team. Consider him a risk all you want, but he’ll get his 300 carries, and everyone will have to take a backseat to him until he can’t play.

Advantage: Ladanian Tomlinson

Todd Ransom is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Todd in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of LS2throwed.
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