How to Approach Running Back-by-Committees (Fantasy Football)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
Apr 17, 2019

Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara formed a dominant duo in the Saints’ backfield for two seasons.

More and more, NFL teams are turning to a running back-by-committee (RBBC) rather than using a three-down back. An RBBC backfield features two or more backs who split snaps fairly evenly, usually in a 50-50 or 60-40 share. This is becoming the norm in today’s NFL, and workhorse backs are rarer and more valuable than ever for fantasy owners.

Is there any value in backs who are part of an RBBC? How should fantasy owners approach those situations? Let’s take a look.

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WORKHORSE VS RBBC

Running-back-by-committee (RBBC) is a backfield method that head coaches have employed for years. The method utilizes two or more different backs to carry the workload throughout the season rather than using a bell-cow back for 350 touches. There are several real-world advantages to using an RBBC:

  • Fresh legs – Employing more than one RB in the backfield rotation means that each back will have fresher legs when they take the field. Each back will have more energy and make a bigger impact splitting work as opposed to one back carrying the whole load.
  • Longevity – Running backs in an RBBC have much less wear and tear on their bodies than three-down backs, leading to (hopefully) longer careers.
  • Complementary styles – RBBCs are at their most effective when sporting backs who have different, yet complementary styles of play. Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara was a perfect illustration of this concept during their two-year run in New Orleans. Ingram could catch passes out of the backfield, but he was more of a bruiser between the tackles with his large frame. Kamara, on the other hand, utilized outside runs and short catches because of his speed and elusiveness.

Those advantages unfortunately don’t translate to fantasy value. Or do they?

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

A workhorse back is defined as one who plays three downs a majority of the time. These backs carry the load for their team in rushing situations and can be employed as pass-catchers out of the backfield. Think Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell. Their backups were handcuffs only, and these guys touched the ball on 90% of plays with their backups vying for table scraps. An RBBC features two or more backs who get to play an even amount of snaps. The New England Patriots are a perfect example of a team that uses an RBBC. They have always employed an early-down back, a pass-catching specialist, and at least one or two depth pieces who can get theirs when called upon.

The Atlanta Falcons’ backfield from 2015-2017 supported Tevin Coleman as a viable flex option and Devonta Freeman as a rock-solid RB1. Neither back received an extremely heavy workload, but both had tangible value. Ingram and Kamara proved one of the best RBBC tandems in recent memory, if not all time, in the last two seasons. They both finished as RB1s in 2017, and Kamara again finished as an RB1 in 2018. These are just a few examples of productive RBBCs who were good fantasy plays, but do the end-of-season rankings support drafting and playing backs who are part of a timeshare? Let’s examine a four-year sample size (using half-PPR scoring) to see.

2015 – 2018 RBBC Production (half-PPR)

Year RB1 Finish RB2 Finish
2018 3 (Phillip Lindsay, James White, Alvin Kamara) 4 (Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake
2017 2 (Kamara, Mark Ingram) 5 (Jerick McKinnon, Duke Johnson, Dion Lewis, Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman)
2016 1 (Freeman) 4 (Coleman, Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Jeremy Hill)
2015 1 (Danny Woodhead) 5 (Theo Riddick, Charles Sims, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Ronnie Hillman)

As you can see, backs who played in an RBBC finished inside the top 24 at their position at least five times per year from 2015-2018, with three RB1s in 2018. Committees can support high-end production from one or more backs, especially given how much work some backs do in the receiving game. Pass-catching specialists can be extremely valuable, even if they share time with a back who gets most of the carries.

What about pass-catching specialists in non-PPR scoring? Although the first list of productive RBBC backs is based on half-PPR formats, the numbers hold up when using standard scoring.

2015 – 2018 RBBC Production (Standard)

Year RB1 Finish RB2 Finish
2018 3 (Phillip Lindsay, James White, Alvin Kamara) 4 (Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake
2017 3 (Kamara, Mark Ingram, Dion Lewis) 4 (Jerick McKinnon, Duke Johnson, Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman)
2016 1 (Freeman) 4 (Tevin Coleman, Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, Jeremy Hill)
2015 1 (Danny Woodhead) 4 (Charles Sims, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Ronnie Hillman)

The total number of top-24 finishers in an RBBC is just one fewer in standard scoring than in half-PPR, meaning a back does not have to be a pass-catching specialist to produce in a shared backfield.

CONCLUSION

Fantasy owners should approach RBBC situations on a case-by-case basis. As seen above, offenses can support two productive fantasy backs. Not all backs in an RBBC can be fantasy-relevant, though. It is therefore up to fantasy managers to evaluate each RBBC to determine which backs are worth drafting. Try to target players on high-powered offenses and those with pass-catching abilities. Just because a back shares time doesn’t mean he can’t be a valuable fantasy contributor.

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Zachary Hanshew is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster 

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