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Running Back Committees (1 Viewer)


Before I get to some numbers, let me define what I mean by committee. What Oakland did last year was not, in my mind, a running back committee, even though the end of the year numbers show carries split amongst several players. Oakland was more of a cluster-(mess), where Kiffin would give one back almost all of the carries in a game, but the identity of that back changed due to injuries from Jordan to Fargas to Rhodes by season's end.

To me, a committee is one where the RB1 gets 70% or less of the RB1+RB2 rushes, the backs perhaps have different skill sets, and are utilized within the same game in varying roles.

Let me also say that those who insisted that the league was about feature backs were correct as recently as 2004 and 2005, but things began to change in 2006, continued last year, and look to continue this year.

I sorted each team's week 1 rushing performance over the last five seasons and found the total carries given to RB1 (defined as the back with the most carries) and RB2 (the back with the second most carries), and the relative percentages given to each.

Here are the RB1/(RB1+RB2) percentages for week 1 from 2004-2008, for all 32 teams combined:

2004: .817

2005: .795

2006: .777

2007: .734

2008: .702

Here are the number of teams in week 1 each year that had two running backs have 10 or more carries:

2004: 2

2005: 3

2006: 7

2007: 8

2008: 9

The shift in philosophy is even more noticeable when you look at teams that ran the ball an above average amount in week one, likely because they were leading in the game and running to control clock. Here are the RB1/(RB1+RB2) percentages for all teams that had 25 or more carries from RB1+RB2 combined in week 1, sorted by year:

2004: .827

2005: .797

2006: .742

2007: .686

2008: .662

Back in 2004 and 2005, a team getting lots of carries was no more likely to distribute carries to the RB2 than a team that was trailing and not rushing the ball as much. That began to change. The backs on the losing teams or teams that are not rushing the ball as much are not losing carries to the second back; the backs on teams running the ball alot are. The overall rushes in week 1 has stayed fairly constant over this span, as have the number of teams getting 25 or more carries. It's just the relative distribution that has changed.

Now to some philosophy/theory/discussion. I think you are seeing team's go to committees where they have a "get the lead" guy {The Gets}, and a "keep the lead" guy {The Keeps}. In some cases, the RB1 is the best at both, but in order to keep him fresh, the RB2 will get carries in one of those roles. In some cases, the skillsets are just different. What do I mean by this?

Let's use a couple of examples--Adrian Peterson and Taylor in Minnesota, and Chris Johnson and Lendale White in Tennessee. Peterson and Johnson are The Gets, and Taylor and White are the Keeps. The Gets have more big play ability, and the relative value of an explosive run or catch is greater in the first or second quarter of a close game than it is when you are already up by 10 in the fourth quarter. In the latter situation, while you would certainly take a touchdown run to go up 17, the relative value of just gaining three yards and moving toward a first down and keeping the clock running is almost as good as a touchdown run in affecting win expectancy.

Thus, you want to leverage your Gets earlier in a game by giving them a higher percentage of touches at a time when they can swing the score in your favor.

How does this impact fantasy?

I think you want to start your Gets regardless of whether you expect the team to be winning or not, and for the most part, regardless of matchup. (I know, I know, like you were going to bench Peterson). They are going to get their touches early, and then either split them late when leading, or continue to get some even when trailing because they offer the best chance to come from behind on one play. Compare/contrast the relative distribution of carries for those two teams in week 1. Minnesota was trailing the entire game, and Peterson finished with 19 carries to Taylor's 5. In contrast, Tennessee was leading throughout the second half, and thanks in part to a cramp, the carries ended up 15 to 15 between Johnson and White, though Johnson started with the lion's share. I suspect that there will be very few games, barring injury, where Peterson and Johnson have fewer than 15 total touches.

The Keeps are much more reliant on their team to be in the lead, and will have a higher variance in week to week touches. Keeps on teams that have good passing offenses and will be winning a lot of games are still valuable, especially if they are the goal line back. But on middle of the road teams, they are risky starts and you are at the mercy of the scoreboard in the second half to get some value.

Not all teams are so clear cut as the two above. Stewart probably profiles as the Keep, and Williams as the Get for Carolina, but once he gets fully back in the swing, Stewart has enough big play ability to share touches early. Parker profiles as the Get for Pittsburgh, though Mendenhall may not yet have the team's faith to carry the ball late to spell Parker in a closer game.

Anyway, this is where I see the evolution of the game going. Players with more limited skill sets playing a role similar to middle relievers and set up men in baseball, while the explosive players are like the starting pitchers. Use them heavily early, and if you need to, spell them late when the home run is less important. A decade ago, the explosive player would have been expected to fill both roles on virtually every team, and may have worn down before his time.

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WR/WR or WR/QB will be just as common as RB/RB, or, even more likely, RB/WR or RB/QB.

Death of the RB/RB.. I think I saw a LOT of those articles this year, and as such, I went WR/WR and am going to be just fine because of it.

This would be more helpful if you listed teams/players/coaches who don't sit in RBBC's...
It's not that simple, because its dependent on various things (injuries, whether the team is leading, how well the backs are playing). At this point, it has been such a philosophical shift that I think most teams are willing to give their backup running backs more carries, especially when leading late, so that even the teams that are giving the higher percentage of carries to RB1 might have been viewed as more of a committee in 2004. Here are the teams that won last week, sorted by RB1% of carries, in descending order, with total carries from RB1+RB2 combined in parentheses:Philadelphia, 79.2% (24)NY Jets, 78.6% (28)Arizona, 76.5% (34)Pittsburgh, 71.4% (35)NY Giants, 70.0% (30)Buffalo, 64.3% (28)Carolina, 64.3% (28)Dallas, 64.0% (25)Chicago, 63.9% (36)Green Bay, 63.2% (19)Atlanta, 61.1% (36)Denver, 58.8% (17)New Orleans, 58.3% (24)Baltimore, 53.7% (41)Tennessee, 50.0% (30)New England, 50.0% (20)Okay, so Philadelphia, the Jets, and Arizona were the only three to give their primary back at least 75% of the carries in a winning effort, and none were over 80%. How would their numbers have ranked back in 2004? Eleven of the sixteen week 1 winners in 2004 gave their RB1 more than 80% of the carries, and five of them gave their back more than 90%.
Great post, OP. Love the theory. But I also think this year is much more of a transition year for some teams as they work new RBs into the lineup.

WR/WR or WR/QB will be just as common as RB/RB, or, even more likely, RB/WR or RB/QB.Death of the RB/RB.. I think I saw a LOT of those articles this year, and as such, I went WR/WR and am going to be just fine because of it.
my 1st 2 picks were Edwards/Marshall with FWP in the 3rd. ( i didnt have a 1st round pick, traded it for a 2 and a 3 )
Through 3 weeks, here are the team % of RB1 carries divided by RB1+RB2 carries, sorted in descending order:

RB1 RB2 TOTAL PERCENTstl 50 2 52 0.962cle 44 3 47 0.936sfo 60 6 66 0.909cin 59 8 67 0.881ind 43 6 49 0.878was 65 11 76 0.855det 40 7 47 0.851pit 66 12 78 0.846nyj 49 9 58 0.845phi 47 10 57 0.825kan 58 15 73 0.795chi 73 19 92 0.793sdg 57 15 72 0.792dal 62 18 80 0.775min 65 20 85 0.765buf 60 21 81 0.741hou 31 11 42 0.738ari 62 23 85 0.729gnb 40 17 57 0.702sea 61 30 91 0.670nyg 50 26 76 0.658nor 42 22 64 0.656atl 59 31 90 0.656jac 49 31 80 0.613car 42 28 70 0.600den 29 20 49 0.592tam 37 26 63 0.587oak 53 39 92 0.576nwe 30 24 54 0.556mia 38 33 71 0.535bal 39 34 73 0.534ten 50 49 99 0.505 1610 626 2236 0.720These numbers overstate teams like Denver and New England, who are giving a decent share of carries to three or more backs in a game, since I am only looking at the top two each week.Here are the splits by teams who won the game and teams who lost the game:

Winning Teams = 0.666

Losing Teams = 0.794

Breaking that down further, here are the average total carries for backs on winning teams and losing teams:

Winning Teams = RB1-18.3, RB2-9.2, overall-27.5

Losing Teams = RB1-16.0, RB2-4.2, overall-20.1

As we can see, unsurprisingly, teams that are winning have more RB rushing attempts. The sea change from 4-5 years ago is that the RB1 on winning teams does not get the brunt of those carries now, they go to the RB2. The evidence is pretty strong that that 2007 was not a one year aberration, and the low rushing totals were not just due to injury, as many have claimed. In fact, I can't find evidence to support the injury claim, other than the recency effect creating that perception. Just in the last decade, several years featured more prominent games missed by the previous year's stars. The difference is that in the past, Olandis Gary or Dominic Rhodes or maybe a Shaun Alexander waiting behind Ricky Watters would come in and take on basically the same workload as the previous starter.

I'll close with linking to Increased Risk Games Revisited, which I wrote in the off season. For those that want the cliffs note version, I had previously looked at running back workload and injury risk by looking at the individual games data base, before the 2007 season, and highlighted Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson, Rudi Johnson, and Ladell Betts as high risk based on their 2006 end of season workloads. At the end of the 2007 season, I went back and used the new 2007 data and looked at injury report information versus individual game rushing attempt information. The results were pretty consistent--backs who get high carry totals in any individual game are at much higher risk of serious leg injury immediately thereafter. Of the 17 backs who had a game with 28 or more rushing attempts between weeks 6-13 last year, 76% appeared on the injury report at least once in the next month (compared to 50% for other starting backs), and 41% were either placed on IR or listed as Out (compared to 13% for other starters).

No backs were as high risk as the five I highlighted at the end of 2006, but I'll point out that Dominic Rhodes and Willis McGahee were the only two to have multiple games of 25+ carries over the final month of the 2007 season. Prior to this week, there were only two backs that had 28 or more carries in a game: Willie Parker (28) and Adrian Peterson (29) in week 2. Peterson was on the injury report the following week but played, and Parker played and suffered a knee injury last week, and is now out. Marion Barber (28) joins that group this week, and Gore and Forte finished with 27 official rush attempts. Tomlinson, Julius Jones, and Fred Taylor have had 26 attempts in a game in the last 2 weeks.

I think the move toward giving more carries to the RB2 when leading is a good move toward the long term health of star running backs, even if it frustrates fantasy owners.


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