Running back platoons to avoid (and some to embrace)

Last updated: 9/05/07

In the world of fantasy football, the phrase “running back platoon” or “running back by committee” usually sends managers running for the hills, with good reason. While NFL coaches love to use platoons (if they have two quality running backs), keeping their backs fresh and changing the pace for opposing defenses, it can become a nightmare for fantasy managers trying to decide who to start on a week to week basis.

In 2005 fantasy managers drafted Julius Jones as a top 15 running back, assuming he would have a monster year as the feature back in the Dallas backfield after racking up over 800 yards and 7 TDs in only 8 games during his rookie campaign the previous season. That year however, a guy by the name of Marion Barber III joined the team, plunging the Dallas backfield into the darkness that is the fantasy platoon. It has since evolved into a semi-Platoon/Vulture situation, where Julius Jones gets the bulk of the carries (260 to Barber’s 135 in 2006), but Barber gets the goal line carries (14 TDs) and is utilized more in the passing game. If either one of these players was used as the feature back, they’d be a top-10 fantasy RB; however, this platoon situation has effectively turned both of them into fantasy backups. This is something you most likely will want to avoid if possible, so here are some notes on each team’s running back situation and whether they will utilize a running back platoon…

Platoons that will drive you insane:

  • DallasSee above. This situation hasn’t changed, so expect to see a heavy dose of both Julius Jones and Marion Barber III every game, but not enough of a dose to make you truly comfortable starting either of them on a weekly basis.
  • Atlanta – When Warrick Dunn had his back surgery, there were thoughts that maybe Jurious Norwood would take over the majority of the carries. Judging by preseason, however, it appears that these guys will be rotating all year long.
  • Tennessee – Due to size and skill differences, the Titans will most likely use both of their running backs all season. As long as LenDale White keeps eating all the Twinkies, he’ll get the goal line carries, while Chris Brown takes the passing downs.
  • Buffalo – At first it looked as though the rookie Marshawn Lynch might weasel his way into the feature back position, but he hasn’t impressed in the preseason and the last we heard from the head coach was that this will be a committee situation.
  • Oakland – Until Domanic Rhodes returns from his suspension (4 games), LaMont Jordan should have a pretty good lock on the starting role. However, once Rhodes returns, as well as once Michael Bush starts getting a little experience, expect this to become a muddled mess with no clear favorite.
  • Carolina – This situation is more like a battle to see who can stay healthy the longest. Neither back has proven that they can survive an entire year yet and because of this, don’t expect the coaching staff to try to make one of them. Splitting carries all season would be the easiest way to prevent the injury bug from striking as frequently.
  • Detroit – Recently promoted to full-fledged platoon scenario. With Kevin Jones injured, Tatum Bell and TJ Duckett will begin the season as a committee. Once Jones returns to health however, this situation gets even murkier, as all three backs are expected to see some carries.

Good(?) Platoons (if such a thing exists… these are platoons where both running backs are still decent):

  • New OrleansReggie Bush and Deuce McAllister form the most prolific one-two punch in the NFL. Bush is great on the passing downs (740 receiving yards), while Deuce pounds it up the middle (1000+ rush yards). Having either of these backs on your team is no reason to worry. Even having both of them wouldn’t cause me to lose much sleep.
  • Jacksonville – Another pretty good running back duo is Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Last season both backs rushed for around 1000 yards and although Jones-Drew had a lot more TDs than Taylor last year, I expect him to come back down to earth slightly this season, which will even the two backs out a bit more. Unlike Bush and Deuce, I might worry if I had BOTH of these guys as my starting two running backs, but even then it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Almost/Semi-Platoons (could turn into a platoon situation at any moment):

  • Chicago – Cedric Benson is currently the feature back in Chicago, but he hasn’t impressed that much in the preseason so far. If he starts struggling early in the season, expect to see a decent dose of Adrian Peterson pretty quickly.
  • NY Jets – Thomas Jones was brought over from Chicago this season to clean up what had become a platoon situation last year with Kevan Barlow and Leon Washington. However, he immediately hurt himself and it appears that Leon Washington will again join up with the committee in New York.
  • Minnesota – This is an interesting situation. Chester Taylor did OK last season as the feature back in Minnesota, rushing for 1200+ yards and 5 TDs. When the team drafts a college stud like Adrian Peterson though, you have to assume he’ll start taking over the role, especially considering how well he’s done in the preseason so far. This could prove to be big time platoon situation until Peterson establishes himself as the definite number one guy.
  • Houston – Good luck with this situation. While Ahman Green was clearly brought over to the be the feature back in this system, he will see his carries robbed (including goal line carries) by loads of running backs, including Ron Dayne, Wali Lundy, and Samkon Gado.
  • Washington – Here’s another interesting situation. Clinton Portis is the obvious feature back if he is healthy, but he already seems to have questions about his knee. Covering for Portis last season when he was hurt, Ladell Betts put up pretty spectacular numbers (1600 all-purpose yards and 6 TDs), so he might be poised to steal Portis’s carries anyways, injured or not.
  • Green Bay – There are hopes that Brandon Jackson can shoulder the load in Green Bay, but with a bad concussion in the preseason, he already needs to be watched closely. He’ll have Vernand Morency nipping at the heels all season long, as well as Noah Herron stealing the third down carries.
  • Denver – If Travis Henry is healthy at the start of the season, he will be the feature back in Denver. However, Mike Shanahan is infamous for his running back shenanigans, so don’t be surprised if you start seeing Mike Bell or even Cecil Sapp get a few chances to prove themselves or even a start here and there.

Non-Platoons (No worries about someone taking these guys carries):

  • San Diego – Sorry Turner “The Burner” fans, but LT is in no risk of having someone take his carries, whether on the goal-line, in passing situations, etc.
  • New England – If Laurence Maroney stays healthy, he’s the go-to guy in New England. Even if he gets hurt, there’s really no one you want near your fantasy roster lying in wait.
  • Kansas City – LJ had the most carries in NFL history last season, so he must be doing something right. I see no reason why they’d start using some other back to take away his carries this year, not with the names I see behind him on the depth chart.
  • St. Louis – Steven Jackson recorded more yards from scrimmage than any other back in the NFL. Expect this to possibly increase this year, not decrease.
  • Cincinnati -Rudi Johnson will get his 1400 yards and 12 TDs. No one is going to take that away from him.
  • Pittsburgh – “Fast” Willie Parker is the man in Pitt. Don’t let stories about Najeh Davenport “locking up the backup position” scare you like it scared the woman in the Barry University dorm room where Davenport made his late night visit.
  • Miami – Although I’m not too high on the Ronnie Brown horse this season, at this moment there is no reason to think he will be splitting any of his feature carries with any other dolphin.
  • Baltimore – For the past few years, Jamal Lewis has been getting the rock consistently, with no competition. This year, expect the same from Willis McGahee.
  • Cleveland – With Rueben Droughns out of the picture and QB questions, expect to see a heavy dose of Jamal Lewis.
  • Indianapolis – Barring a complete collapse by Joseph Addai because he can’t handle being the feature back for an entire season, there is no reason a running back named DeDe or any other name should give Addai any trouble. Expect to see big things from Addai this season.
  • NY Giants – After platooning with Tiki Barber last season (or more correctly “vulturing”), Brandon Jacobs has graduated to being the clear-cut starter in New York. Rueben Droughns is there to spell Jacobs when he is tired, but beyond that, expect Jacobs to get all the carries as well as goal-line carries this season.
  • Philadelphia – When he’s healthy, Brian Westbrook is a huge part of the Eagles offense. Last season he had nearly 1/3 of the teams entire offensive yards (1900 of 6100). Backup Correll Buckhalter has been there for years, so don’t expect some huge explosion out of him that causes him to steal Westbrook’s thunder.
  • Tampa Bay – Carnell “Cadillac” Williams will get his chance to re-write his short history in the NFL this season and there is no reason to think that 32 year old Michael Pittman will be taking anything away from that. Cadillac has to prove that he is not a complete bust after a great rookie campaign and a “great” sophomore slump last year.
  • Seattle – Back from his foot injury, Shaun Alexander will reclaim what became an anemic rushing attack in Seattle last year with Maurice Morris at the helm. After Morris proved to be ineffective in the feature role, expect SA to get every non-3rd down carry this season.
  • Arizona – Edgerrin James looks to prove that he is still the dominant running back he was when Indianapolis let him go a couple years ago. Barring a sudden return from retirement from Emmitt Smith, don’t expect James to have his carries stolen by some guy named Marcel Shipp or J.J. Arrington.
  • San Francisco – Frank Gore established himself as a dominant back in the NFL last season, so expect a heavy dose of Gore to be shoved down opponents throats this year.

Hopefully this helped you decide which running backs to go after in your draft and which to consider taking hand-cuff’s for. If you’re counting on Chester Taylor this year as one of your top running backs, but you didn’t draft Adrian Peterson… don’t come crying to me.