2020 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Potential breakouts to be found in running-back-by-committees


In an ideal world, you’d love to avoid running back committees when drafting your Fantasy football team. They’re every Fantasy players’ worst nightmare, especially when it’s a seemingly subpar option taking production away from someone you just know would be a superstar if they got the chance. 

Of course, this isn’t an ideal world. At this point, true three-down running backs are probably more rare than not. If you were to count them up, you’d probably need a second hand’s worth of fingers, but probably not a third. Last season, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, Le’Veon Bell, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman, Chris Carson and Kenyan Drake were probably the only backs who counted, and the last two only in the second half of the season. Of that group, the ones who are still expected to dominate all three downs of work are also among the most coveted assets in Fantasy. 

For good reason. 

Identifying those situations where a star can emerge from a committee is our goal here, but it’s worth defining what a committee actually is. Not every backfield without a three-down back is a true committee. 

Take the Bears: Tarik Cohen and David Montgomery will likely split snaps pretty evenly, but there isn’t much doubt about what role each one holds. Cohen gets the receiving work, Montgomery the rushing work. Similarly, you’ve got backfields like New Orleans, where multiple backs will get work, but there’s no question who the top option is. Those defined situations are harder to find Fantasy value from, because it usually requires an injury to knock someone out of their role. 

Committees, however, are where Fantasy value can blossom. Just think of New Orleans during Alvin Kamara’s rookie season, when Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson created a three-way time share until Kamara proved to be so good that he forced the Saints to put him in a featured role alongside Ingram. That is the ideal scenario — a young player with a well-rounded game and the opportunity to become the focal point. 

That’s what we’re looking for here. Backfields without clearly defined hierarchies, where someone can step up and dominate the work if they prove their worth. At the start of training camp, I have eight teams with what look like clear committee situations, plus a few more that could end up that way. Let’s try to figure out where you might be able to find value in each, starting with the highest upside situations first:

Potential superstar situations

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If you’re looking for this year’s Alvin Kamara, Taylor is probably the best candidate. If Taylor wasn’t here, the split in Indy would be clear: Mack would get the rushing downs and Hines would get the passing work. And it would be a great situation for both, because the Colts have a potentially dominant offensive line and a new quarterback in Philip Rivers who loves checking down. If it was just them, both might be in the RB2 conversation.

But in an ideal world, Taylor would make both Mack and Hines irrelevant. He’s an elite athlete with an incredible production profile in college, including an increased workload in the passing game in his final season. There are questions about pass protection and fumbles, but it’s not hard to see a situation where Taylor is so good that he’s a three-down — and top-five Fantasy — back before long. Or, this stays a committee all season and none are better than flex options. Please, not that. 

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Another situation with a promising rookie, but what makes this one harder to judge is that there aren’t those clearly defined roles. Could Malcolm Brown be the starter in Week 1? Sure! But Henderson and Akers could too. At the very least, we’re expecting Henderson to get plenty of passing work, while Brown figures to have the leg up as the goal-line back after the Rams used him in that role at times last season even with Todd Gurley around. That makes Akers the wild card. If Akers can prove to be a viable option on third down, he’s probably the only one here with the potential to become a three-down back, and that’s been a very valuable role in this Rams offense in recent years. The most likely outcome is that this is a mess for a long time, and I wouldn’t bet on Brown ending up the most valuable of the group with the goal-line role. 

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Chargers coach Anthony Lynn has said he doesn’t want Ekeler to be an every-down back, but that’s pretty much what he was before Melvin Gordon returned from his hold out last season, playing more than 70% of the Chargers snaps over the first four games. If neither Jackson nor Kelley can prove worthy of more than a bit role, Ekeler could just end up being the primary option in both the rushing and passing games, and would probably be a top-five Fantasy back — even with questions about how much Tyrod Taylor will target him. 

What I would bet on is something more like what we saw when Gordon was active, however, with Ekeler topping 10 carries just once in his final 12 games but still being a very active participant in the passing game. If Tyrod Taylor looks his way 5-6 times every week, Ekeler will still be a must-start option in all leagues, but one of Kelley or Jackson will need to take on the bulk of the Gordon role to be viable starting Fantasy options. At this point, it’s not clear either has the edge, though training camp may clarify it one way or the other. For now, both are among the better late round dart throws you can make. 

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I’m not quite sure this one counts anymore after Bruce Arians said Ronald Jones will “carry the load” for the Buccaneers, with Vaughn and McCoy “fighting for roles — who goes in second when he gets tired, maybe who is the third-down guy.” Ah, that last part is a little worrisome. Jones notably struggled with his pass protection last season, which ultimately kept him from running away with the job despite being the most effective back on the team for the stuff we care about. McCoy is a vet with extensive experience in the passing game, and Vaughn was lauded for his blocking skills in college, so that could be Jones’ Achilles’ heel yet again. 

Or, the work he put in this offseason could prove fruitful and he could run away with the job. The talent is certainly there, and in an offense that expects to light up the scoreboard with Tom Brady taking over at quarterback, the upside is clear. If Jones truly works into a role where he is playing 65% of the snaps and getting extensive work on passing downs, a top-10 season isn’t out of the question. 

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Despite his reputation as a gun-slinger, Matthew Stafford has thrown to his running backs plenty, so locking up a three-down role here could be crucial. Both Johnson and Swift have the tools for it, and the concern here is that they’ll just split work evenly across the board. If Johnson can stay healthy, that’s definitely a possibility, so this one might come down to who can stay healthy. Given that they’re both running backs, injuries are always a risk, making both worthwhile targets, albeit more as upside plays than weekly starters. 

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I’m not actually sure this one is a committee, but it’s worth mentioning that Gordon has proven he can be a very effective player in every situation, so it comes down to whether the Broncos want to use him in that role. If they do, he figures to be a must-start option, and that’s kind of where I’m leaning — it’s not like Lindsay is a standout in any one role where it makes sense to consistently take Gordon off the field. My expectation is Lindsay will simply be a backup. A return to the 300-touch threshold isn’t out of the question for Gordon, and even if I don’t love the Broncos offense as a whole, it’s hard to argue that doesn’t create “superstar potential.”

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For a long time, the Steelers never even thought about using a committee. Even when Le’Veon Bell was hurt or held out, they were content to have DeAngelo Williams and James Conner step into that every-down role, making both elite options at the time. Of course, Conner struggled to stay healthy himself in that role, both in 2018 and most notably in 2019, which brings up significant questions about whether he can hold up to it. And, with Snell, Samuels and rookie McFarland on the roster, they may choose not to find out. There’s already talk that Snell could lock in a regular role, which would limit Conner’s upside, but Fantasy players should be hoping Conner is the No. 1 guy without much fuss.

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Unfortunately, this one is probably always going to be a committee. Raheem Mostert is talking about himself like an every-down back, but that’s just never been Kyle Shanahan’s MO — last season, Mostert, Coleman and Matt Breida could all have been called the “lead back” at one point or the other. One thing that may clarify things is if Jerick McKinnon is healthy after two lost seasons due to knee injuries. If he can lock down the third-down role, maybe that would allow Mostert to simply be the primary rusher, a role he could excel at in this offense, as we saw late last season. Coleman could be on the bubble in camp, which would make Mostert a much more interesting option, even if McKinnon or Jeff Wilson remains a factor. 

Potential starters

These are all situations where, even if someone does emerge, I don’t think there is legitimate top-10 upside, either because of the situation or the talent of the players involved. Still, you don’t need to be a superstar to be a viable Fantasy starter at running back. 

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This one probably isn’t a committee, though you never know with Adam Gase. He used Bell like a true No. 1 last season, but even occasionally backed off that in the second half — and that was after Gase’s rumored disagreement with the signing of Bell. The Jets brought in Perine and signed Gore, who has been a pain in the neck for Fantasy players for years, including under Gase, when he led the Dolphins in carries in 2018. However, if Bell bounces back from a disappointing 2019 and the offense steps up as a whole, we know he’s got every-down skills and can be a very productive Fantasy option. If anyone in this group does have superstar upside, it’s Bell. 

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Here’s why I don’t love this situation: Josh Allen. In addition to being a mediocre passer overall (thus limiting the upside of the offense as a whole), his skill set also seems like it was designed in a lab to create Fantasy nightmares. Because much of his rushing production comes on scrambles, rather than designed runs, Allen doesn’t often look to his backs for safe dump-off passes — “safe” isn’t in Allen’s vocabulary. Plus, he’s the team’s best option near the goal-line, something that isn’t likely to change unless he takes a significant step forward as a passer. Allen will siphon scoring opportunities from either Moss or Singletary and won’t look for them much in the passing game, creating a scenario where I wouldn’t be all that interested in either even if one broke out of the committee. 

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This one seems pretty likely to be a true committee, with Howard handling rushing downs and goal-line work and Breida working in the passing downs and serving as Howard’s backup otherwise. But, it doesn’t need to be that way. Breida has three-down skills if he can stay healthy. Howard seems like he’s got a pretty safe floor, but it’s not entirely out of the question that Breida stays healthy and pushes Howard into a 12-carry-per-game role. 

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In the past, you could always rely on James White to be a reliable PPR starting option, but that may not be the case with Cam Newton likely to play quarterback. His rushing prowess might mean he looks to White a lot less than Brady used to, which could push White to the fringes of Fantasy relevance. However, that rushing prowess could also help unlock more room for Michel or Harris to operate. Michel will have to prove he can still be effective (after he proves he is healthy after offseason foot surgery), while Harris has a lot more to prove after a pretty uneventful rookie season. This situation probably doesn’t have much upside, but either Michel or Harris could be sneaky options if they run away with the rushing work. 

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And here, we’ve just got a mess. Derrius Guice had plenty of talent coming into the NFL, but after knee injuries pretty much ruined his first two seasons, it’s fair to wonder how much of that spark he has left; Peterson remains a marvel, but we know he’s not the kind of player who gets you excited for Fantasy; McKissic has shown flashes as a pass catcher; Barber was a thorn in Ronald Jones’ side all last season; Antonio Gibson is a converted wide receiver drawing Christian McCaffrey comparisons; and Bryce Love might have been just as good of a prospect as Guice before his own pre-draft knee injury. So … it’s a mess, and with no preseason games to sort it out, we may not have a clear picture until well into the season. 

As for how I’m drafting them, Gibson is my favorite as a Round-10-plus flier, and I haven’t really touched anyone else. Love is an intriguing deep sleeper to watch for in camp, too — remember, he was a Heisman finalist after emerging from Christian McCaffrey’s shadow at Stanford. Love was a former record-setting sprinter in high school and was one of the best prospects in his class before the injury. I’m not sure if he’d ever be an every-down back, but a Love/Gibson timeshare could be pretty interesting. 


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