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Rookie Running Backs Destined for Committees


Let's talk about everyone's favorite term when it comes to fantasy football: running back committees.

I know committees get a bad rep, but the future of the NFL is running back committees. More and more teams have realized the path to NFL success is to use a one-two punch at running back instead of handing the ball to a workhorse back, and because of that we're going to see the days of a team giving someone a Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott style workload start to fade away.

But there's also a difference between a player getting drafted somewhere where they'll form a strong one-two punch -- think Clyde Edwards-Helaire with Damien Williams in Kansas City, Jonathan Taylor with Marlon Mack in Indianapolis, or D'Andre Swift with Kerryon Johnson in Detroit -- and getting drafted into a much more clouded and uncertain committee, where we'll see more than two players vying for key snaps, or we will see just two players, but will have a lot of uncertainty still. Let's look at some rookie rushers who are likely headed for some pretty murky committees.

 

J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

This might not necessarily be a terrible committee to be in, but Dobbins was drafted onto a team that already has a lot of solid backs, and while the Ravens will likely lead the league in rushing attempts this season, the split of those attempts is anyone's guess.

Here's a chart with information on the percentage of total rushing attempts that the four players with the most rushing attempts for Baltimore last year had:

Player Rush Attempts Team Share
Mark Ingram II 202 33.9%
Lamar Jackson 176 29.5%
Gus Edwards 133 22.3%
Justice Hill 58 9.7%

Due to Lamar Jackson's large percentage of the rushing attempts, it becomes tough for the second or third back here to have a consistent role. Yes, there are more touches to go around than most teams have, but with Jackson taking up almost 30 percent of the carries, whoever the second rusher here is going to have to be really efficient with their touches to produce.

There's also the issue of there being a lot of talent in this backfield. Remember when everyone was high on Justice Hill last year? Now he's fighting to have even a semblance of a role in 2020. Dobbins showed plenty of production in college, but he's not going to be the lead back here out of the gates, and while he should wind up as the top Ravens rusher in 2021, this year will see him play second (or maybe third) fiddle to Ingram (and maybe Edwards).

 

Joshua Kelley, Los Angeles Chargers

Melvin Gordon is in Denver now, but that doesn't mean the newly drafted Kelley is going to just slide into Gordon's role.

The obvious issue is that Justin Jackson is here and should have the first shot at earning the early-down role. Austin Ekeler is going to command a lot of touches in this backfield because he's Austin Ekeler, but someone's going to be relied upon to keep the Chargers from overexerting Ekeler, right?

I guess the thing is...we don't know. Last year, Gordon missed the first four games, but averaged 13.5 carries per game once he was back. But in those first four games, Jackson averaged only five carries per game. Whoever -- Jackson or Kelley -- earns the No. 2 job here will likely see more than five carries per game, but there's A) no guarantee that they see Gordon-level touches and B) there's no guarantee that the job ends up solely belonging to either Jackson or Kelley.

 

Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sorry, but Tom Brady's newest weapon doesn't have a clear path to fantasy relevance. Vaughn joins a running back room that features Ronald Jones II and Dare Ogunbowale already, and while neither of those guys are the kind of top-tier backs who have unassailable grips on their depth chart positions, Vaughn also isn't one of the very top backs from this draft class. This is a landing spot for Vaughn that screams "fantasy mess."

Ogunbowale should have the receiving back role here, as he was targeted 46 times last year and had just 11 carries, leaving room for either Jones or Vaughn to get the majority of the rushing carries. But Jones, entering his third season, should get the first shot to be the lead back.

There's also a distinct possibility that even there just isn't really a lead back here, with Jones and Vaughn each playing in a kind of "ride the hot hand" approach. This is a Bruce Arians offense, after all.

 

Antonio Gibson, Washington Redskins

I don't even have commentary on Washington's backfield right now. As of now, the team has the following running backs rostered: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, J.D. McKissic, Peyton Barber, Bryce Love, and Gibson.

That's it. That's the analysis.

 

Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

Let's end this with Cam Akers.

Todd Gurley II is gone from the Rams, so it's time to address the running back situation in Los Angeles and sort out whatever is happening with it.

As Pierre Camus mentioned in his post-draft rookie running back piece earlier this week, the Rams offensive line was PFF's 31st-ranked line last year, so right off the bat, the Rams backs are facing a difficult situation this year.

Add that to the fact that the post-Gurley landscape features three backs who could end up seeing a good number of snaps: Akers, plus Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson.

Last year, Brown had 69 carries and Henderson had 39, with both taking a clear backseat to Gurley. In the game that Gurley missed, the breakdown was Brown with 11 carries, and Henderson with six carries and two targets. That's a much closer split than things were when Gurley was health. It's hard to extrapolate too much from one game, but there seems to be a good chance that Brown, Henderson, and Akers wind up splitting a lot of touches.

Though, to be fair, this also feels like the situation from this article that has the best chance of evolving out of a committee quickly. Sean McVay likes to keep the same personnel on the field. Akers could very well grab the reins here swiftly, leading Brown and Henderson back into the minuscule roles they had in 2019.

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