RBs Who Can Emerge From Committees

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The running back by committee strategy by NFL teams has been a thorn in the side of fantasy players for years. To a fan of an NFL team that employs RBBC, it can become a point of pride; a rallying cry proclaiming, “You can’t stop either of our guys!” Fantasy players, however, want the bell-cow RB to carry our team. With so few teams employing a 1 RB approach, we must sift through the muck and select RBs later in the draft, who can do more than currently expected. We want the RB in an RBBC who can become the bell-cow. Like the mighty phoenix, these players could rise from the ashes of a committee, transforming into a dominant RB1.

Jeremy Hill – Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati backfield provides as pure a two-headed RBBC as exists in the league. Hill is the bruising goal line back while Giovani Bernard fits perfectly as the change-of-pace, pass-catching option. Neither player is being perceived as an elite RB option at this point as evidenced by their current rankings of 24 (Hill) and 25 (Bernard). The decline of Hill in the public eye is clear, as Bernard was being selected just before Hill until recently. Public perception of Hill is shaped by several factors.

Pessimistic View:

  1. Lasting image: Hill fumbled away a playoff win. We all saw it, we all remember it. Hill did not hide his distress on the sideline after his fumble and the Steelers stole the game. The eyes of the public see failure and it feels like Hill will wilt away following such a disastrous moment.
  2. Offensive philosophy: Out goes run-friendly Hue Jackson, the only offensive coordinator Hill has worked with, and in comes Ken Zampese. Being a longtime QBs coach, Zampese should clearly favor the passing game.
  3. It is a passing league: The NFL is undoubtedly a passing league. This shines a favorable light on electric pass-catchers like Bernard, not on mashers like Hill.
  4. 2015 Letdown: After a dynamic rookie season, Hill was a disappointment in 2015. He never got into a good flow and did not win weeks for fantasy owners the way he did down the stretch in 2014 (especially in the fantasy playoffs, week 15 and 16).

Perception can mimic reality, causing a skewed picture of what we actually see. In fantasy football terminology, the hate on Hill has gone too far. Allow me to present another possible perception showing you how Hill could end the season as a bona fide RB1 and help win you a championship.

Optimistic View:

  1. Lasting image: Jeremy Hill has a checkered past. His youth was filled with indiscretions. He fumbled in the 2015 wild-card matchup against the rival Steelers. I don’t claim to know Jeremy Hill’s personality, but I know it takes a very willful person to make it to the NFL level. You don’t get to the NFL without hard work. You don’t succeed as Hill has done in the NFL without dedicating yourself at a level most people will never accomplish. Hill has improved upon his blemished image from the mistakes he made as a youth, and I believe he has dedicated himself to turning his playoff misstep into an opportunity to show the world the hardened character he is constantly developing. He has been in the public eye lately and is not hiding from his past. He is ready to prove himself.
  2. Offensive philosophy: Losing Jackson hurts, no doubt about it. He was given a head coaching opportunity in Cleveland for a reason. However, coaches move all the time. Organizations, fans, players, management and coaches themselves are used to it. You pick up the pieces and move on. Zampese has been a part of the Bengals coaching staff since 2003. He has been a part of many good and some great offenses during that time. The Bengals ran the ball well over the last two seasons and fielded teams capable of deep playoff runs. Why would Zampese want to change that? Perhaps the perception is based on his close relationship with his father Ernie, who was a key member of the famed “Air Coryell” offense in the 70s and 80s.  Then again, Ernie was the OC for the 1995 Cowboys who famously ran and passed 495 times each. I sense a balanced attack, which favors heavy RB numbers.
  3. It is a passing league: This perception does not take into account game flow or situational football. Yes, Bernard plays a vital role in the Bengals offense, but that does not take away from Hill’s potential fantasy value. Hill had the 10th most carries in the league in 2015, while mired in an RBBC.
  4. 2015 Letdown: This is not a football article; this is a fantasy football article. This perception is out of control and has, in my opinion, hurt Hill’s value more than anything else. Hill’s ADP in 2014 was 9 overall once the season started. He did play poorly compared to 2014 with a lower YPC, yards and 11 fewer touches. However, he scored 12 TDs and finished ranked 14 overall among running backs. For the purposes of this article, I would say Hill had a great 2015 season. If his carries and targets remain static, he should see a drastic increase in YPC as I feel he will allow the game to come to him, rather than pressing as he clearly did in 2015. Games of 154, 152, 148 and 147 rushing yards in 2014 must have given Hill a glimpse of greatness, causing him to feel that he would break off long runs routinely. Now that 2015 has humbled him, I see him becoming a much more effective runner.

With Tyler Eifert on the mend, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu being replaced by rookie, Tyler Boyd, and journeyman WR Brandon LaFell, the Bengals will need to utilize the weapons they have. Public sentiment is clearly leaning towards Bernard being the main beneficiary, but I see this as Hill’s opportunity to rise into an elite tier. Feel free to join me in drafting Hill in the 6th Round and starting a RB with early 2nd Round potential, unless you are in one of my leagues.

T.J. Yeldon – Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars did not run the ball enough in 2015. Game flow and circumstance clearly contributed to them ranking 30th in the league in rushing attempts. Starting a rookie at RB on day 1 probably didn’t help either. As dynamic a player as Yeldon can be, the Jags would have been much better off giving him the now famed, Bruce Arians treatment, that David Johnson received. Unfortunately, the other RB options, Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson did not give the coaching staff enough confidence to do so. Unlike some QBs, I don’t see Yeldon becoming gun shy by having a rough rookie season. In fact, I see him growing from it. Yeldon has dedicated himself this offseason, transforming his physique. Be it a simple narrative to write, I have not heard that story about every second-year player. Now, for the elephant in the room…Chris Ivory, Yeldon’s backfield mate. Ivory is a bad man and his splashy free agent signing has pushed Yeldon’s ADP to an insanely low spot at RB36.

Yeldon battled injuries in 2015 and finished the season with a 4.1 YPC average. With a year under his belt, subtle OL improvements and a more balanced attack, I see his YPC jumping to 4.4 in 2016. Head coach Gus Bradley has referenced the Ivory signing as a way to help keep Yeldon healthy. 5 years, $32M may be a lot of money to pay an insurance policy, and the fantasy community has noticed. Furthermore, reports have been vague as to usage to this point, and no one expects the Jags to divulge this kind of information. Conjecture thus far has ranged from a 50/50 split to a strict 3rd down role for Yeldon. The Jags must run the ball more this season. The team played from behind a lot in 2015 and they do have two dynamic, young WRs, but success in the NFL is rarely found without a running game. Let’s assume that the Jags run the ball 100 more times in 2016 than they did in 2015.  That would have put them at 9th most (476) rushing attempts. That is the recipe for a winning team and with all the momentum building, I would not be surprised if they become just that.

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Let me be clear, I do NOT root for injury, but as a fantasy analyst, the probability of injury must be taken into account when valuing players. I want to illustrate 2 scenarios for Yeldon in 2016; “Best-Case” and “Most Realistic”. I will not post a “Worse Case” as a zero stat line does not need to be drawn out. Assuming Jacksonville’s season plays out the way I illustrated earlier, here is how Yeldon’s 2016 season would look:

The best-case scenario I envision has Yeldon taking over as the lead back around Week 5 as we do not need to see him thrust in early again, like 2015. In this case, Ivory and his violent running style gets hurt, or Yeldon plays far too well for an RBBC to be justified by the coaching staff any longer. A less optimistic picture still looks decent (RB22 Rank).

T.J. Yeldon Rush Yards TD Rec Yards TD
Best Case 290 1,276 9 44 325 2
Most Realistic 180 792 5 32 240 1

Either scenario has Yeldon out producing his current RB36 ADP.

Ameer Abdullah – Detroit Lions

Detroit players have been coy regarding the offense Jim Bob Cooter will unveil this fall. Cooter did a nice job as the OC after taking over in Week 8 during the 2015 season, increasing scoring by 7.5 points per game. He set the foundation for what promises to be an unpredictable, creative offense. One has to assume QB Matthew Stafford is a fan of Cooter, as he threw for 19 TDs and 2 INTs under his leadership; and if the passing game is effective, it should help to open up the running game. The lasting image we have from 2015 is Joique Bell and Abdullah splitting carries while Theo Riddick was busy in the passing game, hauling in 80 passes. RB roles remain unknown in Detroit, but Abdullah will get a second chance to take the league by storm after a sub-par rookie season marred by four early season fumbles.

Most RBBCs consist of two main players, but some feel that Detroit could be a 3-headed committee, based on the way I described 2015. However, we have no idea what to expect under Cooter in 2016. Bell is no longer a Lion and Zach Zenner, Stevan Ridley, Dwayne Washington and George Winn are fighting for a roster spot behind Riddick and Abdullah. Common sense tells me that Abdullah will get the majority of the carries and Riddick will continue to catch passes. I predict we see both players on the field together more than half the time. Lots of teams have a pass catching back opposite their bell-cow, and that doesn’t necessarily halt fantasy production from the primary ball carrier.

Abdullah is 5’9” and 205 pounds. A legitimate concern is that one of the bigger backs mentioned earlier could become the goal line back, stealing TDs from Abdullah. This is a legitimate concern, but in early June, Golden Tate said, “…it’s one thing to be out on the line of scrimmage in a matter of seconds understanding the calls and what’s required of you.” This may sound like what any player on an up-tempo offense would say, and that is just the point. On a team that plans to run more plays than last year (1,030 plays, ranking 20th) and string together mismatches with personnel currently on the field, it is safe to assume that the starters will remain on the field to prevent the defense from substituting. Abdullah saw 355 snaps in 2015. I predict that total to drastically increase, perhaps as high as 560 snaps. That is a lot of additional opportunities.

Abdullah’s skill set had fantasy owners drooling prior to the start of the 2015 season. He was a 2nd Round NFL draft pick and coveted by multiple teams at the point he was drafted. Splash plays at the University of Nebraska and the mother of all juke moves during the 2015 preseason caused visions of Barry Sanders reincarnate in the Detroit backfield. Evidence of his talent was hard to come by during his rookie season until Abdullah was able to average nearly 5 YPC for the final six games of the season. Abdullah’s rookie season was bumpy at best. Fumbles, poor OL play (which should receive a boost with 1st Round selection Taylor Decker), a losing team, and coaching changes all contributed to an incomplete grade. I am as excited for Abdullah in 2016 as I was in 2015. The public is not as high, with Abdullah falling to the back end of the 6th Round.

The opportunity for Abdullah is wide open with Bell gone and his potential increase in snaps could easily turn him into an RB1 with top 10 RB numbers like this:

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Rush Yards TD Rec Yards TD
210 1,001 7 35 290 2

Cooter knows how to create mismatches and Abdullah should be his most dangerous and versatile weapon of choice.

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