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Committee Running Backs Worth Drafting


Want to see me say some dirty words on this website? Alright, here we go: Running. Back. Committee.

Please don't go report me to my editors! I'm sorry! But while we're here and we're talking about all these dirty things, let's talk about running back committees. Are they good for fantasy owners? Nah. Are they a death sentence for fantasy owners? Also nah.

Committees are an unavoidable part of the modern NFL landscape and we have to learn to deal with that. Let's look at some running backs who are stuck in committees this season but who shouldn't be forgotten in redraft leagues.

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Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins

Washington's backfield is chock full of guys who'll probably miss time with injuries, from Derrius Guice (who tore an ACL last preseason) to Adrian Peterson (who is approximately 56 years old). Chris Thompson isn't really a beacon of health either, having played in just 20 games over the past two seasons, but it seems like everyone just thinks he's going to be hurt again and miss time based on how low they are on him.

Thompson is a good receiving back, something that Guice and Peterson won't really provide for rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins. If we look back at 2017, Thompson caught 39 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns and was a dynamic piece for Washington. He's capable of busting off big plays.

Last year, Ohio State's running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for 47 receptions, so Haskins is clearly a guy who is willing to get his running backs involved offensively. That's good news for Thompson, who can serve as a safety valve for the rookie.

Thompson will be a guy who goes way later in fantasy drafts than he should. Strike at the right moment and grab him.

 

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos

Freeman was supposed to be The Dude last year in Denver, but then Phillip Lindsay happened, and now Freeman's playing second fiddle to the former undrafted free agent.

And that's fine. Lindsay earned his role. But Freeman shouldn't just be thrown aside by fantasy owners at this point, as he's still a really valuable young back.

Freeman's rookie campaign can be summed up as "meh." Among running backs with 100 yards, Freeman ranked 31st in defense-adjusted yards above replacement. He was the last running back with a positive result in that metric and was, essentially, exactly a replacement-level running back. Not great!

Freeman's got to be better than that to be valuable, but as long as the Broncos can move the ball well, he doesn't have to be that much better, because where Freeman can make his mark is with red zone opportunities. Last year, Freeman rushed up the middle 40 times on first or second down. Nine of those came in the red zone. Opportunity is everything, and I expect Freeman to get enough chances to do what he does best to make him a fantasy value.

 

Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry took control of this backfield with a 238 yard, four-touchdown performance against the Jaguars and he followed that up with 170 yards and two scores against the Giants. So, it stands to reason that he took this backfield from committee to not committee, right?

Well, the week after that Giants game, he was on the field for 62.5 percent of his team's snaps, but the next week that number was back down to 53.1 percent. Lewis played 49 percent of snaps in that Week 17 contest, and the Titans were right back to a committee-style approach.

Henry's a big, powerful runner, but that kind of runner can't just be on the field every play. You've got to get the smaller, quicker guy in sometimes, the guy who can catch 59 passes. That's Lewis, and as long as Henry isn't a major receiving threat, Lewis has a place on this team.

Lewis struggled as a pure runner last year, finishing last among backs with 100 carries in success rate and 43rd out of 47th in DYAR. But he had the second-highest catch rate among running backs with 25 catches and evaded the 10th-most tackles among backs. In PPR leagues, Lewis' ability to be a crafty receiver makes him worth a later round draft pick, just as he was worth one all the other years of the Derrick Henry pairing.

 

Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints

We can call the Saints a running back committee, right? The Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram duo was so good that people really eschewed that phrase, but I'm not sure what else to call it. Head coach Sean Payton "rode the hot hand" and mixed the two in and out of the lineup to help produce the best results for New Orleans.

Now, Ingram is in Baltimore as the head of a committee that just missed being featured in this article (I like Justice Hill, by the way), and former Vikings back Latavius Murray has taken Ingram's role.

And people have...well, they've just seemed to ignore Murray all offseason, despite the fact that all of the worries about Alvin Kamara seeing a full workload and the Saints needing to save him to help him be more efficient are still worries. They're still worries, people! Do we think Sean Payton is really going to just run Kamara into the ground all of a sudden?

You can argue that Murray's not as good as Ingram, but situation and opportunity still matter a ton. Ingram had 159 touches in 12 games last year, so let's estimate that Murray ends up at 200 touches over 16 games. Murray with that level of touches is a top-25 fantasy back with the upside of being somewhere in the high range of RB2s. Last year, he finished as the RB35 in standard scoring, but he had just 162 touches. When he's had at least 200, he's never finished worse than RB20 in standard. Last year was a down year for Murray, but the level of usage and the offensive scheme in New Orleans is going to get him numbers.

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