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NFL Rookie Running Backs Destined for Fantasy Football Committees

The whole concept of a "running back committee" feels fake at this point. Back in the day when there were a bunch of high-usage RB1s in the league, you never wanted to draft a running back who was in a "committee" because there were just far too many options available who would get more touches per game.

The days of a workhorse RB1 are waning. In 2021, four players saw 250 carries or more. 10 years before that, 12 running backs saw that much usage. Imagine Shonn Greene getting 253 carries on an NFL team in the year 2022. No way it happens.

Anyway, this article is supposed to be about rookie running backs in committees, but that's basically all of them. Even Breece Hall is going to find himself sharing touches this year. So for this piece, we'll only be looking at rookie running backs who feel destined to land in a committee of at least three players. So, Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III, see y'all later. James Cook, you can go too, because I don't trust Zack Moss enough to project he cuts into the snaps for you or Devin Singletary.

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Tyrion Davis-Price - San Francisco 49ers

We know that the Niners like to run the ball. That shouldn't change with the move from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance under center, though the shape of those runs could. Garoppolo had 38 carries last year, while Lance also had 38 carries. Jimmy G started 15 games. Lance started two games.

What this suggests to me is that the 49ers will have more designed quarterback runs next year, which lowers how many attempts there will be for the running backs. The team could finish sixth in rushing attempts again, but how many of those carries will go to Lance? And how will the remaining touches be divvied up?

Last season, Elijah Mitchell led the team with 207 rushing attempts, with Jeff Wilson Jr. at 79, Deebo Samuel at 59, and Trey Sermon at 41.

All of those players return this year, plus third-round pick Tyrion Davis-Price joins the equation. That's...a lot of mouths to feed, even if we assume Deebo Samuel gets used in that gadget-back role slightly less this year. Mitchell was the clear No. 1 back last year, but Sermon was a third-rounder last year and should see an expanded role in 2022. Wilson will get touches. Davis-Price is an intriguing player, but the math ain't mathing here when it comes to him carving out a fantasy-sized role for the early part of the season.

 

Brian Robinson Jr. - Washington Commanders

Last year, Brian Robinson rushed for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns for Alabama, plus added 35 catches for 296 yards and two scores. After serving as a complementary piece for most of his Tide career, Robinson impressed in his one season as the unquestioned lead back. Now he finds himself in a familiar place with the Commanders: behind incumbents on the depth chart.

Antonio Gibson was fourth among NFL running backs in carries last season. J.D. McKissic was targeted 53 times in 11 games and in 2020 saw over 100 targets. There's a clear lead back for rushing downs and a lead back for passing downs. So, what happens with the 2022 third-round pick?

Because he's a different kind of running back than Gibson and McKissic, there should be snaps for Robinson. He's that bigger, more bruising back who can be especially effective down near the goal line. Even if he's important inside the 20, his lack of usage in the passing game plus the fact that Gibson should see most early down work means that Robinson is going to be lost in a committee for 2022.

 

Dameon Pierce - Houston Texans

Of the four guys in this article, Pierce is the most likely to break through his committee and into meaningful work, mainly because the players ahead of him are aging backs whose best days are behind them. Pierce will likely open the season behind Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead. Outperforming those guys isn't as difficult as outperforming Elijah Mitchell or Antonio Gibson will be, but there's no guarantee that Pierce is going to come into camp and earn a huge role.

Marlon Mack played six games last year for the Colts, finishing with 101 yards. His last two seasons have been a wash because of injury, but if he's healthy — and that's a big if considering he tore his Achilles in 2020 — then he'll get the first shot at leading this backfield. Considering he ran for over 1,000 yards the last time he was healthy, I think the Texans will likely wind up relying on Mack and his experience. Especially with second-year QB Davis Mills under center, having a known entity at running back will be important.

And then there's Burkhead, who just turned 32. That's old for a running back, but Burkhead never had 100 carries in a season before last year, so he's a fairly young 32 in terms of wear. Burkhead should see time spelling Mack and will get some passing down work. Despite the change at head coach, Houston returns essentially the same offensive coaching staff as last year, and that staff liked Burkhead enough to give him a career-high amount of work.

The other issue with Pierce is that I don't trust this offense enough. Bad offenses end up throwing the ball more because the team is behind more often. With a rookie quarterback last season, Houston threw 58% of the time, which ranked essentially right at league average. But they threw the ball 60% of the time in the second half of games per Sharp Football Stats. That ranked 11th in the league.

If we look exclusively at the games where Mills started and not Tyrod Taylor, we see that number rise a lot. In Mills' starts, Houston ranked eighth overall in pass rate at 61%. In the second half of games, they jump to fourth in the league with a pass rate of 65%.

Houston will throw a lot this year. That isn't good for the running back committee that they have and it's a big part of why I'm not high on Pierce.



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