Running Back Committees Not to Avoid In 2017

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The phrase "running back by committee" (RBBC) has kept many a fantasy owner awake in the wee hours of the night. You can do the player research, read practice notes, watch coach interviews, and much more, only to have a player who seemed destined for 10-15 touches sit on the bench for the majority of the game. The unpredictability and frustration that follows running back committees often leads fantasy owners to avoid the players in said committees entirely. While this strategy can often save frustration on Sundays, there are also times when a running back committee can be used to your advantage.

In this article, I will identify some RBBC situations not to avoid for the 2017 fantasy football season. For all intents and purposes, we will designate any team that has two running backs who will have meaningful playing time as a running back committee. Teams that have a clear starter with little competition for touches are ineligible for this list. This article will also elaborate the format that each of these committees should not be avoided on.

All ADP information comes from Fantasyfootballcalculator.com

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Running Back Committees Not to Avoid

Atlanta Falcons (All formats)

Last season the dynamic duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman finished as the RB6 and RB19 respectively in standard scoring leagues (RB6 and RB17 in PPR) by combining for 2,482 total yards and 24 TD. They form arguably the best running back tandem in the NFL, and both will present great fantasy value again for the upcoming 2017 season.

Freeman nearly doubled Coleman in overall touches (281 to 149), but it did not limit the scoring production of Coleman. The offense did not lose a step when Freeman exited the game, as both players possess similar speed, agility, and toughness. In a sense, they can both do it all. They both make the most of their opportunities, averaging 4.8 (Freeman) and 4.4 (Coleman) yards per carry.

In the high-flying Falcons offense, expect both backs to carry over a similar value to the upcoming season. The departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, plus the spectre of a Super Bowl hangover has made some fantasy owners leery of the duo, but those shouldn't be legitimate concerns. They are each worthy of their current ADP (Freeman at 10, Coleman at 64), but Coleman may prove to have more value at his current draft position than Freeman. Either way, both of these backs will prove to be consistent starter options for your team this season.

New England Patriots (PPR only)

I once followed the rather common convention of avoiding the Patriots backfield at all cost. If opposing defenses haven't been able to figure out Bill Belichick's gameplan for the last 17 seasons, then why should any of us be able to, right? Wrong (for fantasy purposes, at least). Last season, I selected LeGarrette Blount in the ninth round, and he became one of the best value picks in my league by finishing as the RB7. I learned that while Belichick is unpredictable, he is consistent by one measure. He finds ways to use players at what they do best.

With Blount departing to Philadelphia in free agency, the Patriots acquired both Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to bolster the running back position. Gillislee and Burkhead join James White and Dion Lewis in a seemingly nightmare committee for fantasy owners. However, it may be easier to predict than you think.

Mike Gillislee is slotted to take over the early-down and red zone work left behind by Blount, and, as we saw a season ago, there is value to be had in that role. Gillislee impressed as LeSean McCoy's backup in Buffalo and has all of the tools to be a successful running back in New England. Due to the ease and prevalence at which the Patriots find themselves in the red zone, expect Gillislee to be a touchdown-dependent RB2 in this offense.

The remaining three running backs are far more murky than Gillislee, but there is still opportunity for value. Dion Lewis projects to be the odd man out following his injury-riddled season, leaving Burkhead and White as the major competitors for the coveted third-down role in Belichick's offense. My best bet would be Burkhead, who became the highest-paid Patriots running back since 2010. He has impressed in OTA's and is a more complete player than White. Either way, one of the two should quickly separate himself as the lead third-down back in one of the NFL's best short passing offenses. This committee will require much more diligence and time commitment than the one above, but expect it to pay off.

Cincinnati Bengals (All formats)

At first glance the Bengals running back stable appears to be even more of a jumbled mess than the one in New England, and it is. There are three talented backs on the roster who will have a chance to receive meaningful playing time. While this is concerning, it should not deter you from drafting these players. Despite injuries and coaching staff turnover, the Bengals offense has produced two top-35 fantasy backs in the last three seasons (in terms of fantasy PPG). In the same time frame, the offense has also been top-10 in total rushes per game and red zone carries per game.

The addition of former Oklahoma standout Joe Mixon to this already-productive backfield should increase their fantasy production moving into 2017. The polarizing Mixon has his issues off of the field, but reveals no substantial shortcomings on the field. His talent is unquestioned. Mixon should immediately compete for carries in the running back-friendly offense and has potential to be the leading rusher for the team as a rookie.

The addition of Mixon has dramatically dropped the ADP of Jeremy Hill to 118. Once a rookie standout, Hill has been a lackluster performer the past two seasons. The addition of Mixon paired with Hill's contract year should provide Hill with the extra motivation he needs to bounce back in his fourth season. Hill will be given ample opportunity to play this season, giving him the volume needed to easily return his value at current ADP.

While Giovani Bernard provides a different skill set than the other two backs, look for him to be the odd man out this season. Bernard is coming off of an ACL injury that could leave him sidelined for meaningful action this season. Should he return, it is possible his effectiveness will suffer from a lack of burst that he once counted on. A healthy Bernard would have some PPR value due to his superior receiving ability, but it is unlikely that he will make a big impact this season.

As seen with the Falcons, two similar running backs on the same team can both give weekly fantasy value. Don't expect Mixon and Hill to match the production of Freeman and Coleman, but expect both to have solid value for the 2017 season.