The Carolina Panthers have had a “good” problem for a few years. They had two, starting-quality NFL running backs. Both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been stud fantasy running backs at one time. But the split between the two players was always uncertain. There was no way of knowing which one would score the most fantasy points in games where both were healthy.
My solution was that I drafted either both Panthers running backs, or neither of them. It seemed like a sound strategy. In practice, it sort of worked. It worked because one of them usually wound up getting hurt. Most of the time I could rely on one of them to be no worse than a RB2. But given that I was drafted two really good players, I had hoped for better.
As we enter the 2013 season, more NFL teams will feature a rotation of running backs than teams that utilize a traditional “feature” back. For fantasy owners, that means that some “backup” NFL running backs will have fantasy value. Even when the nominal “starter” is healthy.
In some situations the No. 2 running back will operate as a clear backup to an elite starer. They should see some work, but high-volume touches won’t come often. In other situations, there will be two or three running backs who split the carries between them. These situations are tough to judge on a game-by-game basis.
There are several scenarios where I am once again going to look to draft two running backs from the same NFL team. This first group consists of elite starting running backs with high-quality backups. These backups are often referred to as “handcuff” running backs.
- PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown
- HOUSTON TEXANS – Arian Foster and Ben Tate
- BALTIMORE RAVENS – Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce
Any owner who uses a first-round pick on one of the elite backs listed above would be wise to select his backup. Do it a round or two earlier than you even think you might have to. Beyond being great backups, Brown, Tate and Pierce could all have value as flex options, even when they are operating as true backups.
The next group consists of two running backs who are expected to split the touches for their NFL team. Both backs should have some value on a week-to-week basis. It is possible that one emerges as a clear-cut “feature” back, but it’s more like that they are used in a committee for foreseeable future.
- NEW YORK GIANTS – David Wilson and Andre Brown
- CINCINNATI BENGALS – BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard
- DENVER BRONCOS – Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman
- CAROLINA PANTHERS – DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart
I wouldn’t mind drafting any of these pairs of running backs, despite my league format. In PPR leagues, Wilson, Bernard and Hillman will have added value. There will be weeks when you will be able to start both running backs from the same team. While this could in theory limit your ultimate scoring upside, it also raises your possible scoring floor. If the Broncos running backs score 30 fantasy points, does it matter what the breakdown is? In most leagues, I would be happy to get 15 points each from my RB2 and my flex. Just look at it that way.
As we draw closer to the start of the 2013 season, more running back tandems will emerge. Pay attention to the second and third pre-season games. They will give you a good idea about who might emerge as viable backup running backs with fantasy upside.
Don’t be afraid to load up on two or even three players from the same offense. As long as it’s a high-scoring offense. If I end up with four Green Bay Packers players on my fantasy team, I’m okay with that. This can hurt you a bit during the bye weeks, but you can worry about that the week before it happens. During drafts, you want to focus on locking down the best talent. These days, that can sometimes mean locking up an NFL team’s entire backfield.