Grouping together is a way to always cover someones back. Whether youre on the field in war, or on a field trip with classmates, a unified group keeps a sense of security and reassurance for each other. In football, grouping is related to competition. Ahead or behind you on the depth charts are teammates aiming to leave you in the dust, or clip you from the back. If an athlete doesnt stay on their feet, suddenly theyre down and out.
Over the last five years or so, a lot of teams have adjusted from the one-dimensional style of running backs. Usually there was one main focal point at running back that would wear down defenses for four quarters. The occasional third down running back would be brought in, but if you were a starter you could expect at least an 80-20 ratio of carries. Nowadays, almost every team has swung in the opposite direction with the obvious occurrence of late season injuries forcing a change.
It started to happen by accident, because once a starter would go down another would fill in and do just as well. A backup running back is like a sixth man spark off the bench in relation to basketball. They provide that extra boost that opposing teams dont focus on in weekly game planning.
With more and more NFL franchises preserving their star running backs, it begs the questioning of which running backs to trust. For the most part, most teams are going to have a shared percentage of around the 70-30 range. There are still some teams like the Buffalo Bills, that will just let Willis McGahee maul over defenders for four quarters, but that will hurt them in a few years.
The durability of running backs is decreasing every year because of footballs rising brutal style. So what Notjustagame has done is break down all 32 NFL franchises, and decided which teams possess the best duo. Its an overlooked area in fantasy football, because the majority of running backs dont last the entirety of sixteen games. Whether its one game or a whole season, the backup can fill in just as well as the starter. Just take a look at the four teams that made it to their respective conference championships. New England (Dillon, Faulk), Pittsburgh (Bettis, Staley), Atlanta (Dunn, Duckett), and Philadelphia (Buckhalter, Westbrook). All teams had to play without one back (Buckhalter the entire season) for an extent, and if not for great depth would have had drastic results.
1. Steven Jackson/Marshall Faulk. Likely Percentage: 75/25
By no means should Marshall Faulk be completely ridden off as a fantasy football threat. He still can shift gears with the best of them, and a reduced role could spring an x-factor role. Steven Jackson is going to get the majority of the carries obviously, but he did have a hard time with injuries last year. He is young though, and can battle through that. Another reason that the Rams backfield is ranked the highest is because they dont always use the conventional fullback-running back backfield. Dont be surprised to see both in the backfield to confuse defenses.
2. Warrick Dunn/TJ Duckett. Likely Percentage 60/40
Here is probably the most confusing and frustrating split load in the NFL. Both backs possess the skills of being great, but because of the Falcons game plan they stay grounded. Hovering around fantasy greatness is just a known fact for both of these guys. At times Dunn floats above water when the Falcons give him above fifteen carries, but that only happened last year when Duckett was injured. In fact, Dunn had six touchdowns after only five weeks last season, but then faded fast and finished with nine. Duckett on the other hand started to find the end zone, and nearly equaled Dunns total. Both need each other and like it or not, both know the plan is correct with light duty. Until one is given grunt work, both of these backs can only be counted as number three running backs. Its like a crapshoot starting one of these guys, because the uncertainty of touches on a given week is like predicting weather in Florida.
3. DeShaun Foster/Stephen Davis. Likely Percentage: Depends on Daviss health
Golly, the Panthers thought they had great insurance at running back, and then the injury fairy came and visited Foster and Davis. The shocking situation obviously marked the downfall of the Panthers season. They had to switch to a passing team and fell too far back in the standings before they were able to recover. There is no possible way that both of these backs can be counted as all out work horses. Foster has been through a number of injuries in college, and his stock has never fully rose because of poor timing injuries. Davis has been doing it for a long time. If he wants to continue an NFL career, hell have to limit his role to a third down and goal line back. Foster is a big sleeper this year, as he is recovered from his shoulder injury and should get back on track. The gradual carries should turn over to more and more as the season goes on.
4. Brian Westbrook/Correll Buckhalter. Likely Percentage: 60/40
Both of these backs are in contract years, and will be hungry to showcase exclusive tryouts. With the Eagles getting a lot of attention and primetime looks, the spotlight will definitely be on these two. Even though Westbrook was without Buckhalter last season, he still only had three games with over fifteen carries. His damage comes more as a receiver, and that may help Buckhalter steal some carries. Expect Buckhalther to get at least seven to eight carries a game, and nearly equalize Westbrooks carries.
5. Tatum Bell/Maurice Clarett. Likely Percentage: Only if Clarett steps up.
The continuance of excellence in the Broncos backfield is a recipe that hasnt been duplicated. No matter who is back there, success is an automatic outcome. It just seems like every year a new fresh group is back there. Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson, Olandis Gary, Clinton Portis, and etc. have all vacated without disruptions from Broncos fans. Tatum Bell is the new front-runner, but his status hasnt been declared yet. Coach Mike Shanahan has now patience with backs, and keeps a loaded arsenal just in case. To go along with Tatum Bell is Quentin Griffin, and the power backs happen to be Maurice Clarett and Ron Dayne. There will be a lot of up and down changes, but Bell and Clarett should be the main duo.
6. Curtis Martin/Derrick Blaylock. Likely Percentage: 80/20
Controlling the time clock can only be done with a great running game. The Jets have been one of the best in that department, and often will have a total of thirty-five carries collectively. Martin was used an awful lot last season, and the Jets didnt start getting Lamont Jordan involved until midseason. Blaylock should be involved right around the ballpark Jordan has been, unless Martin gets hurt.
7. Edgerrin James/Dominic Rhodes. Likely Percentage: 75/25
Dominic Rhodes will get his chance to prove he can be the Colts starter a year from now. More touches will come his way, and James wont care either way. He knows his days in a Colts uniform are dwindling down, and being in the Colts offense is just a scripted easy ride.
8. Duce Staley/Jerome Bettis. Likely Percentage: 50/50
Owners were wary week after week to take a chance at submitting Staley or Bettis as a starter. Who could blame anyone, both seemed to be too old to do what they did? Still, Bettis was the scoring machine, while Staleys main value was strictly yardage. The game plan for both of these backs will be exactly the same. If one goes down, lookout for Vernon Hayes whos speed is something the Steelers may need to get away from the similar styles of Bettis and Staley.
9. Lee Suggs/Reuben Droughns/William Green: Likely Percentage: Toss up all around
Lee Suggs finished last season with three straight one hundred yard games, so the Browns decided to bring in Reuben Droughns and keep William Green. Confidence in the young back is obviously not sold, and the Browns arent ready to give up on Green either. Droughns could go back to his former role as a fullback, especially if he cant find holes without the Broncos line. If William Green has matured yet, than he should easily be able to get his spot back. He is definitely the most talented of the three, and wasnt a first round pick for nothing.
10. Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams: Likely Percentage: Up to Williams.
This is an awkward yet most interesting situation heading into the 2005 season. Nick Saban has the Dolphins teammates erasing their statements they made about Williams last year, and seemingly ready to accept him back. The ploy and deterrent use of Williams will be the obvious avenue Saban uses. Williams still faces a four game suspension, and when he returns will be almost two years removed from football. Brown on the other hand is a hungry rookie that is the future in Miami.
11. JJ Arrington/Marcel Shipp: Likely Percentage: Up to Coach Green
Dennis Green loves open competition, and thats what he has planned for Shipp and Arrington. Arrington was the leader in rushing last season in college football, while Shipp missed last year due to injury. Shipp has always had to battle to fit in the NFL, and that drive will have to continue to remain with him. The determination of both may be too hard to decide solely on one back. Green will likely share the carries like what was originally planned last season with Emmitt Smith and Shipp.
12. Priest Holmes/Larry Johnson. Likely Percentage: 85/15
If Holmes is 100 percent than no one besides Holmes will get touches. Thats hard to believe though as Holmes has missed time two of the past three seasons. That hint may force the Chiefs to limit him just a little bit, and give Johnson five to seven carries a game. The Chiefs offense has always been high caliber, and the best at running the football. Last year alone Holmes had fourteen touchdowns rushing, Derrick Blaylock had eight, and Larry Johnson nine.
13. Cedric Benson/Thomas Jones: Likely Percentage: 65/35
A so-called battle is what the Bears have conjured up for training camp. Everyone knows Benson will be given the job, but Jones thinks otherwise. Many people forget Jones was a first round pick, and just has never developed in the NFL. He did a solid job last year especially considering the Bears quarterbacks. If anything Jones should be able to up his value for other teams, while Benson ensures the Bears they made the right decision.
14. Carnell Williams/Michael Pittman/Charlie Garner: Likely Percentage: Up in the air
Michael Pittman could be the most talented running back that has squandered the most opportunities. He has had three quiet seasons in Tampa Bay, and now faces a young buck in Carnell Williams and a veteran running back as obstacles. Lets not forget Mike Alstott who sometimes gets more carries than a Buccaneers running back. This situation is clogged and no owner should plan on corralling in anyone, until actual evidence comes forth.
15. Ahman Green/Najeh Davenport: Likely Percentage: 70/30
Najeh Davenports yards per carry are elite and slowly but surely the Packers keep giving him more carries. The drop off hasnt happened, but the mainstream success wont ever happen with Ahman Green in the way. This is Davenports contract year, and the Packers will have a decision to make. They havent tested him enough to warrant giving him a solid contract, and will test his worth.
16. Michael Bennett/Mewelde Moore/Ciatrick Fason. Likely Percentage: Scarce Value All Around
17. Deuce McAllister/Aaron Stecker: Likely Percentage: 85/15
18. Kevan Barlow/Frank Gore. Likely Percentage: 80/20
19. Kevin Jones/Shawn Bryson: Likely Percentage: 85/15
20. Corey Dillon/Kevin Faulk: Likely Percentage: 80/20
21. Fred Taylor/LaBrandon Toefield. Likely Percentage: 75/25
22. *Chris Brown/Jarrett Payton. Likely Percentage: 80/20
*Situation is dependant around Browns health, and if the Titans seriously pursue Travis Henry.
23. Lamont Jordan/Justin Fargas. Likely Percentage: 75/25
24. Jamal Lewis/Chestor Taylor. Likely Percentage: 85/15
25. Tiki Barber/Mike Cloud. Likely Percentage: 90/10
26. Julius Jones/Anthony Thomas. Likely Percentage: 85/15
27. Shaun Alexander/Maurice Morris. Likely Percentage: 90/10
28. Domanick Davis/Vernand Morency. Likely Percentage: 90/10
29. Rudi Johnson/Chris Perry. Likely Percentage: 95/5
30. Clinton Portis/Ladell Betts. Likely Percentage: 90/10
31. Ladainian Tomlinson/Jesse Chatman. Likely Percentage: 90/10
32. Willis McGahee/Shaud Williams. Likely Percentage: 90/10