The preseason is where position battles are won and lost, so now that we have a few games to analyze, we have a better idea of how some running back-by-committee (RBBC) backfields are shaping up. Sure, it's easy to overreact to just one preseason game, but real game action gives us some insight on how coaches plan to use certain guys that have been question marks so far during camp, and how big of a role some of the higher-profile rookies might play come the regular season.
New Orleans Saints: Things may be changing in New Orleans after Mark Ingram ran for 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries against the Rams Friday, and second-year back Khiry Robinson scored on a short touchdown run of his own. While Ingram's 10.4 yards per carry obviously won't hold up for any extended amount of time, it's a good start for a running back who has struggled to make a significant impact the past few seasons.
Pierre Thomas has slid to the No. 3 spot on the depth chart and didn't travel to St. Louis for the game due to an undisclosed injury. It's only one game, but Ingram's production in this one is hard to ignore. Thomas is still the best receiving back in New Orleans so it would make sense if he plays more of a third-down pass-catching role while Ingram and Robinson split carries on earlier downs. Call me a broken record, but in case you haven't heard, the RBBC situation in New Orleans is one to avoid for fantasy purposes if you can work around it.
Houston Texans: There's been a surprising shake up on the Texans depth chart this week following the team's embarrassing 32-0 loss in their first preseason game. The Texans cut Brown on Monday after he didn't play a snap in the game. Jonathan Grimes and rookie Alfred Blue had moved ahead of him on the depth chart and Texans' coach Bill O'Brien said Brown was in a "tough spot" to get more playing time.
The Texans also cut back Dennis Johnson and Tim Cornett Monday, then quickly signed 32-year-old veteran Ronnie Brown and William Powell to fill the empty roster spots. At his age, it's hard to see Brown having a prominent role in the Texans' backfield while Grimes projects to be the leader in the battle for the No. 2 role. This is definitely a backfield to keep an eye on in the remaining preseason games. Arian Foster is dealing with several injuries this preseason (hamstring, back), so it's extremely important to pay attention to what's going on behind him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A clear battle is underway behind Doug Martin in Tampa Bay with three talented backs fighting for reps. After Martin had his three carries for a measly six yards, Bobby Rainey, rookie Charles Sims and Mike James all got their opportunities. Sims seemed to really capitalize on his chances in the passing game as he caught three balls for 32 yards. Rainey served as the No. 2 back behind Martin and had six carries for 25 yards while James' big play came on one 20-yard catch.
Similar to the situation in New Orleans, this backfield could shape up with Martin and Rainey splitting carries on the early downs with Sims potentially developing into a third-down pass-catching specialist. As fellow NFL.com fantasy editor Alex Gelhar noted recently, Sims is currently going undrafted in NFL.com fantasy leagues but if he continues to play like he did on Friday, his stock could rise significantly by the end of the preseason. The big rookie also has a chance to earn the No. 2 spot if he can outplay Rainey in the Bucs remaining three preseason games. If that happens, he could be one of the most undervalued backs in fantasy this season. Martin has a reputation for slow starts, and if the new coaching regime in Tampa Bay grows impatient with him early in the regular season it's not out of the question for them to look into testing their other options.
San Francisco 49ers: We knew Frank Gore wouldn't play in the 49ers preseason opener so that came as no surprise. What did surprise us is how well rookie Carlos Hyde played, gaining 39 yards on five carries in the first quarter. What looked like a stacked committee behind Gore at the beginning of camp has dwindled due to injuries, and now Hyde looks like the favorite to serve as Gore's handcuff. The veteran's current ADP in NFL.com fantasy drafts is Round 6 while Hyde's is Round 15, so owners who reluctantly draft Gore will have a chance to scoop up the rookie late as a viable safety net should anything happen to The Inconvenient Truth. Hyde will continue to get reps with the first-team offense so we'll be watching to see what he does with his increased opportunities. Second-year back Jewel Hampton also saw playing time throughout the first three quarters against Baltimore on Thursday and had 18 yards on eight carries, but until we see more, Hyde is definitely the guy to target.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens were impressive on the ground with Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro all getting significant work against the 49erson Thursday. Pierce was the only Baltimore back to score on a short touchdown run, but both he and Rice (who only had three carries) seemed to run the ball well with the opportunities they had early on. Pierce had 10 carries and is projected to be the team's starter for the first two regular season games while Rice is suspended. Taliaferro did well in mop-up duty gaining 73 yards on 13 carries throughout the third and fourth quarters and could surpass Forsett on the depth chart if he continues to play well. Still, it's tough to imagine any running backs other than Pierce and Rice being fantasy relevant in Baltimore this season.