Committee Meetings: Rookies rising in preseason

Both the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills flashed some potentially valuable running back by committee (RBBC) action in the recent Hall of Fame Game. In this edition of Committee Meetings we'll explore how each team split the workload in the first preseason game of the year. We'll also catch you up on some recent developments in both the New Orleans Saints' and New England Patriots' backfields during training camp.

Hall of Fame Game: Seven seemed to be the magic number for the Giants' runners Sunday night, as projected bell cow Rashad Jennings, rookie Andre Williams and veteran Peyton Hillis each finished with that amount of rushing attempts, but it was Jennings and Williams who stood out.

During the Giants' first quarter touchdown drive, the team rotated Jennings and Williams with tremendous success, each back totaling five attempts during the possession. To close out the drive, Williams ripped a 21-yard run to the outside and followed it up on the next play with a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle, plowing through the Bills' (second-team) defensive line.

If the rookie continues to impress during preseason games, we have to wonder if Big Blue's backfield will shape up to be more of an evenly-split one-two punch between Jennings and Williams with the rookie getting a majority of the goal line work. Just keep in mind that in his final season with Boston College, Williams had 355 carries for 18 touchdowns and 2,177 yards, but did not catch a single pass in his 13 games. Jennings hauled in three passes for 20 yards Sunday night.

On the other side of the ball, Bryce Brown tallied the most carries for Buffalo with seven attempts for 40 yards, gaining almost half of his total yardage on one 19-yard dash in the third quarter. Fifth-year back Anthony Dixon showed off his hands with four catches for 16 yards and rushed four times for 15 yards.

All of that is fine and dandy, but what about projected starter C.J. Spiller and veteran Fred Jackson you ask? The Bills barely used their top guys in this one as Spiller and Jackson had one and two rushing attempts respectively. This shouldn't raise any red flags as teams regularly limit star players to keep them healthy and fresh for the regular season.

One thing we do need to keep an eye on in the Bills' backfield is Spiller's future with the team. Although he hopes to stay in Buffalo for the 2014 season, trade rumors have continued to swirl all summer. With the addition of the talented Brown in the offseason (acquired via trade for a fourth-round draft pick) and the recent one-year, $2.6 million extension of 33-year-old Jackson, one can't help but wonder how the Bills plan to spread the love amongst all three backs. If Spiller left the Bills, Jackson and Brown's fantasy value would skyrocket. Depending on where he landed it's likely Spiller's value would see an uptick as well.

Belichick said of White, "I think he has the ability to compete on all three downs, in both the running game and the passing game." The Pats haven't had a true three-down back in years, isntead subbing in a sure-handed specialist on third down passing situations. If White can continue to develop at this rate we could be looking at the future of the Patriots run game.

Even Stevan Ridley has talked up the fourth-round pick stating that, "He's doing it in all three phases: blitz pickup, passing, and running. And that's what we need in our running back, a complete back." Interesting enough, White could be pilfering touches from Ridley if this keeps up.

For now though, Shane Vereen still leads New England's depth chart at the position and has an ADP in Round 7 with Ridley behind him with an ADP of Round 11. Should the injury-prone Vereen suffer any setbacks early on, or the fumble-happy Ridley end up in Belichick's doghouse, we could see White get a real opportunity to emerge as a legitimate fantasy runner before the season reaches the halfway point.

The Saints leading back last season, Pierre Thomas, said that the team is focusing more on the run game this preseason than he has ever seen before. Veteran rusher Mark Ingram indicated the same kind of optimism about a more effective three-headed attack in New Orleans which of course includes second-year breakout candidate Khiry Robinson. "Us three jelling together," Ingram said, "I don't think many teams have as deep a running back corps as we do ... We're all working hard and we push each other to be better."

This is all peachy for the Saints' offensive game plan going forward as the team develops a more balanced run game than in years past, but for fantasy owners it's still a situation to avoid. Sure, five yards per carry is great for any backfield, but when there are three backs splitting the load evenly and rushing trips to the end zone are rare, it's an unpredictable combination that will most likely end in fantasy frustration throughout the season.

It's likely that the Jets begin the season with a rusher rotation in an effort to keep the 29-year-old Johnson fresh as he returns from offseason knee surgery. He claims that the knee injury he suffered in Week 3 of last season is no longer an issue, but until he truly separates himself from the other members of the Jets' backfield, we can't promise that he will live up to his current top 20 back draft position. Ryan also said that it's a "possibility" that the team goes with the "ride the hot hand" approach, so if CJ2K can be efficient with his touches, the committee could become more of a lopsided timeshare.

Matt Franciscovich is an associate fantasy editor at NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter at @m_franciscovich

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