Every week Committee Meetings breaks down the top storylines from the league's most head-scratching backfield committees in hopes of gaining some clarity for fantasy owners. If you're wondering about a backfield that's not discussed below, feel free to Tweet @MattFranchise for some additional advice.
Our faith in the running back position was reinvigorated due to some breakthrough Week 4 performances including another huge day for Devonta Freeman, Chris Ivory's impressive performance across the pond and Doug Martin's best game of the season against one of the leagues tougher defenses. Still, many of fantasy's top running backs are members of a committe backfield situation which is a difficult and frustrating thing to deal with in terms of who to start and who to sit. As always, Committee Meetings has you covered, so dive in!
Hillman takes the reins for Denver
C.J. Anderson | Ronnie Hillman | Juwan Thompson // Broncos
Through four weeks the Broncos rank 29th in the NFL in terms of rushing yards per game (78.8) and have just two rushing touchdowns all season - both of which have been scored by Ronnie Hillman. Against the Vikings in Week 4, Hillman far out-produced C.J. Anderson for the third straight week. Anderson's seven fantasy points was his highest total of the season in what's shaping up to be a bust campaign for fantasy purposes.
Still, despite his lack of production, Anderson out-snapped Hillman in a game that was competitive the entire way. The only thing that separated the duo was Hillman's 72-yard touchdown run in the first half. If it was Anderson who got that carry though, it's questionable that he would have had the speed to take it to the house the way Hillman did. Take away that play, and Anderson was actually the more efficient runner.
Unfortunately, it seems like this backfield doesn't have the prowess it did last season when the production was flowing no matter who was getting the carries. Coach Gary Kubiak said Monday that both backs will split carries going forward, and that Hillman has "earned the right to get more carries and play more than he has in the past." You can't really argue with that. Fantasy owners who thought they were getting a top-10 featured back in Anderson during draft season really got the short end of the stick here. Going forward, it will be a crapshoot for fantasy, but it surely seems like Hillman is the better play in Week 5 against the Raiders.
Welcome back, Jeremy Hill
Well, he responded with three touchdowns against the Chiefs -- a team who hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown all season. And, for the first time since Week 1, Hill out-snapped Giovani Bernard. Four of Hill's nine rushes came in the red zone (three of which he scored on) while he averaged a solid 4.4 YPC in the game. He ran with authority on his first touchdown run, effortlessly dropping rookie cornerback Marcus Peters with a stiff arm on his way to the paint. He embarrassed more Kansas City defenders on his second touchdown run in which he broke two tackles. On his third score, Hill followed his blocks and confidently leapt over a pile of players to break the plane. The key word there is "confidently." Hill's confidence was definitely shaken after fumbling twice in Week 2, but he's got his mojo back now, so don't fret.
Bernard also scored for the first time this season on a rush of his own. He actually received more carries than Hill did, but fantasy owners don't really care about all of that "more carries" nonsense since Hill posted 24 points. Still, Bernard is shaping up as an every-week flex option, as he has yet to post a game with fewer than eight fantasy points, and has double-digits in two of his last three. As long as the 4-0 Bengals keep the offense churning like this, both backs will remain fantasy starters. Just temper expectations a bit since Cincinnati has a few tough matchups ahead including Seattle and Buffalo in the next two weeks.
Cleveland backfield pays dividends
The Cleveland backfield, which has been a headache for fantasy owners for a solid two straight seasons now, was actually rewarding on all fronts in Week 4.
The rookie, Johnson, is finally getting more involved and far out-snapped and out-touched Isaiah Crowell against the Chargers. He had a career day thanks in part to an over-the-shoulder 34-yard touchdown reception in which he lined up as a wide receiver, completely blew by his defender and was left open in the back of the end zone. The nice touch from Josh McCown helped.
Crowell played well too with a 5.3 YPC average breaking off big runs of 32 and 14 yards, and added a catch-and-run of 54 yards to help boost his fantasy total to over 12 points despite not getting into the end zone.
Jennings hits for Giants
The Giants backfield has been, and will continue to be, one of the hardest to predict in terms of production on a week-to-week basis, and while some thought Shane Vereen might begin to see an expanded role with Jennings seemingly struggling, the incumbent runner squashed those whispers, if only for a week. The Giants have yet to make that transition and gave Jennings the majority of snaps against Buffalo. Lest we forget about Andre Williams, who is always good for a vultured touchdown, though right now he is nothing more than a handcuff to Jennings as long as both are healthy. We suggest avoiding this backfield if possible, but with some bye weeks coming up, Jennings remains the back to start in fantasy ... if you must.
Murray's value keeps sinking
Philadelphia boasts quite possibly the most talented trio of running backs yet they can't seem to get the ground game going. Much of this is due to poor offensive line play, something center Jason Kelcevented about after a loss to Washington in Week 4. In that game, the Eagles' backfield trio split 17 carries for a total of 73 rushing yards and zero trips to the end zone. That's an average of 24.3 yards per back.
The biggest problem here for fantasy owners is the lack of production from 2014's best fantasy running back in DeMarco Murray, who has fewer than 50 yards and fewer than 30 carries in three games. When asked, Murray said his lack of production can be attributed to the fact that he hasn't gotten the ball enough. (OK Murray, we see you.) But there's more to it than that, clearly.
With the kind of distribution we've seen in terms of rush attempts between Murray (29), Ryan Mathews (33) and Darren Sproles (21), deploying any of these RBs as a fantasy starter should be avoided until the Eagles iron out their early season wrinkles, err, gaping creases on offense. Because so far Philadelphia's backfield is one of the ugliest committees in the league and fantasy.
Washington's backfield full blown "hot hand" situation
Alfred Morris | Matt Jones | Chris Thompson // Redskins
For the second straight week, Chris Thompson led Washington's backfield in fantasy points. That's right. Not Alfred Morris who saw 17 carries. Not Matt Jones who broke through in Week 2. Chris freakin' Thompson. And, for the second straight week, Thompson out-snapped Jones too.
You're probably wondering if Thompson's expanded role was related to Jones' ball-security issues this season. Well coach Jay Gruden was asked that very question after the game. "No, no," he said. "We are going to use all three of those backs and some days it'll be different ... We'll figure it out on game day who has got the hot hand." Yep, he said it. "Hot hand." It's basically a death knell for having confidence in any of these guys for fantasy.
Personally, I'm done starting Jones in my leagues. Which means he'll go off for 120 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons in Week 5. But that's fine, my bench will enjoy that. Then I can just brag about how my team has so much depth that I don't even need those points. One more takeaway here: Morris owners need to feel a bit better about his usage against the Eagles. He actually leads the team in carries (66) and rush yards (261) on the season, so no, he's not completely burnt toast for fantasy. He's just become a member of this completely unpredictable, "hot hand" backfield. Wicked sweet.