A “Running Back Platoon” is a phrase I coined last year in this very space. It is the Fantasy Football equivalent of an outfield or closer platoon in baseball.
It is a way to cover your bases for the hectic free for all that is the running back position in the NFL right now. Just like how the list of closers in baseball will turn over at least 50% throughout a season, the NFL starting running back list is in a constant state of flux.
As many analysts say: don’t pay for saves. What they are meaning is there will be closers or possible closers later in drafts and on the waiver wire. I think that using this same mentality with running backs helps you get as much value with your backs as possible.
As fellow So-Called Expert Sarah Lewis points out, the 3-down back is a dying (almost dead) breed. She highlights the six backs considered to be of this variety. However, every one of them has serious concerns attached to them.
One of them is 31-year-old Adrian Peterson. Three of them have had major knee injuries within the past two years, Jamaal Charles, LeVeon Bell, and Todd Gurley.
One of them missed over a quarter of the season last year, LeSean McCoy. And the last one, Lamar Miller, has never had more than 216 carries in a season.
The Running Back Platoon: Cornering Backfields
The Platoon to the Rescue
Here is where we bring in the running back platoon. As more and more Fantasy Owners move toward some sort of Zero-RB strategy, finding mid-round tail backs is a vital part of your draft. The running back platoon can help alleviate the dice-roll that is a mid-round pick.
The Miami Dolphins ran the ball the least amount in the league. They still had 344 attempts for almost 1,500 yards. Even though it is a “passing league” there are still rushing attempts to go around. A running back platoon helps corner in the market on these attempts for one team.
By having multiple guys in the same backfield, you guarantee the production of the team. More often than not, one out of the platoon will emerge as a bona-fide Fantasy Stud. Remember, last year this article gave you Devonta Freeman and Darren McFadden as part of platoons to target. All they did was finish as the FIRST in points and FOURTH in rushing among running backs.
This strategy also works well for PPR leagues. Targets for running backs get divvied out more sporadically than carries, so in PPR formats you can get value from all members of the platoon.
Going into the 2016 season, there are several backfields that are unclear. While some have the three-down backs mentioned above, there are others that still don’t have a clear-cut lead back: Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, Dallas, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Miami, New Orleans, New York Jets, San Francisco and Tampa Bay. While it would be nice to platoon a few of those backfield situations, the lead guy is getting drafted a little too early for it to be an easy pairing.
These are the running back platoons going into the season that I am targeting.
2016 RB Platoons
These backfields are just too messy to try to decipher who will break out. Backfields listed in depth chart order as of this writing.
- Justin Forsett
- Javorius Allen
- Kenneth Dixon
I feel like Forsett takes the reins again, but he doesn’t exactly seem reliable.
- Jeremy Langford
- Jordan Howard
- Ka’Deem Carey
- Jacquizz Rodgers
I have absolutely no idea how the carries/targets will get distributed here.
New York Giants
- Rashad Jennings
- Paul Perkins
- Andre Williams
- Shane Vereen
Can Jennings stay healthy? Will Perkins break out? Will Williams be on the roster? Will Vereen get any carries?
- Thomas Rawls
- Christine Michael
- C.J. Prosise
- Alex Collins
See Bears, Chicago. Rawls is hurt. Michael has bounced around the last year. The other two are rookies. Good luck with any of them.
- Matt Jones
- Chris Thompson
- Keith Marshall
I am avoiding the entire RB situation in Washington.
Top 10 RB Platoons
Honorable Mention: Miami Dolphins
- Jay Ajayi (ADP-60)
- Arian Foster (ADP-113)
With Foster joining the Dolphins, this platoon bears mentioning. Their ADP does not mean anything now, as both will most certainly change over the next few weeks. Keep tabs on that, as well as what kind of split these two will have as far as touches as the pre-season goes along.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) July 14, 2016
10. Detroit Lions
- Ameer Abdullah (ADP-75)
- Theo Riddick (ADP-131)
- Zach Zenner (ADP-248)
The Detroit backfield was what gave me the RB Platoon idea. My co-owner/father-in-law won our big league championship by starting Reggie Bush and Joique Bell a couple of years ago. Last year seemed even better for the Lions’ backs, but I was blinded by the Abdullah-palooza.
Abdullah could be a solid post-hype sleeper this season, but I am not sold on the entire committee. The Lions struck out on Arian Foster, so they could still be in the market to add another back. They could move up on to the medal stand very quickly once draft season starts.
9. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Chris Ivory (ADP-78)
- T.J. Yeldon (ADP-83)
I mentioned this pairing as an ideal RB Platoon on the Fantasy Fatcast podcast a couple of weeks ago. Because of their ADP, they very well could be higher on this list.
However, I am still worried about the Jacksonville regression problem. The offense will probably not be as powerful and the defense will be better, leading to less opportunities. Throw in a dash of The Shoelace Denard Robinson, and I will probably stay away from this pairing.
8. Denver Broncos
- C.J. Anderson (ADP-36)
- Ronnie Hillman (ADP-178)
- Devontae Booker (ADP-138)
I will hammer this stat home all pre-season: the top drafted Denver running back has only finished as the top scoring Denver back once this decade. I am not a believer in C.J. Anderson’s abilities, but the other two backs’ ridiculously low ADP makes this a possible Platoon.
If Anderson slips to you in the late-fifth or sixth round, I would definitely try to draft the whole set of Broncos. This team will run the ball, a lot. What else are they doing to do let Mark Sanchez butt-fumble?
7. Cleveland Browns
- Isaiah Crowell (ADP-119)
- Duke Johnson (ADP-80)
I had these two in the Browns Platoon ranked fourth last season and Crowell did not live up to the ranking. I do have faith in the two newcomers to the Browns offense: Robert Griffin III and Hue Jackson.
In RG3’s one full starting season, Alfred Morris used the quarterback’s running threat to put up 1,600-plus yards and 13 touchdowns, both career highs by a mile. Hue Jackson has used two eerily similar backs to this platoon with great Fantasy success that you will see at the top of the list.
Duke Johnson is definitely worth drafting by himself, but I would not overlook Crowell and his double-digit touchdown potential.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
- Ryan Mathews (ADP-52)
- Darren Sproles (ADP-148)
While Sproles is no guarantee to be in an Eagles’ helmet this fall, if he is then this is a combination that I am targeting. Sproles seems to be completely overlooked after scoring over 10 PPR points per game last season.
He also led the team in snaps at the running back position, more than the higher drafted Mathews or departed DeMarco Murray. Mathews was strong in his limited action last season. The former first-rounder put up 5.0 yards per carry and caught over 71% of his targets.
Of course he will miss some time, making this platoon even more salivating with their ADP. Sproles then becomes a high-end RB2 when starting.
5. Oakland Raiders
- Latavius Murray (ADP-41)
- DeAndre Washington (ADP-170)
I have Washington as one of my top Fantasy Rookies. Murray’s ADP is a little high for my liking, sort of like C.J. Anderson. However, Washington’s low standing allows you to take him with one of your last picks.
I think the Oakland offense, in general, will take a major step forward this season. Derek Carr looks to be legit and their offensive line/defense is only getting better. There will be touches and scores to go around with the Raiders, so I would love to have the backfield locked down.
Let us not forget, Murray did finish with the tenth most points among all running backs last season.
4. New England Patriots
- Dion Lewis (ADP-54)
- LeGarrette Blount (ADP-114)
I said last year that we should know better than to trust a Bill Belichick backfield. Then Dion Lewis, not even listed among the FOUR backs on my list, was the break-out star before his injury.
Lewis seems to be different from previous flavors of the week in the New England backfield. The 25-year old averaged almost five yards per rush and nearly 11 yards per catch with a touchdown every 20 touches or so. If you extend those numbers to just 12 games, you are looking at about 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns.
I do not expect Lewis to stay healthy, hence why I pair him with Blount (and possibly James White who is going even later than Blount). I think both of these two will be startable in the Jimmy Garoppolo weeks to begin the season.
— NESN (@NESN) July 18, 2016
3. Tennessee Titans
- DeMarco Murray (ADP-46)
- Derrick Henry (ADP-96)
I may be a little too high on this pairing but I just have a feeling DeMarco bounces back. Just like a few of the previous lead backs mentioned, I don’t think he plays all 16 games, making Henry a valuable commodity for at least a few weeks.
Henry had a MASSIVE workload last season, so I could see him starting a little bit slowly. By the end of the year I think these two will mesh quite well and both be back-end RB2 to high end RB3’s.
2. San Diego Chargers
- Melvin Gordon (ADP-73)
- Danny Woodhead (ADP-85)
I had this pair in my honorable mention category last season. I think Gordon breaks out this year and combines with Woodhead, who you know was the THIRD RANKED RB by PPR points last season. Once again, I think people keep forgetting this fact.
Gordon’s rookie year was not as bad as seen from the outside. The lack of touchdowns was alarming, but historically fluky. I still believe Woodhead gets more goal line work this season, but if Gordon scores just once every 55 touches, then he averaged over 10 PPR points a game last year.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
- Jeremy Hill (ADP-49)
- Giovani Bernard (ADP-81)
This pair of backs has played a combined five seasons. In those five seasons, there have been just three total games missed due to injury. Their finishes among running backs in PPR scoring: 16th, 20th, 10th, 18th, and 13th.
If you took their average scoring over these seasons, you get 12.8 PPR points per game. In other words, if you start both of these two every week, then you get 25.6 points every week from your two backs. Do you know where that number would have ranked you last season? 10th!
So this platoon has averaged producing at a two RB1 level. And you can draft them in the sixth and seventh rounds.
The ADP is as of July 26 from Fantasy Pros.
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