Running Back Platoons: Slightly Risky, Highly Rewarding

Taylor RummelSenior Analyst IJune 9, 2009

DETROIT , MI - NOVEMBER 27:  LenDale White #25 of the Tennessee Titans celebrates a second quarter touchdown with Chris Johnson #28 while playing the Detroit Lions on November 27, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There are some fine articles on this site explaining how implementing a quarterback platoon can be beneficial to your fantasy team.

Heck, I even know of people who used wide receiver platoons last year, (Fitzgerald and Boldin, Wayne and Gonzalez), and found success.

But how often do we see a running back platoon used on a team?

I'll answer for you: Not very often.

Granted, not many NFL teams use two or more backs that are fantasy relevant.  However, three in particular do.


Carolina Panthers, (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart)

Both of these backs were nothing less than monsters last season.  DeAngelo Williams rushed for 1,515 yards and collected 20 total touchdowns.  Jonathan Stewart while fresh off of a turf-toe injury, still managed to have 836 yards on the ground and rush for 10 touchdowns.

Carolina has transformed into a power-running team.  Last year, the Panthers ran the ball 504 times, compared to 414 pass attempts.

During the last four regular season games of last season, Williams amassed 560 yards and 7 touchdowns, paving the way for a good start to the 2009-10 season. 

It seems that he will be the masher between the 20's since Stewart's big body will enable him to pound it out near the goal line. 

That's not to say though that Williams will see a drop in his overall TD total necessarily.  He is still more than capable of busting out a score from long distance because of his speed, agility, and home-run hitting ability.

Williams has been going near the end of the first round on average in mock drafts thus far, and Stewart has been consistently been hanging around to the end of the fourth, and sometimes even early fifth round.  This makes the duo very attainable, and it is advised that if you can grab one, then you should grab the other.

After all, if one was to go down, the other would produce incredible numbers.

Verdict:  Grab both if you can.


Tennessee Titans, (Chris Johnson and LenDale White)

These guys were eerily similar in style to the former pair. 

Chris Johnson, mirroring DeAngelo Williams while not attaining the same high numbers, produced 1,226 yards and nine scores. Like Williams, used his breakaway speed and agility to move the ball in the open field.

At least some of the reason as to why Johnson's numbers couldn't compare to Williams' can be attributed to bruising back LenDale White.  White had 15 touchdowns last season, mainly while working as the goal line and short yardage back. 

This certainly took away from some of the TD opportunities that Johnson could have had.  Along with those 15 scores, White rushed for 773 yards.

Now, it's common knowledge that the Tennessee staff isn't particularly fond of White.  He shows a poor work ethic, and is notorious for being overweight.  However, he did lose 25 pounds this offseason, most likely in response to the criticism.  But we all know how easily those 25 will get tacked back on.

After all, he does dominate the team buffets.

Johnson on average in mock drafts has been going in the middle of the first round.  White has been going in either the late fifth or early sixth.  This makes the duo attainable.

However, the risk of White getting cut or traded is too much to take part in this platoon.

Verdict:  Feel free to grab Johnson in the first round, but steer clear of this tandem.

Dallas Cowboys, (Marion Barber III and Felix Jones)

What a fall from grace for Barber. 

Two seasons removed from a 14-touchdown campaign, Barber had perhaps his most disappointing season to date, only totaling 885 yards and 7 touchdowns in an injury-riddled season.  Taking over for him and showing what he could do before also getting hurt was breakaway threat Felix Jones.

Jones was a stud in the six games that he participated in, averaging a ridiculous 8.9 yards a carry, totaling 266 yards and 3 scores on just 30 carries. 

Barber has shown that he is a capable goal line back, and that is exactly how the Dallas coaching staff plans to use him for the upcoming year. 

Jones has proven that he can make use of the carries given to him.  He should get about 10-15 touches a game, enough to be a difference maker. 

Project that amount of carries over the course of a season and he will be in possession of the football over 200 times during the year.  Now, he will not average 8.9 yards a carry again, but five yards a carry is doable.

Even then, Jones will have broken the 1,000 yards barrier.  A fantastic number considering he is going in the sixth round on average in mock drafts.

Consider that Barber is going in the late second round and this duo is more than attainable.

Verdict:  Not necessary to grab both, but definitely could pay dividends.

If you could have two backs that would total upwards of 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns on your fantasy team, wouldn't you?  What does it matter if the two are on the same team?

If you say that they have a risk of both being shut down in one game, then read this:

In Week 13, Tampa Bay held sensational quarterback Drew Brees to just 296 yards and two touchdowns and emerging star running back Pierre Thomas to just 34 yards on 11 carries.  The following week, Stewart collected 115 yards and 2 touchdowns and Williams had 186 yards and 2 touchdowns against this supposedly "tough" defense.

My point here is that all running backs, (whether they're on the same team or not), have their bad games, and it's a crap-shoot as to when those games will be.


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