Running Backs Not in Committee Deserve an Upgrade

Running Backs Not in Committee Deserve an Upgrade My grandfather, the car salesman, sold with the slogan "used with many unused miles." But just how many unused miles are there on the typical, veteran NFL running back?

Only 67 men in NFL history have logged 1,500 or more carries. Only 30 have generated 2,000 or more.

Current active leaders are Edgerrin James (2,982, 8th all-time), LaDainian Tomlinson (2,657, 16th), Fred Taylor (2,428, 20th), Jamal Lewis (2,399, 22nd), Clinton Portis (2,052, 29th) and Thomas Jones (1,949, 34th).

No one else is in even the top 75. Some guys we think are mileage-heavy but who actually have had their workload well-managed are Brian Westbrook (1,247, 98th), Larry Johnson (1,243, 101st) and Willie Parker (1,155, 127th).

Then you have someone like Julius Jones, who seems like he's never even had a steady gig, with 1,043 career carries (149th). I find it incredible that, in the entire history of the NFL, there haven't been 150 backs with more carries that Julius Jones. That's great evidence for just how physically demanding it is to be an NFL running back and why we should always first look at the backs with the fewest showroom miles.

What constitutes a committee? No team gives more than 80 percent of carries to one back. The average NFL team had 440 rushing attempts and only five backs had more than 300: Michael Turner (376), Adrian Peterson (363), Portis (342), Matt Forte (316) and Ryan Grant (312).

So as much as a third of the carries go to other players, even when a team has a "workhorse back." A committee, then, is when the top back gets less two-thirds of his team's rushing attempts by design, not by injury.

Here are the teams expected to have committees that meet that standard: The Jets (Thomas Jones and Leon Washington), San Diego (Tomlinson and Darren Sproles), Tennessee (Chris Johnson and LenDale White), Buffalo (Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson), Dallas (Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice), Philadelphia (Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy), Baltimore (Ray Rice, Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee), the Giants (Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware), Pittsburgh (Parker and Rashard Mendenhall), New England (Laurence Maroney, Taylor, Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris), Indianapolis (Joseph Addai and Donald Brown), Arizona (Tim Hightower and Chris Wells), Tampa Bay (Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham), New Orleans (Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush), Miami (Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams), Oakland (Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and Justin Fargas) and Denver (Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter).

It's easier to list non-committee teams: Cincinnati (Cedric Benson), Houston (Steve Slaton), Jacksonville (Maurice Jones-Drew), Washington (Portis), Green Bay (Grant), Minnesota (Peterson), Detroit (Kevin Smith), Chicago (Forte), Atlanta (Turner), San Francisco (Frank Gore) and St. Louis (Steven Jackson).

I'm willing to bet that DeAngelo Williams gets at least two-thirds of the carries in Carolina, given his supreme ability and the likely season-long Achilles issue that Jonathan Stewart will face. In Seattle, I believe the plan will be to employ Edgerrin James, on his last legs, on no more than one-third of snaps. Gaining James and losing T.J. Duckett may increase Jones's value because it's less certain that goal-line carries will be shared. (James's career goal-line conversion rate is terrible.)

In sum, you want to downgrade the backs who are in committees and upgrade the ones who are not. But let's focus on some exceptions. Average draft position data courtesy of


Cadillac Williams, Bucs: I hate the situation, but I will take the cheapest guy with the most upside, and that's Williams. He's going 201st on average. I'll pay that, since he's technically the starter at the moment, and pass on Earnest Graham (111th) and Derrick Ward (47th).

Brandon Jacobs, Giants: The Giants had the most red zone possessions last year and feature the sport's best offensive line. A healthy Jacobs gets 15-to-20 TDs, yet no one bothers in Round 1.

Laurence Maroney, Patriots: He's in the cutout bin now (ADP: 166). We've rarely found this level of ability in that kind of offense so cheap.


Ronnie Brown, Dolphins: He'll be more of a feature back this year. He's far more multi-dimensional than Ricky Williams and the key gadget (Wildcat) guy, too. So 28th overall as his ADP sounds right.


LeSean McCoy, Eagles: Way too trendy (ADP: 103). I'd rather have Fred Jackson (ADP: 107), who is starting the first three weeks for sure. Brian Westbrook will get as much action as usual when healthy.

Clinton Portis, Redskins: He rewarded owners who ignored me last year. But, as Elvis once sung, "The Fair is Moving On" eventually for everyone. The only question is when. And 2,052 carries seems as good a time as any.

Chris Johnson, Titans: He should be a default "committee" downgrade, but instead goes ahead of Slaton, on average. That's insane. If you love Johnson so much, instead take the comparable Reggie Bush three rounds later.

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