The running back committee has gone from a small trend in the NFL, to the normal way of running an offense. It is an offensive scheme which rotates two or more running backs based on different situations in the game. This is because each running back has some things they excel at and some things they do not do as well. In order to make up for these shortcomings, teams sign multiple backs that can perform well in a number of different situations.
Unfortunately, the days of the featured, workhorse type running back are behind us. It is so rare to see a single guy take thirty carries in one game now. It has gotten to a point where two guys might be given an equal number of carries or even be switched in every possession. This is because it is just more effective and can keep players healthier longer over the course of the season.
These backs do not get as much credit as guys like Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles, but they are still a big part of what makes their teams win games. There have not been many instances where we have seen members of running back committees reach the Pro Bowl, because they do not have the same number of opportunities to put up crazy stats. They also do not have as much time to gain a good amount of name recognition in the sport. However, they have a role to play and they play it very well, which is why the system is so heavily used throughout the NFL today.
10. Miami Dolphins: Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas
The Miami Dolphins’ running game definitely suffered from the unfortunate locker room bullying incident. Two of the team’s starting offensive linemen were shut down for a good portion of the season. They will definitely be addressing those vacancies this offseason. With that issue fixed, the Dolphins’ two running backs will see a lot more room to run. They feature Lamar Miller, a prototypical speedy back, and the big bruiser, Daniel Thomas. In 2013, even with the offensive line’s issues, Miller was able to gain 879 yards from scrimmage while Thomas was a great change of pace, especially in the red zone. One of the most encouraging things about Miami’s backfield is they can hold onto the ball. The two backs combined for only lost one fumble throughout the entire year.
9. Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce
Had someone claimed the Baltimore Ravens were going to transition to a running back committee at the beginning of last year, most people would have thought it was a crazy idea. Ray Rice was one of the best in the business over the past few years, but he entered the 2013 season in less than perfect health. Those injuries allowed for backup running back Bernard Pierce to show off his abilities. By the end of the season, the Ravens were splitting carries left and right. Rice should enter 2014 back to full health, but it would not be a surprise to see a good amount of Pierce. Pierce performed well when he was on the field and the Ravens will definitely want to keep Rice fresh.
8. New England Patriots: Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen
One of the reasons why the New England Patriots are so successful is that Bill Belichick understands that when there is a problem it needs to be fixed right away. In 2013, the Pats’ backfield was loaded with talented runners. Every game started the same way. Each one would get a couple touches and then whoever did the most with those carries would be the featured back during the game. Currently, nobody is sure if LaGarrett Blount will be returning in 2014, but Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden are both good enough to carry the load.
Best of all is the team’s secret weapon. Shane Vereen might be the best third down running back in the game. He is not only good at carrying the ball between the tackles; he is also an excellent pass catcher. It may not be the typically running back committee, but it is extremely effective.
7. New York Jets: Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory
Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory make up the back field for the New York Jets. The Jets acquired Ivory at the beginning of last season and expected him to come in as the featured back. Ivory entered the season a bit banged up from training camp and it was up to Powell to make up for it. Powell proved to be very good during the first half of the season. By the time Ivory was healthy enough to enter the line up full time, Powell had already shown his value. The two ended up trading sets of downs for the rest of the season. They are a great team. Ivory is a huge running back who excels between the tackles and Powell has the right mix of speed and agility to bounce it outside. This good mix of styles keeps the defense on their toes and never lets them adjust.
6. San Diego Chargers: Donald Brown, Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead
The San Diego Chargers made a very strange move this offseason when they decided to sign former Colts’ running back Donald Brown. They already had two very good running backs in Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead.
Matthews rushed to 1,255 yards and six touchdowns last season and Woodhead led all NFL running backs in receptions. Adding Brown gives the Bolts a new offensive weapon, but really does not make any business sense. Regardless, this backfield just got a lot better.
5. Cincinnati Bengals: BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard
It is hard to make an argument as to who is the better running back on the Cincinnati Bengals. Last season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 756 yards and seven touchdowns. Giovani Bernard rushed for 695 yards, had eight touchdowns and 514 receiving yards. Their carries were pretty much split right down the middle. Bernard will be entering the second year of his career this season. If he ever wants to become the Bengals’ featured running back, he will need to improve between the tackles. Until he does, Green-Ellis will have to wear down defenses by doing this. Luckily, the veteran is going to be a great teacher to help Bernard improve this aspect of his game.
4. Carolina Panthers: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stwart and Mike Tolbert
The Carolina Panthers are pretty much responsible for creating the running back committee. It started during their run to Super Bowl XXXVIII. They started using to running backs of different body sizes to keep defenses on their toes. They still use this offense style. Today they have DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Steward was injured throughout most of 2013, but Williams performed very well without him. Instead, the team supplemented Williams by giving a lot of carries to fullback Mike Tolbert. Tolbert may very well be the best fullback in the NFL right now. Stewart will be back to full health in the 2014 season and will see a great deal of carries.
3. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson
In 2012, Buffalo Bills’ running back C.J. Spiller emerged as one of the most explosive runners in the NFL. Prior to that, Fred Jackson was one of the best in the game. Spiller had a slow start to the 2013 season and the team started cycling between both backs. The combination proved to be one of the most dynamic duos in the league. Both players tallied over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. There is no reason to believe they will not be as good if not better in 2014.
2. Detroit Lions: Reggie Bush and Joique Bell
In 2013, there was no better running back committee than the one fielded by the Detroit Lions. It seemed like neither Reggie Bush nor Joique Bell could be stopped. The two could score from anywhere on the field. Bush ended up posting over 1,500 yards from scrimmage. Bell knocked eight touchdowns in on the ground. The two will once again prove to be a very good team in 2014. If the end of last season is any indication on the future, we should expect to see the Lions running the ball a lot more this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford really started to struggle down the stretch and if it continues, the Lions will be forced to showcase a lot of quick passes and power runs up the gut.
1. Philadelphia Eagles: LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles
Chip Kelly’s offense just got way better. Last season Philadelphia Eagles’ running back, LeSean McCoy, led the NFL with 1607 rushing yards. He had over 2000 total yards during the season and scored 11 times. The only problem was how much he had to touch the ball. He was so heavily relied upon, by the end of games he could be seen trying to catch his breathe on the sidelines. The Eagles fixed that problem this offseason, bringing in former Saints’ running back Darren Sproles. Sproles is a nightmare to try to defend. He can run between the tackles, bounce it to the corner, and catch out of the back field just as good, if not better, than anyone in the game. It is looking like teams are going to have even more trouble preparing for this high powered offense.