Running Back By Committee Report: NFC South 2019 Recap

We never reached a verdict on who the led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers backfield. What did the other NFC South backfields look like throughout 2019?

With the majority of teams utilizing a committee approach to their running back position, it is vital to pay close attention to the usage and workload each running back earns.

This season, I was responsible for numberFire's weekly Running Back By Committee Report, focusing on how coaches used their running backs -- in what type of capacity and with what size of a workload. Are they getting a ton of snaps but few touches? Is the once-presumed starter now splitting more of the workload with a role player? Does a team have the ability to sustain multiple running backs on a weekly basis?

Now that the fantasy football season is over, I'm going division-by-division and taking a look back at how each backfield played out to see which teams truly utilized a committee approach. Within each section, I'll also include a summary of statistics that will put each player's performance this year into context compared to his teammates (all snap data comes from FantasyPros). The utilization rate posted in each table indicates the player's percentage of snaps played where the player touched the ball or was targeted.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a mainstay in my weekly article this season because of how unpredictable their running back usage was. One week it was Peyton Barber, then it was Ronald Jones, and then it was back to Barber. While each player had his moments throughout the season, neither solidified himself as the lead player throughout the year. This is evidenced by the fact that neither running back topped 55 percent of snaps in a single game the entire year.

Many of us thought Jones had earned the starting position early in the season with double-digit carries in three of the first four games and clearly outplaying Barber, but then the two backs nearly split the workload over the next three games. After the team's Week 7 bye, it once again seemed like Jones was the starting running back, but Barber was getting worked in just enough to pilfer Jones' fantasy value.

It's no wonder that Tampa Bay kept flip flopping all year, though, because neither of them ever got a hot hand, as Jones eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the first time by either back in Week 17. Both Jones and Barber finished with negative Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) and a Success Rate below 40 percent, further highlighting their inefficiency throughout the year.

It's also worth mentioning Dare Ogunbowale's role as the team's primary pass-catching running back. Ogunbowale led the backfield with 46 targets on the year and was seldom used in the run game. Though Jones worked himself into the passing game at times, he never gained enough traction to take over Ogunbowale's spot.

It's also clear that Bruce Arians wants to pass and pass often. The Buccaneers passed on 62 percent of their plays, the seventh-most in the league. Barber is set to become a free agent this year, so it will be interesting to see if they hang onto him. In any case, I wouldn't expect Tampa Bay to have Jones as their only back entering 2020. While a Buccaneers running back may seem like a value come draft day, it may not be worth dealing with the usage headache week in and week out.

Running Back Team Games Played Average Snap % Rush Attempts Per Game Targets Per Game Total Opportunities Per Game Utilization % Fantasy Points Per Game (Half PPR) Fantasy Points Per 100 Snaps
Ronald Jones II TB 16 36% 10.8 2.5 13.3 50% 9.4 35.7
Peyton Barber TB 16 30% 9.6 1.5 11.1 51% 6.8 31.3

New Orleans Saints

This year was a curious one for Alvin Kamara and his fantasy football owners. Though he still managed to have a relatively high floor all season because of his pass-catching abilities, his ceiling basically disappeared along with his touchdown regression. Through Week 15, Kamara had only scored twice, both of which came in Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks. A large factor in his lack of scoring came down to Kamara's decreased usage in the red zone.

In 2018, Kamara averaged five total opportunities (rushes plus targets) per game in the red zone, and that plummeting to just over 2.6 opportunities per game in 2019. Similarly, if we move inside the 10-yard line, Kamara's opportunities dropped from 2.8 per game in 2018 to 1.5 per game in 2019.

Surprisingly, this didn't necessarily happen because other players on the team were taking the opportunities away from Kamara. The New Orleans Saints were just worse as a team in the red zone this year.

First, the Saints' red zone touchdown efficiency (percentage of red zone drives leading to a touchdown) dipped from 68 percent in 2018 down to 59 percent this year. Subsequently, they ran 0.7 fewer red zone plays per game this year than they did in 2018.

On another note, Latavius Murray, the Saints' replacement for Mark Ingram, made his mark throughout the season, most notably when Kamara missed two games. Outside of those two games, however, Murray reached double-digit carries in only two other games (including a blowout victory over the Carolina Panthers). For comparison, Ingram had double-digit carries in nine games in his final season with New Orleans.

Kamara will undoubtedly be one of the Saints' top weapons heading into 2020 and will likely garner a top-five pick in fantasy drafts, but he may no longer have the same ceiling that he did in his first two seasons -- especially if the Saints' red zone offense doesn't return to being elite.

Running Back Team Games Played Average Snap % Rush Attempts Per Game Targets Per Game Total Opportunities Per Game Utilization % Fantasy Points Per Game (Half PPR) Fantasy Points Per 100 Snaps
Alvin Kamara NO 14 69% 12.2 6.9 19.1 42% 14.9 32.7
Latavius Murray NO 16 41% 9.1 2.7 11.8 43% 8.8 31.7

Atlanta Falcons

Another year, another disappointing season for the Atlanta Falcons, and that includes the performances from their running backs. Drafted to be a top-15 running back, Devonta Freeman finished outside of the top 20 in half-PPR leagues. Freeman also finished with a career low in yards per carry (3.6) and had the eighth-lowest Rushing NEP per carry (-0.13).

Additionally, Freeman saw his rush attempts per game decline for the fourth straight season, despite getting double-digit carries in all but two games. This trend doesn't come as a surprise, as the Falcons were the NFL's pass-heaviest team this season, throwing the ball on a whopping two-thirds of their plays. Fortunately, Freeman was able to work his way back into being a consistent contributor catching the ball by recording his second-most receptions in a season (and most since his 2015 breakout season).

Brian Hill, meanwhile, was given a couple of opportunities to take advantage of an injured Freeman but wasn't able to make the most of them. In his two starts while Freeman was out, Hill posted a combined measly 44 rushing yards on 24 attempts. That's not good.

Hopefully better days are ahead for the Falcons, who were one of five teams that failed to have a running back record a single 100-yard rushing game all year. If their defense plays like it did following their Week 9 bye (when they allowed 18.6 points per game), then this running game might have a chance. As a team, the Falcons averaged just over 100 rushing yards per game, up from 69 rushing yards per game in the first eight games of the season.

Running Back Team Games Played Average Snap % Rush Attempts Per Game Targets Per Game Total Opportunities Per Game Utilization % Fantasy Points Per Game (Half PPR) Fantasy Points Per 100 Snaps
Devonta Freeman ATL 14 65% 13.1 5.0 18.1 38% 12 24.9
Brian Hill ATL 12 31% 6.5 1.2 7.7 39% 5.2 26.1
Ito Smith ATL 7 31% 3.1 2.0 5.1 24% 4.4 20.1
Qadree Ollison ATL 8 11% 2.8 0.3 3.0 42% 3.8 53.0

Carolina Panthers

Clearly the Carolina Panthers had the furthest thing from a committee, as Christian McCaffrey was a one-man wrecking crew all year. McCaffrey was the only running back in the NFL to play over 90 percent of his teams snaps. While McCaffrey's role as a workhorse isn't in doubt, I thought it was important to put his 2019 campaign into historical context.

This year, McCaffrey posted the third-best fantasy season ever by any non-quarterback with 411.2 half PPR fantasy points. That equated to 25.8 fantasy points per game, which was 6.8 points per game more than Derrick Henry, who was second in fantasy points per game this season. Since 2015, the number one running back in half-PPR leagues has outscored the number two running back by an average of 2.6 points per game. McCaffrey straight up dominated this season.

McCaffrey also became the ninth player to have over 400 touches in a single season, which helped him become the third player to go over 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a season. Unfortunately, this high level of usage doesn't particularly bode well for McCaffrey in 2020.

Of the other eight players to have over 400 touches, only half of them went on to play a full 16 games the following year. Furthermore, those eight running backs averaged a decline of 7.4 fantasy points per game the following year, with the lowest being a 3.8 per game drop. Granted, if McCaffrey's scoring goes down by 7.4 points per game, he still would have been the RB3 overall in points per game this season.

While he still is and should be the number one overall pick in fantasy football drafts this season, it's important to manage expectations with players you're drafting with so much draft capital, as it's nearly certain the McCaffrey doesn't have as good of a 2020 season.

Running BackTeamGames PlayedAverage Snap %Rush Attempts Per GameTargets Per GameTotal Opportunities Per GameUtilization %Fantasy Points Per Game (Half PPR)Fantasy Points Per 100 Snaps
Christian McCaffreyCAR1693%17.98.926.841%25.839.1