Running Back By Committee Report: NFC East 2019 Recap

Some of the league's top workhorse running backs play in the NFC East. So how did the teams distribute the work in their backfields?

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, 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 percent of snaps played where the player touched the ball or was targeted.

Dallas Cowboys

Why don't we start off this post with an easy one: Ezekiel Elliott, the poster boy for workhorse running backs over the past several years. While his raw numbers don't particularly jump off the page, Elliott has been a model of consistency, which is in large part due to the consistent workload he gets. Elliott had at least 15 opportunities in every game last year and doesn't have a game with fewer than 13 opportunities in his entire career.

Coming off of a career-year in receiving, Elliott's usage in the passing game dropped a bit in 2019, as many expected. A large factor in this decrease came from how the Dallas Cowboys distributed their targets across positions over the past two years. It seems like the return of Jason Witten may have changed where Dak Prescott focused his dump-off passes, as the percentage of targets to the tight end position jumped four percent from 2018 to 2019.

Year WR Targets WR % RB Targets RB % TE Targets TE % Total Targets
2018 311 60.4% 112 21.7% 92 17.9% 515
2019 357 62.0% 93 16.1% 126 21.9% 576

Fortunately for Elliott, his red zone usage spiked this year, helping him score twice as many rushing touchdowns in 2019 as he did in 2018. Elliott's 59 red zone rushing attempts and 162 red zone rushing yards led the league this year.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tony Pollard, though, who made a name for himself at times this season. In fact, Pollard had the same Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry (0.07) as Elliott this season, which was tied for 11th in the league among qualifying running backs. Both also finished in the top five in running back Rushing Success Rate, with Pollard (47.7 percent) finishing slightly ahead of Elliott (46.8 percent).

In the games that Pollard was given a significant opportunity, he was able to perform at a high level. Pollard got double-digit carries in four games, of which he eclipsed 100 rushing yards and scored twice. Overall, Pollard's 5.3 yards per carry average ranked third among running backs with at least 80 carries.

Pollard may well have earned more looks in 2020, especially given Elliott will be entering his fifth NFL season, having already accumulated 1,433 total touches in his career. Regardless, Pollard will enter the year as one of fantasy football's highest value handcuffs as he displayed his value in a limited role.

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
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 16 83% 18.8 4.4 23.3 40% 17.8 30.3
Tony Pollard DAL 15 19% 5.7 1.3 7.1 52% 5.4 40.0

Philadelphia Eagles

Going from the Cowboys backfield to the Philadelphia Eagles backfield is a bit like going from one extreme to the other. The Eagles have been known for being one of the prominent RBBC teams over the past couple of seasons. In fact, entering the year, no Eagles running back had eclipsed an 85 percent snap rate in a single game in the first three years of Doug Pederson's head coaching tenure.

That said, by the end of Week 13 of this year, Miles Sanders had done that in three straight games. At that point, everyone thought Sanders had won the starting role and would finally become the team's first workhorse in years. What followed, unfortunately, was a door opening for Boston Scott, which was enough to give Pederson a reason to revert back to employing a committee approach.

Over the team's final four games, Sanders averaged a 60 percent snap rate, which wasn't much higher than Scott's 48 percent snap rate. Sanders (63 rush attempts) still out-carried Scott (38 rush attempts) in those games, but Scott took away a lot of the work in the passing game as Scott had three more targets than Sanders.

Sanders and Scott are currently the two primary backs on the roster heading into 2020, as Jordan Howard and Darren Sproles are set to become free agents in March.

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
Miles Sanders PHI 16 53% 11.2 3.9 15.1 39% 12.1 30.9
Jordan Howard PHI 10 38% 11.9 1.4 13.3 47% 10.6 37.6
Boston Scott PHI 11 28% 5.5 2.4 7.9 47% 7.7 45.4

New York Giants

Fortunately for Saquon Barkley owners, New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman remains steadfast in his belief that running the ball is the key to success in the NFL. This has led to Barkley being one of the league's premier workhorse running backs and one of the most valuable fantasy assets since he joined the league.

So much of Barkley's fantasy value, however, has been built on his volume as a pass-catching running back. In each of the past two seasons, Barkley has been among the top ten running backs in targets and receptions per game.

Barkley's ceiling as a receiver may be lowered now that Eli Manning is out of the picture and Daniel Jones is the long-term starter. In the games that Jones started, Barkley only averaged 5.5 targets and 4.1 receptions per game. This is down from 7.2 targets and 5.3 receptions per game in games that Manning started.

Player WR Targets WR % RB Targets RB % TE Targets TE % Total Targets
Daniel Jones (2019) 264 59.6% 73 16.5% 106 23.9% 443
Eli Manning (2018-2019) 406 56.5% 171 23.8% 141 19.6% 718

Part of this is likely due to Jones' ability to run the ball when a play breaks down, as opposed to checking down to Barkley -- a mainstay for Manning over the past two seasons. Jones ran the ball 45 times in 2019, which is more than twice as many times as Manning had in a single season over the past eight years.

One factor that led to disappointment from Barkley owners was the fact that Barkley missed three games due to a high ankle sprain in the middle of the season. Though, owners shouldn't be that disappointed because Barkley used his super-human abilities to return much sooner than originally anticipated.

With Barkley out, the Giants used a combination of Wayne Gallman and Jonathan Hilliman, neither of which did much to impress. In any case, Barkley is going to be the lead dog in this backfield for years to come.

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
Saquon Barkley NYG 13 83% 16.7 5.6 22.3 39% 16.8 29.6
Wayne Gallman NYG 10 24% 2.9 1.6 4.5 27% 4.3 25.6
Jonathan Hilliman NYG 3 35% 10.0 1.3 11.3 37% 2.2 4.8

Washington Redskins

Unfortunately, 2019 was another injury-riddled season for Derrius Guice, which meant old man Adrian Peterson got another crack at being the starting running back for the majority of the season. This season was a bit of a lost one for the Washington Redskins, who fired Jay Gruden four games into the season. However, once Bill Callahan took over as interim head coach, he seemed content running the ball as much as possible, despite what the game flow dictated.

This year became the tenth time that Peterson had over 200 rushing attempts in a season, but only the second time he failed to reach 1,000 rushing yards when given that workload. That said, Peterson was fifth in the league in breakaway run rates at 5.2 percent, an outstanding mark given the lackluster offensive line he played behind. Peterson's best days are likely behind him at this point, and his career will be celebrated as one of the best among running backs.

Though he only played in a handful of games, Guice seemed to show some explosiveness, averaging 5.8 yards per carry in 2019. It was inherently a small sample size for Guice -- rushing the ball only 42 times this year -- but among running backs with at least 40 carries, Guice had the highest Elusive Rating (per PFF). If only Guice could stay healthy, then we might actually get to see him live up to the potential he displayed in college.

Finally, Chris Thompson maintained his role as the team's primary pass-catching running back, but he's a free agent this offseason. I'd be surprised if the Redskins brought him back given his injury history, but we'll have to wait and see.

Running BackTeamGames PlayedAverage Snap %Rush Attempts Per GameTargets Per GameTotal Opportunities Per GameUtilization %Fantasy Points Per Game (Half PPR)Fantasy Points Per 100 Snaps
Adrian PetersonWAS1645%13.21.414.657%8.734.0
Chris ThompsonWAS1146%
Derrius GuiceWAS530%8.41.810.252%10.855.0
Wendell SmallwoodWAS1520%