Running Back By Committee Report: AFC South 2019 Recap

Believe it or not, Leonard Fournette was the most versatile running back in the AFC South in 2019. How did the other teams in the division split 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 players' 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.

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans were another mainstay in my weekly column this past year with their frustrating workload split between Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.

By the standards of some, Hyde had a rather underwhelming 2019. However, he set career-high marks in both rushing attempts (245) and rushing yards (1,070), eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.

What likely led to people thinking Hyde had an underwhelming season was his lack of catching the ball. For the fourth time in his career, Hyde finished with fewer than 20 targets and 15 receptions in a season. Receiving production is key to fantasy success, and Hyde doesn't provide much pass-game work at this point in his career.

On the other hand, Johnson remains one of the more underutilized weapons in the NFL, both running and catching the ball.

Entering 2019, no running back had topped 60 targets in a season in the five years Bill O'Brien had been the head coach of the Texans. Johnson flipped the script on this a bit by getting 62 targets this year. While this was tied for Johnson's career low (which he also hit the year prior), this should be seen as a positive. In an offense that struggles to keep its playmakers healthy, Johnson has played all 16 games in each of his five NFL seasons.

Hyde is set to be a free agent in a couple of months, and I'd be surprised if they brought him back. That said, they will likely bring in some competition for Johnson since it's clear O'Brien isn't comfortable giving him a large workload.

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
Carlos Hyde HOU 16 49% 15.3 1.0 16.3 49% 9.3 27.5
Duke Johnson HOU 16 48% 5.2 3.9 9.1 27% 8.3 24.9

Indianapolis Colts

Coming off of a surprise preseason retirement from Andrew Luck, many wondered how the Indianapolis Colts' offense would perform, including the running game. With a backfield led by Marlon Mack, the season started off strong for the Colts with a 5-2 record and looking like they might contend for the playoffs. The Colts' season went downhill fast as they lost seven of their last nine, finishing with a 7-9 record.

Mack's season followed a similar script to that of the Colts' campaign as a whole. Though his fantasy scoring wasn't drastically different, Mack received more than five fewer opportunities per game across his last seven games than he did in his first seven (Mack played in just 14 games this season). His average snap share also dipped from 63 percent in the first half of the season to 45 percent in the last half.

Marlon Mack Rush Attempts Per Game Rush Yards Per Game Touchdowns Targets Per Game Total Opportunities Per Game Fantasy Points Per Game
First 7 Games 19.7 84.3 3 1.9 21.6 13.0
Last 7 Games 15.6 71.6 5 0.6 16.1 11.9

One player who emerged as having a decent role in the passing game was Nyheim Hines. Though he wasn't used as much as he was in his rookie year, Hines still led the backfield in targets with 58 (which was also fourth most on the team). Somehow, Hines failed to reach the end zone on any of his receptions.

Finally, Jonathan Williams became the primary beneficiary in Mack's two missed games while Jordan Wilkins was nowhere to be found. Prior to Mack's first missed game in Week 11, Wilkins had handled 27 attempts in relief of Mack and Williams had only gotten two, both of which came in the week prior. In the two games that Mack missed, however, Williams out-carried Wilkins 39 to 11, and Williams topped 100 yards rushing in both games.

Mack, Hines, and Wilkins are all expected to return to the Colts in 2019, and I would expect a similar pattern of usage between the three in 2020.

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
Marlon Mack IND 14 54% 17.6 1.2 18.9 51% 12.5 33.7
Nyheim Hines IND 16 31% 3.3 3.6 6.9 32% 6 28.1
Jordan Wilkins IND 14 19% 3.6 0.8 4.4 35% 3.6 28.4
Jonathan Williams IND 5 25% 9.8 1.0 10.8 54% 7.6 37.9

Jacksonville Jaguars

Believe it or not, Leonard Fournette was the best dual-threat running back in the AFC South in 2019. The Jacksonville Jaguars were not shy about featuring the third-year running back in every facet of the game. As one of four running backs with at least 100 targets and one of seven running backs with at least 500 receiving yards, Fournette finally was able to display his prowess as a receiver after being mostly an early-down back prior to 2019.

Overall, Fournette had the second-highest opportunity share among running backs at 90.1 percent, behind only Christian McCaffrey. Unfortunately, such a high level of usage as both a rusher and receiver didn't translate to him finding the end zone that much. In fact, Fournette scored only three times on 341 touches, thus becoming the first player since 2007 with three or fewer scores on that many touches.

What also makes his lack of scoring so surprising is that Fournette tallied 54 red zone touches, which was good for fourth in the league. That said, once Jacksonville got into the red zone, they couldn't find their way into the end zone -- the Jaguars had only a 40.4 percent touchdown conversion rate in the red zone, the second-worst mark in the league.

One of the big concerns surrounding Fournette entering the year was his ability to stay healthy as he had only played in 21 regular season games in his first two seasons. Though he missed the team's final game due to an illness, Fournette stayed healthy for nearly the entire year and racked up at least a 15 opportunities in each of those games. Because of this, rookie Ryquell Armstead barely saw the field in his first season, but he should remain a high-end handcuff given Fournette's injury history.

Fournette will be entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2020 (the Jaguars still have the ability to exercise his fifth-year option). Fournette is due for a large dose of positive regression in the touchdown department in 2020 assuming he can stay healthy and that he sees the same pass-game involvement.

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
Leonard Fournette JAC 15 88% 17.7 6.7 24.3 40% 14.8 24.1
Ryquell Armstead JAC 16 15% 2.2 1.5 3.7 39% 2.8 29.1

Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry is an absolute monster. If you didn't know that before this season, you surely know it now. The fourth-year Tennessee Titans' running back cemented himself in history this year with one of the best pure rushing performances from a running back in recent seasons.

In 2018, Henry finally got a chance to seize his opportunity in a starting role. While many didn't buy into Henry's stretch of performances during the fantasy football playoffs that season, he carried that momentum into 2019 and got even better.

Henry took home the rushing title this year despite missing one game and was the only running back to average over 100 rushing yards per game. Speaking of history being made, Henry joined elite company at the end of the year. Per NFL Research, in his eight games from Week 10 through the Divisional Round, Henry amassed 1,273 rushing yards -- nearly 160 yards per game -- the second most ever in an eight-game span.

Henry's usage in the passing game still remains limited as he got only 24 targets in 2019. The Titans don't particularly favor using running backs as pass catchers in general -- over the past three seasons, Tennessee has averaged 71 targets to running backs per season, the fewest in the NFL. Despite that, Henry rarely came off the field as teammate Dion Lewis saw an average of 37 percent of the team's snaps.

The soon-to-be-free agent has certainly earned his way into a big payday -- whether a team is willing to pay up for him, though, remains to be seen. That said, his value will likely be highest if he remains with the Titans as they had the third-lowest pass-to-rush ratio in the NFL.

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
Derrick Henry TEN 15 63% 20.2 1.6 21.8 54% 19 47.4
Dion Lewis TEN 16 37% 3.4 2.0 5.4 23% 3.4 14.2