Running Back By Committee Report: NFC West 2019 Recap

The San Francisco 49ers had one of the league's most prominent backfield committees in 2019. How did the other NFC West backfield situations play out this past season?

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

Los Angeles Rams

Prior to 2019, Todd Gurley was the premier feature back to own and was the face of workhorse running backs. That all changed when reports came out about Gurley's degenerative knee issues, and he entered 2019 with swirling debates about how he would hold up and perform throughout the season. Though still finishing as a top-15 running back in half-PPR leagues, Gurley had his worst statistical year since 2016. He nowhere near returned value on his early second-round ADP.

Gurley owners were frightened quickly in Week 1 when Malcolm Brown scored two touchdowns from within the five-yard line. While Brown ultimately ended up not being a major threat to Gurley's workload, Gurley's 18.1 opportunities per game this year was the lowest mark of his career.

Gurley was able to make his money in the end zone yet again, though, scoring 14 times in 2019. He's been a scoring machine since entering the league, as he's failed to get double-digit touchdowns only once in his career (2016). Scoring was Gurley's saving grace this year, as no other running back in the top 60 of fantasy scoring had a higher percentage of his points come from touchdowns (41.2 percent).

Going back to Brown, he ended up being the primary backup and was regularly worked into the rotation after a flurry of offseason hype surrounding rookie Darrell Henderson. Brown and Henderson both reached the double-digit threshold only twice this season, but neither of these players should be expected to be fantasy relevant unless Gurley exits the picture.

That said, the latest on Gurley's future with the Los Angeles Rams is that all options are on the table, meaning his future with the Rams is not guaranteed. Could the Rams be regretting signing Gurley to such a large deal? Only time will tell.

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
Todd Gurley LAR 15 75% 14.9 3.3 18.1 34% 13.6 25.3
Malcolm Brown LAR 14 23% 4.9 0.4 5.4 33% 4.2 25.7
Darrell Henderson LAR 13 17% 3.0 0.5 3.5 47% 1.6 21.5

Arizona Cardinals

After drafting Kyler Murray first overall and welcoming Kliff Kingsbury as their new head coach, the Arizona Cardinals and their offense entered 2019 with a ton of hype. This hype drove incumbent starter David Johnson's ADP up draft boards to fifth overall. While it seemed like paying up for Johnson was paying off in the first six weeks of the season when he was RB6, the season took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Johnson was once again being utilized as the elite receiving threat he had come to be known as. In fact, Johnson had at least six receptions and 55 yards receiving in four of his first six games. But at times, the Cardinals rushing attack looked stagnant, as Johnson failed to reach 100 yards rushing in a single game. That was until Kenyan Drake arrived, creating a surprise resurgence in the Cardinals' running game.

In his first game with the team, a Thursday-night bout against the vaunted San Francisco 49ers, expectations were low for Drake, who had joined the team only three days earlier. He went on to become only the second running back (at the time) to rush for at least 100 yards against the 49ers.

Drake's momentum carried through the end of the season, as he went on to be the team's featured back. Drake averaged 19.8 opportunities per game with the Cardinals, which was over 6 per game more than what he had with the Miami Dolphins earlier in the season. Though not to the same extent as Johnson, Drake was used a bit in the passing game, averaging 3.5 receptions per game with the Cardinals.

Similar to the Rams, the Cardinals are in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with their high-priced running back. While general manager Steve Keim explained that cutting Johnson is not an option, the team could certainly explore trading him to a team desperate for a running back. Additionally, Drake will be a free agent, so his future with the team is up in the air, but he certainly showed enough promise to be worth exploring a multi-year deal with.

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
Kenyan Drake ARI 14 69% 12.1 4.9 17.0 38% 13.5 30.4
David Johnson ARI 13 50% 7.2 3.6 10.8 32% 9.5 27.8
Chase Edmonds ARI 13 31% 4.6 1.6 6.2 39% 5.9 36.7

San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers were one of football's most prolific rushing teams in 2019. Thanks to Kyle Shanahan's scheming and George Kittle's great blocking, the San Francisco rushed for the second-most yards in 2019. Intuitively, you would think that means great fantasy football success for the team's primary running back. The problem? The 49ers don't necessarily have a primary running back.

All of Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Matt Breida led the team in rushing in at least three games this season. Furthermore, San Francisco's lead running back in terms of attempts (Coleman and Mostert tied with 137 attempts each) only had 32.3 percent of the team's total running back rushing attempts, which was the third-lowest rate in the league.

Looking more closely at each running back's season, it was a tale of two halves for Coleman and Mostert. After missing Weeks 2 and 3 due to injury, Coleman came back to double-digit carries in seven of his next eight games. In Week 13, the season flipped, and Mostert appeared to become the team's starting running back with eight straight games of double-digit carries (including three playoff games).

Breida, similar to Coleman, started the season off strong and at times looked like the best running back on the 49ers. Averaging over 14 opportunities per game through the first nine games, Breida's season unfortunately got derailed by an ankle injury, and he only got 27 opportunities the rest of the season after Week 10.

We also can't forget about Jeff Wilson, who pretty much just played the role of touchdown vulture for the first several weeks of the season but didn't have much impact in the latter half.

With Breida becoming a restricted free agent this offseason, Coleman, Mostert, and the long-forgotten Jerick McKinnon are the only running backs under contract entering free agency. We'll see who the 49ers end up keeping, but I'd bet they'll continue to employ a committee approach either way.

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
Raheem Mostert SF 16 36% 8.6 1.4 9.9 43% 9.9 42.8
Tevin Coleman SF 14 42% 9.8 2.1 11.9 43% 8.9 31.9
Matt Breida SF 13 31% 9.5 1.7 11.2 56% 7.2 36.2
Jeff Wilson SF 11 11% 2.5 0.5 2.9 53% 4.1 75.7

Seattle Seahawks

Despite being one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks did not employ much of a committee throughout most of the season. Chris Carson took control of the backfield from the start and never seemed to look back. Even through seven fumbles this season, Carroll continued to trust Carson as the lead back.

As dominant as Carson was on the ground, what was encouraging to see from him was more involvement in the passing game. Carson's 47 targets were the most by a Seattle running back since Marshawn Lynch got 48 way back in 2014. Those 47 targets were also nearly twice as many as the 24 that Carson got in 2018.

On the other hand, Rashaad Penny showed some promise in limited work during his sophomore campaign, but he was never able to take the reins from Carson. From an efficiency standpoint, Penny improved in 2019, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, which was second-best in the league among running backs with at least 50 carries. Similarly, among that same set of backs, Penny led the league in PFF's breakaway percent metric, and it's the second time he's been in the top five.

Unfortunately, the Seahawks' backfield got hit bad with the injury bug late in the season. Penny suffered a torn ACL in Week 14, and he has a long road ahead of him that may cause him to miss the start of the 2020 season. Additionally, Carson's great season came to an end after a hip injury took him out for the team's last three games (including the playoffs). This forced the Seahawks to bring in Lynch for their playoff run, but it was easy to tell he was well over the hill.

Wilson has made it clear that he wants to play more up-tempo and pass the ball more, but I will wait to believe it until I actually see Pete Carroll do that. With Penny's beginning of 2020 in jeopardy and Carson's injury history, I wouldn't be surprised if Seattle drafted or went after another running back this offseason to secure their backfield.

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
Chris Carson SEA 15 70% 18.5 3.1 21.7 44% 14.3 29.1
Rashaad Penny SEA 10 21% 6.5 1.1 7.6 50% 7.1 46.9
C.J. Prosise SEA 9 22% 2.6 1.3 3.9 28% 2.6 19.0