Running Back By Committee Report: AFC West 2019 Recap

Without Melvin Gordon, the Los Angeles Chargers' backfield could look different in 2020. How did the other AFC West backfields play out in 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, 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.

Kansas City Chiefs

Let's start this post with the current Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, one of the more pass-happy teams in the NFL. At times throughout this season, the Chiefs had a revolving door of starting running backs coming in and out of the lineup. Whether due to injury or the under-performance of others, Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, and Darrel Williams each had a crack at the starting role.

Damien Williams, of course, will be known by many for his outstanding playoff run, where he went on to score six touchdowns in three games (and get snubbed from Super Bowl MVP honors). However, his regular season was a completely different story.

Williams only played two games before missing two games to injury and also missed a stretch of three weeks towards the end of the season. Up until Week 9, Williams' season was less-than-inspiring as he never topped 30 yards rushing in the six games that he played in and had at least 15 opportunities only once (Week 1). Over his final five games, however, Williams averaged over 16 opportunities per game and nearly 100 total yards per game.

While Williams struggled, McCoy ended up working himself into a complementary role, but was never really much more than that. McCoy may have been named the starter for a couple of games, but he never played more than 50 percent of the team's snaps in any game and never passed 15 opportunities himself.

The other Williams, Darrel, was also used sparingly while Damien was injured and struggling. His best game came when he got his first opportunity in Week 3 (nine carries for 62 yards and five receptions for 47 yards), but that was the peak of his season.

McCoy will be a free agent this offseason, likely leaving the backfield to the two Williams' and the under-utilized Darwin Thompson. In any case, Damien Williams has vaulted himself back into low-end RB1 territory with his end-of-season performances, especially as the second-most elusive back based on PFF's rating.

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
Damien Williams KC 11 52% 10.1 3.4 13.5 40% 11.5 34.3
LeSean McCoy KC 13 35% 7.8 2.6 10.4 45% 8 35.0
Darrel Williams KC 9 30% 4.6 2.2 6.8 33% 6.7 33.7
Darwin Thompson KC 12 14% 3.1 0.8 3.9 44% 2.3 25.6

Denver Broncos

In 2018, Phillip Lindsay burst onto the NFL scene as one of the league's best undrafted free agents (UDFA). This drove his 2019 expectations to new heights, and some would say he beat them as he became the first UDFA to record 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons. From a fantasy football perspective, however, that wasn't quite the case, as Royce Freeman did more this year to impede Lindsay's production.

As the team's starter all year, Lindsay secured a healthy 14 rushing attempts per game, which was just outside the top 20 running backs. He made the most of those attempts by averaging 2.7 yards before contact per carry, the fifth-best rate among running backs. While Lindsay's target and reception numbers in 2019 were nearly identical to last year, he wasn't afforded any opportunities to improve -- those opportunities all went Freeman's way.

Freeman's targets jumped from 20 in 2018 to 50 this past season, causing a major spike in production. It also looked like this was going to be a complete split on the ground for the first half of the season as Freeman only averaged two fewer carries per game than Lindsay through the team's first eight games. That all switched following Week 8, as Freeman didn't have a single game with double-digit carries for the rest of the season. Freeman was no slouch when it came to running the ball, though, as he gained positive yards on 86.9 percent of his carries, the fourth-highest rate in the league last year.

On another note, this upcoming season, Drew Lock will be the Denver Broncos' starter from day one. Unfortunately, this may not bode well for Lindsay or Freeman. In the five games that Lock started at the end of 2019, he targeted running backs 19.6 percent of the time, which was down from a 25 percent target share in the 11 games without Lock as the starter. Lindsay and Freeman were already nearly evenly splitting pass-catching duties, and sharing a smaller piece of the pie won't help.

Both Lindsay and Freeman are expected to be on the team once again, which will limit both of their upsides. Who knows if new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will switch up the allotment of work, but both running backs have done enough to garner some work in this offense.

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
Phillip Lindsay DEN 16 50% 14.0 3.0 17.0 53% 11.3 34.9
Royce Freeman DEN 16 50% 8.3 3.1 11.4 35% 7.5 23.5

Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers' season began a little differently than most, as star running back Melvin Gordon held out until Week 5, allowing Austin Ekeler to own the backfield through the first quarter of the season.

Through those first four weeks, Ekeler was looking all the bit a stud. Before Gordon returned, Ekeler was the RB2 overall in half PPR leagues. That said, even with Gordon in the lineup, Ekeler was the RB11 and finished the year as the RB6 overall.

The biggest change in Ekeler's game was that he wasn't nearly as involved as a rusher, as he went from averaging 14 carries per game without Gordon to just over 6 per game with him. He was still able to maintain a strong workload catching the ball, making him a valuable fantasy asset, but his upside was clearly capped.

Austin Ekeler Games Average Snap Share Rush Attempts Per Game Rushing Yards Per Game Targets Per Game Receptions Per Game Receiving Yards Per Game Total TDs
Without Melvin Gordon 4 72% 14.0 55.0 6.3 6.0 67.5 6
With Melvin Gordon 12 52% 6.3 28.1 6.9 5.7 60.3 5

Gordon, on the other hand, started his season off slowly - he finished his first four games with fewer than 32 rushing yards in each. He found his groove in Week 9 though, starting a streak of eight straight games with at least 14 opportunities, and averaged 16.6 fantasy points per game across those contests.

The Chargers will face a wave of change this offseason as they have already parted ways with long-time starter Philip Rivers. Having a new quarterback in place could drastically change how effective this backfield is, even if there's only one player getting the majority of the work. Similarly, Gordon is set to be a free agent and Ekeler will be a restricted free agent. While most expect Gordon to sign elsewhere and Ekeler to return to the Chargers, this team will look quite different in 2020.

Running BackTeamGames PlayedAverage Snap %Rush Attempts Per GameTargets Per GameTotal Opportunities Per GameUtilization %Fantasy Points Per Game (Half PPR)Fantasy Points Per 100 Snaps
Austin EkelerLAC1657%8.36.815.039%16.443.2
Melvin GordonLAC1254%13.54.618.150%13.336.9
Justin JacksonLAC720%

Las Vegas Raiders

What a great rookie season for Josh Jacobs. The first-round back certainly lived up to the hype, finishing in the top 15 of running backs on a point per game basis in half PPR leagues. Jon Gruden was looking for a dynamic bellcow back, and they certainly found one.

Though Jacobs' season started off a bit slow, he had 100 yards rushing in five of his final nine games of the season. A lot of Jacobs' success came from his elusiveness and ability to make defenders miss. Per Pro Football Reference, Jacobs ranked in the top eight running backs in rushing yards after contact (683), yards after contact per attempt (2.8), and broken tackles (26) -- Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry were the only other running backs to accomplish this same feat.

The one part of Jacobs' rookie season that lacked was consistent usage as a receiver. This came as a surprise to many, as Jacobs was one of the better pass-catching backs coming out of college. Jacobs finished with only 20 receptions on 27 targets as most of the pass-catching duties went to teammates Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.

Both Richard and Washington hauled in 36 receptions and had nearly identical snap shares throughout the season. However, Washington was the primary beneficiary when Jacobs missed a couple of games at the end of the season. In the three games that Jacobs missed, Washington averaged just over 20 opportunities per game, compared to just 8 opportunities per game for Richard.

The other week, Las Vegas extended Richard for another two years, indicating that they're comfortable having him as their primary third-down back with Washington set to hit free agency in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, Jacobs will get more involved in the passing game -- assuming Washington isn't brought back to the team.

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
Josh Jacobs LVR 13 56% 18.6 2.1 20.7 57% 14 38.7
DeAndre Washington LVR 16 26% 6.8 2.6 9.3 55% 6.5 38.1
Jalen Richard LVR 16 29% 2.4 2.7 5.1 27% 4.1 21.2