Running Back By Committee Report: NFC North 2019 Recap

Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones broke out as fantasy football studs in 2019. How did the other NFC North backfields play out last year?

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.

Minnesota Vikings

At the end of the 2018 season, we got a glimpse of what Dalvin Cook could do in a Kevin Stefanski-led offense, and boy did he show up this year! What a breakout performance for Cook, one of fantasy football's top assets in 2019.

There's a lot to be said about how successful Cook's 2019 campaign was, so I'll keep it relatively brief. Cook was one of two running backs (Christian McCaffrey being the other) to finish with at least 1,000 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards, and a 4.5 yards per carry average. He also finished among the top 10 running backs in both yards per touch (5.5) and yards created per carry (1.71), per RotoUnderworld.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Cook's shoulder injury, which caused him to miss two full games and leave two games early. Cook has yet to play all 16 games in a season, and while his ACL tear was a freak injury, I wouldn't blame you if you labeled Cook as injury prone. In any case, it's a concern for fantasy football drafters heading into 2020 that will likely cause them to handcuff him.

Speaking of, rookie backup Alexander Mattison was no slouch when playing in relief of Cook. Mattison was one of the more explosive running backs, with 41.3 percent of his rushing yards coming on carries of at least 15 yards (per PFF), which was second-best in the league.

Unfortunately, the couple of games that Mattison missed himself came when Cook was out of the lineup, too, so we didn't get to see his potential as a full workhorse. Even so, Mattison will remain one of the premier handcuffs in fantasy football.

Even with Gary Kubiak replacing Stefanski as the Vikings' offensive coordinator, this will be one of the more dynamic backfields 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
Dalvin CookMIN1466%17.94.522.451%1943.2
Alexander MattisonMIN1323%

Chicago Bears

After falling short in the 2018 playoffs, 2019 was a year filled with regression and disappointment for the Chicago Bears. That translated to the Bears' backfield, as well, with rookie David Montgomery stepping in to fill Jordan Howard's shoes, and Tarik Cohen continuing to play his scat-back role.

Game one of the Bears' season spooked those who paid up for Montgomery on draft day, as Mike Davis was given a significant share of the snaps. That ended up being Davis' most-used game, though, and he was let go mid-season. What followed, however, was not an overly-promising rookie year from Montgomery.

Overall, Montgomery's usage was outstanding and near the top of all running backs. He averaged just over 15 rushing attempts per game and finished with fewer than a dozen total opportunities only twice all season. However, his production with all of these opportunities left a lot to be desired -- his 3.7 yards per carried ranked seventh-worst among qualified running backs.

Montgomery handled 14 carries inside the five-yard line, which accounted for 87.4 percent of the team's carries within the five. But Montgomery's lack of efficiency also carried through to the red zone, as he was only able to convert six of those carries into touchdowns. His 36 percent touchdown rate on carries inside the five ranked 23rd of the 30 running backs with at least seven carries inside the five.

With Cohen returning to be the featured third-down running back, Montgomery was seldom used as a pass catcher, getting at least five targets only twice. Similar to Montgomery, Cohen's efficiency was not spectacular in 2019. Despite setting a new career high in targets with 104 -- which was 13 more than the mark he set in 2018 -- he accumulated over 250 fewer receiving yards than in 2018.

Cohen and Montgomery will both be returning in 2020, and I would expect the distribution between the two to be relatively similar, unless Montgomery can take a larger chunk of the passing work. Until then, they both remain in RB3 territory.

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
David Montgomery CHI 16 57% 15.1 2.2 17.3 44% 9.9 25.3
Tarik Cohen CHI 16 50% 4.0 6.5 10.5 31% 7.8 22.9

Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers were one of the surprise teams in 2019. Though Green Bay usually enters each season with high expectations with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, not many people were sure what to expect from them under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur. But, for the first time in a while, the Packers' running game thrived with Aaron Jones leading the way.

For the first time in his three-year career, Jones played all 16 games, allowing him to finish as the RB2 overall in half-PPR leagues. Despite finishing outside of the top-12 running backs in red zone rushing attempts, Jones still managed to tie for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (16). Jones' touchdown total is likely to regress in 2020, but he will still come with a fairly high floor on an above-average offense.

Though Jones' rushing stats were impressive, he excelled catching the ball. Among running backs with at least 30 targets, Jones' 7.1 receiving yards per target ranked ninth overall. Similarly, his 1.55 yards per route run ranked in the top 15 among running backs, per PFF.

It's crazy to think that Jones' season could have been better had Jamaal Williams not been stealing touches from him. Williams' 11 opportunities per game were enough to annoy Jones' fantasy football owners, even though Jones averaged 19 opportunities per game himself. Williams also proved to be a great pass catcher, finishing third overall among running backs in catch rate at 86.7 percent.

Both Jones and Williams will return to Green Bay in 2020, but I don't foresee a scenario in which Williams is completely phased out of the team's rushing attack. Jones will still be a valuable fantasy football asset, but with a somewhat capped ceiling as long as Williams stays involved.

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
Aaron Jones GB 16 61% 14.8 4.3 19.0 45% 18.1 42.9
Jamaal Williams GB 14 40% 7.6 3.2 10.9 39% 9.1 32.7

Detroit Lions

The production from the Detroit Lions' backfield was a sight for sore eyes. Kerryon Johnson began the year as the starter but found his way to injured reserve (IR) for the second straight year. That left the backfield to guys like Bo Scarbrough, J.D. McKissic, and Ty Johnson.

In the five full games that he played before suffering a knee injury, Johnson was given a healthy workload of over 17 carries per game. Johnson failed to top 50 yards rushing in all but one of those games, though, and never averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry in a single game. Even though he only played in eight games, Johnson got nine carries inside the five-yard line, which was top 15 among running backs.

Immediately after Kerryon landed on IR, Ty Johnson and McKissic began to split the workload. It didn't get much better for the Lions with these two running the show, as Ty never rushed for more than 30 yards in Kerryon's absence. At times, McKissic showed some promise catching the ball out of the backfield, as he averaged just under four targets per game while Johnson was on IR, but he was only given double-digit carries once.

In Week 11, Scarbrough took over as the Lions' primary rusher for a couple of weeks. Like Kerryon, Scarbrough was treated like a workhorse, averaging 18 rushing attempts per game from Week 11 through Week 14. He wasn't useful for fantasy football, though, as he only scored once and wasn't involved in the passing game one bit.

All told, there weren't that many bright spots in the Lions' backfield this year. All but Scarbrough are under contract with the Lions in 2020, but Kerryon will likely slot right back into the featured role, assuming the Lions think that he can stay healthy for an entire season, which has yet to be seen.

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
Kerryon Johnson DET 8 52% 14.1 1.9 16.0 45% 10 28.4
J.D. McKissic DET 16 24% 2.4 2.6 5.0 31% 4.2 25.5
Ty Johnson DET 16 28% 3.9 1.9 5.9 30% 3 15.2
Bo Scarbrough DET 6 43% 14.8 0.7 15.5 54% 7.1 25.0