Remember when you were just a kid and your father would say to you,
"back when I was a young man ...?" This is one of those
When I was a young lad, an NFL roster included a player called a
fullback. Some of them even had fantasy value.
For those of you under the age of 40, you are probably staring at
this sentence with a confused look on your face. According to Wikipedia,
a fullback is "a position in the offensive backfield in American
and Canadian football, and is one of the two running back positions
along with the halfback."
In the late 1950s and 1960s Jim Taylor was one of the premier running
backs and he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in five straight seasons.
But more typically, fullbacks are larger and slower than halfbacks
and in most offensive schemes their duties are primarily blocking
for both the quarterback and the other running back. And once in
a while they would get to run the ball.
Despite not being used very much, they could still be useful as
a second fantasy running back. That’s because they were frequently
the coach’s preferred option near the goal line.
In 1984, during the infancy of fantasy football, I "owned"
a running back buy the name of Pete Johnson of the Miami Dolphins.
Johnson didn't run the ball very often either. The Dolphins were
an explosive passing team led by quarterback Dan Marino (5,084 yards
and 48 touchdowns) and his two receivers, the "Marks Brothers"
- Mark Clayton and Mark Duper.
While no one was paying attention, however, Johnson rushed for 12
touchdowns that season on just 87 rushing attempts. Every touchdown
came from within three yards of the end zone and nine touchdowns
came from one-yard out.
But in the fantasy world, a one-yard touchdown run is the same as
60 rushing yards. So Johnson's fantasy value, on just the 12 touchdowns
alone, were the same as rushing for 720 yards.
Late in his career, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis
became one of my favorite second running back options. This was
after the many seasons in which he rushed for more than 1,000 yards
Over his final four seasons, from 2002-05, Bettis scored 38 times
while averaging just 696 yards rushing. That's a touchdown every
73 yards. This compared favorably to his first nine seasons in which
he averaged a touchdown every 205 yards gained on the ground.
Alas, Bettis and his type are long gone. There are no touchdown
“vultures” out there to use as an RB2.
This "new" fantasy world consists of just one running
back and usually three receivers. In the rare times when the team
needs a lead blocker, they call on a lineman. Quarterbacks throw
the ball 45-50 times and only one running back is fantasy worthy.
And sometimes there isn't even one fantasy-worthy running back on
a roster. Teams use multiple backs depending on the specific situation.
It's the scourge of fantasy owners everywhere, known as "running-back-by-committee."
This makes it tough on fantasy owners.
So once all the star running backs have been selected, what is a
fantasy owner to do?
Below are eight running backs who just might be fantasy worthy in
2015 and none of them are starters.
Jackson, Buffalo - Sure the Bills just traded for former
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, but Jackson will still get some
work both as a running back and catching passes. In Philadelphia
last season, McCoy's backup, Darren Sproles totaled 716 yards from
scrimmage and six touchdowns. Jackson could match that total.
Williams needs to make his mark early in
Bernard, Cincinnati - Last season was supposed to be
a breakout year for Bernard, but rookie Jeremy Hill "stole" his
opportunity. The Bengals loved using the big back, particularly
late in the season, in bad weather. Bernard is too talented to let
sit on the bench, however, and we expect Bengals coach Marvin Lewis
to get him more than last season's 211 touches.
Williams, Pittsburgh - Starter Le'Veon Bell will miss
the first three games due to suspension and Williams will get a
chance to prove he's worthy of 8-10 touches a game even when Bell
returns in Week 4. He'll have to earn his playing time against three
tough defenses - New England, San Francisco and St. Louis.
Davis, Kansas City - Davis might be the best running
back in football who isn't a starter. Strong and fast, in his only
start of 2014 he rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown. In his only
start of 2013 he rushed for 81 yards and two scores. His problem
is star Jamaal Charles is the starter and a fantasy stud, but a
smart coach will get him more touches and Andy Reid is still a smart
Randle, Dallas - Just signed Darren McFadden is not the
long-term replacement for departed DeMarco Murray. He's not even
the short-term answer. Assuming the Cowboys select a stud running
back on Draft Day, Randle and his 6.7 ypc should be the rookie’s
backup. And if Dallas doesn't get their pick right, or the young
back hits the “rookie wall” Randle could end up being the starter
at some point this season.
Mathews, Philadelphia - Selecting Mathews with a late
pick in your draft has two key factors going for him that may help
you score big fantasy points. The Eagles ran a league-high 1,127
plays last season and under Chip Kelly are going to run up tempo
again. Meanwhile, DeMarco Murray has only once played an entire
16-game schedule and that was last season when the Cowboys overworked
him to the tune of 449 touches.
Smith, Atlanta - Smith was an explosive playmaker in
2014, before a broken leg ended his season in Week 11. He scored
five times last season, two rushing and three receiving, and the
average length was 51 yards. If the Falcons don't draft a running
back early, then Smith will get the ball a lot more in 2015 and
could end up being one of the best running back bargains.
Spiller, New Orleans - Big things were expected of Spiller
and in only one of his five seasons did he deliver the goods (2012).
But with a smart quarterback in Drew Brees, Spiller will be the
next Reggie Bush. That won't be the 1,000-yard Bush from Miami,
but the all-purpose back that we saw in New Orleans from 2006-10.
Add in that Mark Ingram has only once played all 16 games in a season
and Spiller could start a couple of games too.
Steve Schwarz served as the fantasy sports editor of The Sports Network and is the 2014 FSWA Football Writer of the Year.