Fantasy Football 2013: Assessing Crowded Backfields

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

 

No one likes headaches.

No one.

And like regular headaches, fantasy football headaches can cause the same side effects. Pain, annoyance and most likely a fair share of tears. Of course, one of the biggest aspects of fantasy that causes headaches are split backfields. There is nothing more annoying than a guy that is clearly superior in talent, but can’t seem to obtain the majority of the work. However, it is already Week 7 (sigh), and we have a pretty good understanding of which backs are playing how much. Let’s shed some light on these crowded backfields that have been teasing fantasy owners thus far.

Stats and charts provided by fantasydata.com

Cincinnati Bengals

One is a flashy, quick sports car. The other is BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It’s pretty obvious who the superior runner in this backfield is, and that award clearly goes to Giovani Bernard. The first running back selected in this year’s draft, Gio has been extremely strong during his rookie year, averaging four yards per carry and has found the end zone four times. Meanwhile, Green-Ellis is averaging just 3.3 yards per clip, and has scored just twice. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that Bernard is the more talented back. He has explosiveness and versatility that Green-Ellis could only dream of, and we are slowly seeing the playing time favor towards the rookie, which will make fantasy owners extremely excited.

 

Gio has clearly been outplaying the veteran this season, scoring more fantasy points, despite seeing 29 less carries. Of course, Bernard’s presence in the passing game helps. And while Green-Ellis has seen six carries inside the five yard line, compared to Gio’s two, Bernard has been the more effective short-yardage back, dating all the way back to preseason. We are seeing the shift towards Bernard as the main back, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s 70/30 in favor of the rookie.

Buffalo Bills

I’m going to have to fight off tears while discussing this team. Perhaps no one was higher on C.J. Spiller coming into the season than me, and to see him not playing as the dominant runner is disheartening. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett stated that they would feed Spiller the ball until he throws up, but seeing veteran back Fred Jackson outplaying him just makes me won’t to vomit. Jackson is very quietly a top-10 fantasy running back through six weeks, scoring four touchdowns and totaling 510 yards of offense. He’s been better in all facets, and has clearly been the red zone back, which hurts Spiller’s value. However, Spiller, who has been hindered by a bummed ankle this season, stated that he is getting close to 100 percent, and once he gets there, he could go nuts. We have already seen him break a few long runs this year, and that hasn’t even been at full speed. I think the presence of Jackson is very much legit, but this offense runs through Spiller.

 

An encouraging sign for Spiller owners is that he is making those big plays, which is what we saw from him last season. He only carried the ball 207 times, but still finished as the 7th-best fantasy back. This season, using a terrific stat from fantasydata.com, Spiller is scoring 27.3 fantasy points every 100 snaps, which is just two points behind Jackson, despite seeing almost 100 less snaps. Spiller is still an elite talent in this league, and while Jackson may continue to serve as the goal line back, Spiller will make the most impact between the 20′s the rest of the way. And remember, in the three games where he wasn’t banged up, Spiller saw carry totals of 23, 16 and 17, which is enough for a guy of his caliber. The healthier Spiller gets, the longer he’ll stay on the field.

Arizona Cardinals

Another situation where it’s blatantly obvious who the better talent is, rookie Andre Ellington is on the rise. Averaging a whopping seven yards per clip, Ellington continues to cut into veteran Rashard Mendenhall’s workload. The two have been essentially splitting snaps over the last two weeks, and while head coach Bruce Arians states that he only sees Ellington is a 30-32 snap guy, that will change if he keeps playing like this. According to Pro Football Focus, Ellington is averaging 0.37 fantasy points per snap in standard leagues, which is fourth-most in football. In a PPR league, he is averaging 0.52, trailing only Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead.

 

Despite seeing 50 less snaps, Ellington has scored six more fantasy points than Mendenhall, who is also the goal line back. But considering that Arizona is passing the ball 52 percent of the time in the red zone, that bodes well for Ellington’s fantasy prospects. Under Arians, this is a pass-first team, and Ellington has been used in many ways on passing downs. It’s only a matter of time before Ellington becomes the featured back in this offense. He gives them the best chance to win football games.

San Diego Chargers

I was super high on Danny Woodhead coming into the season. An elite pass-catching back in a Mike McCoy offense had the potential to lead to fantasy fireworks. Sure enough, Woodhead has been awesome this season. He has hauled in 36-0f-41 targets this season, sporting an outstanding 88 percent catch rate. However, Ryan Mathews certainly hasn’t been terrible this season, it’s just Woodhead has been that much better. The Chargers are also a pass-heavy team, throwing the ball 68 percent of the time when in the red zone, and considering Woodhead is always in the game on passing downs, he has the edge in that regard. Besides, even when they do run the ball up close, it’s Woodhead, not Mathews, that has been getting the carries lately. Mathews may be getting the majority of the carries from between the 20′s, but Woodhead has still been on the field more in general.

 

Woodhead is dominating the snap count, and as long as McCoy is calling the shots, I don’t see that changing. During the offseason, he stated that Woodhead can be an every-down back, which shows his confidence in his back. Woodhead is the guy you want to own in San Diego. It’s the absolute perfect fit for his playing style, and while Mathews will still be fairly relevant, Woodhead makes this offense move best.

Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.

You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.


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