Fantasy Focus: Running Back Platoons

Donald Brown and Joseph Addai will be splitting carries this year, just like a number of other platoon situations across the NFL. What should you do in these situations? Who will win the battle between Brown and Addai? Who will come out on top of the other platoon situations? We break it down.

Running back platoons are a dicey situation in fantasy football, because you never know which back in the platoon is going to be productive.

Coaches are always going to go with the player that they think gives them the best chance to win.  That player may change according to game situation and matchups and, rest assured, the coach doesn't care how the distribution of carries affects your fantasy lineup.

Johnson is a top fantasy back, but White will get goal-line carries
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Choosing running backs that are in platoons is different than handcuffing an established starter for two reasons:

  1. In a handcuff, you're hoping nothing bad happens to your star. You generally draft both, but would never play the handcuff unless something happened to the star.

  2. In a platoon situation, only the coach knows how the touches are going to be distributed, and even then only situationally.  Therefore, it's impossible to predict which player is going to get more touches on a game-by-game basis, so long as injuries aren't involved.

Also, since both players in the platoon are going to be getting touches, they're both going to be coveted on draft day. 

Since you start two running backs in most leagues, it doesn't make any sense to tie the fortunes to one team, meaning that you draft both guys in the platoon and start them every week.  If you decide to draft both and start one each week based on matchups, at best you're going to end up second-guessing yourself every and at worst you'll have a tough lineup decision to make that will probably lead to more research and hand wringing than a decision that you have no control over should ever have devoted to it.

Finally, LenDale White and Chris Johnson, for example, will probably both be taken in the first five rounds, where you take your top two or three running backs.  That means that you'll have two picks in the first five rounds devoted to two guys that play the same position on the same team.  That's not a good way to diversify.

The best strategy is to pick the guy that you think will have the best season and go with him.  You may be right, you may be wrong, but you'll only spend one draft pick on that decision and will save yourself an entire season of indecision and setting and re-setting your lineup. However, if your league has a third running back or flex option, then taking both sides of a platoon may be a gamble that can pay off.

Joseph Addai or Donald Brown?:

This is a difficult race to handicap, since Brown is a rookie and Addai is an established starter.  When Addai was drafted in 2006, Dominic Rhodes was the established starter, but he was older and not as entrenched as Addai at this point — not that Addai has a stranglehold on the job, but he's on much firmer ground than Rhodes was heading into the 2006 season.

Addai ended up with 400 more rushing yards and seven more rushing touchdowns than Rhodes on only 40 more carries and also caught more passes for more yards and more touchdowns than Rhodes.

Although the results probably won't be as lopsided in 2009 — since Rhodes had such a solid postseason, many forget what a lackluster regular season he had — there is a precedent to draw data from and that data favors the rookie.

My hunch says that Addai develops a nagging injury by the midpoint of the season, misses a couple of games, and Brown takes over as the go to guy.  Addai will still get touches when he comes back — and he'll get his fair share — but Brown will get more and a running back is only as valuable as his touches: if you don't touch the ball, you can't do anything with it; the more you touch the ball, the more chances you have to do something with it.

But, they'll still split carries and the split will resemble what we saw in 2006, with Addai netting 226 carries and 40 receptions and Rhodes with 187 carries and 36 receptions, so neither is going to be a workhorse back that will get the bulk of the touches on the season and therefore neither is worth drafting in the first round, particularly Addai.

Addai will get drafted earlier in most leagues since he is the incumbent and Brown should still be there in the fifth or sixth round, where he'll have better value than Addai.

Chris Johnson or LenDale White?:

Well, obviously Chris Johnson is the more favored player, since he is one of the top five players in all of fantasy football.  But, is he a better choice in terms of value than White?

Johnson had only 51 more carries than White in 2008 and, even though Johnson gained 450 more yards on those carries, White had 15 touchdowns compared to Johnson's seven.  If you're in a league where the player gets a point for every reception, then Johnson has more value, as he caught 43 passes and scored one receiving touchdown last season, as compared to only five receptions for White.

Johnson will likely get more touches this season, but White will still get carries inside the goal line.  White will still get his fair share of touches, considering the that Titans really like to run the ball.

Both players should be productive and at least live up to their draft status, so if you don't have a top five pick, take Johnson.  If not, wait and take White.  Either way, it appears as though you won't be disappointed.

Williams had a breakout 2008, but Stewart waits in the wings
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart?:

This is another situation where one player has a decided edge, but they are backed up by an accomplished player that will get most of the touches inside the ten.  Williams had a breakout season in 2008 and was the number one running back in fantasy football.

With questions surrounding how many touches Stewart will get and where he'll get them, Williams has fallen towards the bottom of the top ten, being ranked anywhere from seventh to ninth.

Although Stewart was hurt a great deal last season, he was still on the team and Williams was able to fight him off and take most of the carries, yards, and touchdowns.  Stewart will be more of a factor this year, but isn't worth taking in the first nine rounds.

If you have the eighth or ninth pick in your draft and Williams is there, I would suggest taking him, as I expect him to come close to his 2008 production.

Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, or Mewelde Moore?:

Parker has struggled with injuries the past two seasons and the Steelers once vaunted rushing attack has faltered as well.  But, the fact remains that they are committed to running the ball and there should be plenty of touches to go around.  The question here is who will get those touches?

Mike Tomlin appears to be as committed to Parker as he is to running the ball, as Parker had the bulk of the carries for the team before he was placed on injured reserve at the the end of the 2007 season and before he missed time with a nagging knee injury in 2008.

As a matter of fact, Mendenhall never established himself last season since he broke he was placed on injured reserve before the middle of the season and Moore was not given any touches until Parker was scratched from the lineup.

Parker, if healthy, should again get the lion's share of the touches in 2009.  Since there are two other men on the depth chart, many fantasy owners will be wary of him and you might be able to snag him at the end of the second or early third round.  If he does stay healthy in 2009, that would be a very good bargain pick, as he would appear to be the favorite to touch the ball for the Steelers in the coming season.

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