Dynamic Duo - RBBCs To Watch
By Andrew Garda
May 27th, 2010

Once upon a time it was a rare thing to have to decide which of multiple running backs on a team would get the majority of the carries. There was the lead back and maybe a change of pace back who would come in to spell a player but was rarely worth anything.

Of course that was then, this is now. There are many backfields which are committees, and many players worth the attention of fantasy owners. Not every RBBC is clear-cut and not every RBBC has two backs worth a look.

But the ones on this list are the ones to watch. Some are pairs who will have immediate and season-long impact. Some may take a while to gather momentum but end up being perfect for a late-season push. But owning players in these 'Dynamic Duos' could help take you to your championships this fantasy season.

New York Jets - Shonn Greene / LaDainian Tomlinson

Nobody ran more than the Jets last year and it's not even close. Their 607 attempts were 82 more than the next closest team. Even if they throw more with second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, you know they'll still run a tremendous amount of the time.

As it stands, Shonn Green is the lead back after a breakout group of games at the end of the 2009. The Jets felt so good about Greene they let Thomas Jones go despite his career high total of 1402 yards rushing. The Jets did bring in LaDainian Tomlinson, but he arrives in New York as a RB2 not the lead back. Despite that, there is so much work to go around in the backfield that Tomlinson still holds good value.

Greene will be the workhorse here and will get the bulk of the carries assuming he remains healthy (which is, admittedly, a concern). He should also get a bunch of the short yardage work unless he proves he isn't up to the task. Greene got plenty of short work last season and should only see more here as he isn't behind Thomas Jones anymore.

What he doesn't do is catch the ball well and that's where Tomlinson comes in. As the second half of this pair, he will be the receiving threat and probably see more of his work in third downs, especially in longer passing situations. Tomlinson had been averaging over 50 catches a year before 2009 when his production more than halved down to 20. Leon Washington had 15 in just seven games, so while Tomlinson probably won't return to his former average, he will still be targeted plenty of times and top last season's mark.

In another offense, Tomlinson's impact might be minimal, but with the enormous amount of times the Jets will probably run the ball, there will be plenty of work to go around. Tomlinson won't repeat his glory days, but will have good value as a RB3 or flex at worst, with some potential upside for more.

Greene is very easily a lower-end RB1 and if he stays healthy, could flirt with top ten status.

Miami Dolphins - Ronnie Brown / Ricky Williams

Miami ran a lot last year as they tried to ease Chad Henne into his first full season as a starting quarterback. That, coupled with a lack of good receiving options, meant that they ended up third in total rushing attempts and fourth in yards. While we expect the 2010 Dolphins to continue to run the ball quite a bit, the addition of Brandon Marshall and the continued maturation of Henne will in all likelihood mean that both totals will come down.

Nonetheless, this backfield contains two players who can have big seasons if they can avoid a few pitfalls.

This pairing looks like it will be a true partnership with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both getting a healthy share of carries. Of course, healthy is also the biggest word in that sentence for Brown as he will be returning from a Lisfranc injury. He's currently franchised but will need to prove himself to keep his job beyond 2010. That hunger could mean a very effective season for Brown behind an improving offensive line. When healthy, he can run between the tackles with power as well as also catch out of the backfield. Brown isn't as quick as he was his first few years and coming off the Lisfranc will make owners wary of him, but reports have been promising thus far and he appears to be ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, Williams has played well beyond the expectations people had for him when he moved from New Orleans to Miami. Still, it's been six years in Florida after three in Louisiana and he has slowed some even if last season showed he clearly has something left in the tank. In fact, he had his best yards per carry number (4.7) since 2002 (4.8) and he did it over more carries (241) than he's had in some time. While Williams is definitely getting on in years, he's still capable of putting up respectable numbers.

This year in Miami, there are two pretty capable backs who will both get significant carries. The split usually is 60-70% of the carries to Brown with about 30% to Williams and the receptions virtually split down the middle. Where this changes is when Brown misses significant time due to injury - something which has happened twice now.

Assuming Brown comes back healthy, both backs will have some value but because of the split that value is lower than it could be in a situation favoring one over the other. As such, this partnership serves up two potential low end RB2s/high end flex/RB3.

Indianapolis Colts - Joe Addai / Donald Brown

The Colts didn't run the ball as often as most other teams last season - just 366 times, ranking 31st in the league. They weren't terribly effective when they did run the ball with a weak 3.5 yards per carry and 1,294 total yards. But don't allow that set of stats lull you to sleep as they racked up the rushing touchdowns despite overall lackluster stats on the ground. Addai has had a pair of 1,000 yards seasons in the past so we know that despite a high-octane passing offense, the ground game can be effective.

When 2009 was kicking off, many assumed Joseph Addai would lose his status as lead back by mid-season. As we head into the 2010 pre-season though, Addai is still the main man in this backfield. Not only is he a fairly elusive runner, Addai also averages 39 catches a season, making him a very nice option in PPR leagues. While Addai has lost games every season due to injury, he hasn't lost his job and he'll get most of the carries and targets this season as well. Addai is also in a contract year, something which should always be factored in.

A clear second option, though one with upside, Donald Brown came into the 2009 season heralded as the soon-to-be-new-Indy-chief-back. He ended up nursing a knee injury and generally underwhelming us even before that happened. Brown has talent and can do a lot of what Addai do. What we expected - but didn't see - was him doing it better than Addai and doing so while healthy.

Addai was able to stave off Brown pretty easily in 2009 and as it stands, Brown has a long way to go to catch up. Addai can serve as low end RB1 when you factor in yards gained through the air (even not including PPR points) though his injury history makes it safer to use him as a RB2. Brown has the upside to be a 2, but proved last year to be less able than we'd hoped. At this point and unless 1) Addai implodes (not a wild fantasy by any means) or 2) Brown really turns a corner, the former UCONN Husky is merely depth or protection against Addai injury.

Baltimore Ravens - Ray Rice / Willis McGahee

In the space of just one year, this set-up went from a messy RBBC of three backs to a very clear cut duo. The ground attack had already been effective the last few years, even without one easily identifiable lead back. The Ravens certainly work the ground game an awful lot and will likely do so again in 2010.

When Ray Rice exploded last season with 1,339 yards on 254 carries and another 702 yards through the air, he secured himself a place in the conversation for this year's top fantasy pick as well as cemented his role as the lead back in this group. There's no doubt the Ravens will use him early, often and effectively. Hitting 78 receptions again is a little too much to hope for, but expect him to be used frequently in the pass game as well, even with the additions of Anquan Boldin, Donte Stallworth and rookie tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Rice is just too dangerous in the receiving game to cut out.

Willis McGahee has rebooted his career several times and shown he has the ability to carry the ball often, but as has been the case in many of his previous destinations, he now finds himself behind a more dynamic back. McGahee has been the center of trade rumors but as of this posting, nothing has happened and if that status remains quo, McGahee will serve as the primary backup to Rice as well as goal line back. Ten of McGahee's 14 touchdowns were within ten yards of the end zone. Rice helped get them downfield, but McGahee was often the one to punch it in.

With the disparity in carries, this almost didn't make the cut to be a Dynamic Duo. But McGahee is such a touchdown threat in short yardage that he's worth a look as depth and bye week filler. As long as he's there to pound it short, he'll have some value.

If McGahee is traded as the rumors persist, I believe Le'Ron McClain will step into a short yardage role and he will be a very productive back in the same vein as McGahee.

Cleveland Browns - Jerome Harrison / Montario Hardesty

Cleveland wasn't very good last year, but one thing they did well was move the ball. It wasn't as consistent as we'd like but at the end of 2009 they had run 245 times (sixth in the league) for 2,087 yards (ranked eighth). They could only scrounge up ten touchdowns though and went huge stretches during the season where they had issues moving the ball at all.

Wholesale changes are happening on much of the offensive side of the ball, which hopefully will help the ground game. With the departure of Jamal Lewis, the top Dawg in the Pound is Jerome Harrison who steps into the lead role on the strength of a terrific three game stretch at the end of the season. He possesses the experience necessary to be the primary ball carrier and the skill to do well in such a role. However, it is unknown if he can be utilized in such a role without burning out. Also, there have been rumors that Harrison has fallen out of head coach Eric Mangini's favor.

Snapping at his heels is rookie running back Montario Hardesty, a second round choice out of Tennessee. Hardesty had issues with injury while in college and only started one year but so far reports out of minicamps and OTAs have been good. Hardesty is a complete back who can run aggressively, but shows good agility and balance and an ability to catch out of the backfield.

To start the season, Harrison will be the chief ball carrier, though I expect Hardesty to get enough carries to be productive as well. This is an offense which ran the ball the sixth most in the league and while they may have attempted to upgrade their pass game, they will still rely on the ground game to move the ball as well. However expectations must be tempered for a team which cannot be relied upon to be effective overall. While Harrison will be the top running back here, he is likely to be no more than a RB2 for most fantasy teams. Hardesty has some good upside, but until we know he will be healthy it is hard to rely on him as anything more than a late pick for depth with upside. But that upside is tremendous.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Rashard Mendenhall / Jonathan Dwyer

Whereas the Steelers were once would just run the ball down a team's throat, the last few years they haven't run as often, nor as effectively. But with the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are likely in the position of running the ball a lot to give whomever ends up at quarterback some time. Losing wide receiver Santonio Holmes will also serve to make the run game far more critical.

After a lackluster rookie season marred by injury, Mendenhall played very well in 2009 and earned the lead back spot after starting for the team in 12 games. There is some concern he may not be able to play as the lead back for a full 16 game season, but the 242 carries he had last season is an indication that he can do so and effectively at that. Quite honestly, with the talent he has, coupled with the likelihood of an increase in carries as both a team and an individual, Mendenhall has the opportunity to not only perform admirably as your RB1 but a good shot at ending the season as a Top Ten RB as well.

Back in April, head coach Mike Tomlin said he was “comfortable” with Mewelde Moore as his No. 2 running back. About a month later, I won't make the same claim. Moore has filled in effectively when needed but rookie Jonathan Dwyer could be much more than a placeholder and with the team about to run the ball a lot more, is the guy I pin to be the second back in this duo. A powerful downhill runner, who will run will run through tackles and over defensive players, Dwyer fits into what was once very Steelers mold: he'll hit you in the mouth and run you into the ground. He has question marks in many areas including conditioning and isn't a fast guy but I think he compliments Mendenhall very nicely and with the amount of work the run unit will get - especially during the first four to six Roethlisberger-less games - there should be plenty to go around.

Mendenhall early in your draft as a late RB1/solid RB2 is almost a no-brainer. But picking up Dwyer late as depth may pay very big dividends.

I realize many will point to Mewelde Moore as the true No. 2 in this offense, but I believe that Dwyer will prove to a better and more consistent fit in this offense and the direction it is heading. Moore will get work but I don't think it will be enough to keep him relevant.

Oakland Raiders - Michael Bush / Darren McFadden

The Raiders take a lot of heat because, aside from just being the Raiders, this franchise has more drama than an Apprentice cast filled with TO, Ochocinco and Brandon Marshall. But this offseason has seen a drop in drama and some very solid gains for the offense. Adding Jason Campbell will make a big difference for this pair of backs and help them be a lot more consistent.

This is going to be a fairly even split in terms of touches, with Bush likely to get more carries on the ground and McFadden to get more receptions and work on passing downs. Bush is a more powerful running back and will get the bulk of the early-down work an between the tackles runs. Because of the way he runs, Bush will also get much more of the goalline attempts. This gives him a nose up in terms of value, though he is likely to remain on owner's benches as a RB3. But I like his - and Oakland's - upside so he may end up outproducing his ADP, which is actually behind McFadden's right now.

Speaking of McFadden, the former Razorback seems to have fallen into more of the complimentary receiving role next to Michael Bush. He's dynamic in the open field and is a great receiver out of the backfield. An awful lot of McFadden's fantasy points will be off of receiving yards and his value drops considerably if you aren't in a PPR league. McFadden can run between the tackles and has versatility, but because he goes down too easy on first contact, he'll likely stay as the second back here for the foreseeable future. While he has some value as a poor man's Reggie Bush, initially he could be little more than bench depth. Like with his backfield partner, I like his upside and I think Oakland may be underestimated by a lot of owners. While I think drafting McFadden ahead of Bush is a mistake, ignoring McFadden's upside is one as well.

San Diego Chargers - Darren Sproles / Ryan Mathews

The Chargers' ground attack fell off a cliff last season and not all the blame can be laid at former San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson's feet. The Bolts' offensive line hasn't been very effective at run blocking for the last several years and any back in Charger blue will find himself hit before he gets to the line of scrimmage. That said, it was time to move on from LT and bring in some new blood - in this case Ryan Mathews.

This isn't a lead back/secondary back situation as much as it's two backs who function in very different spaces. Darren Sproles will get maybe 100 carries but will be a huge receiving threat out of the backfield and rack up good yards that way. Ryan Mathews will get the bulk of the ground work, and while it's hard to know how he'll hold up over the course of the season, I think that he's got a great situation and the potential to top 1,000 yards this year. He's an aggressive downhill runner who will hit the hole hard and can abuse defenders.

He'd better be, since that offensive line still has issues and some of those arm tackles he's breaking will be in the backfield. On the downside, there are concerns about his durability and the team itself has morphed into a pass-driven unit. He's in a good situation but the amount of opportunities he sees might be less than owners would like.

Whatever the overall carries, Mathews will definitely be the thunder to plenty of Sproles' lightning. Mathews is a good bet to work as a RB2 with the upside for much better stats. Sproles is probably safer as a RB3/flex option, though in PPR leagues or leagues where you get points for return yards, he will be more valuable.

Denver Broncos - Knowshon Moreno / Correll Buckhalter

Just a few seasons ago, fantasy owners dreaded trying to piece together the Bronco backfield as the head coach Mike Shanahan seemed to take perverse delight in keeping us all guessing. But that was then and this is 2010: Shanahan is Washington's problem now, and there are really only two running backs worth mentioning on the current roster though both could represent very good fantasy value.

With the issues at quarterback, the Broncos are moving towards a more consistent and powerful ground attack. They'll still throw the ball, but without Brandon Marshall the passing attack will take a hit while they break in rookies Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and the team sees if Eddie Royal can bounce back from an atrocious 2009 season.

Like Royal, a lot more was expected of Moreno in 2009 but he didn't explode the way many assumed he would. He did show plenty of ability, compiling 947 yards seven touchdown on the ground, with another 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns off of 28 receptions. We know Moreno can play, but he needs to prepare a little better for the long season, something many rookies struggle with. Moreno also needs to protect the ball better. Aside from those few issues, though, Moreno is the man in Denver. He will continue to get the majority share of the carries and this is a team who wants to run the ball and force it's will on people via the ground game. There is plenty of opportunity although his issues will probably have most owners looking at him as a RB2 or maybe even a RB3 with upside.

Buckhalter had some very nice games in 2009, but the problem was that you had almost no idea when he'd have them. The downside is, we could see more of the same in 2010. Buckhalter is the second back and will be a nice receiving option out of the backfield. He needs to stay healthy (a problem throughout his career) and if the Broncos pull in another veteran back, he might see his touches go down. As it stands, Buckhalter is mostly bench-depth. But if Moreno struggles, the veteran back's opportunities will go up and if that happens, he could play way beyond his AP.

I wouldn't go jumping up in the draft to get him, but he's definitely on my list of targets in redrafts this year. There's risk - due to injury, Moreno and consistency issues - but in the right spot, Buckhalter could be money in the bank.

Carolina Panthers - Jonathan Stewart / DeAngelo Williams

You can't take how I just listed these guys as an indication that I feel one will get more carries than the other. The fact is, this is a pure tandem where both backs will get plenty of looks depending on situation.

Unfortunately both are also coming off injuries which is always cause for concern. At this time the word is that both will be ready for training camp, but it's definitely a situation you'll want to watch.

If all goes as planned, this tandem is really more of a 1A/1B than lead/sidekick. This offense is predicated on the run, as the quarterback is unproven at best, the wide receiver depth is shaky beyond Steve Smith and the offensive line is outstanding in run blocking. The Panthers were the second ranked team in rushing attempts, third in yards and that shouldn't change much. The carries were split very evenly, though with Williams missing a pair of games, you could effectively argue that had he stayed healthy he would have had the larger share as he normally does.

Williams has been, and will remain (barring injury) the 1A in this pair. He can run between the tackles, catch the ball - he can do everything. So can Stewart, it's just that head coach John Fox seems to favor Williams just a bit. If the Panthers pass more - and they are likely too even with the dynamic duo in the backfield - Stewart will probably suffer for it.

However this doesn't mean you avoid Stewart - or Williams - in your redrafts. Even if they pass a little more often, this is a team which will produce enough carries to support both backs from a fantasy perspective. Williams is definitely to be drafted as a RB1, perhaps a little lower than a year ago due to injury aftermath but an incredibly productive player nonetheless. Stewart is a lock-down RB2, with the very real likelihood of producing at a RB1 level. If you're on the fence between Stewart and another RB2 like Jamaal Charles, Knowshon Moreno or LeSean McCoy, take Stewart for the upside and the very good situation.

Both of these backs will make their owners happy for another year.

New Orleans Saints - Pierre Thomas / Reggie Bush

If there is a better example of a running back duo than Thomas and Bush, I don't know what it is. Two very different backs in two very different roles.

Now that we've overcome the Reggie Bush is going to redefine the RB position portion of his career, it turns out that what Bush is - what he does really well - is catch the ball in space and make people miss. He's not a between the tackles runner, he's not going to bruise and batter a defense. His role on this team - and on fantasy squads - is to catch the ball and make defenders look silly when he's in space. Of course, he's far more valuable in a point per reception league than a standard scoring league, but the yards all score the same regardless of whether you get points for a catch or not. Bush's biggest problem (and what makes him more of a gamble than his talent warrants) is his inability to stay healthy and on the field. He hasn't played a full season since his rookie year and has missed no less than two games per year since (and actually missed a lot more the previous two seasons).

If you grab Bush in your draft, you're reaching for the upside we've seen in the past (70+ catches in each of his first two years) and hoping that his continual injuries stop with a different offseason or in-season regimen.

Pierre Thomas was also injured in 2009, missing a pair of games. Overall though, he looked like he fit well into a complimentary role with Bush - the thunder to Bush's lightning to steal a phrase. If he can stay healthy and keep a high yards per carry (perhaps not the 5.4 from 2009, but at least the 4.8 from 2008), he should get plenty of work and be very productive. Also, Mike Bell will not be a factor this year since he is in Philadelphia. Bell (in part due to Thomas' injuries) carried the ball 172 times and while not all of those might belong to Thomas now, enough should that he will see more work and more productivity.

Both of these backs are effective in their roles. If they stay healthy (and in Bush's case, given the last few years that's become a big IF), Thomas will serve as a RB2, with the potential for more while Bush remains a solid RB3/Flex in a standard scoring league or a decent RB2 in PPR.

Arizona Cardinals - Chris Wells / Tim Hightower

The Arizona Cardinals are in the midst of some major changes offensively. While it's likely they will try to air the ball out often, the retirement of Kurt Warner has left Matt Leinart in charge and there is no confidence among fantasy owners that he is up to the challenge of keeping this dynamic pass offense afloat.

While they weren't the most productive pass offense, they skewed so heavily towards the pass that it's actually amazing that Wells came within spitting distance of 1,000 yards in his first season. This season, Wells will be relied upon to keep defenses honest while Matt Leinart or (God help Cardinals fans) Derek Anderson gets his feet. Wells is definitely the lead back here and it's entirely possible he'll add 60 to 70 carries to his total this season. While he and Tim Hightower have similarities in their strengths, Wells can break off a big play at any time in a way Hightower cannot.

Hightower is a solid back, though his ceiling is lower than Wells in part because of that lack of big play ability. He was far more effective than in 2008, increasing his yards per carry from a paltry 2.8 to a much more respectable 4.2. There should be plenty of carries for both backs to have fantasy impact - and Hightower showed he can make strides to become a better back, but because he doesn't break off big runs, he'll see less time on the field and have a little less impact. What he did last year - and I believe will continue to do this year - is score red-zone, short yardage touchdowns. He should continue to get short yardage and goal line work in the coming year.

Wells is not only the lead back here, but I expect him to be a lower tier RB1 - at worst he's an outstanding RB2. Hightower doesn't have the value Wells does, but may surprise some if the Cardinals are forced to run more than usual. While he may start out as a RB4/3, he could outproduce his ADP by a wide margin.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to garda@footballguys.com.