Running Back By Committee Report: AFC East 2019 Recap

After a stellar rookie season by Devin Singletary, it's time for the Buffalo Bills to let him shine in a feature role. What did the other AFC East backfields look like throughout 2019?

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 and 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).

Buffalo Bills

Frank Gore is sure to be in the Hall of Fame one day, and it's much deserved with the production he's given teams over his career. But the Buffalo Bills need to move on from Gore and let Devin Singletary shine!

It still irks me how poorly the Bills utilized Singletary in their playoff game against the Texans, but that's neither here nor there. Singletary displayed his explosiveness in the first game of the 2019 season with 70 rushing yards on only four carries. But after suffering a hamstring injury in Week 2, he missed the next three games. Upon returning from his injury, it seemed like it would continue to be a timeshare between him and Gore.

That all changed in Week 9 when Singetary was treated as the lead workhorse back for the first time all season, rushing for 95 yards on 20 carries. Though Gore would continue to get worked in on occasion throughout the season, it became Singletary's backfield at the year's midway point.

From Week 11 through the end of the season, Singletary's snap percentage never dipped below 70 percent and peaked in Week 16 at an astounding 96 percent. In each of those games, Singetary was given at least 13 carries while also adding on nearly 4 targets per game.

Neither Gore nor Singletary were particularly involved in the passing game throughout the year, however, as the Bills targeted running backs on just 16.5 percent of their passes, which was the seventh-lowest rate in the NFL. If the Bills do move on from Gore this offseason, Singletary should be highly considered as an RB1 in upcoming fantasy football drafts.

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
Devin Singletary BUF 12 67% 12.6 3.4 16.0 36% 11.1 24.7
Frank Gore BUF 16 35% 10.4 1.0 11.4 48% 5.5 23.2

Miami Dolphins

To say the Miami Dolphins had a turnstile at running back may be one of the understatements of the year. Miami had five running backs between 35 and 75 rush attempts in 2019, not to mention none of them averaged more than 3.8 yards per carry. The best part about this Dolphins season is that Ryan Fitzpatrick led the team in rushing yards (243) and yards per carry (4.5).

At the beginning of the year, Kenyan Drake was the de facto starter, but he was traded midseason to the Arizona Cardinals, where he went on to become a top fantasy football asset. Following that trade, Mark Walton strung together three straight games with double-digit carries until he was suspended for four games and subsequently released by the Dolphins.

It was then that Kalen Ballage got a crack at the starting role in Miami. In his time as the starter, Ballage set a new standard for running backs, but not in a good way. Ballage became the first running back since 1970 to have at least 50 carries in a season and average fewer than 1.85 yards per carry. When Miami realized Ballage wasn't the solution, Patrick Laird was next in line.

Laird ended the season with double-digit carries in three of the final four games but failed to top 50 rushing yards in any of those games. It's tough to take much stock in what happened in Miami's backfield this past year as so much of the team will likely be changing this offseason.

As much as some people believe that running backs don't matter, it's fairly obvious that Miami needs to address the position this offseason in order to give themselves a playmaker out of the backfield. Whether it's through the draft or free agency, hopefully the Dolphins can find someone that offers some stability for them throughout 2020.

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
Mark Walton MIA 7 43% 7.6 3.0 10.6 31% 4.9 19.1
Patrick Laird MIA 15 51% 4.1 2.0 6.1 32% 3.8 19.4
Kalen Ballage MIA 12 33% 6.2 2.0 8.2 38% 3.7 17.5
Myles Gaskin MIA 7 25% 5.1 1.7 6.9 38% 4 22.3

New York Jets

One of the biggest splashes in free agency last year was the New York Jets signing Le'Veon Bell. Coming off of a year removed from football, many wondered how Bell would play. Would the rest allow him to return to his elite form or would too much time off make him rusty? While it may not have been all on Bell himself, he certainly did not deliver on the high expectations we had grown accustomed to for the star running back.

For the first time in his career, Bell failed to record 100 yards rushing in a single game all season. His longest rush was only 19 yards, a pathetic number for such an elite talent. Bell was given plenty of opportunities to produce, though, as he was one of 12 running backs to average at least 16 rush attempts per game. But he was never quite able to put it all together as he tied a career low in rushing touchdowns with only three all year.

One aspect of Bell's season that also diminished a bit was his role in the passing game. He still ranked seventh among running backs in receptions per game this year, but he wasn't nearly as good as he had been in the past. In three of his previous four seasons, Bell averaged at least 5 receptions and 43 receiving yards per game -- those averages dropped to 4.4 receptions and 30.7 receiving yards per game in 2019, and he only scored one receiving touchdown.

Between Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell, neither one played a major role in the offense outside of spelling Bell in certain scenarios. Powell played decently when Bell missed Week 15, but it was clear that Bell was the workhorse back in this offense.

This offseason will be a polarizing one for the Jets in how they handle their backfield situation. Adam Gase reportedly was not a fan of the Bell signing, but they have $17 million of dead cap tied up in his contract, so it wouldn't be wise to get rid of him unless they can find a worthwhile trade partner.

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
Le'Veon Bell NYJ 15 83% 16.3 5.2 21.5 40% 12.1 22.8
Bilal Powell NYJ 14 20% 4.2 0.9 5.1 43% 2.1 17.7
Ty Montgomery NYJ 16 14% 2.0 1.1 3.1 33% 1.6 17.3

New England Patriots

In fantasy football, the New England Patriots are most commonly known for their frustrating running back usage. What makes them so difficult to trust is that each of their running backs has a fairly distinct role in the offense, which doesn't allow them to get in on plays for much more than what they're primarily used for.

James White, for example, is the passing game specialist. In each of the past four seasons, White has averaged over 5 targets per game and 30 receiving yards per game. He's also second among running backs in targets over the past two seasons (218) behind only Christian McCaffrey (266). While this provides him with a decent floor each season, he doesn't have nearly as high of a ceiling because of his lack of work rushing the ball.

Sony Michel on the other hand is almost exclusively featured running the ball and is seldom used as a pass catcher. Since entering the league, Michel has averaged just over 15 rushing attempts per game and has single-digit carries in only four of his 29 regular season games. Even without getting targeted that often, his workload has been near the top the past couple of years -- Michel is one of 13 running backs that has at least 15 rush attempts per game over the past two seasons.

Early in the season, it looked like Rex Burkhead would be playing a decent role in the Patriots' offense, racking up 13.7 opportunities per game through the first three games. That went away quickly after he got hurt in Week 4, as he never accumulated more than nine opportunities in a single game following a three-week absence.

With an aging Tom Brady, many expected the Patriots to lean on the running game more than in years past, but that wasn't the case at all. In fact, New England passed the ball on a higher percentage of plays this year than they did in 2018. Things will likely remain cloudy in the backfield if this core is still around, but both White and Michel offer some safety at a position that is extremely volatile.

Running BackTeamGames PlayedAverage Snap %Rush Attempts Per GameTargets Per GameTotal Opportunities Per GameUtilization %Fantasy Points Per Game (Half PPR)Fantasy Points Per 100 Snaps
James WhiteNE1546%4.56.310.833%10.933.3
Sony MichelNE1636%15.41.316.763%9.234.7
Rex BurkheadNE1329%