Take 2: The best way to build your backfield
Pro Football Weekly contributors Jon Styf and Kyle Nabors debate if teams need a bell-cow running back or if a team can be just as competitive with a by-committee approach.
Nabors: OK, Jon, you’re a first-year general manager and you need to decide if you’re going to draft a workhorse running back (Ezekiel Elliott) or spend your picks elsewhere and go backfield-by-committee. We’ve seen a pretty even split when teams have made this decision in recent seasons, but which way are you going?
Styf: I’ll give you the Tom Brady drafting a QB answer and say I’ll pick a good running back like David Johnson or Jordan Howard or Kareem Hunt later and rely on that. Look at the Bears’ backfield, it’s outstanding and the result of making the right picks later. It’s much more important to stock up on line talent or pick a QB early than a running back.
Nabors: We agree on where to draft running backs at least. While Elliott and Leonard Fournette are amazing talents, a good front office should be able to identify solid backs in the later rounds. But regardless of where you take a running back, how hard are you willing to ride him? We’ve seen the Bears struggle with this question. Howard carried the ball more than 30 times this past weekend against Baltimore, but on more than one occasion, John Fox and his staff have been criticized for not giving Howard the ball enough.
Styf: It’s a tough spot the Bears are in. They want to ease in a rookie QB by riding what they are good at, running the ball up the middle. The biggest surprise to me is that Tarik Cohen hasn’t gotten more of that load. The Ravens game last weekend was a weird one, because the Ravens couldn’t get an offensive first down for much of the game so the Bears could run things out, giving Howard 36 carries and Cohen 14. But that’s an anomaly statistically, with Cohen carrying it seven or less times in four of six games.
Nabors: Obviously I’m not saying that teams shouldn’t get other players involved but... 1. Don’t pull a Steelers or Rams like both teams did in Week 5 and come out pass heavy against good secondaries when you have Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley. 2. Even if you don’t have a Bell or Gurley, put your best running back in the backfield and go with it. Washington finally figured it out this past weekend. Instead of trotting out Samaje Perine on first down (Rob Kelley’s job when healthy), the offense finally ran through Chris Thompson.
Styf: The answer to the question ultimately relates to which running back is on your team. If you have Adrian Peterson in his prime, you go with that early and often. If you have that list of players you just named from Washington, you keep fresh legs out there and hope that one day you get someone better.
Nabors: Apparently Peterson didn’t get your message about being past his prime considering what he just did to Tampa Bay.
Styf: I think I remember mentioning he would have a positive impact on the Cardinals and Bruce Arians’ future in this same spot last week.