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Fantasy football

Posted by Ed Ryan October 9, 2008 05:51 AM

Running back platoons are all the rage in the NFL. Running back platoons are also killing fantasy football owners.

NFL decision-makers definitely did not consider fantasy value when they decided — wisely — to reduce the wear and tear on their top runners. Instead of one back getting most of the work, many teams are now distributing carries between two or more backs. Think pitch counts in baseball. Teams are protecting their investments.

The benefits for employing this strategy are obvious: Clubs keep one of their most important players fresh while reducing the risk of injury to that player.

The impact running back platoons have on fantasy owners, though, can be devastating. If you used a top draft pick on a running back who is getting only 15 carries per game — and, even worse, not getting the ball on the goal line — I expect you’ll be spending plenty of Sundays slumped on your couch, staring blankly at the television.

You’re fortunate if you have a back who receives the majority of his team’s carries. Clubs like Washington (Clinton Portis), San Francisco (Frank Gore), Indianapolis (Joseph Addai) and Atlanta (Michael Turner) exclusively feature their best runners, while backups generally have reduced roles.

But imagine if you had Baltimore’s Willis McGahee in your starting lineup last week, and you watched him help drive the Ravens down to the goal line in the third quarter. Then, instead of McGahee getting the score, Le’Ron McClain came into the game and got the call for a 1-yard touchdown run. You can’t help but think, “McGahee couldn’t have done that?”

Teams committed this season to the platoon system include Dallas (Marion Barber, Felix Jones), Tampa Bay (Warrick Dunn, Earnest Graham) and New England (Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, Kevin Faulk), with Baltimore, Carolina (DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart) and Miami (Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams) also splitting its carries.

To illustrate this dilemma, look at Carolina’s Williams. In the season’s first four games, he rushed for 203 yards but no touchdowns, while teammate Stewart amassed 197 yards and four touchdowns.

So what happened last week? Williams, when only 24 percent of CBS Sportsline.com owners were starting him, piled up 123 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Of course. Stewart did carry the ball 19 times, but it was Williams who busted out. While Carolina’s front office was undoubtedly patting itself on the back for employing the two-back system, 76 percent of fantasy football owners were cursing the very same strategy.

Ed Ryan writes about fantasy sports and betting for OT and can be reached at ed_ryan@globe.com

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