It's the kind of thing that fantasy players hate the most: the dreaded running back by committee (RBBC). It's hard to wring fantasy value out of guys stuck in the black hole that is the RBBC, though not thoroughly impossible. With the New England Patriots, whose backfield is loaded with grizzled veterans, it may seem like an overwhelming task to sort through the names and find any fantasy value that can be had.
The Patriots are a team that ran the ball 466 times last year, a number that figures to stay about the same as New England has not added a load-carrying running back to the team via the draft or free agency. They have a lot of guys who excel at different things. Kevin Faulk, for instance, is almost exclusively used on third down to catch passes out of the backfield, while Sammy Morris will be utilized primarily as a fullback to take advantage of his blocking skills.
Option One: Laurence Maroney (194 carries, 757 yards, 9 touchdowns)
Laurence Maroney, who ran the ball 194 times in 2009, is the lead back for the Patriots, and despite his lack of long-term job security, isn't a terrible bench option for your fantasy team. Still just 25, many consider Maroney to be a bust at this point, and expect the 2010 season to be his last in a Patriots uniform. His 3.90 yards/carry is average, at best, he struggled with a fumbling issue last year, and in New England's pass-happy offense he is never going to get the chance to be a true franchise running back.
However, there is still hope for the former Minnesota Golden Gopher. If used as a situational running back, you can get a lot of bang for your buck by drafting Maroney (with an ADP in the neighborhood of 116). Because of a total six games in which he received 10 or less carries, Maroney wasn't allowed a chance to maximize his production. When Maroney was given 20+ carries, New England didn't lose a game, and the running back averaged 3.84 yards per carry against tough defenses including Carolina and the New York Jets. Also, in those 4 games, Maroney had 4 touchdowns and averaged 83.5 yards/game, much higher than the 50.5 he averaged over the course of the season.
Also, it is very much worth noting that Maroney scored 9 rushing touchdowns last year, 13th most in the league (and more than Marion Barber, Jamaal Charles, Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, DeAngelo Williams, Cedric Benson; for starters). Maroney is currently ranked as the 46th-best running back in the league (hat tip to www.fantasyfootballcalculator.com) and can easily outperform his ADP. Given New England's increasing move away from the spread offense, it should allow for more carries for Maroney.
Option Two: Fred Taylor (63 carries, 269 yards, 4 touchdowns, missed 10 games due to ankle injury)
However, the presence of Fred Taylor does not bode well for Maroney, who after four disappointing seasons is undoubtedly on a short leash with coach Bill Belichick. While missing most of the season with an injury, Taylor still took 63 carries away from Maroney in 6 games, and probably will see close to 150 carries if he is healthy for the entire 2010 season. Taylor was able to amass 105 yards and a score on 21 carries in Week 3 vs Atlanta, and then returned to punch the ball in for two scores in Week 17 despite worries about his age and durability.
Factors, but non-factors: Morris and Green-Ellis
Even though he will be mostly used as a full back and a blocker, Sammy Morris is worth a mention. His 73 rushing attempts last year were second most on the team, and it's a huge possibility that Morris continues to be a leech sucking the value from Taylor and Maroney this year.
The real dark horse buried on the New England depth chart is The Law Firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He had his first mini-breakout of sorts in 2008 when he came out of nowhere to rush for 105 yards and a touchdown against the Bills. Despite playing in more games last year, Green-Ellis saw his role decrease as his workload dropped from 74 to 26 carries. In his small bit of playing time, he improved his yards per carry to 4.4, but he only figures to be a real factor in the event that one or both of Maroney and Taylor is injured.