SB Nation's own Jon Bois recently put together a really nice statistical analysis of the "stud" running back vs the "running back by committee (RBBC)" approach that suggests the 'stud' running back may be going the way of the buffalo. Bois did all kinds of statistical collection and put it all into some great graphs and tables for us, and you should go check out the article for yourself, but it shows that teams are getting away from the first round running backs and instead drafting players in the 2nd and 3rd rounds to compliment their committee approach. The inception for this article is in reference to the fact that the first running back taken in this year's Draft was at #28, the lowest spot ever. It's now been four years since a running back has been taken in the top 5 and there appears to be a pattern emerging.
Obviously, in any given year there might be a guy that you just cannot pass up due to talent - Adrian Peterson would be the guy that comes to mind. But in a lot of cases, as the trend is showing, teams are addressing other needs in the first few rounds and then building their backfield later on. One number that jumps out to you is that teams with a stable of backs on their roster rush for 122.9 yards per game while 'stud back' teams rush for 95.8. While this isn't necessarily an indication that having two running backs is better than one (the YPC is roughly the same), logic dictates that if you're going to be running a lot, it behooves you to have more than one guy that can carry the load.
With running backs being hit 20 or 30 times a game, their lifespan really takes a hit. This means you have to draft and/or trade for more running backs more often, which is expensive. On the other hand, if you split the carries, ... you see where I'm going with this. It's good for the players and for the team, and this is why so many teams are starting to adopt this method.
If you're into fantasy football, or more specifically, if you have Jamaal Charles on your fantasy football team (like me), this really pisses you off.
But, if you're a KC Chiefs fan in this example, it makes sense to you that spreading the carries out lengthens the projected career of your star player, cuts down on possible injuries, and helps to ensure that player is healthy once the post season rolls around. It also means whenever each back runs they've got a full tank of gas, making them more explosive and thus more efficient, in theory.
It also means you're giving the defense different looks in each snap. And down the line we go. This example might be a bit off because if you've watched the Chiefs play, the distance of speed and electrifying playmaking ability between Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones is a pretty good gap. That being said, you need a guy like Jones to grind out those yards up the middle and take some of the shots away from Charles because he wouldn't be able to make those runs to the outside if he was hurt all the time.
I am going in circles a little bit but let's now apply this to the Seahawks. Pete Carroll is not new to this RBBC approach. He's basically always done this - his most famous two-back tandem in recent years would be the Reggie Bush and LenDale White 1-2 punch at USC that had so much success. Seattle has used a fourth round pick on Marshawn Lynch and a fifth round pick on Leon Washington in the last year and Forsett came even cheaper to the prior front office. With relatively little cost Seattle now has the Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett Cal Bear combo to work with and I tend to believe that with the recent kickoff rules changes in effect, Leon Washington is going to get a lot of carries too. You're not going to see much of a 'feature' back in Seattle because Pete is going to give the rock to the guy that is lighting it up. Before last season, he had this to say about the Hawks' running back situation:
"We were playing two backs in a two-back system nine or 10 years ago ... and (we) thought that that was O.K. We were questioned about it way back then, and (now) I think it's pretty accepted. There's a lot of teams that play with two backs. I think it's a good way to go. In my experience it doesn't matter. It's getting the best guys on the field and making the right choice at game time. As things unfold for you, who's hot and who's doing right, and it isn't always the same guy.''
If Lynch is "goin all beastmo" he's going to get more carries. If Forsett is clicking then you'll see his name called more often. I have a bit of a Leon Washington bias so I'm not going to be surprised when he rips off a couple huge runs this season.
If the line rebuild has any measure of success this year we're going to see a lot of improvement in the run game as I believe Tom Cable will stubbornly force Darrell Bevell to call runs whether it's working or not. If this is the case, we'll finally get to see what our backfield is capable of. At this point it's hard to tell because our line has been so poor in run blocking, but if there were holes opened up and Lynch, Washington, and Forsett were given room to run they might have the chance to silence some of their critics.