Running Back Snap Count Analysis: Week 1
The most talked about and over-analyzed transactions in fantasy football revolve around the additions and subtractions in NFL backfields. Every cut, trade, signing and draft pick is broken down. During training camp, talk of “X ran with the ones” while “Y and Z ran with the twos and threes” make for interesting speculation on who is going to actually see the most looks when it counts. The preseason rolls around and again, scrutinizing time shares and running back by committee (or as most refer to it, RBBC) situations make you hesitant to draft or to put too much stock into a certain team’s backfield condition. We overthink coach-speak, a team’s depth chart on their website and the dreaded injury report.
Then game day rolls around and all of that means nothing. While there are some out there that still want to overvalue a running back and put first- or second-round draft stock on them, the numbers continue to prove that is a futile exercise. Sure, you could do that, and that really worked out well for people last year. The usage of the running back position has not changed for the most part. Touches, yardage, touchdowns and fantasy points are relatively the same with the position as a whole. For those who don’t decide to dig a level deeper, they don’t understand that while the usage has stayed the same, the allocation of these opportunities has changed.
If NFL teams are not valuing the running back position as highly as they used to, the fantasy owner should take that into consideration when setting expectations for this position group. Game planning and playing into a teams’ weaknesses may help or hinder a certain back’s style. Game flow and game script will also impact what sort of looks a runner gets. While we cannot control this on a weekly basis, looking into snap count data is one way of getting an idea of how much a player was on the field, how many looks they got with those snaps, and what they did with those looks. Just because someone is not listed as the “starter” does not mean they will not be getting a decent amount of snaps and touches to make them fantasy-relevant.
This series will look to examine and monitor some backfields that have been in question throughout the offseason and now into Week 1 in an effort to get as much information as possible out of frustrating snap shares. As backfields sort themselves out and new backfields come into this discussion, we will adjust this to reflect relevant committees week-to-week.
Key: FP = Fantasy Points (PPR), PPT = Point Per Touch, PPS = Point Per Snap
Seattle’s offense was off its game the entire contest against Miami, but it stayed true to the projection that Michael would be on the field more as they ease Rawls back into action after breaking his ankle last season. Rawls saw 30 less snaps but only two less touches on Sunday as they split the carries and targets nearly down the middle. Neither was able to get anything going against the Dolphins, combining for just 17.9 fantasy points as a duo for an ugly 0.24 fantasy point per snap. The good news is Seattle gets Los Angeles in Week 2. The bad news is if it is still a committee, one should be hesitant going back to Michael, who was only able to muster 9.1 points on his 17 touches and 52 snaps.
Matthew Stafford threw the ball 39 times on Sunday, including a perfect 10-for-10 targeting his two main runners out of the backfield, Riddick and Abdullah. Both were productive and efficient and combined for two scores in the air and one on the ground and a whopping 50.8 fantasy points on their 29 touches. Riddick touched the ball on half of his 24 snaps and delivered a whopping 2.31 points per touch and 1.15 point per snap. Game flow dictated their heavy usage. A total of 228 yards and three scores from them may not happen every week but if the distribution stays the same while they look to fill the void left from Calvin Johnson’s departure, one can only hope the efficiency is there as well.
Two different backs, two different roles. One saw no targets and the other carried once. The offense operated smoothly under Jimmy Garoppolo without Tom Brady and friends. Blount dominated the touches 22-6 and 22-1 in carries. While he did score a touchdown, he also lost a fumble which can and will put running backs in Bill Belichick’s doghouse very quickly. White was targeted seven times and was able to haul in five of those targets for 40 yards, but the game plan was not built around that this week. Look for the Patriots to continue to lean on the run, using Blount the way they did (42 snaps) and managing the clock to shield the truncated Patriots offense until they return from injuries and suspension. White will dominate the change of pace snaps and touches.
New York Giants
The best takeaway from this game was that there was no third wheel Andre Williams or Orleans Darkwa taking snaps away from Jennings and Vereen. The two split the 58 snaps 4:3 as Jennings led the way with 19 touches to Vereen’s nine. Neither was able to get over 10 fantasy points but both executed their roles perfectly, with Vereen hauling in three of his five targets and the plodding Jennings carrying the ball 18 times. It was refreshing to see Vereen get usage in the running game and averaging over six yards a carry. The match up with Dallas dictated the snaps and touches the way they fell, but look for the script to be flipped Week 2 in what should be another track meet with the New Orleans Saints.
A very odd game script that almost saw the game play out in reverse. Melvin Gordon scored two rushing touchdowns in the first 16 minutes of the game and Danny Woodhead added a receiving score that put the Chargers up 21-3 on Kansas City midway through the second quarter and San Diego looked well on its way to a victory. They may have gone into cruise control too early, letting the Chiefs creep back into the game and ultimately win in overtime. The Chargers rushed the ball 30 times, but only six times by Gordon in the second half as they elected to run out of spread formations more often than not, getting away from what worked in the first half. While still trying to put the game on ice, they went away from Gordon for whatever reason. Maybe it was Gordon’s six fumbles last season, or Philip Rivers’ trust in Woodhead. Regardless, Woodhead has and will most likely continue to dominate the snaps in the Chargers’ backfield, even more now that they are down a pass catcher after the Keenan Allen injury will put him on the shelf for the year. In his two full seasons in San Diego, Woodhead has 204 carries and 156 catches (194 targets) as a top target for Rivers. Next up is Jacksonville where it should be a pass-heavy game script, but it is worth monitoring to see how valuable Gordon ends up being.
This was a trap draft pick regardless of how many people told you not to take him. You probably did, and you better hope something good happens. This backfield was the topic of a committee all offseason and everyone’s worst nightmare came true as it formulated right away in Week 1. Freeman was on the field for four more snaps (36-32) and saw more carries (11-8) but got two less yards (22-20). That’s ugly. Coleman caught one more pass and 75 more yards, although 47 came on one catch and run. Coleman’s line looks better, and he may be in line to get more work if the team truly stays with the hot hand as they’ve indicated they will this season. It’s an ugly backfield situation to have to deal with but chances are a Freeman owner drafted him way too early to be able to jump ship prior to Week 2. Coleman’s 1.28 points per touch is only behind Riddick, Abdullah and White on this list. Subsequently, Freeman’s 0.22 points per snap is ahead of only Michael and the soon to be mentioned Giovani Bernard.
After all the preseason hype surrounding how good Derrick Henry looked, DeMarco Murray was still the workhorse in the Titans backfield while Henry served as a backup him Murray. Outside of breaking a 29-yard catch and run, Henry looked pedestrian, averaging 0.6 ypc. Meanwhile, Murray was on the field for 50 snaps in Week 1, after only seeing more than 45 snaps once last season. After taking a 10-0 lead, Tennessee gave up 25 straight points and, much like San Diego, was forced to abandon any semblance of a positive game script, which actually played into Murray’s usage and his skill set as a pass catcher. Murray and Henry combined for seven catches and 76 yards, but it was Murray who found pay dirt twice. His 18 touches were the most he had seen since Week 10 last season (28), and the only time he broke 50 snaps (60). Henry is a rookie and if Murray is productive and stays healthy, this may be the norm for the Titans’ “smash mouth” offense.
Stepping in for an injured Jamaal Charles, Ware and West split snaps for the Chiefs with 34 each. The similarities end there. Ware was a straight up beast, racking up 199 total yards to go along with seven catches and a score on the ground to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Ware’s 32.9 fantasy points were the second most for a running back this week behind only DeAngelo Williams, but scoring only 2.2 less points than D-Will with 14 less touches gives him an A+ for efficiency. West, on the other hand, was not productive but will still be a key cog in keeping all the backs fresh for Andy Reid. The real question comes when Charles returns and how this backfield will sort itself out.
Hard to read too much into their productivity this week as the Jets have a very stout run defense. If A.J. Green is as unstoppable as he looked Week 1, it will only open up opportunities for Hill and Bernard as the season progresses. The Bengals should have an easier time running the ball against the Steelers in Week 2. While Hill may keep getting his goal line looks to pad his stats with touchdowns, keep in mind that Bernard, for all the praise he gets in the passing game and as a complimentary back to Hill, hasn’t had the numbers to support it. He had zero receiving touchdowns last season and only two rushing scores while topping 100 total yards only three times, and just once after Week 5. If you need to own someone in this committee, Hill is the one.
Mark Ingram had 10 more touches than Travaris Cadet on only three more snaps, but Cadet scored the only touchdown between the two of them on one of his four touches. With C.J. Spiller released Tuesday, this opens up the door for Cadet to be the juicy, high-valued change of pace back in New Orleans. If used and used consistently, he holds fantasy value. If you’re hoping for a dart throw as the fourth option in the red zone, rethink your expectations. Game script won’t always call for a track meet like Week 1 did, so expect Ingram to get more looks and more carries when healthy. Lurking in the shadows is Tim Hightower, who played a few irrelevant snaps himself. With two backs scoring in double-digits on only 18 total touches, their snap shares will prove to be valuable as long as Drew Brees is under center.
Next week we will see if the 30-touch, 202-yard, three-touchdown game by the Oakland Raiders’ five-headed backfield was a fluke or not.