Running Back Snap Count Analysis: Week 1 (Fantasy Football)
With a week of meaningful football in the books, now we have some clarity on how teams intend on using their running backs. Of course, I’ll add the caveat that game flow in Week 1 could skew the ultimate usage pattern. For instance, if a team was playing from behind last week, and uptick in playing time for their pass-catching back might not be reflective of how they’ll divvy up playing time when tied or leading. Regardless, we have some meaningful info to glean over now, and I’ve highlighted some of the more interesting backfield situations below.
The Falcons never opened the game up to a wide margin against the Bears, and the game ended with Mike Glennon taking a sack in the redzone. As a result, the snap counts played for the Falcons are probably fairly representative of what we can expect in non-blowouts. Freeman signed a big contract in the offseason and led the way in snaps, carries (12), rushing yards (37), and he scored the team’s only rushing touchdown, but Coleman remains an integral part of the offense and carried the ball eight times while hauling in four receptions for 42 yards compared to two grabs for two yards for Freeman. Both are excellent plays in a projected shootout in Atlanta against the visiting Packers.
Danny Woodhead hurt his hamstring early in the contest, and he’s expected to be out 6-to-8 weeks. Baltimore’s defense flustered Andy Dalton, and the offense was able to lean heavily on the ground game rushing the ball 42 times compared to just 17 passes. The team’s not going to be in a position to feed both West and Allen nearly 20 carries a game like they did in Week 1 with Buck Allen carrying 21 times for 71 yards and West toting the rock 19 for 80 yards and a score. Six of Allen’s carries came on Baltimore’s final two drives with the game completely in hand, so West remains the top back with Allen serving as his backup and change-of-pace option. Allen did enough to warrant an add in deeper leagues, but he’s not startable with West healthy.
Howard wasn’t bad rushing for 52 yards and a score on 13 carries and adding 14 yards receiving on three receptions, but rookie Tarik Cohen stole the show with five rushes for 66 yards as well as team leading marks in receptions (eight), receiving yards (47), targets (12), and a touchdown grab. The sophomore’s stock takes a slight hit, but he’s a solid RB2 who does have a little bit of game-flow threat with Cohen flaunting his receiving skills. Kevin White broke his shoulder blade and is on injured reserve, so the Bears would be wise to find ways to get both backs plenty of touches. Cohen is a must-own player in leagues of all sizes, and he’s startable immediately on fantasy teams with shaky backfields.
Cincinnati’s offense was a disaster in their opener, and they trailed by 17 points at the half. All three backs saw double-digit snaps, and Bernard led the backfield in rushing yards (40) and receiving yards (39 on one reception) while Mixon led backfield in carries (eight) and receptions (three) but mustered a paltry 24 yards from scrimmage on his 11 touches. The Bengals have a short week playing in the Thursday Night Football game this week, and no one from the trio is startable. Mixon has the highest ceiling of the bunch, but Week 1 was a reminder that the rookie could have his share of growing pains before helping out fantasy squads.
I’ll keep the analysis short and sweet on this backfield. If you drafted Montgomery, kudos. You have yourself a do-it-all, workhorse back. Montgomery converted a goal-line plunge into a six-yard touchdown, carried the ball 19 times, and pulled in all four of his targets for 39 yards on four receptions.
More kudos are in order. This time, those who selected Cook after a strong preseason that included plenty of praise heaped on him by teammates and coaches can take a bow. The Saints continue to have a terrible defense, but Cook did what a good running back is supposed to do in a cushy matchup and rumbled for 127 yards on 22 carries while adding three receptions for 10 yards. Latavius Murray was only on the field for three snaps and fumbled one of his two carries. Cook’s a high-end RB2 at minimum with no threat to his playing time.
Color me shocked that a Bill Belichick coached team split up work among multiple running backs. Since sarcasm doesn’t always translate well to text, I’m not actually shocked by this development. I am, however, shocked by White’s 10 carries for 38 yards. The 10 rushes represent 12.5% of White’s total in 34 games played. Last year, he set a single-season high with 39 carries in 16 games. His pass-catching prowess is well known, but his stock is up with the potential for him to log more work as a runner. Gillislee led the backs in carries (15) and rushing yards (45), and he punched in three touchdown runs on carries of two yards, two yards, and one yard. He did, however, get stuffed on two fourth-down-and-one carries. Even with the failed fourth downs, Gillislee should have some rope as the short-yardage/goal-line back. Burkhead rushed three times for 15 yards and caught one of three targets for eight yards. He’s not a fantasy starter yet while Gillislee and White are healthy, but he’s versatile and a fine bench option in case one or both get banged up. Furthermore, it’s possible Belichick will shake things up a bit in the aftermath of their loss in the opener. Lewis seems to be the clear odd man out, but if you’re in a larger league, you can wait one more week to see if usage and roles change at all in a softer matchup against the Saints in New Orleans this week.
Speaking of the Saints, Peterson’s return to Minnesota didn’t go as he hoped. He started the game and carried the ball for 10 yards on New Orleans’ first two plays from scrimmage, but he went on to play just seven more snaps. Kamara entered early and led the team in carries with seven for 18 yards. The 18 yards matched Peterson for the team high and were just one more than Ingram’s 17 on six carries. Ingram was highly successful through the air with five receptions for 54 yards on five targets, but Kamara also chipped in with four receptions for 20 yards. The Saints opened the game with a field goal, but Minnesota matched on their next drive. The two teams exchanged punts before the Saints converted another field goal, but the Vikings answered with a touchdown on their following drive and never looked back. They pushed the lead out to 16-6 on their final drive before the half. It’s possible the Saints will use Peterson more when they hold a lead, but his limitations as a pass catcher make him a non-factor when the Saints are tasked with playing catch up. Also, when the game is close, he’ll still need to compete with touches with Ingram and Kamara. I wouldn’t fault gamers for moving on from Peterson after just one game. Kamara’s stock is up, and Ingram remains in the RB2/flex mix as a volatile option whose scoring could fluctuate greatly from week to week.
The Giants looked lost offensively without Odell Beckham Jr., and Perkins looked an awful lot like the guy who failed to impress in his rookie season. He led the team in carries and rushing yards, but with seven carries and 16 yards rushing, that’s not saying much. Vereen was the most targeted Giant at any position with 10, and he turned those into a team-leading nine receptions for 51 yards. The former Patriot has the safest role among the backs, but his usage in the passing attack will take a hit with the return of OBJ. Vereen’s worth rostering in PPR leagues, but the ceiling isn’t very high. I was bearish on Perkins’ stock entering the year, and Week 1 did nothing to change my stance. Keep him on the bench for now. Perhaps OBJ can open things up in the running game a bit for him.
When you’re a rebuilding squad with a 28-year-old back who flashed upside last year and a 31-year-old back coming off of a bad year with more than 2,200 carries in the NFL on his resume, you’ve gotta give the latter the bulk of the snaps, right? In true Jets form, they did just that in Week 1. Powell’s seven carries and five receptions did best Forte’s six and three, respectively, but if they were hoping to showcase him to a potential trade suitor, Forte did nothing to increase his value. Maybe the Jets will smarten up and recognize no one is going to fork over any type of asset for Forte and move on to getting Powell reps, but they’re the Jets, so I wouldn’t suggest holding your breath. Powell isn’t a viable starter until — or perhaps unless — he gets the lion’s share of the playing time at running back. The low-scoring upside of the Jets’ putrid offense limits Powell’s ceiling even if he receives 15-plus touches a week, but the Jets were bad offensively last year and he helped teams with over 1,110 yards from scrimmage, five touchdowns, and 58 receptions, so he does have upside even if the ceiling isn’t crazy high. Forte, on the other hand, still looks like a washed up back on the wrong side of 30.
Woof, Lacy. In his return to Green Bay with his new employer, the former Packer rushed for three yards on five carries and did nothing in the passing game. Conversely, rookie Chris Carson ripped off 39 yards (including a 30-yarder) on six carries and turned his lone target into a 10-yard reception. Prosise more than doubled up Lacy’s snap total, but he didn’t do much either with four rushes for 11 yards and zero targets. Thomas Rawls will be back this week, and I’d be less shocked by Lacy being included on the inactive list than I would be by Lacy playing and doing anything noteworthy against the 49ers. All of Seattle’s backs are hurt by continued poor play from the offensive line. The line struggled mightily last year, and after the club mostly neglected it in the offseason — surprise — they struggled in the opener. Lacy was a player I avoided like the plague in drafts, and I wouldn’t roster him in a league as large as a 14-teamer. Rawls, Carson, and Prosise are more roster worthy, but none can be relied on as starters at this point in time.
Perine was active, but he didn’t carry the ball. Reports that Kelley was comfortably ahead of the rookie out of Oklahoma were clearly true, but the second-year back remains a low-ceiling, game-flow dependent, two-down back, and Thompson is ownable in deeper PPR leagues. Perine was a highly productive runner at Oklahoma and could eventually usurp Kelley’s running work, but that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. Thompson should maintain his role as the pass-catching back even if Perine eventually passes Kelley on the depth chart this year. Perine was rarely used as a receiver catching just 40 passes in 36 games at Oklahoma, per Sports-Reference.