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The highest-scoring running back in fantasy football is Derrick Henry. While some (meaning me) had concerns about whether he possessed a Christian McCaffrey-like ceiling due to his lack of involvement as a pass-catcher, he was unanimously a top-five pick in drafts. Austin Ekeler is the RB2. A fringe first-round pick in most leagues.
Right behind Henry and Ekeler is Cordarrelle Patterson. He went undrafted in most drafts and isn't even listed as a running back on some platforms.
This is an unpredictable game, but Strength in Numbers is here to help sort out what's real and what's not. Every week, we'll break down the most actionable takeaways from the past week in a concise, numbers-filled format. Without further ado, let's get right into it.
1. Cordarrelle Patterson led all backs in fantasy scoring in Week 4. He played 30.3% of snaps (Mike Davis played 67.1%), ran a route on 27.3% of dropbacks, earned a target on 41.7% of routes, and saw six series. He handled 23.1% of Atlanta's running back carries, his lowest single-game share of the season. Dwain McFarland of Pro Football Focus pointed out that he only played 36% of long-down-distance snaps.
Patterson's first four games are among the most efficient by any player ever. Despite that, he hasn't made a dent in Mike Davis' workload, even as it becomes abundantly clear that Patterson has significantly more juice. Davis is averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt, but Patterson actually posted his lowest single-game market share of carries came in Week 4. Some of that is because Wayne Gallman made his Falcons debut and handled six carries.
Even more puzzling is the fact that Patterson only played 36% of long-down-distance snaps. Considering he's a converted wide receiver, he possesses that skill set, but Davis has run more routes in all four games. In fact, Patterson only ran 14 routes last week – and just three of those came when he was lined up in the backfield. Basically, Atlanta still sees Davis as their passing-down running back. That could begin to change because of how awesome Patterson has been on a per-snap basis, but he's not going to be a dependable option until Arthur Smith starts to favor him more compared to their other backfield options. For the time being, Patterson is a gadget player and potential sell-high if anyone is willing to pay for his production. He has never handled more than 64 carries in a season, so it's unlikely he turns into a legit NFL starter in his age-30 starter.
2. Saquon Barkley played 57-of-64 snaps (89.1%) of snaps in the Giants' Week 4 victory, running a route on 36-of-44 of dropbacks (81.8%) and handling 13-of-14 (92.9%) team running back carries. His snap share has increased every week so far, and Week 4 was his third straight week playing at least 84.1% of snaps.
Ladies and gentlemen, Saquon is all the way back. He'd be one of the top picks in fantasy if we re-drafted today. That's not to say he's bulletproof – the offensive line is among the worst in the league, plus Daniel Jones could fall back closer to his career averages any day now – but three-down workhorses are a scarce commodity, so Barkley is worth his weight in gold regardless of the offense around him.
3. Myles Gaskin played 12 snaps in the Dolphins' Week 4 loss. Malcolm Brown got more snaps (35-12), ran more routes (12-9), saw more targets (1-0), and received more carries (8-2) than Gaskin. Gaskin ran a route on 9-of-12 snaps, but nine routes on 35 dropbacks marked only a 25.7% share.
The curious part is the Dolphins were trailing most of the afternoon, which one would think benefits the pass-catcher in a committee. That wasn't the case for Miami in Week 4, as the plodding Brown got three times as many snaps as Gaskin despite negative game script. Gaskin had hovered between 52% and 59% snap share in each of the first three weeks, making the sudden shift toward Brown even more of a head-scratcher. Brown has been unimpressive despite a decent workload, so you'd think Gaskin would eventually take over more of the pie. The fact that things shifted in the opposite direction is a bad sign but likely more of a facade than anything meaningful. With that being said, no Dolphins back is a fantasy-viable starter for the time being. Gaskin remains the most valuable due to his receiving ability and efficiency.
4. D.J. Moore had double-digit targets for the third time in four games. He went over 100 yards for the second time this season, posting eight catches for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Moore already has three touchdowns in four games after recording just four touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.
Moore is in the midst of a true allow-me-to-introduce-myself year. He had consecutive seasons with exactly 1,215 yards from scrimmage (which is kind of a fun stat) entering 2021, but he's on pace to blow past that mark as the alpha wide receiver in Joe Brady's offense. Moore hasn't posted fewer than eight targets or 79 yards in a single game, and he's hit double-digit targets in 3-of-4 contests. Especially with Christian McCaffrey sidelined, Moore is one of only a few undisputed target hogs around the league. He should be considered a mid-WR1 with a 2020 Stefon Diggs campaign (shoutout to Ben Gretch of Stealing Signals for putting me onto this comparison) as a possible outcome.
5. For the first time ever, Alvin Kamara played a game and did not record a target, although he did run a route on 20 of Jameis Winston's 27 dropbacks. He had 26 carries, the highest single-game total of his career. Kamara has had at least 20 carries three times in four games this year. During his first four years in the league, Kamara hit that number two times total.
Saints coach Sean Payton said after the game that Kamara's lack of targets was due to his role changing after Tony Jones got hurt, as well as the Giants' shutting him down on plays for which he was the primary read.
The good news is that Kamara still ran 20 routes on 27 dropbacks, which is in line with where he's been in previous seasons. The bad news is the Saints have turned into one of the slowest, most ground-based attacks in the league, limiting the upside of all of their aerial weapons. Jameis Winston has yet to throw more than 23 pass attempts in a game. The Saints have thrown the ball 100 times total through four games, by far the lowest total in the league. That might change once Michael Thomas returns, but Payton seems like he wants to rely on the run game and defense without Drew Brees under center. Don't panic about Kamara's lack of receiving output – especially since he's still running a route on a high percentage of dropbacks – but his upside may be capped by New Orleans' offensive philosophy.
6. In his return from injury, Darrell Henderson played 89.7% of snaps for the Rams. He ran 35 routes on 43 dropbacks for an elite 81.4% rate, while Sony Michel ran only three routes. Henderson also got all six running back targets and 14-of-17 carries. In two fully healthy games this season, Henderson has played 91.7% of snaps.
It's worth mentioning that Sony Michel fumbled, which may have led to increased usage for Henderson. Still, Hendo has been a workhorse in his two healthy games, so there's a chance he's just the guy for one of the fastest, most efficient offenses in football. The Rams are one of the pass-heaviest teams in the league, but Henderson's route participation is among the best at the running back position (81.4% is a truly phenomenal rate). He also posted six targets in Week 4. He looks like a fantasy RB1, while Michel is nothing more than a bench stash.
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This section will be used for stats I think are worth mentioning (and for which the takeaway is fairly intuitive) but aren't important enough to write up fully. Let's get to it:
Without Giovani Bernard, Leonard Fournette operated as the primary pass-catching back for Tampa Bay. PFF's Dwain McFarland noted he handled 93% of long-down-distance work and 100% of two-minute work in addition to out-carrying Ronald Jones 20-6.
Latavius Murray played 62.5% of snaps for the Ravens on Sunday and handled 18 carries vs. four for Le'Veon Bell and one for Devonta Freeman. Ty'Son Williams – who is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt – was a healthy scratch.
O.J. Howard out-snapped Cameron Brate, but the latter ran 33 routes vs. just 16 for Howard. Brate seems like the preferred pass-catching tight end with Rob Gronkowski sidelined, while Howard is used more as a blocker.
Eight of A.J. Dillon's 15 carries came in the fourth quarter with the Packers holding a sizable lead. Aaron Jones did not have a carry or target in the fourth quarter.
Brandon Aiyuk remained the 49ers' WR2, but he only ran a route on 68.8% of team dropbacks (Mohamed Sanu was narrowly third at 62.5%). The second-year pro does not seem close to challenging Deebo Samuel for WR1 duties.
Alex Collins played only three fewer snaps than Chris Carson. Carson led Seahawks running backs in snaps, routes, and carries, but Collins had a sizable role with Rashaad Penny on injured reserve. Over the past two weeks, Carson has run a route on only 20 of Russell Wilson's 68 dropbacks.
Lions coach Dan Campbell said before Week 4 that he wanted to get D'Andre Swift more involved. While Jamaal Williams still out-carried the Georgia product 14-8, Swift ran 33 routes to Williams' five and played a season-high 73.2% of snaps. Granted, Detroit was in negative game script the entire game.
Zack Moss ran 17 routes and Devin Singletary ran 11. That shift could prove important if it holds, as a major knock on Moss heading into the season was Singletary's involvement as a pass-catcher. Moss led Buffalo's backfield in snaps for the second straight game.
Dalvin Cook played 49% of snaps in Week 4. You're starting him if he's active, but it's worth monitoring injury reports during the week because that type of usage indicates the high ankle injury is not fully behind him.
Establish The Run's Adam Levitan highlighted how Washington eased Curtis Samuel in during his debut. The former Panther played 25-of-67 snaps and ran 16 routes on 42 Taylor Heinicke dropbacks. He did draw four targets for a healthy target per route run rate. Considering the injury he's dealing with has nagged him since June, it's no surprise he's not at full throttle off rip.
For the first time all season, Javonte Williams ran more routes than Melvin Gordon (40.9% route rate vs. 34.1%, via Draft Sharks' Matt Schauf). Williams was an incredible pass blocker coming out of North Carolina, and his receiving profile in college points toward him being a solid pass-catcher in the pros. Don't overreact to a one-week sample – especially when we have three weeks of data in the other direction – but this is worth keeping an eye on.
Damien Harris led Patriots running backs in routes with James White likely out for the year. Brandon Bolden still got some third-down work, but Harris ran a route on 36% of dropbacks vs. 22% for Bolden (via Jared Smola of Draft Sharks). With J.J. Taylor banished to the shadow realm after a fumble, Rhamondre Stevenson may be active in Week 5.
Rodney Smith ran 21 routes for the Panthers in Week 4. Chuba Hubbard ran just 10. Carolina looks like they're taking a committee approach with Christian McCaffrey sidelined. Hubbard is the most valuable option as the primary early-down back – and he's still running a few routes here and there – but he is not in a three-down role.
Michael Carter led the Jets in carries over the weekend, which was to be expected after he handled the majority of early-down work over the past two weeks. However, he also led Jets backs in routes run (12), although Ty Johnson ran a route on 11-of-20 snaps. Johnson is still getting passing-down work, but Carter is the clear RB1 in this (admittedly anemic) offense.
The Bengals had their highest-neutral script pass rate of the season in Week 4 (55.6%). With Tee Higgins set to return and Joe Mixon expected to miss time, they could skew more pass-heavy, although they likely won't live up to the frantic pass-happy expectations fantasy managers had for them during the offseason.
John Daigle highlighted that Dawson Knox has seen a role increase over the past three weeks. During that span, he has played 81% of snaps, run a route on 79.4% of Josh Allen's dropbacks, and posted a team-high six red-zone targets.
Cooper Kupp has posted at least a 32% target share in every game this season. He's a high-end WR1.
The gap between Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin was the widest it has been all season in Week 4, with Schultz running 23 routes and Jarwin just 10. Schultz also got eight targets. He may be emerging as Dak Prescott's lead tight end after the two split work during the first three weeks.
Thanks for reading! Check back next week for the Week 5 edition of Strength in Numbers!