All season long, I'll be looking back at the week to see how we can best leverage what took place on the field at the running back position to our advantage. This weekly article will hone in on weekly snap shares and highlight a few players who could benefit from their team putting them on the field more in the coming weeks.
Fantasy football is hard to predict, but a wealth of data made available over the years has made it easier — or at least that's what we tell ourselves.
Below are some players whose performances and situations stood out this past week, and at the end of the article is a table of every player to see 30 percent or more of their team's snaps in Week 1.
David Montgomery (DET)
Denny Carter didn't specifically warn us about David Montgomery when he told us earlier this summer that he was only drafting boring running backs. Still, Montgomery was every bit the boring, inefficient, yet successful back Lord Denny described in his article.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell didn't care that Jahmyr Gibbs averaged 6.7 yards per touch or 4.86 yards after contact per attempt on Thursday night against the Chiefs. No, he needed a plodding back to get him three yards in a cloud of dust, and by golly did Montgomery deliver.
The excitement of football being back was the only thing that kept me awake as I watched Montgomery dad run his way to a 21-74-1 line in the Lions' Week 1 win. Montgomery out-snapped Gibbs 54-19 on the evening, despite Gibbs looking like the far more explosive back on the ground and through the air. Montgomery's 77.1 percent snap share was good for top-10 volume in the week's opening slate of games.
While I expect Gibbs to earn more snaps/touches as the season progresses, Montgomery serving as the early-down grinder and goal-line back will be a thing all season.
Kyren Williams (LAR)
Kyren Williams' Week 1 usage shocked the fantasy landscape.
Williams out-snapped Cam Akers 53-28 against the Seahawks, with nearly half of Akers' snaps coming in the game's final few minutes. Akers was dreadful with his opportunities, taking 22 rushes for 29 yards (1.3 YPC) while finishing dead last among qualified backs in rush yards over expected (negative 41 RYOE). It was one of the worst running back outings of the last 24 years, as Rotoworld's Kyle Dvorchak pointed out after the game.
Williams rushed 15 times for 52 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's win. Those two scores turned a forgettable day into a rather memorable one, as fantasy managers will chase the 17.2 fantasy points Williams provided. While all of that is understandable, I would be chasing his 65.4 percent snap share, which could signal more fantasy points in the near future.
Kenneth Gainwell (PHI)
Like Williams, Gainwell's Week 1 usage also turned some heads.
Free agent acquisition Rashaad Penny was a surprise healthy scratch in Week 1 against the Eagles. The fantasy community spent all summer sleeping on Kenneth Gainwell, only to watch him emerge as the unquestioned lead back against the Patriots. Gainwell out-snapped D'Andre Swift 38-16 on the day and ran 16 routes to Swift's 13. Gainwell was also the unquestioned early-down back for the Eagles, with 31 of his snaps coming on first or second down.
This backfield could be very much in flux, but for at least one week, Gainwell looks like the lead back in a potential top-five offense.
NOTE: Gainwell (ribs) was listed as DNP on Monday and Tuesday ahead of the Eagles' Thursday night matchup against the Vikings. His Week 2 status will be one to monitor leading up to the game.
Tyjae Spears (TEN)
Derrick Henry has spent years staving off backups we hoped would one day be fantasy-relevant. While that may continue in 2023, Tyjae Spears' Week 1 usage suggests he'll be a legitimate thorn in the side of fantasy managers who spent third-round draft capital on The King this offseason.
Spears led the Titans with a 61 percent snap share and was in on all 12 of the Titans' third downs. That said, it wouldn't be surprising to see his snap share dictated by the Titans' game script. Henry will likely be the one dominating snaps in games where Tennessee holds the lead and can grind away the clock. However, in Sunday's game against the Saints, the Titans trailed 16-9 entering the fourth quarter. In that final quarter, Spears saw 20 of his 36 snaps.
We aren't yet ready to throw Spears into our fantasy lineups, as he managed just seven opportunities on the day. But his snap share officially has our attention.
Brian Robinson (WSH)
All signs pointed to Brian Robinson being the lead back in Washington after the team used a third-round pick on him last season. When he finally debuted in Week 5, Robinson and the Commanders never looked back. He was funneled 51 percent of the team's rush attempts for the remainder of the season and was on the field for 43 percent of the snaps.
Both of those numbers increased in Week 1 against the Cardinals.
On Sunday, Robinson was in on 60 percent of the Commanders' snaps and handled 68 percent of the team's rush attempts. From a raw numbers standpoint, Robinson saw 21 opportunities to Antonio Gibson's four. He was also on the receiving end of Sam Howell's lone touchdown pass and ran 18 routes to Gibson's 17. A lost fumble by Gibson didn't do anything to help his case heading into Week 2 against the Broncos.
Robinson isn't the most efficient back and could struggle at times behind a subpar offensive line. But in a game where opportunity is king, he looks like the runaway favorite as the back to roster in Washington.
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James Cook (BUF)
The town of Orchard Park may only be big enough for one running back.
Despite the threat of Damien Harris/Latavius Murray looming behind him, James Cook saw elite usage as Buffalo's No. 1 back. The second-year speedster was on the field for 60.3 percent of his team's snaps, played on 46.2 percent of third downs, and tied for the third-most routes run (24) of any running back this week. Cook's 18 opportunities were nearly five times what Murray received, while Harris saw just three looks on the evening.
Again, it's a one-week sample, and a lot can change. But Cook looks like a near must-start in Week 2 against the Raiders.
Tyler Allgeier (ATL)
Bijan Robinson saw plenty of run in Week 1 against the Panthers but felt like yet another luxury pick by head coach Arthur Smith. Robinson's 64.6 percent snap share ranked among the league's best last week, but Tyler Allgeier's 54.2 percent snap share was just as strong.
Allgeier rushed 15 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers, in a game where the Falcons ran at a 52 percent rate in neutral situations. Allgeier's Week 1 snap share topped the likes of Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Najee Harris, and Dameon Pierce — to name a few. The run-heavy Birds will lean on both Robinson and Allgeier every week, giving both backs plenty of stand-alone value for fantasy purposes.
If you want one more fun fact, Allgeier ranked second behind only Christian McCaffrey in total opportunity share (40.9 percent) among all running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
Joshua Kelley (LAC)
The Chargers split their running back snaps between Austin Ekeler (40) and Joshua Kelley (35) in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins. Ekeler is currently dealing with an ankle injury, putting his Week 2 status in question, but if he can't go, Kelley is very much on the radar as a top fantasy option in Week 2.
Both Kelley and Ekeler handled 16 rush attempts in the game, but Kelley had arguably his best outing as a pro. He set a new career best with 91 rushing yards, found the end zone, and averaged an impressive 5.7 yards per carry on the afternoon.
Ekeler's injury came with just over a minute to go in the third quarter. Ekeler out-snapped Kelley 35-20 through three quarters and saw 17 opportunities to Kelley's 10. In the fourth quarter, post-Ekeler injury, things flipped. Kelley saw 15 snaps to Ekeler's five and seven opportunities to Ekeler's four. As previously mentioned, Kelley is a high-end play if Ekeler sits. If Ekeler plays, Kelley is a little more than a deep flex play, but his Week 1 usage exceeded nearly everyone's expectations.
Roschon Johnson (CHI)
On one hand, you can argue that Roschon Johnson feasted in garbage time in the Bears' 38-20 loss to the Packers. On the other hand, we can't deny Johnson out-snapped Bears running backs 21-18 in the second half and 7-5 in the third quarter — when the game was still somewhat close.
Johnson led all Bears running backs with 26 snaps and a 37.1 percent snap share but rode the pine for much of the first half. However, he was as advertised when on the field.
The former Texas running back displayed sure hands on his way to a 6-35 receiving line on seven targets and rushed five times for another 20 yards and a score. He was also the lone player to receive praise from head coach Matt Eberflus after the game. Those who can add Johnson this week should consider doing so, but he'll be hard to trust as anything more than a deep league flex play. All the signs were encouraging, but Eberflus frustrated fantasy managers last season when he deployed David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert in a near 50/50 split, despite Herbert looking like the much better back.
Breece Hall (NYJ)
Dalvin Cook handled 49.1 percent of the Jets' snaps, while Hall sprinkled in on 32.1 percent of the plays. The good news is, this is more or less what we expected.
We also expected Hall to look better than Cook at some point this season, but we weren't prepared for it to be this early.
Good reports about his recovery from ACL surgery seemed to follow Hall everywhere he went, but we finally saw it in action on Monday night. Hall's 10-carry, 127-yard performance was buoyed by an 83-yard run in the first half of Monday's contest, but even with that run removed, Hall still averaged a very solid 4.9 yards per carry. Cook led the Jets with 13 rush attempts but managed just 33 yards and was the fourth-worst back on the week in terms of rush yards over expected (negative 21 RYOE).
Hall could still be on a snap count heading into Week 2 against a Cowboys team that's fresh off a complete dismantling of the Jets. I wouldn't call you crazy if you opted to bench him, given the potentially low snap totals in an offense that could be kicked around Jerry World for 60 minutes.
Week 1 Snap Shares