Week 2 Backfield Report

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NFL depth charts are always changing, whether it’s due to injuries, coaching decisions, or performance-related issues. The running back position, in particular, can be tough to stay on top of throughout the season, as the vast majority of teams have gone with some sort of committee approach, featuring two and sometimes even three backs.

With one week under our belt, we now have some data to help clear some things up for us. Below is a breakdown of each team’s backfield to help us determine offenses that are using a single workhorse, committees, and situations to avoid for fantasy. I’ll use this space each week to track the numbers and provide some thoughts.

All snap counts and touches are compiled from Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference. Opportunities refers to the running back’s combined carries and targets.

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Notes: Conner out-carried Edmonds 16-12, but half of Conner’s carries came when the Cardinals had the game in hand late. Edmonds held the targets edge 4-0 over Conner. In the red zone, Conner carried it four times to Edmonds’ one and Kyler Murray’s one. Inside the 10, all three registered one tote, but it was Murray who converted Arizona’s lone inside-the-five carry for a touchdown run. This is a 1A/1B backfield, with Edmonds remaining the preferred fantasy play of the duo, but Murray is always going to be a threat close to the end zone. Edmonds is unlikely to score many times as a runner, so catching passes is his pathway to fantasy points. Edmonds will be the FLEX play to trust Week 2 against the Vikings.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Notes: Davis’ playing time clip was predictably strong in a backfield that is lacking depth and talent. He out-carried Patterson 15-7 and saw three of the Falcons’ red-zone carries but was blown up on most of them, as the Falcons never scored a touchdown. Davis was also targeted six times in the passing game. Davis is unlikely to produce the numbers he did last season in Carolina as Christian McCaffrey’s one-for-one replacement, but he’s a solid volume-based RB2. Patterson was the clear No. 2 with Wayne Gallman inactive. He’s a name to watch on waivers.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

  • Ty’Son Williams (51% snap rate, 13 opportunities)

  • Latavius Murray (31%, 10)

Notes: With J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards done for the year with torn ACLs, Williams was elevated to the Ravens’ starting job and looked great in the first half with a 35-yard touchdown run right through the teeth of the defense, showcasing his straight-line speed and agility. But Williams was subpar in pass protection, leading to the Ravens giving more work to Murray in the second half. Murray actually out-carriEd Williams 10-9 and capitalized on the Ravens’ lone inside-the-10 carry with an eight-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Williams looked awesome with the ball in his hands, but the coaches want him to be better in the other areas. We still like Williams as a strong RB2 moving forward, but Murray may be more of a factor than we thought. Murray should definitely be added wherever he’s available for the run-first Ravens.

BUFFALO BILLS

Notes: Zack Moss was a healthy inactive for the opener against the Steelers. Beat writers chalked it up to matchup issues. But it allowed Singletary to dominate the backfield work, though it was Josh Allen who out-carried him 4-1 in the red zone and 3-1 inside the 10-yard line. Singletary saw five targets and should have a strong grip on the pass-game work in Buffalo. Moss will probably be active this week, but Allen is always going to be the preferred goal-line and short-yardage runner for the Bills. Singletary is a mere RB3/FLEX play.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Notes: The Panthers have long talked about wanting to ease McCaffrey’s snaps and touches, but that’s been all talk the last few years. He remains the premier PPR running back in a class of his own at the position. Sam Darnold vultured the Panthers’ lone inside-the-10 touchdown.

CHICAGO BEARS

Notes: As we all expected, Montgomery’s pass-game work from last season is now gone with Williams in town and Tarik Cohen also expected back at some point in the middle of the season. Montgomery is back to being an extreme TD-dependent RB2 who is going to have to score and get by on volume. Luckily for his fantasy players, Montgomery capitalized with a three-yard touchdown run against the Rams. Justin Fields scored a three-yard touchdown of his own, and he’s going to be a threat to Montgomery’s action down there when he takes over full time at QB.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Notes: Mixon’s 33 combined carries and targets led all running backs in Week 1. He handled both of Cincinnati’s red-zone carries against the Vikings and punched one in from inside the five-yard line. With Giovani Bernard gone, Mixon is getting the pass-game work and is being treated as a legit bell-cow back for the first time in his career. If he stays healthy, Mixon has top-five RB1 upside with this kind of volume in an offense that wants to push the pace.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Notes: Chubb out-carried Hunt 15-6 against the Chiefs with the Browns jumping out to a 22-10 first-half lead, and Chubb made his money touches count with a pair of red-zone touchdowns. Chubb received six of the Browns’ 10 carries inside the 20-yard line and 2-of-3 inside the five. Hunt scored a short touchdown of his own with a two-yard plunge. The Browns should remain one of the run-heaviest teams in football. Chubb will be a back-end RB1 most weeks with Hunt checking in as a borderline RB2/3 on lesser volume. Chubb gets the Texans in Week 2.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Notes: While Elliott dominated the playing time, he didn’t look very good in a tough draw against the Bucs. We didn’t really expect Elliott to have a strong game against Tampa’s defense, but his play over the last year or so has been discouraging. Better days are ahead, though, with a Week 2 date with the Chargers on tap. Pollard remains one of the best insurance backs in fantasy and could start carving out more of a role if Elliott doesn’t play better.

DENVER BRONCOS

Notes: Gordon and rookie Williams split playing time right down the middle Week 1. And Williams actually handled both red-zone carries among Denver’s RBs and out-carried Gordon 14-11 overall. But Gordon ripped off a monster 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against the Giants to make his box score much prettier. This is an even backfield, but Gordon is the preferred RB2 play with more of a pass-game role. Williams is more of an RB3.

DETROIT LIONS

Notes: Williams got the start for the Lions, but Swift held a distinct snap edge with the Lions playing from behind and chasing points most of the afternoon. Swift led the Lions with 11 targets and scored on a screen pass from 38 yards out. Williams saw nine targets and totaled over 100 yards while scoring a short touchdown late in what was a blowout. If the Lions are competitive, snaps will probably be a bit closer, but Detroit will likely be playing from behind most weeks. With Jared Goff loving to throw to his running backs and tight ends, Swift should remain an RB2 most weeks and Williams coming in as an RB3. The coaches want to use both backs.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Notes: The Packers got blasted by the Saints in Week 1. While Jones had a distinct advantage in snaps, he was never going to be fed carries with Green Bay losing by 35 points, even pulling their starters late in the blowout. Jones should be a confident RB1 play Week 2 against Detroit.

HOUSTON TEXANS

Notes: With the Texans boat-racing the Jaguars in Week 1, Ingram dominated backfield work as coach David Culley’s preferred early-down grinder. Ingram averaged a pitiful 3.3 yards per carry, but the volume proved valuable in this one. Ingram managers should actively be trying to get whatever they can in an Ingram trade. We still project the Texans to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. Ingram will face a much tougher Browns defense in Week 2.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Notes: Taylor out-carried Hines 17-9 in Week 1, and it was notable he also saw seven targets behind Nyheim Hines’ team-leading eight. Taylor also dominated red-zone work, handling all five of the Colts’ red-zone rushing attempts. Taylor had a touchdown called back late in the loss. With Taylor commanding the carries and Hines looking like a favorite target of Carson Wentz, both backs are playable each week. Taylor gets another tough rushing draw against the Rams in Week 2, but he’ll be a strong RB1/2 with Hines coming in as a capable RB2/3 option.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

  • James Robinson (64% snap rate, 11 opportunities)

  • Carlos Hyde (34%, 11)

Notes: In the Jaguars’ first game sans Travis Etienne (foot, I.R.), Hyde out-carried Robinson 9-5 despite Robinson nearly doubling him up in snaps. Robinson at least saw six targets but turned them into a 3-29 line. The Jaguars were never in a positive game script for running the ball after the Texans got out to a huge lead and never looked back. Robinson will have better days, but Hyde’s presence is a big concern. Hyde should be rostered as Robinson insurance.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Notes: CEH’s snap rate was extremely encouraging and a shift in the right direction from his rookie season when the Chiefs didn’t trust him on third downs and in pass protection. Edwards-Helaire only ceded one carry to Williams and saw 100% of the backfield targets in the passing game. Patrick Mahomes and CEH each registered two red-zone carries, with Mahomes turning his into a five-yard touchdown run. CEH looks poised for a back-end RB1 season.

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LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

Notes: It’s clear as day the Raiders have no faith in Jacobs as a pass-game factor. The Drake signing and subsequent offseason hype as a pass-catcher proved true in the opener, as Drake out-targeted Jacobs 5-1. But it was Jacobs who lucked into a two-yard touchdown after a Hunter Renfrow DPI call at the goal line and then scored a 15-yard touchdown later. Jacobs is going to be one of the most TD-dependent RB2’s in fantasy this year. But coach Jon Gruden isn’t afraid to feed him when the Raiders have a lead, so it should keep him afloat. Drake looks like he’ll have an every-week role on third downs, giving him RB3/FLEX appeal.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Notes: Ekeler surprisingly wasn’t targeted in the passing game, but he did lead the league with seven red-zone carries in Week 1, seeing two inside the five-yard line and punching one of those in for a short touchdown in the first quarter. If Ekeler can get goal-line work and see the pass-game targets we’re used to with him, the sky’s the limit for him as an RB1. Rountree looks like the Chargers running back to roster behind injury-risk Ekeler.

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Notes: Only Najee Harris (100%) played a higher percentage of his team’s backfield snaps than Henderson in Week 1. It was an extremely promising development for Henderson players, but we expect Michel to eventually become more involved the more he gets comfortable with the playbook. Michel didn’t play a snap until late in the fourth quarter. If Henderson gets this kind of usage in this offense, he’ll pop for some RB1 weeks. He handled all three of the Rams’ inside-the-10 carries against the Bears, punching one in for a touchdown.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

Notes: The Dolphins don’t seem to want to commit to Gaskin after he battled some injuries last season in an expanded role. He handled just nine of the Dolphins’ 23 running-back carries, but Gaskin at least appears to be the preferred option in the passing game, as he caught five balls against New England. Still, Brown and Ahmed are going to be thorns in Gaskin’s side. All three running backs saw one carry each in the red zone with Brown getting the lone one inside the 10.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Notes: Outside of Christian McCaffrey, Cook is arguably the safest and most bankable running back in fantasy. Even with the costly fumble in overtime against the Bengals, Cook is locked in as a virtual every-down back in Minnesota. Mattison handled just one carry. Cook took both of the team’s red-zone handoffs and scored from one yard out late in the contest.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Notes: Everything was looking great for Harris until he lost a critical fumble late in the fourth quarter with the Patriots trailing, allowing the Dolphins to run out the clock. Prior to that, Harris handled 23 of the 30 carries out of the backfield and even caught a pair of passes. He was everything fantasy players hoped for, but now the hope is that coach Bill Belichick doesn’t punish him for the late-game miscue. There’s chatter of the Patriots possibly activating J.J. Taylor for Week 2. For now, we’ll treat Harris as a confident RB2 headed into Week 2.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

  • Alvin Kamara (73% snap rate, 24 opportunities)

  • Tony Jones (35%, 12)

Notes: One of the elite RB1’s in fantasy, Kamara was targeted on 20% of Jameis Winston’s throws in Week 1 and toted the rock 20 times as the focal point of the offense. Kamara handled four of the team’s six red-zone attempts. The Saints rested their starters in the fourth quarter of the blowout win, allowing Jones to rack up some touches and playing time as Kamara’s clear No. 2 following the release of Latavius Murray. Jones should be added wherever available.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Notes: As NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported before the game, Barkley played a very limited Week 1 role. He’s typically an 80-plus percent player, so this was a far cry from his normal self as he works his way back from ACL surgery. Things will get better, but this offense is putrid as a whole. It’s hard to really get excited about Barkley in this environment and off the injury.

NEW YORK JETS

Notes: Coleman started, but the Jets used a full-blown three-man committee. None of these backs are worth starting in fantasy until one of them takes charge. Over the offseason, that was expected to be rookie Carter, but it never materialized in training camp and preseason.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Notes: Sanders looked great in the Week 1 win over Atlanta, totaling over 100 yards and doubling Gainwell up in snaps. But it was the rookie Gainwell who saw the Eagles’ lone red-zone carry, turning it into an eight-yard touchdown. Sanders is an every-week RB2 in this Jalen Hurts-led offense. The two have played well together dating back to last season. The big takeaway was Gainwell surging past Boston Scott as Sanders’ running mate. Scott didn’t play a single offensive snap. Gainwell should be picked up wherever he’s available.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

  • Najee Harris (100% snap rate, 19 opportunities)

Notes: Seeing a running back play 100% of the offensive snaps is very rare these days. While the results weren’t there for Harris, much better days are ahead, even if the Steelers’ offensive line is one of the worst in football. Harris is a prime buy-low target after Week 1. You just don’t see running backs get this kind of snap share. He saw 19 opportunities on 55 offensive plays.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

  • Elijah Mitchell (64% snap rate, 19 opportunities)

  • JaMycal Hasty (29%, 2)

Notes: Trey Sermon was a surprise healthy scratch for the opener. And then Raheem Mostert injured his knee after two carries and will now miss the rest of the season. In his absence, sixth-round rookie Mitchell dominated the backfield work, scoring a long touchdown. It was notable that Hasty was in the game for the goal-line touchdown from three yards out, however. Moving forward, Mitchell is the back to have in San Francisco, but things can change quickly on coach Kyle Shanahan’s teams. Expect Sermon to be active for Week 2. And the team just signed Kerryon Johnson to the practice squad. Mitchell is the top waiver add for Week 2.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Notes: Workload was a concern for Carson with the Seahawks keeping five running backs on their 53-man roster, but Carson dominated the touches and snaps against the Colts. And now Penny is already hurt again with a calf strain, putting him out multiple weeks. Carson just does his job and does it well, even if it isn’t flashy. He’s a favorite of Russell Wilson and should be treated as an RB1/2 until proven otherwise. DeeJay Dallas will be the backup with Penny out.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Notes: Fournette got the start in Week 1, and Jones fumbled in the first quarter only to be benched for the remainder of the game. Coach Bruce Arians said Jones will be back out there in Week 2. But this three-man backfield in a pass-heavy offense is probably one we’re going to want to avoid most weeks. Bernard didn’t register a carry in the opening-week win.

TENNESSEE TITANS

Notes: The Titans were punched in the mouth by the Cardinals in Week 1, leaving Henry to play in unfavorable game scripts. But he also didn’t do himself any favors, getting stuffed multiple times at the goal line, failing on both of his inside-the-five carries while Ryan Tannehill snuck one in from one yard out earlier in the game. The Big Dog will rebound, but this offense looks rough under new OC Todd Downing. The offensive line was manhandled by Arizona in Week 1.

WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Notes: Gibson out-targeted 2020 pass-game specialist McKissic 5-0 in the Week 1 opener against the Chargers and was the engine of the offense with 108 total yards. Gibson’s Week 1 usage was very encouraging for his outlook moving forward if he can continue to hold off McKissic for the pass-game role. Gibson gets a juicy Week 2 date with the Giants as an RB1.