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Opportunity Report: Week 15 backfield touches

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Opportunity is the name of the game in fantasy football. Talent matters, of course, but we want players who see a healthy volume of targets and touches to anchor our lineups, especially in daily fantasy. Every week in the revamped Opportunity Report, we'll look all the backfield touches for every NFL team. See Part 2 (above link) for passing game targets.

Arizona Cardinals

Cardinal backfield touches Week 15
Cardinal backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

It seems every fantasy season there is a fresh legs running back who comes and wins titles for teams. This year, David Johnson is that guy. Bruce Arians gained a tactical advantage by saving his uber-athletic running back for a stretch run while he prepared for the mental and nuanced side of the running back position. Johnson looks much more refined as a player than he did in the earlier part of the season when his explosive physical gifts did all the work. You can also tell his body is functioning at a different level than the opposing defenders, with 15 weeks of punishment on their bodies, after handling just 54 touches prior to Week 13. For fantasy, he is a clear top-five running back play going the rest of the way.

Atlanta Falcons

Falcons backfield touches Week 15
Falcons backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

One hidden storyline from the Falcons season is just what a general disappointment Tevin Coleman is for the team as a rookie. Whenever Devonta Freeman plays, the Falcons show zero interest in anything even resembling a committee involving Coleman. He looks out of sync with the scheme, and consistently plays with poor vision and awareness. Of course, he is just a rookie but this was a far from an encouraging start for the optimistic dynasty owners that sunk a second or even late first-round rookie draft pick into him.

Baltimore Ravens

Ravens backfield touches Week 15
Ravens backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Let's hope you enjoyed the Buck Allen ride while it lasted. The train came to screeching halt yesterday, with Allen getting out-worked by Terrance West and only seeing four carries. Allen's matchup and the state of the Baltimore offense made him almost unplayable to begin with, but you certainly expected him to offer you a floor with what seemed like locked-in volume. Next week against Pittsburgh, it's hard to find any reason to play him.

Buffalo Bills

Bills backfield touches Week 15
Bills backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

LeSean McCoy unfortunately suffered another injury in this game, and did not return. In his stead, the team divided touches evenly between the three players behind him. Mike Gillislee offered the most explosive potential out of the backfield, taking a carry 60 yards for a touchdown, while Karlos Williams did not look like the same dynamic runner who tilted efficiency metrics early in the year. In Week 16, you're unlikely to trust any of these players unless we get a clear picture during the week of the split should McCoy sit.

Carolina Panthers

Panthers backfield touches Week 15
Panthers backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Fozzy Whittaker drew the "start," Mike Tolbert drew the first few carries but Cameron Artis-Payne looked the best of the bunch. Reports out of Carolina held that the team did want to get a look at Artis-Payne as a bell-cow in the event of a Stewart injury. He wasn't particularly dynamic, but he had several strong runs, and 20 and 14-yard catches. He looked solid for a rookie in his first extended action, and capable of sustaining the running game if given enough volume.

If Stewart sits out next week as Carolina rests him for the playoffs, Artis-Payne could be worth a look as a floor play RB2 in fantasy. While he struggled to help salt away the game in the same vein Stewart does for the Panthers, a matchup with the Falcons should help the rookie produce if he pushes for 20 touches in Week 16.

Chicago Bears

Bears backfield touches Week 15
Bears backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

The confusing Bears committee continues, as it was once again a near down the middle split. Matt Forte played 47 percent of the snaps to 44 percent for Jeremy Langford and out-touched him by just two. The snap count was reversed in Week 14. Last Week Langford was the preferred passing game weapon, while Forte handled the rushing work. That flipped on its head this week. There is no predictive number to point to in helping you decipher how to navigate this split.

The only true differentiating statistic between the two is red zone touches. Over the last four weeks Forte has 67 percent of the team's red zone carries, and both have just one red zone reception between them, which went to Forte. Perhaps that leads to more touchdown upside for Forte, but you are splitting the most minuscule of hairs there.

Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals backfield touches Week 15
Bengals backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

This game always profiled as one where the Bengals would try to establish Jeremy Hill, and he did garner 19 carries. He did not do much with those as a sustaining runner, but did squeak in two goal-line touchdowns to appease his fantasy owners. The more surprising part was Giovani Bernard still split the workload up with 18 combined runs and receptions of his own. Against the Broncos on Monday night, it's quite the risk to trust either player. However, receiving backs tend to get over on Denver more than straight ahead power rushers. That would lead us back to Bernard, but nothing is assured with AJ McCarron under center.

Cleveland Browns

Browns backfield touches Week 15
Browns backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Duke Johnson led the team in rushing and receiving on only nine touches. He made several great plays in the open field, and will be an interesting sleeper next season. Isaiah Crowell predictably fell back to earth in a much harder matchup after a career day in Week 14.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys backfield touches Week 15
Cowboys backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Darren McFadden handled 18 touches, the most for him in a game since Week 11. The stark change in McFadden's workload was unexpected, but certainly not unwarranted given his strong play the last two games. While the workload is nice to see, it's hard to expect him to return to the days where you locked him into your lineup with Kellen Moore under center. He's a volatile play with a low floor due to his offense's lack of scoring opportunities, as he has just four touches inside the 10-yard line the last four games. Against Buffalo next week, McFadden looks like a risky RB2 play once again, at best.

Denver Broncos

Broncos backfield touches Week 15
Broncos backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

With C.J. Anderson still less than 100 percent, and Ronnie Hillman showing once again he is incapable of functioning as a workhorse back, the Denver running game is back in the trash. The unhealthy nature and underperformance of this backfield is a constant theme this season, and we have little reason to expect change. Unless something changes, these are both only desperation plays in the fantasy championship next week.

Detroit Lions

Lions backfield touches Week 15
Lions backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Despite a late game fumble, the Lions stuck with Ameer Abdullah, and did not commit the coaching malpractice of benching him and destroying his confidence. They were rewarded with some big runs to salt away the game. He showed off the dynamic talent in the Saints dome that we could see truly break out next season in Detroit with their fast track. We've knocked Joique Bell all year and bemoaned his role in the offense, but he looked good last night. That likely was just a product of playing the Saints, but he does get the 49ers next week in Detroit as well. If you are decimated at running back, at least you know he will get touches in a good spot.

Green Bay Packers

Packers backfield touches Week 15
Packers backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Was there a more frustrating player in the NFL season than Eddie Lacy? Each of his last two 100-yard efforts were followed by a 4-yard and 23-yard game the following week. He's the epitome of volatile, going off on your bench, and then burning you as soon as you trust him back in your lineup. There's nothing reasonable left to say with this player.

Next week against the Cardinals would project more as a pass-heavy game script with James Starks as the primary back. However, with the running back attrition taking out more and more options by the week, odds are that both backs are ranked inside the top-30 for Week 16. What a nightmare.

Houston Texans

Texans backfield touches Week 15
Texans backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Following a game where Alfred Blue did not play a snap, Bill O'Brien indicated that the split from Week 14 was solely due to an injury to Blue. It turns out he was being completely honest, as Blue returned to his spot of dominating the backfield touches. While still far from an inspiring, or exciting option, the second-year running back produced far better than he did as a rookie. With Blue back as the leader of the backfield split, you could do far worse than starting him as a RB2 against a porous Titans defense.

Indianapolis Colts

Colts backfield touches Week 15
Colts backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

We know where we are at with this backfield right now. Frank Gore is a low ceiling RB2 based on pure volume in a bad offense. We have no clarity as to who would replace him if he misses a game with injury.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars backfield touches Week 15
Jaguars backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Denard Robinson was one of only two running backs in Week 15 to handle 100 percent of his team's touches out of the backfield. While he averaged a meager yards per carry figure, he still caught eight passes in Jacksonville's attempt to mount a comeback. Of course, because it's the 2015 season, the Jaguars announced this morning that Robinson has a foot sprain and could miss Week 16. If he sits, Joe Banyard and the once two-minutes-of-fame Jonas Gray are the primary backups. Even against the Saints defense, it's impossible to know what to do with this backfield if Robinson and T.J. Yeldon cannot play.

Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs backfield touches Week 15
Chiefs backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

With Spencer Ware only active in case of emergency, Charcandrick West resumed his role as the bell cow back. Much of his production came on a 38-yard touchdown run, and the Chiefs did not need him to contribute to the passing game much with the lead secure all day. This was a reminder of the high-end potential of this backfield if only one player dominates the majority of the touches. With Ware likely a go for Week 16, neither will get to hold that honor in a pristine matchup against Cleveland.

Miami Dolphins

Dolphins backfield touches Week 15
Dolphins backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

We are where we are with Lamar Miller. It's now a trend over the regime spanning two head coaches and multiple offensive coordinators of the Dolphins not wanting to regularly feed Lamar Miller. It's at the point where it is fair to wonder if this is a Lamar Miller thing, considering he is the common denominator here. Miller doesn't show many signs on film of not being the type of player who can handle 20 touches per game. However, the coaching staff continues to get away from him in any possible way. Perhaps we will only know the true answer if Miller ends up with another team next year after his contract expires following the 2015 season.

At least in this instance it makes some sense that they want to get a look at young rookie running back Jay Ajayi, who outplayed Miller yesterday. He could push for the Dolphins feature back job next year. Now let's just hope a coaching staff more committed to their talented players pilots the team next year.

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings backfield touches Week 15
Vikings backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Adrian Peterson went down in this game, but returned and is said to be "fine" today. If Peterson practices fully leading into their Sunday night matchup with the Giants, you can proceed with him as usual. It would be nice to see Jerick McKinnon regularly sprinkled in, however. He is a dazzling player in the open field, and a positive force in Minnesota's passing offense out of the backfield.

New England Patriots

Patriots backfield touches Week 15
Patriots backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

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Monday's signing of Steven Jackson throws a big wrench in the idea that either of Joey Iosefa and Brandon Bolden's production is sustainable. We've seen Bill Belichick has no problem trusting veterans with big roles, despite how close they are to the cliff of their career. The only thing we can take away from this for sure is that James White is a high-upside flex play. However, if you choose to ride with him in your fantasy championship, know that you are taking on some volatility. White averages a mere 8.3 touches the last three games, despite scoring in each contest.

New Orleans Saints

Saints backfield touches Week 15
Saints backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

It's wild that Tim Hightower is a deciding factor in the fantasy playoffs, but here we are. He handled 72.7 percent of the Saints backfield touches, and essentially fell right in to Mark Ingram's vacated role of the offense. Hightower worked hard to get his career back after a devastating knee injury that gave him plenty of setbacks in Washington. It's a fun story to watch play out here in the twilight of the regular season.

New York Giants

Giants backfield touches Week 15
Giants backfield touches Week 15

For the second straight week, the Giants cut the fat from their running back rotation. They treated Rashad Jennings like a true starter, and mixed Shane Vereen in on passing downs. Vereen is too volatile to trust in Week 16 against the Vikings, but it will be hard to say no to Rashad Jennings. Perhaps the Giants employed a near nonsensical backfield split in order to preserve their best back for the stretch run. Jennings dealt with injuries throughout his career, so that could be a factor.

New York Jets

Jets backfield touches Week 14
Jets backfield touches Week 14 (NFL.com)

A ton of Chris Ivory owners fell out of their fantasy championship race with the running back's disappearance from the game on Saturday. Truth be told, it was deserved. Bilal Powell looked like the much more effective back, and the game script flipped enough for him to be the focal point. In a Week 16 matchup with the Patriots where the Jets will need to keep pace, expect it to be another big Powell game.

Oakland Raiders

Raiders backfield touches Week 15
Raiders backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Latavius Murray is the bell-cow back for Oakland, as he was all season. However, he has just one game over four yards per carry since Week 11. The second half of the season carried mostly a long stretch of ineffective play from Murray. However, he gets a pristine matchup in the Thursday night game against the Chargers. Perhaps he pulls out one last big game for fantasy owners with the workload secured. Even if he does, he's an asset the Raiders should look to upgrade from next year.

Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles backfield touches Week 15
Eagles backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

DeMarco Murray is all the way in the doghouse. The Eagles did not even roll him out for short yardage situations last night and Ryan Mathews handled the bulk of the work. Mathews is the only asset from this backfield you'll even consider playing next week when they face Washington on Saturday night. Even then, it's a far from inspiring choice.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers backfield touches Week 15
Steelers backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

For the second straight week, DeAngelo Williams handled all of the touches out of the Pittsburgh backfield. Williams will push for a top-five fantasy running back finish this season.

San Diego Chargers

Chargers backfield touches Week 15
Chargers backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Melvin Gordon went on IR Monday afternoon, and finishes his rookie season with 3.5 yards per carry and no touchdowns. No player sank their dynasty stock faster than Gordon this season. Danny Woodhead, on the other hand, handled the most touches he had since Week 7. He reprised the role that made him such a productive player in the Chargers offense, scoring three of his four touches in the red zone. With Gordon out for the next two weeks, perhaps Woodhead can help the owners still hanging on claw their way to fantasy championship.

San Francisco 49ers

49ers backfield touches Week 15
49ers backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Shaun Draughn went down with an injury in this game, and Kendall Gaskins and Travaris Cadet split the touches in his absence. It was good to see the receptions to running backs trend continued. However, even if Draughn plays in Week 16, the days of trusting him are over.

Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks backfield touches Week 15
Seahawks backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

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Is it finally happening? Do our eyes deceive us, or is Christine Michael finally mortgaging his immense potential into tangible good play on the field? It was in a cake matchup, but Michael seized the momentum early and sliced through the Browns run defense. He looked powerful, determined and aggressive. Michael sustained the offense, with a long run of just 10 yards.

The answer to the original query is simple: we don't know. The Seahawks backfield could easily remain a hot hand only approach going forward, meaning Michael's workload is tenuous at best. However, reports out of the locker room were fantastic after the game regarding Michael's "focus." At worst, he's a fine dart throw in the fantasy championship week with Seattle welcoming another crumbling run defense in the Rams to their building in Week 16.

St. Louis Rams

Rams backfield touches Week 15
Rams backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Todd Gurley remains on his unbenchable status, even if he struggled to create big plays on Thursday. The sledding could be of a similarly tough variety in Seattle on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers backfield touches Week 15
Buccaneers backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

The Buccaneers keep the same split we are used to seeing from them for yet another game. Charles Sims remains a reasonable flex in PPR leagues, while Doug Martin is an every week RB1.

Tennessee Titans

Titans backfield touches Week 15
Titans backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

As mentioned last week, we hope you are not considering this backfield for fantasy.

Washington

Washington backfield touches Week 15
Washington backfield touches Week 15 (NFL.com)

Much in the same way, the Washington backfield is nothing to bother with. Alfred Morris has 80-plus yards in back to back games, but his usage is too irregular in games that are competitive. Matt Jones, once regarded as an explosive player, averages 3.4 yards per carry on the season.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.

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