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Opportunity Report: Week 16 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 two (see above link) for passing game targets.

Arizona Cardinals

Week 16 marked the first time since his insertion as the starter that David Johnson didn't push for 20 touches. With the Cardinals winning the game 38-8, there was not much sense in overworking their star players, and even Carson Palmer left the game late. Don't sweat Andre Ellington or Kerwynn Williams' involvement as a threat to Johnson. Four of Ellington's carries, and all eight of Williams' came in the fourth quarter when Johnson was already done for the day.

Atlanta Falcons

The Week 16 split looks about what we grew to expect from the Falcons backfield all season. Going into next year, we have to wonder whether Devonta Freeman really garners the sort of volume he possessed this season. After his dominant stretch from Weeks 3 to 6, Freeman really needed a massive share of the backfield touches to post RB2 like numbers for fantasy. It was a really poor start for third-round pick Tevin Coleman (who was inactive for this game) but it's likely still too early to write him out of Atlanta's plans going forward.

If Freeman's 2016 workload comes in under the 21.46 touch average he held from Week 3 to Week 16 (excluding the Indianapolis game where he left with a concussion), his outlook next season could be quite different. Freeman's declining efficiency and overall fantasy output more or less coincided with Matt Ryan and the passing offense's decline. So perhaps that is the true key to Freeman paying off what projects as a high fantasy pick, which season-long numbers will likely push him towards.

Baltimore Ravens

After a curious Week 15 benching following some uncharacteristic fumbling, Buck Allen came right back to his role as the Ravens workhorse running back. He made good in a tough matchup against the Steelers run defense on Sunday. Terrance West still sprinkled in with 13 carries, and he proved with Baltimore that he is at least a competent depth running back. After a season-ending injury and given his age, it's fair to wonder whether Justin Forsett comes back to a true starting role in Baltimore, if he even comes back at all.

Buffalo Bills

In the absence of LeSean McCoy, the Bills clearly wanted Karlos Williams to be their sustaining rusher, as he nearly doubled the carries of Mike Gillislee. Williams still does not look right, as is to be expected with a power runner coming off a shoulder injury, and Gillislee stole the show. A Dolphins castoff and something of a disappointment at the University of Florida, the NFL should take notice of what Mike Gillislee did this season. He currently averages 10.4 yards per carry, and has a touchdown run in each of his last three games. While those numbers are not sustainable, they do point to something of an awakening to the journeymen's career.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers could have committed to the run more than they did on Sunday. Despite the Atlanta pass rush showing more teeth than at any other point in the season, Carolina kept taking to the air. None of their running backs really ever had a chance to develop a rhythm in the offense. It looks like we still don't have any answers as to who the most reliable player is for fantasy in replacing Jonathan Stewart.

However, while Fozzy Whittaker got most of his work in the first drive, he suffered a mild high ankle sprian later in the game. That could open up the door for Cameron Artis-Payne to see 15-plus touches again in Week 17, if Stewart continues to sit.

Chicago Bears

Matt Forte was in and out of this game with injuries, which opened up the door for Jeremy Langford to lead the team in carries and snaps (54 percent share). It also opened up the door for Ka'Deem Carey to take two red zone touches in for scores. With Forte all but out of the picture in Chicago after this season, we'll again preach not to forget about Carey in the Bears backfield projections for dynasty purposes. It appears he has the trust of this coaching staff, something that was in question headed into the start of the John Fox era.

Cleveland Browns

It's clear at this point that both Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson have enough talent to produce for fantasy purposes. The trouble is the Browns just weren't good enough on a consistent basis this season to ever feature either in specific, set-in-stone roles. How that projects to the future is anyone's best guess. We have a ton of questions in regards to the Browns, as usual, heading into the offseason.

Dallas Cowboys

It's a shame that the Cowboys season went into the tank for Darren McFadden, because he likely won't get the national attention he deserves for having a tremendous career rebound campaign. Handling 20 or more touches in six of 10 games since Week 7, McFadden stayed healthy and was a workhorse running back for the Cowboys. He capped off a nice run as their starter with 99 rushing yards on 19 carries against the Bills with Kellen Moore as his quarterback. It's unlikely the Cowboys go into the 2016 season without some makeover to their backfield, but McFadden showed he needs to be a part of their picture next season.

Detroit Lions

Ameer Abdullah dynasty owners can feel some solid foundation to stand on after a nice stretch run to end the season for their rookie running back. The Lions found more creative ways to use his electrifying talent, and he averaged over 4.8 yards per carry in three of his last four games. There was no feature role to be found, with Joique Bell still sprinkling in for a 9.5 touch average in that same span. However, with Bell likely gone after the season, Abdullah has a good shot to absorb most of that work if the Lions don't add any more significantly talented bodies to the backfield.

Green Bay Packers

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The roller coaster ride with Eddie Lacy continued on Sunday. Despite his team getting utterly eviscerated by Arizona, Lacy mounted a solid fantasy outing. Since Week 8, Eddie Lacy's fantasy scoring totals are as follows: 10.7, -1, 10.6, 17.9, 0.1, 20.8, 2.3, and 14.8. While he was not the consistent disappointment that he was in the first half of the season, he was consistently inconsistent in the second act. It was one thing after another with Lacy this year, whether it be weight questions, poor play, the coaching staff's use of him or the Packers just falling behind and ruining game flow. The Packers still have a stretch playoff run to make, but this just looks like a lost season all-around for Lacy. Coming in to his contract year next season, we can only hope a better version of Lacy appears for the ride. However, it's more than fair to wonder if Green Bay adds some bodies to compete in this backfield.

Houston Texans

There was some solid thought to using Alfred Blue as a sleeper yesterday, after he handled another 20 carries the previous week. He ended up averaging three yards per carry, and saw other backs rotate in after the Texans went up 34-0 on the Titans. Blue reminded us of the painful endeavors that come from chasing a bad running back's volume.

Indianapolis Colts

Frank Gore had a fine rebound game for the fantasy owners brave enough to start him in Week 16. He averaged 5.59 yards per touch, a clear uptick from the last month, and popped in two touchdowns. However, remember that the Dolphins run defense cratered in the second half of the season, and currently allow the most fantasy points per game to running backs. It's a fine sendoff for an excellent player like Gore, but we'll remember his 2015 more for a late season stretch from Weeks 11 to 15 where he topped 50 yards rushing and scored just once.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Denard Robinson turned out to be exactly what T.J. Yeldon was for this team. Solid usage, but is just an RB2 with the passing game being the focal point. After handling all of the running back touches and playing 100 percent of the team's snaps in Week 15, Robinson split some of the workload with Jonas Gray, and was unable to crack a penetrable Saints run defense. Any thought that he was a tangible threat to Yeldon's workload going forward, looks squashed at this point.

Kansas City Chiefs

Even with Spencer Ware healthy for this game, Charcandrick West dominated the running back workload, handling 75 percent of the team touches. The Chiefs offense didn't run through the ground game as expected, with Alex Smith attempting more tight-window throws than usual. Both West and Ware showed good ability this season as fill-in running backs. The Chiefs have one of the deepest backfields in the NFL.

Miami Dolphins

After two weeks of getting blanked in the second half of games, Lamar Miller took on 20 touches for the Dolphins. We don't really know if this was an attempt at a correction or not. Jay Ajayi was the goal line back, but after failing on two short yards situations in the red zone, Miller came in for the third and popped in the touchdown. Both Miller and Ajayi are legitimate starting talents as NFL running backs, but they need to be apart to reach their full potential. Fantasy owners looking to invest in either next season, will hope that Miller goes elsewhere in free agency, and that a new coaching staff takes over in Miami.

Minnesota Vikings

Adrian Peterson turned in another dominating fantasy effort for the Vikings. The interesting point here is Jerick McKinnon, who has three scores in back to back games. Much of McKinnon's yardage and one of his scores came after Peterson was pulled from the blowout win. Yet, he still factored in as a pass catching, and change of pace option prior to that. The Vikings are a better and more explosive offense when they use him in that fashion as a part of their regular play-calling rotation.

Sunday night may have been the death nail in the coffin of dynasty owners being able to acquire McKinnon on the cheap. However, if you play in such a format, make some inquires on his status. He has legitimate explosive talent, and showed on his one long run he might be mixing in some patience and nuance to go along with it.

New England Patriots

If you played James White in the hope he would be a fixture here against a tough Jets run defense, you were reward with a touchdown. However, he still only saw seven touches, which was just his third highest total of the season. With something of an inconsistent split developing in the Patriots backfield, you know how to approach this situation.

New Orleans Saints

We obsesses over matchups too much in fantasy football. The Jaguars came in to Sunday's game allowing just 3.53 yards per carry on the season. In that sense it made sense to sit Tim Hightower, who only averaged 3.6 yards per carry himself in the two games prior to this. However, none of that mattered as Hightower took 30 touches for 169 total yards and two scores. He looked incredible on Sunday, weaving through Jacksonville defenders and finishing runs with power.

This season reminded us many times that the key to running back success relies more on team outlook, volume and game flow rather than matchups. The Saints entered the game as the projected favorite in this contest by most, as long Drew Brees played. That played out with the Saints grabbing a big early lead. Hightower handled 46 combined touches in the last two games, and there was no threat to his volume in sight for Week 16. Despite all those positive indicators, we were just lukewarm on Hightower here at NFL Fantasy, ranking him as our 17th back on average. I was guilty of being the lowest on him, ranking him 23rd. I missed on this play this week, but I'm clearly learning a lesson here that the 2015 season keeps trying to teach me.

DeAngelo Williams posted golden fantasy numbers in several games that had bad running back matchups, as did Charcandrick West and Devonta Freeman for more than a few stretches. All three were at least competent backs in functional offenses that were favorites in the games, and had locked in volume with strong game flow. Tim Hightower was the latest example of this crop, and a painful one to miss. For future fantasy seasons, as the running back position continues to evolve, it may finally be time to pull back the over-emphasis on matchups, and start weighing other factors more appropriately.

New York Giants

The commentators had it correct with Rashad Jennings last night, saying he was "the only thing right" with the Giants offense. Jennings was excellent, which does make you wonder whether the Giants employed the committee approach all season to keep him fresh for a stretch run, as Jennings has 57 touches over the last three weeks. However, that might be a stretch and shows that New York overrated their own team, which is now out of the playoff race. The Giants were blown out without Odell Beckham Jr. yesterday, which was the only reason Jennings did not dominate the late game backfield workload.

New York Jets

Chris Ivory once again slightly out-touched Bilal Powell, but the latter clearly outplayed and out-snapped him (62 to 35 percent). With Powell emerging as the more valuable player late in the year, we must wonder what this does to Ivory's place in New York next season.

Oakland Raiders

Every game, all season

Latavius Murray was finally able to mortgage his volume into a big fantasy day against a poor chargers defense. With Oakland eventually emerging as the winner, it only made sense that the game flow was on his side too. Murray did not meet expectations on a week-to-week basis this season, as he finished with under 4.1 yards per carry five times since Week 10. He did all that while averaging 19.9 touches per game during that stretch. Despite a nice ending here, it's fair to wonder whether we've seen the last of Murray as clear lead back in the Raiders' offense.

Philadelphia Eagles

The confusing three-way split in Philadelphia continued this week. The only interesting question here: Where will DeMarco Murray plays football next season?

Pittsburgh Steelers

Once again, DeAngelo Williams is the king of other factors being of more importance than matchups. The game with Baltimore clearly looked to favor the passing game for the Steelers, with the Ravens having a competent run defense. However, Williams' volume and the flow of games (he gets fed regardless of a close or blowout game) made him the best play of any Steeler yesterday.

San Diego Chargers

With Melvin Gordon out of the picture, Donald Brown essentially stepped right into the role previously held by the rookie. Of course, Brown managed to do the one thing Gordon seemingly could not; score a touchdown. The clear winner her was Danny Woodhead, who the team finally turned back to when they trailed late in the game. He rewarded them with steady production in the passing game. One has to wonder if he could have helped them to a few more wins had they not tried to force Melvin Gordon into that role late in the year.

San Francisco 49ers

Jarryd Hayne drew the start and saw the most touches after coming up from the practice squad to replace the injured Shaun Draughn. We'll watch to see if he can actually turn his career into more than an interesting storyline.

Seattle Seahawks

With the Seahawks falling behind and eventually losing this game at home to the Rams in inexplicable fashion, none of their running backs were able to establish any sort of clear rhythm. Leave it to Jeff Fisher to get his team up for their version of the "Super Bowl" after playing dreadful run defense for well over a month coming in to this game.

St. Louis Rams

Todd Gurley was another proof in the other factors over matchups theory in Week 16. Add that to the list of theories he validated this season, including the caution needed when considering benching an all-world talent, no matter what Michael Bennett might think of Gurley.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We'll watch to see if Doug Martin returns to Tampa Bay this offseason, as he's set to hit free agency. If he leaves the team, Charles Sims becomes an interesting sleeper. While he only sprinkled in as a receiving back and change of pace runner this year, he showed legitimate explosive talent this year.

Tennessee Titans

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David Cobb's first season was a true wash, and this was the first time he led the team in touches. After going on IR Boomerang to start the year, we should have known it was over. It was nearly impossible to think a rookie on a poor offense was going to make the jump to take over the backfield after missing crucial early season time. Much less was it reasonable to think that would amount to much on a sinking team.

Washington

Even a Matt Jones injury could not propel Alfred Morris back into the RB2 discussion for fantasy. Pierre Thomas filled in quite admirably for him in the passing game, making us wonder why he was not on a team before this. Morris will need a new team next year to bring him in for a chance to win a backfield job in order to be fantasy relevant again.


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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