*Welcome to "Committee Meetings," the running back portion of our weekly Targets/Touches column! Every Monday we'll recap the week that was among running backs and preview the outlook for the upcoming slate. *
With Week 4 nearly over, it's time to dive into some backfield breakdowns. We saw some interesting names among the top running back performers including John Kuhn and Terrance West, and I think it's safe to say that not many people saw that coming. DeMarco Murray dominated with 27 total touches, more than any other running back in Week 4, and added two scores, while Isaiah Crowell shredded the Redskins defense, Ezekiel Elliott had another monster game and Le'Veon Bell looked like he hasn't missed a beat in his return from suspension. That's enough small talk for now ... more on those backs and every other team's backfield below.
Note: The Opportunity Report is a living document and will be updated with the results of every game until after the Monday night game concludes. If you're looking for backfield touches data on a team and they aren't here yet, check back later.
For the first game of the season, David Johnson failed to get into the end zone. He still managed over 100 scrimmage yards in a loss to the Rams, but lost a fumble too. On his yardage total alone, Johnson ranked as a top-20 fantasy running back for Week 4 and had it not been for his lost fumble, he would have been among the top 15. We're not at all concerned about Johnson going forward. He showed us yet again why he needs to be in the conversation as the best running back in the NFL, manufacturing big plays with his other-worldly ability to make defenders miss, break tackles and remain upright to collect big chunks of yardage on his runs. His success as a pass-catcher is really what makes him a special fantasy asset in the same way that Le'Veon Bell is. The Cardinals have struggled early this year, but Johnson keeps churning out big games. In Week 5, the Cardinals face a San Francisco defense that just surrendered 138 rush yards to Ezekiel Elliott.
Last Monday night Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman destroyed the Saints on the ground and each finished as top-five options in fantasy for Week 3. Week was a different story. The Falcons offense was literally all Julio Jones against the Carolina and while Freeman did find his way into the end zone, he had just 57 rush yards on 13 carries. Coleman's usage, just 11 touches, was odd given the game script, and fantasy owners who chased his points from Week 3 were left disappointed. It's worth noting that Freeman out-snapped Coleman in the game by a count of 35 to 29, perhaps a move from the coaching staff rewarding Freeman for his performance last week. Both Falcons' backs should still be starters in fantasy against the Broncos in Week 5.
The Ravens decided to bench Justin Forsett in Week 4 and gave Terrance West the nod as the starter. West proceeded to have the best game of any Baltimore running back all season. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry and scored a late touchdown. Granted, it all came against an Oakland defense that is statistically one of the worst units in the NFL through four weeks of play. It will be interesting to see how Baltimore handles their backfield going forward, especially with rookie Kenneth Dixon expected back next week. West should still be featured, and Baltimore faces Washington who has been picked apart on the ground this season. If West is hanging out on your waiver wire, make him a top priority this week.
LeSean McCoy logged 25 touches in this game and scored for the fourth time this season. McCoy's workhorse status was cemented by his snap count as he played on 54 snaps in this game, nearly doubling Mike Gillislee's playing time. Shady's floor in standard scoring this year is 9.0 points in Week 2, which was the only game in which he didn't score and it was a difficult matchup against the Jets. With Sammy Watkins now on injured reserve, McCoy remains the focal point of the Bills offense and because of that, he needs to be started every single week regardless of matchup. Save for McCoy, no other Bills offensive player warrants a start in fantasy going forward. McCoy should produce again next week as the Bills head to Los Angeles to take on the Rams.
With Jonathan Stewart out, the Panthers have struggled to move the ball on the ground and that continued in Week 4 against the Falcons. The fact that Carolina fell behind early didn't help anyone in this backfield except Fozzy Whittaker who's role in the Panthers' committee is clearly the pass-catching back. He finished with nine catches for 86 yards while Cameron Artis-Payne had just 12 rush yards on six carries. It's no surprise then, that Cam Newton was actually the team's leading rusher with 30 yards on the ground. We're staying away from this backfield in fantasy until Stewart returns.
With Jeremy Langford sidelined, rookie Jordan Howard got the nod as the Bears feature back. He made the most of this big chance too, with over 100 yards on the ground. His 26-touch workload was somewhat a result of game script as the Bears were (surprisingly) leading the entire game. Howard looked like the real deal and needs to be considered a volume-upside RB2 until Jeremy Langford can get back. Howard will enjoy a favorable Week 5 matchup against a Colts defense that is coming off a trip across the pond. Howard should be started in fantasy leagues across the board in that game. For those of you wondering about Joique Bell ... don't.
Jeremy Hill racked up 21 carries against Miami on Thursday night but only managed 71 rushing yards. Considering the Dolphins had struggled to stop the run the first three weeks, this was a major disappointment. Giovani Bernard's production was even worse as he managed just 18 yards on the ground on 10 carries and added 24 yards on three catches. Bernard's fantasy value relies heavily on game script and Hill remains a touchdown dependent RB2. Hill is the better option on a week-to-week basis, but you'll have to hope for a touchdown whenever you roll the dice on starting him. The Bengals take on Dallas in Week 5.
Isaiah Crowell's hot start continued in Week 4 against the Redskins. Crow converted his 15 rush attempts into 112 rush yards and a rushing touchdown and added three receptions for 22 yards. We saw this coming against a Redskins defense that has been unable to stop the run but still had some hesitance given the Browns quarterback situation. It didn't seem to matter though, as Crowell kept the Cleveland offense moving the entire game. Duke Johnson, who out-snapped Crowell 43 to 34, remains a risky option in standard scoring leagues fantasy but saw his biggest workload of the season with 15 touches. Had it not been for a lost fumble, Johnson would have had his highest scoring fantasy day this season.
Despite C.J. Anderson's struggles with efficiency on Sunday, his return to the end zone was a welcome one for fantasy owners. He bounced back a bit in terms of fantasy from a slow Week 3 game, but still didn't impress with his rushing production averaging just 2.6 yards per carry. It's hard to complain about three rushing scores in four games, but surely Anderson's fantasy owners would like to see him churning out more yardage on a weekly basis. He's collected just 86 rush yards over the last two games and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on the season. It's possible that Denver leans more on Anderson to move the offense with quarterback Trevor Siemian set to potentially miss a few games with a shoulder injury, leaving rookie Paxton Lynch under center against Atlanta in Week 5.
Guys, Ezekiel Elliott is good. The rookie recorded his second straight game with over 135 rushing yards and has collected 278 yards on the ground in his last two games. He leads the NFL in rush attempts (94) and rushing yards (412) and is fantasy's RB7 in standard scoring. He has yet to have a game with fewer than 20 rush attempts and if he keeps playing like this, there's no reason for Dallas to limit him. If you want to be critical, Zeke has had some favorable matchups with games against WAS, CHI and SF in his last three games. But his comfort level running behind the Dallas o-line has clearly reached new heights and his confidence is only growing. He'll have a tougher matchup against the Bengals in Week 5 but is locked in as an RB1 until further notice.
The Lions miss Ameer Abdullah. So do fantasy owners. Detroit couldn't get anything going on the ground with a total of just 16 rush attempts between three running backs in Week 4. Riddick was the "lead" back but only because rookie Dwayne Washington left the game early with an ankle injury. Riddick, though, is not a between the tackles kind of runner and it showed. At one point, the Lions brought Zach Zenner in for a goal-line try but he was promptly stuffed. When Matthew Stafford is the team's second-highest rusher with 17 yards, something just ain't right. We'll be keeping an eye on Washington's injury this week but the Lions have a tough matchup against the Eagles coming up so fantasy owners might want to look for alternatives.
Another 20-plus touches for Lamar Miller and another game without a touchdown. Miller continues to produce in terms of yards from scrimmage and is a must-start based on his volume but his lack of touchdowns is frustrating to see given his workload. The Texans offensive line seems to be having trouble creating holes for Miller, but he's making the most of his chances given the narrow lanes he's had to run through. Miller will face his toughest on-paper matchup yet when the Texans head to Minnesota in Week 5, but it would be silly to bench him in fantasy given his key role in the Houston offense.
Frank Gore refuses to go away. The Colts loaded the veteran up with 21 touches against the Jaguars and he produced with 95 total yards and his third touchdown of the season. It was Gore's second week in a row with 20-plus touches and with that kind of volume he's a legitimate RB2 going forward. Rookie Josh Ferguson, who saw the field on 38 percent of the Colts offensive snaps compared to Gore's 43 percent share, will steal some opportunities from Gore in the passing game as he did on Sunday, but it won't be enough to put a dent in the veteran's fantasy value.
After three weeks of playing less-than mediocre football, T.J. Yeldon badly needed a nice game. Despite his awful performance thus far, he still drew the start over Chris Ivory in Week 4 and proved himself worthy of that starting designation with 5.1 yards per carry and over 100 scrimmage yards on the day. Granted, it came against a lowly Colts defense, but it was still good to see him produce. Ivory only got eight carries and wasn't very effective at all. Yeldon remains a matchup-based flex play going forward while Ivory is not startable until we see him more integrated into the Jaguars' game plan on a consistent basis.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles returned to action on Sunday night against the Steelers but anyone who started him was left wanting more ... like a lot more. Charles played on just 11 snaps in the game, while Spencer Ware logged 56. There was no reason for the Chiefs to force Charles into the action as the game got away from Kansas City quickly with the Steelers posting 22 points in the first quarter. Considering that, Ware's 96 total yards should be considered a positive. Unfortunately, he lost his third fumble of the year which knocked two fantasy points off of his total. We should see Charles eased back in gradually as he gets up to speed with the Chiefs' offense, but he might be a risky fantasy option until we see him more involved. Charles' owners will have to wait an extra week though as Kansas City gets their bye in Week 5.
Los Angeles Rams
Somehow, the Rams own a 3-1 record through four games, but Todd Gurley, who ranks fourth in the NFL in rush attempts is fantasy's RB23 in standard scoring. With 50 percent of his total fantasy points coming in Week 3 when he scored two touchdowns. Gurley, a first round pick in most fantasy drafts, is averaging a measly 2.6 yards per carry for the season. We did see him record a career high in receptions (five) and receiving yards (49) on Sunday most of which came on a 33-yard play. If that kind of involvement as a pass-catcher keeps up, it will boost his weekly floor a bit. Benny Cunningham left the game early in the second half with a hamstring injury and if he has to miss any time, Gurley could play more of a pass-catching role going forward. In Week 5, Gurley gets a home match up against a Bills defense that ranks in the bottom half of the league in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs. If he's unable to find the end zone though, his fantasy ceiling will be severely capped.
Without Arian Foster, the Dolphins backfield struggled again in Week 4 against the Bengals. Jay Ajayi led the Dolphins' committee with six carries for 33 yards. Yes, he led the committee with those numbers. It's an awful situation for fantasy purposes that needs to be avoided at all costs … Until Foster gets back healthy at least.
For the first time in his career, Jerick McKinnon scored a touchdown in a game in which he had double-digit carries, as his fantasy owners breathed a sigh of relief on Monday night. For the millionth time in his career, Matt Asiata scored a 1-yard touchdown averaged 1.0 yard per carry on six rush attempts. In all seriousness, McKinnon looked spectacular against the Giants and far out-snapped Asiata 47-23 in the game. McKinnon was dynamic and displayed patience we haven't seen from him in seasons past, perhaps a sign that he's maturing as a running back. He'll be the upside play in this backfield going forward, but as we witnessed Monday night, there's still the threat of Asiata vulturing a goal-line carry here and there. Still, McKinnon's 21-touch workload proves that the Vikings want to use him as somewhat of a workhorse and he's the clear leader of this tandem.
New England Patriots
The Patriots were shut out by the Bills on Sunday … that's definitely not how we expected this game to go. Because of the game script, Blount had his smallest workload of the season with just 13 carries. He did have his first catches of the season though, which doesn't really mean much going forward but hey, it's a few extra points if you started him in a PPR format. The good news is that despite the Patriots playing from behind the entire game, Blount (32 snaps) was still on the field more than James White (22 snaps) or Branden Bolden (five snaps). With Tom Brady back under center next week, we expect the Patriots offense to skew more pass-heavy than they have been early this season, but a matchup against the Browns could mean a bounce-back for Blount in Week 5.
New Orleans Saints
Following a slow start, Mark Ingram posted his second-straight solid outing on Sunday against the Chargers. He recorded over 100 yards from scrimmage for the second straight game and scored his first rushing touchdown of the season. Ingram's 49 receiving yards on six catches was a nice addition to his day, since we saw guys like Travaris Cadet siphon work in pass-catching situations in Week 3. The big story here though, is the fact that John (freaking) Kuhn scored three touchdowns in this game! That's right: five touches, 12 yards and three scores for the 11-year veteran vulture. Hopefully this isn't something that happens often, but you never know with the Saints. Either way, at least fantasy owners got their points from Ingram, but to see those three scores go to Kuhn was surely disappointing. The Saints have Week 5 off as one of four teams on a bye.
New York Giants
We got our first look at a Giants backfield sans Rashad Jennings on Monday night. Orleans Darkwa drew the start, but Bobby Rainey ended up out-snapping him 30-23, serving as the team's main pass-catching back with New York trailing in the second half. Darkwa did get into the end zone and averaged 4.0 yards per carry on just 12 rush attempts while Rainey, who did most of his damage through the air, totaled 65 yards. Both veterans actually had fewer total yards than rookie Paul Perkins who saw his first action of the season and exploded on a 67-yard catch-and-run to start the fourth quarter. If Jennings has to miss another game, expect this sort of unpredictable backfield split to continue between these three backs, which seems like it will be more reliant on game script than anything else. But if you need to hone in on one guy to target for fantasy purposes, Darkwa is probably the best option seeing as he's received five rush attempts and two scores in the red zone thus far.
New York Jets
Matt Forte had a rough go against the Seahawks stout defensive front in Week 4. He totaled a mere 27 rush yards on 14 attempts, by far his worst outing of the season. And for the second straight game, Bilal Powell out-produced Forte on far less touches. To make matters worse, Forte was seen riding a cart after the game and was apparently headed to the X-ray room. If Forte were to miss time, it'd be a huge blow to a Jets offense that's already sans Eric Decker and a bigger blow to his fantasy owners relying on him for RB1-type production. On the flip side, Powell owners should be looking to capitalize on Forte's downward trend. The Jets will face the Steelers in Week 5, and Powell will likely be a sneaky sleeper candidate in that game.
The Oakland backfield is simply a mess for fantasy purposes. Four backs split 16 rush attempts against the Ravens, and the one guy you might have thought you could trust, Latavius Murray, had just 19 rushing yards on the day. The Ravens run defense has been tough all season, so hopefully you went with other options at running back, but it's still not great to see a guy you drafted before Round 5 have just eight carries. His backfield touch percentage has been declining each week and this game did not buck that trend. If there's any positive takeaway here it's that Murray was on the field for 54 percent of Oakland's snaps. Murray and co. will look to get the Raiders' run game back on track in Week 5 against the Chargers.
Le'Veon Bell returned from suspension with a bang. A 178-yard bang to be exact. There was no "easing" Bell in as he played on 89 percent of the Steelers snaps and logged 23 all-purpose touches in his first game of 2016. It was obvious why Bell is considered one of the best backs in the league on Sunday night as he averaged a ridiculous 8.0 yards per carry with 144 rush yards and 34 receiving yards. Plus, this:
DeAngelo Williams took a backseat in Bell's return and played on just 28 percent of the snaps, but managed to score a touchdown. This will likely be the norm going forward with Bell getting the majority of the work while Williams could steal some goal-line looks as the more powerful member of the tandem. Lock Bell in as an RB1 next week against the Jets.
San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde scored his fifth rushing touchdown in four games on Sunday and after another double-digit fantasy outing he ranks as the RB4 in standard scoring. Despite shouldering the smallest workload of the season thus far, he produced 4.9 yards per carry and logged 16 total touches. He dominated backfield playing time too, with an 83 percent share of the snap count. Shane Draughn is merely an afterthought in this backfield. Hyde will be a volume-upside play in Week 5 when the 49ers welcome the Cardinals on Thursday night.
San Diego Chargers
With his two trips into the end zone in Week 4, Melvin Gordon now leads the league with six rushing touchdowns on the season, and has scored at least once in all four of his games. He has virtually no threat behind him for carries - Dexter McCluster will get a few looks a game as a pass-catcher but that's it. Gordon added six catches for 43 yards which evened out his poor rushing yardage total of just 36 on 19 attempts. He's been far from efficient on the ground with just 71 rush yards on 35 attempts in his last two games. Fantasy owners won't care much, as long as he keeps scoring. Gordon will yet again be an RB1 in Week 5 when the Chargers face a Raiders' defense that is statistically one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
The Awakening tour rolled through New Jersey in Week 4 as Christine Michael contributed 90 total yards and a touchdown against the Jets. Despite his inefficiency on the ground, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, Michael still logged 18 rush attempts and added 32 yards on five receptions along with a receiving touchdown. For as long as Thomas Rawls is out, which should be for at least another month or so, Michael will be locked-in as an RB1 in fantasy football. Unfortunately, The Awakening will go into hibernation in Week 5 as Seattle is one of four teams on a bye. We can't go without mentioning the fact that C.J. Spiller, who the Seahawks signed earlier in the week for running back depth, scored a receiving touchdown in this game. He had just four touches though, so we're not too worried about his involvement in terms of being a detriment to C-Woke's fantasy value.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So much for the Broncos defense being soft against the run. Charles Sims had nowhere to run and could not find daylight the entire game, with just 35 scrimmage yards on his 17 touches. It was a rough day all around for the Bucs offense; tight end Cameron Brate led the offense with 67 total yards. Despite the Bucs' backfield struggles, it's still a good sign that Sims saw a hefty workload although he did cede six touches to Jacquizz Rodgers. Sims came off the field in the first half and looked to be injured, though he was able to get back on the field and finish the game. He'll likely be the team's workhorse back again in Week 5, but the Bucs have a difficult matchup against the Panthers. They'll need to balance the offense out and open things up through the air, the way the Falcons did against Carolina on Sunday, if they want better production on the ground.
DeMarco Murray simply continues to dominate out of the Tennessee backfield. He put up another 100-plus yards and scored twice, taking advantage of a J.J. Watt-less Texans defense on Sunday. Unfortunately, Murray's insane production was not enough for the Titans to come out on top but fantasy owners don't really care as long as they see those points racking up from their running back. Murray has finished no worse than fantasy's RB10 (standard) in any week this season. Derrick Henry remains merely a bench stash for now, as the volume just wasn't there, and hasn't been there, for the rookie just yet. Murray will be a must-start RB1 in Week 5 against Miami.
Despite all of the hate Matt Jones has received in fantasy circles, Washington has stuck with him as their primary running back. He shouldered 24 touches against the Browns and that kind of volume is what keeps him in the conversation as a fantasy option every week. On a season-high 22 rush attempts he posted his first 100-yard game of the season and got into the end zone for the second time. A matchup against the Ravens in Week 5 is not favorable but it will be tough to leave him on the bench given his volume upside.
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