*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 16 (and the fantasy season) nearly in the books, it's time to dive into some backfield breakdowns. Franchise is out celebrating the holiday and his recent engagement with his family, so I'm filling in. Committees reared their ugly heads once again in Week 16, surprising no one, while the elite backs like LeSean McCoy, David Johnson and Jay Ajayi (welcome back!) delivered in big ways for their fantasy owners. But enough blathering up here, let's get to it.
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.
Week 16 was rather emblematic of how the Falcons backfield is so versatile and dangerous. Devonta Freeman was the workhorse with 88 yards on 21 total touches (eight receptions), while Tevin Coleman lived up to his big-play billing with a 55-yard touchdown run. When healthy, both of these backs are viable fantasy starts, and that figures to be the case next year as well.
As we've seen happen before, one week after Terrance West seemed to be taking over the lead role in this backfield, Kenneth Dixon jumps back into the mix. The rookie out-snapped West and out-produced him on the same number of touches, but it was Kyle Juszczyk who found his way into the end zone. This backfield has been tough to trust in fantasy as a tried and true committee, and that doesn't figure to change in Week 17. West is a free agent in 2017, so it'll be worth watching what Baltimore does with this backfield in the offseason. Dixon could be a trendy sleeper if the team lets West walk.
LeSean McCoy: Good at football. This marked McCoy's seventh game with 100-plus rushing yards, and 12th with double-digit fantasy points in 2016. McCoy has only failed to hit double digits in one game he started and finished this year. Mike Gillislee gave deep league players a nice outing with 91 total yards, but this is McCoy's backfield as long as he's healthy. He'll be back in the mix as a first-round fantasy pick next year.
The Panthers fell behind quickly in this one, limiting opportunities in the ground game. While Jonathan Stewart showed us his ceiling last week, he reminded us in Week 16 that his floor is frighteningly low. If he doesn't get into the end zone, he's essentially useless in fantasy as his 5.2 points didn't help any owners bold enough to start him. Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert remain ancillary players. It'll be interesting to see what the Panthers do with this backfield next year, as JStew is creeping up there in the age department and carries a decent salary cap hit in 2017.
Jordan Howard really isn't getting enough credit in the football and fantasy media for what has been a tremendous rookie campaign. Despite running in a poor offense on a losing team, Howard now has eight straight games with 99-plus scrimmage yards. Jeremy Langford vultured a touchdown, spoiling what could have been a stellar fantasy outing from Howard. However, I can't imagine anyone will complain about double-digit fantasy points when it mattered most. Howard owns this backfield, and with more stability under center next year could be in line for a massive sophomore campaign.
Jeremy Hill sunk plenty of fantasy owners on Christmas Eve (including yours truly). He came into the week questionable with a knee injury but started for the team. He saw just seven carries and was out-touched, out-snapped, and out-performed by Rex Burkhead. Hill hasn't been efficient this year, but was buoyed in fantasy by volume. That was stripped of him this week and there's no guarantee he'll see anything close to the 23 touches per game he'd been averaging since Giovani Bernard went down with a season-ending injury in Week 11.
Isaiah Crowell punched in two early touchdowns, saving what would have otherwise been a ho-hum fantasy day. Duke Johnson worked into the mix a bit, but left the game multiple times with injuries, though he kept returning. Unless either back finds his way into the end zone, this committee is a disaster from a fantasy perspective. The Browns play the Steelers next week in a game that figures to feature a pass-heavy game script as the Browns will likely be behind ... by a lot.
The Denver backfield offered limited fantasy upside in Week 16, which has been the case for awhile now. Justin Forsett found his way into the end zone, but his 11 total yards still made for a disappointing outing. The Chiefs built an early lead, further sapping any potential for touches to be split among the backs. Devontae Booker's 10 targets are noteworthy, but shouldn't be considered anything other than a game script-created outlier. This backfield isn't getting much help in the blocking department and sorely misses C.J. Anderson. It'd be best to avoid playing any members of this group in Week 17.
Green Bay Packers
After a monstrous performance in Week 15, Ty Mongtomery came crashing down to Earth, but through no fault of his own. Aaron Rodgers was simply otherworldly in this game, picking apart the Vikings defense with ease. Montgomery led the backfield in snaps and touches, and per reports before the game he'll change his number and remain a full-time running back next year. Do you hear that whistle in the distance? That's the 2017 Ty Montgomery fantasy hype train picking up speeed ... and we're not even done with 2016 yet.
Lamar Miller was held out of Week 16 while he nurses an ankle injury, and it seems like that might be the case in Week 17, too, seeing as the Texans have the AFC South wrapped up now. Alfred Blue dominated the backfield touches in Miller's stead and was effective enough averaging 3.5 yards per carry and finding paydirt to help secure the Texans' win. Blue will have to run into the teeth of a strong Titans run defense next week, but the Titans might not be up for this game after losing a shot at the playoffs and Marcus Mariota to a season-ending injury in Week 16.
Tell me if you've heard this one before: Frank Gore grinds out tough yards and dominates the backfield touches ... only to have Robert Turbin score a touchdown? You likely have heard that story before, because it's been the nightmare playing out for Frank Gore owners for more than a month. Since Week 11, Gore has scored one touchdown while Turbin hit paydirt five times. Gore tried to keep his value afloat with yardage in Week 16, but a lost fumble and no touchdowns really dampened what could have been yet another solid outing. Hopefully, the Inconvenient Truth hangs around for one more season. It'd be great to see him chase records and actually be given the ball around the goal line.
Well hello there, Chris Ivory. T.J. Yeldon missed much of this game with an ankle injury, helping pave the way for Ivory's best game of the year (even though he lost a fumble). Corey Grant came in to split the work with Ivory after Yeldon left, though he isn't really on the fantasy radar. The Jaguars play the Colts in Week 17, so Ivory could be on the flex radar if Yeldon remains sidelined.
Kansas City Chiefs
Spencer Ware started this game off in decent shape, but left with a rib injury and didn't return. He still wasn't as effective as his dominant early-season run, and now with another injury dogging him it'll be interesting to see how Kansas City approaches their backfield moving forward. Charcandrick West was OK in a clock-killing relief role but still doesn't look like featured back material. I added Tyreek Hill here just to show where most of the Chiefs' rushing yards came from. The speedy rookie only saw 10 plays in the backfield (37 percent of his total) but did a lot of damage on those opportunities. Alex Smith also vultured a rushing touchdown, stealing another chance from the main backs.
Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley once again received (nearly) all of the backfield touches for the Rams. And once again, he wasn't very effective with them. On the season he's averaged over four yards per carry in two of 16 games. This offense needs help along the offensive line and at wide receiver to give Jared Goff a chance of opening things up for Gurley. We'll need to watch what happens closely to determine Gurley's value moving forward. The talent is there, but he's developed some bad habits in a bad offense and will need to correct those this offseason.
Holy hell Jay Ajayi. The second-year back racked up 200-plus rushing yards for the third time this year, and second time against the Bills. The Dolphins looked content for most of the game to battle Buffalo on the ground, and in overtime it was Ajayi's 50-plus yard scamper that set up their game-winning field goal. Ajayi did leave the late with a shoulder injury, though, so that will need to be monitored for those playing next week (he said he'll be fine after the game). Kenyan Drake showed off his speed by turning a broken play into a long touchdown run, but this is Ajayi's backfield as evidenced by his dominant 75 percent snap share. Drake was third in playing time behind Damien Williams.
With Adrian Peterson out, Jerick McKinnon once again led the way in this backfield with 64 percent of the touches. This marked the fourth game in a row where McKinnon logged five or more receptions. He's the safer back to trust, especially in PPR, as he continues to see the field more than Matt Asiata (52 to 24 plays in Week 16). This backfield will be one to watch next season, as Adrian Peterson is likely on his way out the door due to a massive salary cap hit and McKinnon will be entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Vikings could add more depth through free agency or the draft.
New England Patriots
It was business as usual for the Patriots backfield in Week 16. LeGarrette Blount led the way on the ground with 20 carries and plowed into the end zone twice. Dion Lewis was the all-around player with 16 carries and one reception, while James White was the #Belitricks recipient of a Tom Brady touchdown pass. No Patriots back saw more than 29 offensive plays, though, which is why Blount is the most trustworthy of the bunch thanks to his touchdown upside. The bruising back added to his league-lead in rushing touchdowns, pushing his total to 17 (!!!) on the year. Many thought he could have a strong season, but this was truly unexpected. Congrats to him and the Patriots. Glad something finally went right for them (/sarcasm).
New Orleans Saints
This was a "squeaky wheel gets the grease" kind of game, as one week after Mark Ingram was seen visibly upset with his workload on the sideline he was treated like a featured back, seeing 61 percent of the touches and scoring twice. He's clearly the best back on the team, so hopefully moving forward they continue to treat him as such.
New York Giants
Another week, another frustrating committee performance from the Giants backfield. Rashad Jennings improved his efficiency with a 4.9 yards per carry average and out-snapped Paul Perkins, but the rookie led the way in total touches (15) and yardage (68). This backfield has been unusable for most of the year and that trend will likely hold steady in Week 17, too.
New York Jets
With Matt Forte out, this was once again Bilal Powell's backfield. However, the Jets fell behind by a large marge early, sapping this offense of any potency. As did the injury to Bryce Petty, who left with just three attempts. Petty peppered Powell with targets last week when the Jets fell behind, so his absence could be the reason why Powell saw only three looks against the Patriots. If Forte remains out in Week 17, Powell will once again be on the RB2 radar.
Last week, it seemed the three-headed committee in Oakland was still hanging onto life, and this week it came roaring back with a vengeance. Latavius Murray "led" the group with 44 percent of the touches on 41 percent of the plays, but Washington (33 percent of touches, 34 percent of plays) and Jalen Richard (22 percent of touches, 20 percent of plays) were right behind him. Making matters worse for Murray owners were the three touchdowns scored by the talented rookies. For most of the year, Murray had been a touchdown-dependent RB2, which was fine considering he scored in eight of 13 games. However, this backfield split will be one to avoid early in 2017 drafts. People will get excited seeing Murray's high season-long finish (currently the RB12), but those who paid attention will know that his quest to repeat in 2017 will have plenty of road blocks.
Ryan Mathews was off to a decent start against the Giants, but Darren Sproles' return was felt immediately when the diminutive speedster scored the Eagles' first touchdown. The return of Lane Johnson from suspension was a big boost to the running game as well. Mathews left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury that was later determined to be a herniated disc which will require surgery and end his season. For those crazy enough to still be playing fantasy in Week 17, that puts Sproles firmly on the RB2 radar, especially in PPR formats.
The Steelers sure make it easy on us in fantasy by only using one running back. But when that running back is the best in the game, it makes sense. Le'Veon Bell picked apart the Ravens all day on the ground with his unparalleled combination of vision, patience and burst. Unless he gets injured or suspended again, he'll likely be the top pick (or close to it) in most fantasy drafts next fall.
San Diego Chargers
San Diego's backfield performance in Week 16 was, in a word, bad. As the coaching staff indicated during the week Ronnie Hillman saw more work as a runner, but managed just seven yards on eight attempts. Kenneth Farrow didn't fare much better, but four receptions helped salvage the day in PPR. Without Melvin Gordon, the Chargers backfield is looking like a hard pass in fantasy. Heal up soon, and heal up well, Melvin.
San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde was on his way to a solid outing, until he suffered an MCL injury and left the game. Hyde had been a solid fantasy contributor boosted by consistent volume all season (even when the 49ers were trailing), so it's disappointing to see him go down in Week 16. For those still playing in Week 17, DuJuan Harris will likely step into a sizeable workload with Hyde out, though he does face the unenviable task of running against the Seahawks defense.
Thomas Rawls sat out the second half with a shoulder injury that the team later called a "bruise." Alex Collins filled in, but with the Seahawks chasing the Cardinals all game, there weren't many running back touches to go around. Rawls has been relatively ineffective outside of his magical game against the Panthers, so even if he does suit up for Week 17 don't be surprised if the team gives more opportunities to Collins, a talented rookie. He's 159 receiving yards short of 1,000.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One of Week 16's biggest surprises was Doug Martin being a healthy scratch against the Saints. Dirk Koetter later said it was based on the matchup, and the team thought Jacquizz Rodgers was a better fit. That's fine, but this could also be a case of the Bucs recognizing that Martin was struggling in terms of efficiency. Martin averaged 2.8 yards per carry since returning to the team in Week 10, while Rodgers averages 4.3 in his four games as the featured back (including this one). There could be a number of factors at play here (Martin's health, disconnect with the coaching staff, etc.) so we'll need to watch this play out in Week 17 and read the tea leaves heading into the offseason to appropriately project this backfield into 2017.
The Titans offense was in a funk all day and things only got worse once Marcus Mariota left the game with a fractured fibula. He was 8-of-20 for 99 yards before exiting, and his inability to complete passes hamstrung the Titans' normally stout rushing attack. DeMarco Murray couldn't get going against a tough Jaguars rushing defense early. Then with Mariota out and the Titans trailing Matt Cassel came in to sling the rock 24 more times, limiting late-game chances for touches. Mariota is out for the rest of the season, so those still playing next week will need to take that into consideration before locking Murray into their starting lineups against the Texans ferocious defense.
In a cruel twist of fantasy fate, Washington scored four rushing touchdowns but Rob Kelley had none of them. Kirk Cousins vultured two, Chris Thompson scored the first, and Mack Brown ripped off a long run to score when the game was already on ice. Kelley did yeoman's work with 21 touches, but the lack of a score really killed what could have been a monster fantasy performance. Despite the disappointing outing, Kelley remains the back to own and start in Washington until further notice.
You can rely on NFL.com's Touches and Targets column for great fantasy advice. Just like you can rely on FedEx Ground for fast and affordable shipping.