*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 5 nearly in the books, it's time to dive into some backfield breakdowns. We saw some familiar names among the top running back performers including David Johnson, DeMarco Murray and a breakout game from rookie Jordan Howard while guys like Matt Asiata and Jay Ajayi surprisingly made their way into the top 15 for the week. Some of the bigger disappointments of the week include Isaiah Crowell and Matt Forte, and below we'll try to figure out how to value these running backs going forward. 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.
We saw a big game coming for David Johnson on Thursday night against San Francisco, but his 185 yards and two scores blew away expectations. With Carson Palmer out and Drew Stanton unable to do much of anything throwing the ball, Arizona leaned on their star running back to carry the load and he came through with the most rushing yards by a running back in any game yet this season. He's a locked-in RB1 until further notice.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 285 total yards and two touchdowns against Denver. After a performance like that against one of the best defenses in the league, it's obvious that both backs are must-starts every week. Freeman recorded 26 touches and did the majority of his damage as a runner, while Coleman destroyed Denver as a receiver with 131 yards through the air on just four receptions. This is also a testament to how potent the Falcons offense can be. One week Julio Jones dominates. But when he gets shut down, the other weapons, like the running backs, are able to thrive. Atlanta heads to Seattle in Week 6, but both backs cannot be left on fantasy benches the way they've been producing.
Four different Ravens backs combined for 138 total yards against the Redskins on Sunday, with Terrance West leading the way. His 8.6 yards per carry on 11 attempts was nice to see, but it was sort of expected against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Rookie back Kenneth Dixon made his NFL debut, but it was a bad one as he totaled just five yards on his four touches. Sorry Dixon truthers, West is the leader of this committee and that's not likely to change after Sunday's game. West will be a high-end flex play against the Giants next week.
LeSean McCoy terrorized the Rams defense on Sunday rushing for 150 yards. He dominated with an 81 percent share of snaps, but of course Mike Gillislee, who had just two touches the entire game, came in to vulture a touchdown. McCoy has been one of the more consistent running backs in fantasy this season with his low of 9.0 points coming in Week 2. He hasn't had good matchups either, going up against Baltimore, New York Jets, Arizona, New England and Los Angeles in Week 5; all five of those are unfavorable on paper, yet Shady has produced. The guy is virtually matchup-proof and gets the 49ers in Week 6 where he'll be locked in as an RB1.
Apparently, it takes Cam Newton being out for the Panthers running backs to produce for fantasy owners. Cameron Artis-Payne logged career highs in carries and rushing yards against the Buccaneers and was responsible for Carolina's only two touchdowns on Monday night. Fozzy Whittaker was also effective but was under-used because of CAP's success. Both Newton and Jonathan Stewart are expected to return to face the Saints in Week 6, so the days of using Artis-Payne and Whittaker are likely done for the time being. The Panthers are going to have to sling it to keep up with the Saints too, so don't expect a huge JStew game in his potential return.
The Bears put their offense on Jordan Howard's back (he dominated 95 percent of the snaps) and he took advantage of a bad Colts run defense in this game. The big rookie roasted Indy's defense for 163 total yards and a score, and finished as fantasy's RB4 for the week heading into the Sunday night game. With two consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Howard is making a push to be the team's primary back even when Jeremy Langford returns from an ankle injury. Howard should remain a weekly RB2 going forward, especially next week against the Jaguars.
In a surprising twist, Giovani Bernard started for the Bengals on Sunday over Jeremy Hill. The Bengals backfield heading into this game had been, for the most part, ineffective this season with the team averaging 3.1 yards per carry (30th in the NFL). Bernard did what he does best, and was efficient on the ground and through the air for 96 yards from scrimmage on his 15 touches. Hill only had four touches, as the Bengals were playing from behind almost the entire game. Hill also suffered a chest injury in the second half, the severity of which is not known yet so that's something his owners will need to monitor. Next week, the Bengals are on to New England. It will likely be another Bernard-friendly game script.
The Browns running backs had by far their worst outing of the 2016 season against New England. Obviously, Bill Belichick game-planned to stop the only thing the Browns had going for them on offense this season: Isaiah Crowell. He was limited to just 40 total yards on 14 touches while Duke Johnson had just 22 total yards. The fact that Cody Kessler left the game with an injury and Charlie Whitehurst was under center didn't help Cleveland's offense much. Going forward, Crowell remains a high-end RB2 as he's pretty much all the Browns have to offer on offense. He'll look to bounce back against the Titans in Week 6.
Ezekiel Elliott posted his highest yardage total of the season and recorded his third game in a row with over 150 yards from scrimmage, scoring twice against the Bengals. This time, though, he did it with fewer than 20 touches. It's obvious that Zeke is only getting better with each game that he plays. He's an elite RB1 at this point and needs to be locked into lineups of all formats. It was also nice to see him log three receptions which is a season-high. Zeke will face the best run defense in the league next week as the Packers allow an average of just 42.8 rush yards per game.
Theo Riddick confirmed his status as an elite pass-catching back with two receiving touchdowns against the Eagles. He wasn't too shabby as a runner either averaging 4.5 yards per carry on his 11 rush attempts. His production has been inconsistent thus far but his blow-up games have been week-winners. Zach Zenner got a few opportunities too but was unable to produce. Riddick is the only fantasy relevant running back in Detroit until further notice. The Lions face a Rams team in Week 6 that just gave up 150 rushing yards to LeSean McCoy, so Riddick can be deployed as an RB2 in that game.
Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy rumbled his way to 77 yards in the first half Sunday night against the Giants but left the game in the third quarter due to an ankle injury. We're still waiting to find out the status but his exit led to more opportunities for James Starks. Starks did not play well, though, averaging just 2.8 yards per rush on his 12 attempts. Lacy, when healthy, is clearly the better back. Still, Lacy has yet to find the end zone and has just one 100-yard game this season. Depending on his health status, he'll be a high-end flex option next week against the Cowboys. If for some reason he cannot play, Starks would likely draw the start.
Things can't get much worse than this for Lamar Miller. But if you didn't lower your expectations for the Texans offense against the Vikings then that's on you, man. The volume has been there (save for this game) but Miller has struggled with efficiency this season and his touchdown drought remains. His fantasy owners need to take this one with a grain of salt and look ahead to next week. The Texans take on a bad Colts run defense in Week 6, so Miller should bounce back.
Frank Gore had a decent outing in Week 5 but failed to reach the end zone for the first time in three games. Still, he was efficient (5.4 ypc) and saw a healthy volume of work with 15 touches, 10 of which came in the second half. It's a good sign that even without scoring he managed 7.9 fantasy points in standard leagues. His offensive snap share, 78 percent, proves that he remains the primary back in Indianapolis and Josh Ferguson is really only a threat to steal work when the Colts find themselves trailing by a large margin in the second half. Gore's owners will want to temper expectations for next week's game against the Texans.
Los Angeles Rams
The good news: Todd Gurley scored a touchdown. The bad news: Todd Gurley matched his season-high of 3.1 yards per carry with 72 rush yards on 23 attempts. He's one of the most inefficient lead backs in the NFL, has just two games with double-digit fantasy points and is fantasy's RB16 in standard scoring. DeAngelo Williams has more fantasy points than Gurley, and he's started two fewer games. Gurley faces a Lions defense allowing 114 rushing yards per game in Week 6, so he'll be an RB2 for that matchup.
Despite Jay Ajayi's touchdown, the Dolphins backfield continues to be a situation to avoid for fantasy purposes until Arian Foster returns. There's really nothing good to say about any of these guys. Don't let Williams' 70 yards fool you either, 58 of them came on a single play in the second quarter. If there is one positive takeaway, it's that Miami finally veered from the silly four-headed committee they've been using the last few games, with Ajayi working on 68 percent of his team's offensive snaps. If Foster has to miss another game, Ajayi would be the volume upside play next week against the Steelers.
If you own Jerick McKinnon, you likely started him this week after his coming out party last Monday night. Unfortunately, he had trouble doing much of anything against the Texans defensive front and it was Matt Asiata who led the Minnesota backfield in terms of production. Asiata had four fewer touches than his more athletic teammate but managed 55 more total yards and scored for the second straight game. This is going to continue to be an unpredictable committee in Minnesota but McKinnon remains the higher-volume upside play with at least 20 touches in each of the last two games. Asiata isn't going away, though, which will cap McKinnon's ceiling. The Vikings have a bye in Week 6, so fantasy owners will have to find other options.
New England Patriots
As expected, the Patriots offense skewed more pass-heavy in Tom Brady's return, and he shredded the Browns defense. But LeGarrette Blount did manage to find the end zone early on despite averaging just 2.1 yards per carry on his 18 rush attempts. A more involved James White out-snapped Blount (47 percent to 39 percent) and out-produced Blount in terms of total yardage. While Blount's volume will probably be more in the 15-to-18 touch range going forward, he's still a solid RB2 considering his nose for the end zone. White will be a matchup-based flex play going forward, as his nine touches aren't enough to boost him into the RB2 range yet.
New York Giants
With Rashad Jennings out again, Orleans Darkwa started for the Giants but was completely ineffective. Bobby Rainey, who collected 52 receiving yards, was the better fantasy option with the Giants trailing for the entirety of the game. Rainey is definitely the pass-catching option in this backfield and as long as the Giants offense is struggling, he should provide a safe weekly floor in PPR formats. Rookie Paul Perkins had a few touches but nothing here tells us that he needs to be owned outside of dynasty leagues.
New York Jets
Matt Forte disappointed for the third straight week with just 60 total yards on 14 touches. It was another friendly game script for Bilal Powell and he did work as a pass-catcher with 41 yards on six receptions. But the big story here is Forte's lack of production since Week 2. The veteran has combined for 16.7 fantasy points over the last three games. What we've seen from the Jets offense recently is not comforting and Forte needs to be downgraded to a low-end flex against the Cardinals in Week 6.
With Latavius Murray out (toe), the Oakland backfield was even more of a mess than it has been this season. DeAndre Washington played on 51 percent of the snaps but logged the same amount of touches as Jalen Richard. Richard came away as the yardage leader but Jamize Olawale punched in a goal-line touchdown. Simply put, we'd like nothing to do with this backfield while Murray is sidelined. And even when he's back, he's no more than a flex starter given his surprisingly diminished workload.
A bye week is just what the doctor ordered for Ryan Mathews. He returned healthy to face the Lions and was the Eagles primary back with 16 touches for 75 total yards (not great) and a touchdown (great!). With Mathews serving as the feature back, neither Wendell Smallwood nor Kenjon Barner had a single touch. Darren Sproles, who out-snapped Mathews 53 percent to 44 percent, logged a respectable 68 yards, but as long as Mathews is 100 percent healthy, Sproles' inconsistency will be an issue for fantasy owners. Next week, Mathews faces a Washington team that has had a gaping weakness at stopping the run.
In case you weren't sure after last week's 178-yard performance, Le'Veon Bell proved that he is still good at football with another 154 yards from scrimmage against the Jets. He hasn't scored yet, but it really shouldn't matter. His yardage totals alone are enough for RB1 production on a weekly basis. The other big takeaway from this game is how little DeAngelo Williams was used. Bell is the workhorse when healthy seeing a 96 percent share of snaps in this game, which should surprise absolutely no one. He should eat again next week against a sorry Miami run defense.
San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde has been consistent for fantasy owners and even in an unfavorable matchup, he produced. With 28 touches against the Cardinals, he even got work as a pass-catcher with six catches. He continues to sniff out the end zone and is one of the most used players in the league in red-zone situations. Fantasy owners can feel safe with him as a high-end RB2 for the foreseeable future. Hyde faces the Bills on the road in Week 6.
San Diego Chargers
Melvin Gordon kept rolling for fantasy owners on Sunday with his first career receiving touchdown and 87 total yards. He leads all running backs with 24 red-zone rush attempts through five games and as the only real option in the San Diego backfield, he should continue to provide consistent volume week in and week out. He gets a tough matchup against the Broncos on Thursday night. Gordon needs to be started in that game, but expectations may be lowered a bit.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Charles Sims was ruled out for Monday night and was surprsingly placed on injured reserve before the game leaving Jacquizz Rodgers as the only viable option for the Bucs out of the backfield. They absolutely loaded the veteran backup with touches, more than any back of the week actually, and he managed a solid 128 total yards. Nobody saw this coming. It makes sense given Rodgers' history with Tampa Bay's coach Dirk Koetter from their time together in Atlanta, but still, 35 touches is insane. With the Bucs on a Week 6 bye and Doug Martin expected to return in Week 7, Rodgers will be just a handcuff going forward.
DeMarco Murray headlined this column last week, and he put up another worthy performance in Week 5. It was his fourth-straight game with 100-plus scrimmage yards and while he didn't get into the end zone, his yardage total alone was enough for an RB1-type fantasy day. He dominated with 82 percent of the backfield touches and kept Derrick Henry out of the conversation as a fantasy piece. Murray is a candidate to be a top-three option at running back against the Browns next week.
Matt Jones' fantasy owners should have seen this coming ... The Ravens defense has been tough against opposing running back and this game was no different. Jones averaged a meager 1.5 yards per carry on 14 attempts which is extremely poor. He's basically a low-end matchup-based flex at this point. He'll have his big games in favorable matchups, which he has done (Week 2 vs DAL, Week 4 vs CLE) but his basement-level floor is concerning. Chris Thompson put up 45 yards on six total touches, but he remains a waiver-wire guy at this point. Washington will have another tough running back matchup against the Eagles next week, so Jones owners will probably want to leave him on the bench.
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Matt Franciscovich is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattFranchise