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 (linked above) for passing game targets.
Chris Johnson certainly didn't get much going when he was on the field, taking his 12 carries for an average of just 1.42 yards. He later left the game and never returned. The 49ers defense is tougher at home than when they travel, but this was a matchup for Johnson where he should have brought more to the table. Johnson's far more useful to the Cardinals as a sustaining force than he is for fantasy of late. His floor seems to inch lower and lower, while we have not seen a tangible ceiling in quite some time.
Andre Ellington took the first swing at replacing the injured Johnson, but suffered an injury of his own to the same foot he he had injury issues with last year. Ellington is one of the most oft-injured backs in the NFL, so this comes as no surprise. David Johnson closed the game out as the top back, but lost pass blocking work to Stepfan Taylor (seven snaps). It was clear from the get-go that Bruce Arians has no intentions of or desire to trust his rookie back with much work. However, with the veteran Johnson's fractured tibia injury to keep him out for the foreseeable future, it's hard to not envision David Johnson siphoning off a big workload. A physically gifted marvel, Johnson will be a high-upside RB2 if both of the backs ahead of him are out. While he might not offer the same consistency to the Cardinals offense, he's a must add in any fantasy leagues where he's available.
If you just look at the box score alone, this may seem like a successful outing for Tevin Coleman. However, in watching the game unfold, it was clear he offered as much hindrance as help. Just as he was back in college at Indiana, Coleman was a boom or bust runner against a declining of late Vikings run defense. He accumulated 41.8 percent of his yards on one long tremendous gallop into the open field, but had the ball popped out at the conclusion by Anthony Barr. Coleman also dropped both of the targets sent his way.
Coleman is a good asset for the Falcons to have in certain situations, but Devonta Freeman is the far better fit as the sustaining feature back the offense needs. Expect the touches split to swing far in latter's favor when he returns from a concussion driven absence.
The common thought was the Buck Allen would inherit a 20-plus touch role and dominate the backfield work in the wake of Justin Forsett's season-ending injury. He certainly did not disappoint those who played him, but seeing Terrance West take seven carries, and some in crucial moments, had to be a little unnerving. The narrative on West is that he's a poor player, and that's been true at the NFL level through less than two years as a pro. However, he was a talented runner coming out of Towson University, which is right near Baltimore but not known as a football factory. The word after the draft was that the Ravens loved West, and wanted to take him in the third round before the rival Browns jumped them. After stints with two dysfunctional teams, perhaps playing with the Ravens, known to turn around the wayward NFL souls, sets West's still young career on track. For now, West ran hard and determined against his former team, and his progress is something to monitor for those invested in Allen.
Not many running backs are more reliable for fantasy production than LeSean McCoy right now. He handled 81.5 percent of the team's total touches and, outside of a fumble, played another strong game in a tougher matchup. The other backs are barely a factor at this point, and Karlos Williams left with a shoulder injury in the first half.
Jonathan Stewart handled over 85 percent of the team's touches once again, with Mike Tolbert only sprinkled in on occasion. With the defense taking two interceptions back for touchdowns early, the Panthers offense didn't need to play a big role in this contest. As such, legitimate scoring opportunities were hard to come by for Stewart, leading to just low-end RB2 day.
Reports prior to the onset of this game indicated Matt Forte would be the starter "in name only" and that he and Jeremy Langford would split the work. Forte took three more carries than Langford, and they split snaps 37 to 30, respectively. It appears we have a full-blown committee in Chicago, with no clear differentiation between their roles. Both caught one pass and saw equal passing down reps, Forte had more carries in the red zone, but Langford came in and scored on the goal line. The most likely scenario is that a committee situation between these backs on a surprisingly steady offense makes them both flex plays going forward.
The Bengals Sunday win over the Rams was the best game Jeremy Hill has played all season. He ran well, and got downhill with little hesitation. Cincinnati was a heavy home favorite, and the Rams run defense is evaporating, so the results shouldn't be too shocking despite how poorly Hill played prior to Week 12.
Either way, there are few caveats to getting back on board with Hill after this game. He's already questionable, with an ankle injury sustained in this game, for his Week 13 matchup with the Browns. That game is by far his best matchup the rest of the way, as Pittsburgh, the 49ers (at home) and the Broncos in Weeks 14-16 should all prove more formidable foes. Even in this game where he played well, Hill saw just one more snap than Giovani Bernard. Week 12 was a positive data point, the first in a while, but caution is advised.
It's hard to argue that any starting running back has performed worse than Isaiah Crowell. There's nothing to see with him, and he simply offers nothing to this offense suffering through poor run blocking. Duke Johnson is clearly the superior talent, and is a dynamic asset in the passing game. He ran a pristine route on a slant out of the slot and helped moved the chains in the first half, showing what he can bring for the Browns. While the coaches took him off the field right after that play, he owned several series to himself, and played 64 percent of the snaps to Crowell's 36 percent. Hopefully last night was the last straw to break the back of Crowell seeing more work than Johnson. If he's the more involved player, Johnson has every week starter upside in PPR leagues.
Prior to Thanksgiving, Darren McFadden averaged over 25 touches in his stretch as the Cowboys starter, making this 10 carry affair a clear outlier. The Cowboys were knocked off their game script early after Tony Romo's three interceptions spotted the Panthers a free 17 points. McFadden never even had to endure such a disaster with Matt Cassel under center. Look for the Cowboys to get back on track in feeding their veteran running back with plenty of opportunities in Week 13 in a duel with Washington.
C.J. Anderson is every jabroni's first player to bring up when making fun of fantasy analysts, but we saw last night why everyone was so high on him; C.J. Anderson is a good running back. He ran hard and decisive, and showed the agility and burst that made him a special player last season. His game winning touchdown rush in overtime was one of the best runs of the season.
Anderson suffered through a foot injury early in the season, and there may not be a more painful malady for a player at his position to work through on the field than that. He's looked great since coming back from the bye week, but this was the type of dynamic performance he needed to jolt those who doubted him back to reality. Unless you're an overly bitter fantasy player, this was a great performance to watch unfold. With Gary Kubiak's offense in full swing with Brock Osweiler under center, the pieces of the puzzle are all there for Anderson.
Of course, Ronnie Hillman is a good player, and still deserves touches. He offers good explosive ability as a change of pace runner, while Anderson is superior receiver and sustaining force. Anderson is the superior all-around player, but both backs deserve to remain a factor. That will prevent both players from regularly reaching their ceiling in fantasy, however.
For the second week in a row, Ameer Abdullah led the Lions is touches out of the backfield. The 17 he handled in this game tied his season high mark reached back in Week 7. The offensive line is still an issue, but Abdullah is running with confidence and making defenders miss. He's a solid enough flex play with the attrition at running back, and a must-monitor for 2016 considerations. Theo Riddick leads the NFL in running back catches and remains a weekly upside dart throw in PPR leagues.
Eddie Lacy is all the way back. Good football players that haven't hit an age decline almost always find themselves again, and it appears Lacy has done so. He ran well all night, even though Mike McCarthy at one point foolishly pulled him for fumbling. You can start Lacy again with full confidence going forward.
Alfred Blue is the lead back here, whether we like it or not. He's far from a great player, but he's the coaches' choice as the player to lead this team in touches week-in-and-week-out. That makes Jonathan Grimes a worthwhile stash, but a mere "what the heck" flex play in PPR leagues.
A horrific running game by Indianapolis had injury added to insult on Monday morning when the team placed Ahmad Bradshaw on season-ending IR. Dan "Boom" Herron was brought back last week, and will need to pick up some of the slack in relief of Frank Gore now. He's worth a speculative add if you have a roster spot to burn. As for the aforementioned Gore, don't let this performance drag you down. The Buccaneers are a top-five run defense, according to Football Outsiders, with a 22 percent stuff rate and no. 1 rating in open field yards allowed. He's averaged 20.75 carries over the last four weeks, and should only see more work with Bradshaw out of the picture.
Week 12's matchup with the Chargers in Jacksonville, and the projected game flow, all set up as the perfect game for T.J. Yeldon to finally have a monster game. Once again, Yeldon ripped of pristine runs and dominated the touches (76.5 percent) and snap share (80 percent) among the Jaguars' running backs. However, their inability to hold a lead limits his opportunities, and the team's horrid red zone play-calling damns him in fantasy. Blake Bortles distributed nine targets and scrambled twice inside the red zone on Sunday, while never handing the ball to a running back.
Just as many expected, like his predecessor and the original Chiefs starter, Spencer Ware assumed almost all of the Chiefs touches in the absence of Charcandrick West. Kansas City is the most plug and play friendly offense in the NFL, with two former undrafted free agents now showing out in the their system. Additionally, Ware proved himself as a legitimate NFL talent, as he ran like a bully and barreled over defenders all afternoon.
The interesting twist here is what to expect when West returns from a hamstring injury. It's hard to imagine that West just re-assumes all of the touches for himself after Ware played so well in what was not a cakewalk matchup. While West is the more explosive player and superior receiver, there's use for Ware as the better hammer and finisher. The latter role will prove quite useful for a team with a strong defense set to make a push for the post season. It's likely both West and Ware have value in the waning weeks of the fantasy season.
The Dolphins fired Bill Lazor Monday morning, likely due to the team's frustration with his far too pass heavy offense. With that being said, the Dolphins are a bad football team, and both Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi could get thrown off course by game script down the stretch. Players with Miller on their team may have to accept volatility going forward with a running back who gave them monster games, but just does not get regular touches. Perhaps the change in coordinator change brings a more positive outlook for Miller, but we've told this story before.
With Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman falling into the quicksand that are their respective offenses, Adrian Peterson is firmly in place as the RB1 overall in fantasy.
LeGarrette Blount is fading the last few weeks, which may seem odd considering the team lost Dion Lewis. Perhaps New England intended to remove him from the game plan and just attack the Broncos with quick passing and heavy tight end involvement. Such a reality would be par for the course for Blount in his time with the team. He's hard to count on as an every week RB2 when the matchup doesn't clearly favor power running.
James White led the team in running back snaps, but saw the fewest touches. Brandon Bolden was largely quiet, outside of a long broken coverage touchdown. You know what you're getting into with either of these players.
Mark Ingram remains one of the more consistent high-floor running backs in fantasy, and a top-five play in PPR leagues. The Saints failed to score a touchdown for the first time in Sean Payton's coaching tenure there. Ingram's ceiling was diminished due to a poor game by Drew Brees in a tough matchup against a suddenly stifling Houston defense.
Nothing to see here.
In what was one of the more encouraging signs of the week, Chris Ivory ferociously barreled through the poor Dolphins run defense. Ivory handled 69.7 percent of the team's total touches, which dwarfed his Week 11 figure. We know the deal with the Jets starter at this point. When Ivory is at full strength, the team will feed him relentlessly and his aggressive running style leads to big plays and scoring opportunities. However, his health could careen him at any moment. The Jets face the Giants in Week 13, and that will be a game to start Ivory and expect big numbers.
Latavius Murray hasn't scored inside the top-12 running backs in a given week since Week 3. His game against Tennessee was one of his worst of the season, as he averaged 2.68 yards per carry and needed 23 yards on his lone reception to bail out his fantasy line from disaster territory. The Raiders offense was clicking on all cylinders and he saw 82.1 percent of the touches. Murray is a talented player, who is in the middle of a solid season, but he's not at the level where we can't expect lumps in the road like this one.
In a blowout game, the Eagles couldn't mount a successful drive to save their lives, and DeMarco Murray's numbers suffered as a consequence. Logic says that Murray will get back to the 17-touch, 90-yard floor neighborhood he inhabited prior to this game. However, with the Eagles on full "quit on Chip" watch, and teammates questioning his effort level, this could turn ugly in a hurry.
If anyone benched DeAngelo Williams because of a tough matchup this week, they learned a tough lesson about the running back position. Running backs' statistical production is almost completely a product of the offense they find themselves attached to. Even if a running back has an inefficient game, the amount of scoring opportunities and favorable looks provided to them by playing in a great offense keeps their fantasy value afloat.
Case in point: Williams averaged a mere 3.63 yards per carry because the Seahawks have a good run defense. However, he took a red zone carry in for a touchdown because the pass offense moved the ball, and he helped matriculate them down the field with seven receptions. Their outlook in finding running room isn't at the top of the list when projecting or ranking running backs on a weekly basis.
Lesson learned; when you have a good running back, who sees the bulk of the touches on a great offense on your fantasy team, he never goes on the bench. DeAngelo Williams reminded us of a crucial reality of the running back position so we don't mistakes in the future.
Not that it's saying much for fantasy, but this may well have been Melvin Gordon's best game of his rookie season. It does speak to his future outlook, as the Jaguars have regularly ranked inside the top five in terms of lowest yards per carry allowed. It's also time to cut bait on the idea of Danny Woodhead as an every week starter, even in PPR leagues. With Melvin Gordon seeing over 55 percent of the team's touches and keeping pace with the diminutive back in catches, sadly Woodhead is a volatile play going forward.
Per NumberFire's JJ Zachariason, Shaun Draughn is the first running back this season to play 100 percent of his team's offensive snaps. Additionally, this is the third week in a row where Draughn had 20 touches, and he leads the team in targets with Blaine Gabbert under center. Based on opportunity alone, Draughn is an RB2 in PPR leagues, and could be much more in Week 13 when he faces the Bears (275 yards allowed to running backs the last two weeks). Draughn figures to be an elite DFS tournament play in Week 13.
The Steelers entered this week ranked second in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Even facing a bad matchup, Thomas Rawls slots in as the RB9 thus far in Week 13 and saw 84 percent of the team's backfield touches. He's a RB1 going forward in fantasy leagues.
The Rams may have the worst offense in the NFL right now, and as such, Todd Gurley finds himself on the other end of the theory DeAngelo Williams reminded us of. Even if a great running back like Gurley is attached to a bottom-five NFL offense, he'll struggle to produce fantasy points. Volume can be life-preserver, and this was an outlier game for Gurley in terms of workload. However, when they get taken away, we see the floor crash down to horrific levels for fantasy. It's hard to put a back like Gurley on the bench, but he's not near the locked-in status he was just a few weeks ago. You can thank Jeff Fisher and Nick Foles for this one.
There's not much unexpected with this split. Doug Martin remains an every week, high-ceiling start at running back, while Charles Sims is a mere PPR flier.
Antonio Andrews' lack of talent is showing up lately. Andrews posted two frighteningly poor games in Weeks 10 and 12 after low-end RB2 outings with at least 17 touches in Weeks 9 and 11. We're not necessarily looking for another player to usurp him, but he's only playable in cake walk matchups.
Seemingly out of nowhere Alfred Morris handled 24 (66.7 percent of the team) touches on Sunday. This doesn't really change anything, just reiterates we don't rely on this backfield for anything predictable.
Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter **@MattHarmon_BYB**.