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 (above link) for passing game targets.
There's not much more nuance to add to the David Johnson discussion; he's a big play waiting to happen with a safe floor thanks to a 20-plus touch workload in one of the NFL's best offenses. He was out on 75 percent of the plays the past two games, and only lost snaps in Week 14 because of a few injuries. If you have David Johnson, you fell into a late season RB1. Against Philadelphia in Week 15, he can win fantasy owners a ticket to their league's championships.
The fear for those invested in the Atlanta offense was that the collapse of their team and the overall ineffectiveness of their quarterback would eventually cannibalize the output of their only two good players. It appears those worries for Freeman were realized. He cracked 3.4 yards per carry in just one of his last four games, and that was his three-carry game against Indianapolis where he left early with a concussion. Against the Panthers, Freeman amassed just 4.13 yards per touch, a full yard lower than his season average of 5.31.
With the team consistently playing with a deficit, it's hard for Freeman to garner the type of volume needed to ease concerns about the decline of his situation. With the Falcons facing Jacksonville and Carolina again in the next two weeks, both top-10 run defenses, we may have seen the last of Freeman as a take-it-to-the-bank RB1 in fantasy this year.
The Baltimore skill position players look like an expansion team right now. If you think a running back can consistently succeed in that environment, then there's a prince from a faraway land ready to accept your donation in your spam email folders. With Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati left on the schedule, it's hard to imagine the sledding getting lighter for Buck Allen. His value is only secure in PPR leagues, as he has 33 targets over the last four games.
So much for revenge. LeSean McCoy had his least efficient game against his former team, and saw the lone red zone running back touch go to Mike Gillislee. Gillislee looks like the handcuff for McCoy, as long as Karlos Williams remains on the injury report.
There was some talk the Panthers could rest Jonathan Stewart for a postseason run while working in their fifth-round rookie and supposed backup, Cameron Artis-Payne. Stewart didn't crack 20 carries for the first time since Week 4, but that was just a factor of the Panthers gaining an early lead before finishing off the Falcons 38-0. Stewart did sustain a supposedly minor injury in the game, leading to more touches for Fozzy Whittaker. You can throw a pickup at Artis-Payne if you want, but just realize you're doing so off pure speculation.
After Week 13, it looked like Matt Forte had this job back to himself for the most part. However, the split was near even in this game, with Forte playing three less snaps than Jeremy Langford and handling three fewer touches. Unfortunately, there's no locked-in way to approach this backfield. Langford finished second on the team in targets with seven, and even snagged one of Forte's red zone carries. You're hoping for a touchdown with either of these players, but it's impossible to tell you which one is the better bet to hit paydirt.
The shootout envisioned for the Steeler vs. Bengals game never materialized, and the backfield ended up an even split once again. However, with the injury to Andy Dalton (fracture in his hand, likely out for the rest of the regular season at least), the ceiling comes off this already muddied backfield. Road trips to San Francisco and Denver the next two weeks present a mixed bag of matchups. With A.J. McCarron behind center, we just don't know what to expect.
In a career-best day for Isaiah Crowell, the bruising runner looked like an NFL star sprinting through the 49ers abysmal road run defense. He actually played less snaps that Duke Johnson (46 percent to Johnson's 56 percent). However, it was clear the game plan with Johnny Manziel under center involved establishing a power run game when Crowell was on the field. Perhaps Manziel's presence as a scrambler forced some adjustments by an undermanned 49ers defense that they were not prepared for.
It's unlikely that many fantasy owners got to enjoy this massive game by Crowell, and he was probably on more waiver wires than in starting lineups. This was such an outlier game, it's hard to recommend chasing it, especially with road trips to Seattle and Kansas City next up on the docket. However, it's worth watching to see if this is a change in the career arc for Crowell in preparation for next year's fantasy drafts.
It would appear that the Cowboys no longer have any interest in pumping Darren McFadden with a near 100 percent share of the running back workload. Darren McFadden averaged 27.4 touches per game in his first five games as the Cowboys lead back. He averaged just 12.7 over the last three games, with Robert Turbin soaking up three, eight and seven touches in those contests. The time when we could trust McFadden as a every week RB2 regardless of format came and went, regardless of how effective he was on those limited touches against the Packers.
C.J. Anderson was active for emergency purposes only, and never sniffed the field while nursing his injury. The Broncos clearly missed their best running back, as the Ronnie Hillman/Juwan Thompson duo averaged 1.65 yards per carry in Anderson's absence. Hillman caught seven passes to save his fantasy day, but the running back rotation was largely ineffective.
There's nothing to mine from this backfield, other than Theo Riddick as a floor play in PPR leagues. Either of Joique Bell or Ameer Abdullah would need to absorb the other's touch total to gain fantasy relevance.
The up and down roller coaster of Eddie Lacy's season continues, but it's a positive sign that in Mike McCarthy's first game back as a play caller there was a clear emphasis on the run. The Packers had 43 carries as a team on Sunday (including non-running backs), which blew away their previous season high of 34 in Week 11. In resuming his role as the clear lead back, Lacy handled 68.6 percent of the team's running back carries. We understand the reaction that trusting him garners this year, but as long as things are squared away health-wise and off the field, he is an RB1 in fantasy.
James Starks can fill in as a high-upside flex play with a low floor. Starks averages a rather secure 14.3 touches over the last six games.
For the first time all season, Alfred Blue did not get a single touch, and never even saw time with the offense. Despite some solid fantasy lines, Blue is not a good running back and is an overall negative force for the Texans. This appears to be an outright demotion, as Blue still played on 10 special teams snaps despite being phased out of the offense. Jonathan Grimes and Chris Polk are both superior players, but their spilt is still too drastic for them to have anything more than "what the heck" flex value.
Right now, Frank Gore is still a low-ceiling RB2 play based on the volume of touches he gets, but it will be tough sledding for him in fantasy with the Colts offense in the tank behind deficient quarterback play. If players like Dan Herron and Zurlon Tipton continue to siphon off 39.3 percent of the running back touches, then he becomes a far riskier proposition.
T.J. Yeldon suffered a knee sprain in the Jaguars win over the Colts, and Gus Bradley did not offer any further comments on Monday regarding his rookie running back's status. Denard Robinson is the clear next man up, and we have some history of him as a useful fill-in starter. There was a five game stretch last season where Robinson averaged 19 touches, 98.2 yard per game and scored four touchdowns, including a hyper-effective 20-touch, 116.3-yard average in the first three games. He's an exciting player in the open field, who can play on passing downs. With the Jaguars clicking on offense, and welcoming a moribund Falcons defense to their stadium in Week 15, you can get a spot start out of Robinson. Make him a priority on your waiver wire.
Spencer Ware was well on his way to a productive day barreling over the Chargers defense before sustaining an injury early in the third quarter. However, by the time that period ended, the rush attempt split between he and Charcandrick West was at a dead even 50 percent. Predicting the game script is the key to this rotation, as it revealed Ware was the better play against the Chargers. For Week 15, a road trip to take on the strong Baltimore front seven should lead us to Charcandrick West. Regardless, these two will only reach a consistent RB2 output if the other sits.
Adrian Peterson busted off several vintage, eye-popping runs in the first quarter, but was largely bottled up afterwards. Nevertheless, this proved a fine rebound performance from him, with plenty of volume to ease the concerns of over-panicked fantasy owners.
LeGarrette Blount sustained some sort of hip injury against the Texans, and did not return. With the Patriots carrying a lead, Brandon Bolden took over the role as the lead back. Bolden is an uninspiring option, but if he gets 15-plus carries in this offense when the Patriots play Tennessee next week, he deserves consideration.
James White continues scoring touchdowns on a low volume of touches. The Patriots should not need to pass much next week, making him a risky play if you're chasing his points.
Early Sunday morning, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Tim Hightower would take over Mark Ingram's old role, while C.J. Spiller's input from the offense would remain exactly the same. That is precisely what played out, with Spiller handling just six touches, while Hightower ran the ball 28 times against the tough Buccaneers front seven. Hightower is a smart runner, and still carries the power that made him a successful spot starter early in his career. If this workload holds up for him, he's an every-week flex play.
Hey, we can actually get into some real analysis here since the Giants actually utilized a feature back instead of treating their backfield like a preseason tryout. Rashad Jennings is far from a flawless player, but he's quite clearly the Giants most steady and consistent back. He's a solid all-around contributor, and keeps an offense run through a dynamic passing attack on schedule grinding out yards on the ground. We can't honestly project the Giants to continue with this game plan, even if it is the most rational coaching move. However, it would certainly help their chances of winning.
If an owner dropped Jennings in your league, and you need a flex play for Week 15, it's at least worth adding and considering Jennings. Carolina doesn't present an exploitable defense, but New York would be wise to continue the use of a sustaining back. They will need it against the Panthers defense.
Chris Ivory was the lead back in a game where the Jets won with ease, and he handled 13 of his 22 carries in the second half against the Titans. The Jets still want to keep Bilal Powell involved, as he is a competent player that offers a nice option as an outlet receiver. When the Jets go back and forth exchanging points with their opponent, Powell will remain a part of the game plan. Projecting game script going forward: Week 15 against the Cowboys feels like a an Ivory-heavy game with New York likely controlling the game, but Week 16's home game against the Patriots could easily be a Powell-heavy shootout.
Latavius Murray played Denver this week, which sunk his outing. He's prone to games like this when the Raiders must go pass-heavy, as he just is not a strong enough pass-catcher or blocker at this point.
When we envisioned the Eagles backfield devolving into a nightmarish three-way split in the preseason, this was the exact situation we drew up. It will be impossible to trust any of these players as fantasy assets without a little sweat in the playoffs. To take a stab at projecting roles: Ryan Mathews is the high-upside flex play, Darren Sproles is the floor play in PPR, and DeMarco Murray is the dart throw you hope scores a touchdown. But even that might be wrong.
DeAngelo Williams checks in as the only running back who handled 100 percent of his team's backfield touchesin Week 14. There is no safer running back in fantasy right now than Williams. Even in a game where he clocked less than four yards per carry, the scoring and touch opportunities in the Pittsburgh offense are too good to deny.
The Chargers continue trying to get Melvin Gordon going, and he keeps making that decision more and more puzzling as the year wears on. The Dolphins can't stop the run, so there is an outside shot that he could finally reach the end zone in Week 15, but we've tried to tell ourselves that story far too many times this season already to no avail.
Shaun Draughn gave up 27 percent of the snaps to Travaris Cadet yesterday, taking the edge off the appeal he had two weeks ago. With a workload of under 15 touches, including a decrease in his pass-game looks, Draughn no longer carries weekly starting appeal. The 49ers close out with games against Cincinnati and Detroit, both games where they could need Draughn as a receiver. However, we see now he no longer carries the floor that made him a gift off the waiver wire just a few weeks ago.
Sadly, we will no longer get to enjoy Thomas Rawls for the rest of the season, as he went down with a severe ankle injury. In his absence, it was journeyman DuJuan Harris and not veteran Fred Jackson who took over the lead back role. Jackson can still have some value in PPR leagues with his role on third down, but neither of their next two games (Browns and Rams) set up as game scripts with much needed passing.
If you want to chase Harris on the waiver wire, we won't talk you out of it. The Opportunity Report preached all season that you should not turn your nose up at any rung back with a 15 to 20-touch workload locked-in. Not being snobbish in this regard led you to spot starts from Shaun Draughn and Antonio Andrews. Harris could fall into that category with a home game against Cleveland on the Week 15 docket, but the floor is dangerous here.
Todd Gurley is back. Watching him on Sunday was a true treat; seeing something you knew was special, and was always there despite rough few weeks. We're sorry if you had to watch that with him on your fantasy bench, but it was near impossible to project this type of game after the last month, even if we knew the talent was there. The question going forward: can we trust Gurley again? Much like this one, the matchups don't set up particularly well (Buccaneers and Seahawks) for the rest of the fantasy playoffs. However, we now have visual proof that Gurley is the type of transcendent talent that when he gets the lean on the defense, he can rise above his poor offense. Chase the ceiling, and just grit through the floor.
There was so much more there for Doug Martin in this game, but the Bucs went with a pass-heavy game script. Expect them to get back to feeding Martin on a more regular basis when they travel to St. Louis on Thursday night.
We're done looking to this backfield for anything fantasy related. Even Dexter McCluster, who led the team in touches, went on IR Monday.
Week 14 marked the second-consecutive game where Washington assigned 18 carries for Matt Jones. He clearly offers a big-play potential to this offense when he's on, but he comes away from that stretch with just a 3.08 yards per carry average. You can throw him in as a flex play, and hope for a home run, but we know the safest course of action is to avoid this group altogether.
Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter **@MattHarmon_BYB**.