Rookie RBs establish fantasy value in Week 2

Every week Committee Meetings breaks down some top storylines from the league's most head-scratching backfield committees in hopes of gaining some clarity for fantasy owners. If you're wondering about a backfield that's not discussed below, feel free to Tweet @m_franciscovich for some additional advice.

For all intents and purposes, Week 2 was the week of rookie running backs. Matt Jones broke out; David Johnson impressed for the second straight week; Melvin Gordon ran like Melvin Gordon; Tevin Coleman got into the end zone prior to an injury; Karlos Williams vultured another touchdown from Shady; Duke Johnson split an almost even workload with Isaiah Crowell; Ameer Abdullah started for the Lions. All of these rookies are part of committees on their respective teams and for the most part, had productive fantasy outings this past week. (I say for the most part because Abdullah didn't have a good game against the Vikings) Five of the aforementioned seven rookie runners posted greater than nine fantasy points on the day. Let's take a closer look at each rookie's Week 2 production and their team's committee situation.

Matt Jones breaks out

Alfred Morris| Matt Jones | Chris Thompson // Redskins
Through two games, Washington is leading the NFL in rushing yards per game (171.5) - a true testament to all of the offseason chatter that there was a concerted effort to bolster the team's offensive line play. Granted, it's only two games, but both Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones rank in the top 10 in total rushing yards among running backs with 180 and 151 respectively.

The big story here is Jones, who scored twice and totaled 146 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches against one of the leagues tougher defenses in the St. Louis Rams, something Rams' head coach Jeff Fisher won't soon forget. Behind the excellent play of his offensive line, the rookie ran with explosive speed and punishing power on his way to a 24.6 fantasy point day. On third downs in this game, Jones had three carries for 26 yards, while Morris' only third down attempt went for negative yardage. In the red zone, each back had four rush attempts, but Jones was far and away more productive with his opportunities, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and scoring once inside the 20-yard line.

Fantasy owners must take notice immediately, as Jones likely won't last on the waiver wire for long. While there will likely be room for both Morris and Jones to be relevant in fantasy, this could be a weekly head-scratcher as far as which back to start, especially if you own both of them.

Melvin Gordon ran like Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon| Danny Woodhead | Branden Oliver // Chargers
Fantasy owners got to see the Melvin Gordon they thought they were investing in on draft day against the Bengals in Week 2. The Wisconsin product averaged 5.5 yards per carry and totaled 88 yards on the day, which included pickups of 26 yards on his first carry of the game as well as runs of 27 and 20 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Gordon also had 57 yards after contact against Cincinnati, more than all but three other running backs in the NFL in Week 2.

But the Chargers stuck to their guns and used Danny Woodhead exclusively on third downs and in the red zone, two situations in which Gordon didn't touch the ball once. While neither running back scored in this game, it was good to see Gordon collect 70 percent of the backfield's rushing yards himself compared to Woodhead's 29 percent. Last week, Gordon accounted for just 54 percent of the Chargers' running back yardage while Woodhead totaled 44 percent, so consider this a major step in the right direction.

Looking ahead to Week 3, Gordon and the Chargers take on the Vikings, a team that two weeks ago allowed Carlos Hyde to run wild for 168 yards, but bottled up Ameer Abdullah and the Lions for just 16 rushing yards on 11 attempts last week.

 

Johnson splits workload with Crowell

Isaiah Crowell | Duke Johnson // Browns
One week after the Cleveland backfield embarrassed itself with a total of 46 combined rushing yards on 20 attempts, Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnsonfell back into the good graces of the Browns coaching staff with a much better outing. The duo averaged a combined 4.3 yards per carry. Interestingly, it was a fairly even split in terms of carries with Crowell seeing 15 to Johnson's 12, but neither back was targeted even once in the passing game.

Still, the Crow had his best fantasy day dating back to Week 12 of last season (88 rush yards, 2 TDs) with 72 yards and a score against the Titans. He also got all of the red zone touches (two) as his score came on an 11-yard run in the first half. Johnson's 3.6 yards per carry was less than inspiring and in order for the rookie to have fantasy value, he needs to be used as a pass-catcher. But his 12 rush attempts might be a sign that the Browns want to get him more involved going forward.

Freeman, Coleman get into end zone

Devonta Freeman | Tevin Coleman* | Terron Ward // Falcons
The Falcons' backfield duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for a meager 2.7 yards per carry average, totaling just 57 rushing yards on 21 total attempts against the Giants. Fortunately for fantasy owners, both backs managed to score touchdowns in Week 2.

Coleman left the game early though, and it was reported on Monday morning that he suffered a cracked rib and would likely miss a few weeks as he recovers. This leaves the door wide open for Freeman to step up, and a chance for fantasy owners to capitalize on the situation. Another name to watch out for is Terron Ward, an undrafted rookie who got some good run in the preseason with both Coleman and Freeman sidelined with hamstring injuries. He's worth a prospective look in deeper leagues.

The Falcons take on the Cowboys in Week 3. Dallas, excluding Sunday's debacle involving the Eagles backfield, make for a middle-of-the-pack matchup against opposing running backs, so Freeman should be at least be worth a look as a flex play with Coleman out.

David Johnson makes a statement

Chris Johnson | David Johnson | Andre Ellington* // Cardinals
With Andre Ellington on the shelf for several weeks with a knee injury, fantasy owners were clamoring to see more from rookie runner David Johnson after his first career touch as a pro -- a 55-yard touchdown reception in Week 1. Welp, they got what they wanted right off the bat as Johnson returned the Chicago Bears' opening kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. It was truly an amazing return, one that I personally cannot stop watching. He also scored on a 13-yard run midway through the third quarter in which he picked up a couple of key blocks, made one defender miss and speedily glided into the end zone in the blink of an eye.

Because David is still learning the ropes as a pro, the Cardinals opted to distribute 20 rush attempts to veteran Chris Johnson throughout the game. Chris danced his way to a 3.6 yards per carry average in the game, less than half of David's 8.4 yards per carry on just five attempts. Coach Bruce Arians acknowledged this, but said that Chris "is still the starter" although David "will have a vital role every week."

From a fantasy perspective, David is the Cadinals running back to own, but until Arians and the Arizona coaching staff commit to the rookie as their lead runner, it will be difficult to endorse him as a fantasy starter in standard leagues due to volume concerns. If you're feeling lucky though, Johnson might have more homerun potential than any other rookie runner in the league and should remain a great value in DFS play. Johnson and Johnson match up against a 49ers defense that surrendered three rushing touchdowns and nearly 100 yards to DeAngelo Williams last week.

Williams steals another TD from McCoy

LeSean McCoy | Karlos Williams | Anthony Dixon // Bills
For the second straight game, LeSean McCoy had a couple of touchdowns vultured away from him - one by rookie running back Karlos Williams and one by quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

McCoy produced as both a runner and a pass-catcher as he collected 116 yards on 18 touches in a game against the Patriots and was on the field for 68 percent of Buffalo's offensive plays compared to the 32 percent that Williams saw. McCoy is the clear leader of this backfield, but fantasy owners who drafted him thinking that Shady would be the sole ball-carrier for the Bills were mistaken. Through two games, Shady has zero touchdowns on 40 touches compared to two scores for Williams on 13 touches. It's clearly a committee backfield in Buffalo and Williams has solidified himself a role as the team's change-of-pace power runner behind McCoy.

Williams turned just eight touches into 9.7 fantasy points in this contest and was rotated in behind McCoy beginning early in the first quarter. To make matters worse, during a red zone opportunity late in the fourth quarter, the Bills had Shady lined up as a wide receiver in a five-wide set, but Taylor saw an opening and ended up running it in himself instead of throwing the ball.

Fantasy owners who drafted McCoy need to seriously consider picking up Williams as a clear-cut handcuff and a guy who, as the season goes on, could get more and more playing time as he develops as an NFL back. Of course the threat of Taylor as a running quarterback will always be a headache in red zone situations, too.

Lions RBs struggle, Abdullah draws start

Ameer Abdullah | Joique Bell | Theo Riddick // Lions
Fantasy darling and rookie runner Ameer Abdullah got the starting nod for the Lions in Week 2, something we've been prognosticating for quite some time. But in a game where Detroit was playing catchupearly on, the Lions backfield was extremely unproductive on the ground, rushing for just 16 total yards on 11 combined carries. Because Detroit was behind, pass-catching back Theo Riddick actually out-snapped Abdullah buy a count of 35 to 31. Veteran Joique Bell, whose days seem numbered as a relevant fantasy option saw just 18 offensive snaps.

Don't get distracted by the Lions' backfield's failure to produce here. Instead, focus on the fact that Abdullah was the team's starting running back over Bell. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, and perhaps, in a few weeks, fantasy owners can feel confident slotting him into their lineups without fear.

Matt Franciscovich is an associate fantasy editor at NFL.com. He's been listening to the latest Tame Impala record "Currents" at least twice a day in recent weeks. Hit him up on Twitter @m_franciscovich for music recommendations and fantasy advice.

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