*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 8 nearly in the books, it's time to dive into some backfield breakdowns. The typical stalwarts dominated their backfields as usual, but injuries, players returning from injury, and other developments created new opportunities for some backs. Below we'll try to figure out how to value these rushers are 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.
To quote Marcas Grant, "David Johnson no matter what." The second-year back is proving to be matchup-proof, as even in an extremely negative game script with no ground game (10 carries, 24 yards) he still scored double-digit points thanks to 84 receiving yards. This is his backfield and he's the most important player on the Cardinals offense. He's a no-nonsense RB1 each and every week.
The Falcons clearly felt the absence of Tevin Coleman, as the combination of Devonta Freeman and Terron Ward lacked the game-changing explosion Coleman brings to the table. Freeman gritted his way through nearly 70 percent of the touches while battling a hip pointer injury, and delivered for fantasy owners thanks to two touchdowns. Assuming there are not setbacks with his injury, he'll be a high-end RB2 on Thursday night against the Buccaneers. Ward showed some juice on one long run, and played well enough on his minimal touches to earn a bit more work in Week 9. If Coleman remains out, he'll be a desperation bye-week option for the flex.
When Jonathan Stewart is healthy, he owns the Carolina backfield. Lately, the team is giving him more opportunities near the goal line as he had 10 carries inside the 10-yard line against the Cardinals (scoring twice). Cam Newton is still seeing some looks in that space as well, but Stewart's locked-in volume and touchdown upside is making him look more like a fringe RB1 the rest of the way instead of a low-ceiling RB2 or flex as he has traditionally been viewed.
In typical Browns fashion, Isaiah Crowell led the backfield carries, while Duke Johnson did more damage as a pass-catcher. Josh McCown under center really boosts Johnson's value, as the veteran is less likely to tuck the ball and run than the other younger signal-callers for the Browns. It would have been nice to see Crowell get some more run, but the Jets' stout run defense won this battle of the trenches. The Cowboys should offer a more favorable front to run against next week. Johnson will have flex appeal in PPR leagues moving forward with McCown leading the offense.
It's safe to say that nobody saw this coming. Rookie Jordan Howard, who prior to Monday night was looking like a drop in fantasy leagues, exploded for over 200 total yards and only ceded two touches the entire game to Ka'Deem Carey. And all of this was against one of the best defenses in the league in the Vikings. The backfield split in Chicago pay continue to be unpredictable but this 94 percent share of backfield touches is a positive sign that Howard should be the lead back going forward, even with Jeremy Langford working his way back.
This looks more like the Cincinnati backfield fantasy owners had grown to love in recent years. Of course, a date with the porous Washington run defense will do that to a backfield. The backs split goal-line work pretty evenly, and thankfully for fantasy owners each found the end zone. Hill ran confidently and powerfully for the second week in a row -- a welcome change from how he started the season. The Bengals are on a bye next week, but if this production continues, both of these backs could return to fantasy owners' good graces for the stretch run.
This is Ezekiel Elliott's backfield and there's no reason for that to change. He continues to destroy presumably bad on-paper matchups, and is a week-winning player when he finds the end zone.
Denver was clearly comfortable with Devontae Booker in a featured role, as the rookie handled an impressive 89 percent of the backfield touches despite exiting the game briefly with an injury. He did fumble on what could have been his second touchdown of the game, but overall played with the decisiveness and tenacity of a workhorse runner. Kapri Bibbs is simply a handcuff at this point, while Booker will be an RB1 in Week 9 as the Broncos travel to face the Raiders' leaky defense.
A healthy Theo Riddick absolutely dominated the touches in the Lions' backfield, seeing 83 percent against the Texans. Dwayne Washington was a healthty scratch, leaving Zach Zenner to own the rotational work. This team operates best with Riddick in tow, and his touch share makes him the only viable starter in fantasy from this backfield. Whether Zenner or Washington settles into the rotational/short-yardage role full-time doesn't really matter, as either will need touchdowns to return value in fantasy week to week.
Green Bay Packers
All you need to know about the Green Bay running game right now is that Aaron Rodgers and a fullback tied for the team lead in carries with six, while Rodgers led the way with 60 rushing yards. This backfield is a fantasy disaster and needs to be avoided at all costs until James Starks returns from injury, or one of Knile Davis/Don Jackson pull away from the pack.
While Lamar Miller was nursing a shoulder injury in Week 8, he still led the way in the Texans backfield with 63 percent of the touches. The offensive line didn't open up any holes for the Texans running backs, who collectively averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Miller did find the end zone, though, helping his fantasy owners out. The team has a bye in Week 9, which should allow Miller time to rest up and return to his true featured back workload starting in Week 10.
One of the few things we've been able to count on in fantasy this year is Frank Gore. The ageless wonder topped 10 fantasy points for the sixth time in eight tries in 2016, this time thanks to an impressive catch and run for a score. Whether through the air or on the ground, Gore continues to get it done for fantasy owners. He's a weekly flex play as no one else in this backfield is a threat for serious touches.
The Jacksonville backfield continues to be fantasy disaster. The team fell behind to the Titans from basically the coin toss on, effectively removing running plays from the call sheet for now-fired offensive coordinator Greg Olson. Both T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory are unstartable in fantasy until we see some signs of life from this backfield.
Kansas City Chiefs
Jamaal Charles missed this game with his knee injury, so when Spencer Ware left with a concussion, the Chiefs had to turn the backfield over to Charcandrick West. West put up decent totals with his touches, though is clearly not on the same talent level as Ware or Charles. However, Charles is set to visit Dr. James Andrews about his knee (not a good sign), while we have no idea how quickly Ware will be cleared from his concussion. West will be a priority add on waivers this week and will be an RB2 in Week 9 against the Jaguars if Ware misses the game.
With Jerick McKinnon ruled out, the lead role was Matt Asiata's against the Bears on Monday night. Unfortunately, the poor play of the Vikings offensive line limited Asiata's production. Usually he finds a way to fall into the end zone even when he's not efficient on the ground, but he surprisingly failed to score here. He'll get another good matchup against the Lions in Week 9 but again, Minnesota's offensive line could hold Asiata back. Ronnie Hillman is not a factor.
New England Patriots
As expected, the Patriots jumped out to an early lead and fed LeGarrette Blount carries. While he wasn't able to amass much yardage (43 carries) he did plow into the end zone, saving his fantasy day. James White played 46 percent of the snaps, but in a game where the Patriots maintained a comfortable lead he wasn't needed much in the passing attack. The Patriots are on their bye next week, so Blount owners need to plan accordingly.
New Orleans Saints
Here lies Mark Ingram's fantasy value, taken from us too soon due to costly lost fumbles in back-to-back games. Upon fumbling in the first quarter, Ingram was promptly benched which led to Tim Hightower seeing 26 carries and racking up 102 yards against a stout Seattle run defense. Ingram was already struggling to keep his volume afloat in this crowded backfield, and now it appears that this will, at best, be a full-blown committee. The reports out of New Orleans will need to be monitored this week as we try to divine whether Hightower or Ingram will be leading this motley crew in Week 9. Either way, it's not great for fantasy.
New York Jets
Matt Forte once again absorbed the vast majority of the backfield opportunities for the Jets, but on a per-touch basis Bilal Powell was the more effective back. Forte found the end zone twice on two short scampers, while Powell took a 35-yard run to the house. It was good to see both backs producing, even if they didn't do much in the passing game. Forte will be a volumed-based RB2 until further notice, while Powell will be a boom-or-bust flex play with added value in PPR.
Unfortunately for Latavius Murray, it appears he's right back in the committee we thought he escaped after returning from injury. Murray's touch total dropped from 65 percent last week to just 52 this week, as he one again ceded a wealth of opportunities to the rest of the Raider backs. As was the case before his injury, Murray needs to find the end zone to put up truly respectable stat lines, and that's going to be difficult with a trio of other backs stealing valuable touches.
The Eagles backfield is a riddle wrapped in a puzzle that was tossed into a black hole and spit back out even more twisted. That doesn't make sense? That's the point, because neither does this backfield split. After Mathews led the way against the Zim Reapers (Minnesota) in Week 7, Darren Sproles suddenly sees 15 carries and seven targets against the Cowboys. At least Mathews found the end zone, saving what would have been an otherwise miserable day. Mathews and Sproles are the only players to own from this group, but good luck picking which one to start in a given week.
San Diego Chargers
This is the Melvin Gordon show, and supporting acts are not welcome. Gordon absolutely dominated the backfield market share and performed extremely well against a tough Denver front, grinding out extra yards and making plays in the passing game. Even though he didn't find the end zone, he still posted double-digit fantasy points -- a welcome sign for a back who had struggled with efficiency thus far in 2016.
Like it or not, Christine Michael's rush attempts are trending in the wrong direction, with totals of 20, 18, 18, 16 and 10 over the last five weeks. Now, part of that is game script-dependent, but it's looking less and less like The Awakening will stay fully woke as Seattle's lead back the rest of the season. Rookie C.J. Prosise worked in heavily and out-produced Michael in terms of total yardage, while Thomas Rawls could be returning to action soon. Michael owners need to be aware that the tides could be changing in the Seattle backfield and plan accordingly by stashing other players or potentially swinging a trade.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Quizz Show was enjoying another successful afternoon (and dominating the touches), before suffering a foot injury and leaving the game for good. If both Rodgers and Doug Martin (hamstring) are unable to go on a short week (the Bucs host the Falcons on Thursday Night Football), Antone Smith looks to be the pickup off waivers. He saw three of his five touches in the fourth quarter or overtime, getting work ahead of rookie Peyton Barber. This backfield will be worth monitoring as the Falcons give up a ton of points to running backs on passing plays, allowing a league-worst 476 receiving yards to backs prior to Week 8.
DeMarco Murray got off to his typical rip-roaring start on Thursday night but was sidelined for parts of the game with a foot injury (MRI results were negative). That opened the door for rookie Derrick Henry to see the most touches of his brief career, and be productive with them. The Titans were shoveling an inordinate amount of touches onto Murray's plate, and him finally showing signs of wear and tear could force the team to turn to Henry more often. Murray will remain the lead back moving forward, but it looks as if Henry will have weekly flex value if he starts spelling Murray more often. The former Heisman winner demonstrated his versatility as a runner and pass-catcher on Thursday night, hopefully giving the coaching staff more confidence in him.
With Matt Jones on the shelf with a knee injury, Rob Kelley inherited the workhorse role and performed admirably for Washington. He consistently turned what should have been negative plays into positive gains, scored a short touchdown, and most importantly -- held onto the football. Chris Thompson ended up disappointing, though his five catches helped PPR owners. Kelley had been playing well in limited action leading up to this game, and his performance today could earn him more work. He's worth an add on waivers this week.
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