NFL

Week 1 Fantasy Football Backfield Report

Teams across the NFL are utilizing multiple running backs on a weekly basis. This piece will help to break down their usage and volume within their own backfields.

Week 1 came and went rather quickly, and boy did we get an exciting slate of games! But now that the week is over and Week 2 is on the horizon, it is time to dig into the data.

Over the course of the summer, we heard several coaches speak positively on various running backs, including Christian McCaffrey, Jordan Howard , Kenyan Drake , and Chris Carson. Now, we can see if those words came to fruition on the football field.

The majority of NFL teams utilize more than one running back, and this weekly piece is going to provide information to help understand how coaches are deploying each back -- in what type of capacity and with what size of a workload.

There are some basic guidelines around this in that we are approaching only those backfields without a one-man bellcow back. So, excluded from the data below are backfields that have players that topped over 80% of the running snaps and 75% of the running touches. This week that includes: Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara, and James Conner.

Snap and red zone data come via Pro Football Reference.

Now, let's get to it.

Volume Metrics

Keep in mind that some of the backfields below made the list due to injuries or game flow situations that could have affected the team's backfield dynamics.

Running Back Team Snap % Touches Targets
David Johnson ARI 36/53 (67.9%) 14 9
Chase Edmonds ARI 17/53 (32.1%) 8 4
Devonta Freeman ATL 39/70 (55.7%) 9 5
Tevin Coleman ATL 36/70 (51.4%) 10 2
Javorius Allen BAL 30/80 (33.8%) 9 6
Alex Collins BAL 27/80 (37.5%) 8 1
Kenneth Dixon BAL 22/80 (27.5%) 13 0
LeSean McCoy BUF 34/64 (53.1%) 8 3
Marcus Murphy BUF 23/64 (35.9%) 6 2
Christian McCaffrey CAR 57/67 (85.1%) 16 9
Alex Armah CAR 20/67 (29.9%) 1 0
C.J. Anderson CAR 12/67 (17.9%) 7 0
Jordan Howard CHI 50/70 (71.4%) 20 5
Tarik Cohen CHI 28/70 (40%) 8 4
Joe Mixon CIN 44/56 (78.6%) 22 7
Giovani Bernard CIN 12/56 (21.4%) 2 1
Carlos Hyde CLE 47/89 (52.8%) 23 2
Duke Johnson CLE 41/89 (46.1%) 6 6
Royce Freeman DEN 29/74 (39.2%) 15 0
Phillip Lindsay DEN 26/74 (35.1%) 17 3
Devontae Booker DEN 19/74 (25.7%) 4 2
Theo Riddick DET 41/70 (58.6%) 9 7
Kerryon Johnson DET 16/70 (22.9%) 8 3
LeGarrette Blount DET 13/70 (18.6%) 4 0
Jamaal Williams GB 37/60 (61.7%) 15 2
Ty Montgomery GB 23/60 (38.3%) 4 3
Lamar Miller HOU 57/74 (77.0%) 21 2
Alfred Blue HOU 10/74 (13.4%) 5 0
Tyler Ervin HOU 7/74 (9.5%) 1 1
Jordan Wilkins IND 46/82 (56.1%) 17 3
Nyheim Hines IND 37/82 (45.1%) 12 9
T.J. Yeldon JAC 39/63 (61.9%) 17 7
Lenoard Fournette JAC 21/63 (33.3%) 12 3
Kareem Hunt KC 40/56 (71.4%) 16 1
Spencer Ware KC 9/56 (16.1%) 4 1
Damien Williams KC 7/56 (12.5%) 1 0
Melvin Gordon LAC 62/82 (75.6%) 24 13
Austin Ekeler LAC 22/82 (26.8%) 10 5
Kenyan Drake MIA 46/62 (74.2%) 17 4
Frank Gore MIA 18/62 (29.0%) 9 0
Dalvin Cook MIN 57/71 (80.3%) 22 7
Latavius Murray MIN 14/71 (19.7%) 11 0
Rex Burkhead NE 37/75 (49.3%) 19 3
James White NE 36/75 (48.0%) 9 9
Saquon Barkley NYG 55/71 (77.5%) 20 6
Jonathan Stewart NYG 10/71 (14.1%) 2 0
Wayne Gallman NYG 6/71 (8.5%) 3 2
Bilal Powell NYJ 24/60 (40.0%) 13 2
Isaiah Crowell NYJ 24/60 (40.0%) 10 0
Trent Cannon NYJ 12/60 (20.0%) 7 1
Jalen Richard OAK 37/74 (50.0%) 14 11
Marshawn Lynch OAK 27/74 (36.5%) 13 2
Doug Martin OAK 10/74 (13.5%) 6 2
Darren Sproles PHI 29/71 (40.8%) 9 7
Jay Ajayi PHI 28/71 (39.4%) 15 0
Corey Clement PHI 13/71 (18.3%) 5 0
Chris Carson SEA 25/57 (43.9%) 10 5
Rashaad Penny SEA 25/57 (45.9%) 11 5
Alfred Morris SF 35/67 (52.2%) 12 0
Matt Breida SF 30/67 (44.8%) 12 2
Peyton Barber TB 48/66 (72.7%) 19 0
Jacquizz Rodgers TB 15/66 (22.7%) 3 1
Dion Lewis TEN 49/69 (71.0%) 21 8
Derrick Henry TEN 20/69 (29.0%) 11 1
Adrian Peterson WSH 42/79 (53.2%) 28 3
Chris Thompson WSH 33/79 (41.8%) 11 7


Tennessee Titans

When the Tennessee Titans signed Dion Lewis in the offseason, it was a little head scratching as Derrick Henry looked poised to be a true workhorse back with DeMarco Murray freshly retired. As a result, there was some uncertainty as to how this backfield would shape out, and in Week 1 the coaching staff heavily favored Lewis. He out-snapped (49 to 20) and out-touched (21 to 11) Henry.

Minnesota Vikings

Coming off an ACL tear, It was shaping up as if the Minnesota Vikings were going to ease Dalvin Cook back into the lead role, especially after the successful campaign Latavius Murray enjoyed last year. However, that was not the case this week. Cook was basically the bellcow, as he handled 80% of the running back snaps and 66.7% of the backfield touches.

Before his injury last season, Cook averaged 21.3 touches per game, and he was immediately placed in that role as an offensive focal point once again.

Chicago Bears

During training camp, new head coach Matt Nagy said multiple times that Jordan Howard would be used on third downs this season. For many fantasy owners, that was hard to believe with gadget player Tarik Cohen on the roster not to mention Howard's poor history of catching the ball.

But in Week 1, Howard saw more targets than Cohen in a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, and If this usage continues, Howard's workload could be that of a top-5 to -10 back.

Carolina Panthers

Coaches stressed that Christian McCaffrey would be used as a workhorse this season. While the 25-to-30 touches that they predicted did not come to fruition in Week 1, he did lead the Carolina Panthers' backfield in touches and snap rate.

While Cam Newton's legs will always limit McCaffrey's touchdown upside, his receiving usage should now see an uptick with the Greg Olsen out for the foreseeable future with a foot injury.

This is shaping up to be McCaffrey's backfield, while backup C.J. Anderson seems to be an afterthought.

Cincinnati Bengals

Last season, Joe Mixon had a disappointing rookie campaign. Heck -- the entire Cincinnati Bengals offense was a huge letdown. With Jeremy Hill now in New England, the Bengals' backfield is made up of Mixon and Giovani Bernard, and there were rumblings early in the summer that Mixon could carry a heavy workload.

In Week 1, that was exactly what we saw, as Mixon handled 91.7% of the Bengals' backfield touches, including a career-high seven targets. Head coach Marvin Lewis came out after this week and stated that Mixon could handle an even heavier workload going forward, pushing Mixon's fantasy ceiling even higher in the process.

Denver Broncos

The excitement was real for Royce Freeman heading into Week 1 when he was named the Denver Broncos' starter. However, that backfield turned out to be a three-man committee, with the other rookie running back, Phillip Lindsay, being the surprise star. Lindsay led the backfield in touches and targets.

Devontae Booker seems to be last on the totem pole, as his usage was far below the two rookie backs. It will be interesting to see if Lindsay's role is for real or if Freeman can separate himself to be the lead guy.

Seattle Seahawks

When the Seattle Seahawks made Rashaad Penny a first-round draft choice back in April, it seemed he was poised to be the guy. Once he got injured in training camp, though, coach Pete Carroll put his support behind Chris Carson. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer even said that the Seahawks would not force touches to Penny.

Even with all the coachspeak and momentum behind Carson, we saw a total 50/50 split in terms of usage between the two backs. They saw the same amount of snaps and targets, while Penny ended up out-touching Carson 11 to 10.

Now, on Tuesday, Pete Carroll claimed that Penny looked rusty and Carson really took the lead in Week 1. This is a situation to keep an eye on, as we have seen this act before with Carroll feeding the public bologna and doing another when game day arrives.

Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson would not typically be talked about on this piece, but his teammate Chase Edmonds saw more work than expected. However, this shouldn't be a concern for Johnson owners as pointed out by Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus.

Situational Usage

While volume is king in the game of fantasy football, red zone opportunities and being involved in the passing game are highly important for running backs. Below are how coaches used their backs in high-leverage situations.

Running Back Team Red Zone Touches Red Zone Targets Routes Ran
David Johnson ARI 3 4 23
Chase Edmonds ARI 0 0 12
Devonta Freeman ATL 3 1 23
Tevin Coleman ATL 2 0 23
Javorius Allen BAL 2 1 22
Alex Collins BAL 4 1 13
Kenneth Dixon BAL 1 0 4
LeSean McCoy BUF 1 0 21
Marcus Murphy BUF 0 0 12
Christian McCaffrey CAR 3 1 30
Alex Armah CAR 1 0 4
C.J. Anderson CAR 2 0 2
Jordan Howard CHI 3 2 24
Tarik Cohen CHI 1 0 20
Joe Mixon CIN 3 0 24
Giovani Bernard CIN 0 0 8
Carlos Hyde CLE 1 0 19
Duke Johnson CLE 1 0 29
Royce Freeman DEN 0 0 11
Phillip Lindsay DEN 0 0 9
Devontae Booker DEN 0 0 15
Theo Riddick DET 4 3 30
Kerryon Johnson DET 0 0 9
LeGarrette Blount DET 0 0 8
Jamaal Williams GB 1 0 17
Ty Montgomery GB 0 0 23
Lamar Miller HOU 4 0 32
Alfred Blue HOU 1 0 2
Tyler Ervin HOU 0 0 6
Jordan Wilkins IND 4 228
Nyheim HinesIND00 31
T.J. Yeldon JAC 3 1 19
Lenoard Fournette JAC 1 0 7
Kareem Hunt KC 0 1 17
Spencer Ware KC 0 0 2
Damien Williams KC 0 0 5
Melvin Gordon LAC 0 1 36
Austin Ekeler LAC 1 1 15
Kenyan Drake MIA 2 1 24
Frank Gore MIA 2 0 7
Dalvin Cook MIN 2 0 31
Latavius Murray MIN 3 0 2
Rex Burkhead NE 0 2 18
James White NE 2 2 25
Saquon Barkley NYG 3 0 29
Jonathan Stewart NYG 0 0 7
Wayne Gallman NYG 0 0 4
Bilal Powell NYJ 0 0 11
Isaiah Crowell NYJ 4 0 7
Trent Cannon NYJ 0 0 2
Jalen Richard OAK 0 0 28
Marshawn Lynch OAK 4 1 9
Doug Martin OAK 0 0 4
Darren Sproles PHI 3 1 21
Jay Ajayi PHI 2 0 10
Corey Clement PHI 2 0 6
Chris Carson SEA 0 0 15
Rashaad Penny SEA 1 0 15
Alfred Morris SF 5 0 19
Matt Breida SF 0 0 17
Peyton Barber TB 3 0 16
Jacquizz Rodgers TB 1 1 9
Dion Lewis TEN 2 0 30
Derrick Henry TEN 1 0 9
Adrian Peterson WSH 7 0 9
Chris Thompson WSH 2 2 25


Ravens Use All Three Backs in Red Zone

Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, and Kenneth Dixon were all able to cash in red zone opportunities for touchdowns on Sunday. Collins got the first crack at it, while Allen and Dixon saw their touchdowns occur later in the second half. This could be a case of the big lead the Baltimore Ravens had against the Buffalo Bills, but it is also something to keep an eye on because Allen was a major thorn in Collins' side at various points last season. And an early fumble didn't do him and his workload any favors.

Jordan Howard Heavily Involved in Passing Attack

We saw earlier that Howard received more targets than Cohen, and he even ran more pass routes than him, as well. In PPR scoring, Howard was able to score 7.5 points strictly from his receiving work. His improvement in the pass game will help him stay on the field for third downs, and he could become less touchdown dependent in 2018.

Old-Timers Lead the Way in Red Zone

Adrian Peterson and Alfred Morris were both late additions to their respective teams due to preseason injuries, but the coaches were not afraid to heavily deploy them in the first week of the 2018 campaign. Peterson (seven) and Morris (five) led the league in red zone touches this week. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise as these veterans have made their livings in the end zone throughout their careers, with 100 and 32 touchdowns, respectively, to date.

Dion Lewis Maintains Red Zone Work

Lewis was highly effective for the Patriots in 2017, especially from within the opponent's 20-yard line, where he turned 43 red zone touches into 9 touchdowns. When he joined the Titans this offseason, it seemed for certain that he would lose a majority of the red zone work to bruiser Derrick Henry. This picture below even went viral on Twitter during training camp as it showed the contasts in size and strength between the two.


So, naturally, it was surprising to see the Titans use Lewis more than Henry in the red zone this week. While it was only one more touch, it is still worth noting with the overall usage Lewis saw in Week 1. He is shaping up to be a draft deal steal in what looks to be a near every-down role.