This article first appeared on FantasyLabs, a part of The Action Network.
Opportunity is more important than talent when it comes to fantasy football. Luckily for fantasy investors, it’s easier to predict future workloads than it is to gauge a player’s talent level.
Week 1 usage patterns should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s all we got right now, people. Be sure to check FantasyLabs’ Bryan Mears’ fantasy football workload data for more complete snap-count and usage information for all 32 teams.
Let’s start with a look at running backs who worked as three-down featured backs in their team’s season-opener.
Workhorses (> 75% or more snaps)
Only Todd Gurley (94%), Ezekiel Elliott (92%) and James Conner (92%) played at least 90% of their offense’s snaps. Conner’s workload is slightly inflated due to the additional 15 minutes of overtime in the Steelers-Browns matchup, but his snap rate is the real deal. Le’Veon Bell played on 85.3% of snaps in 2017.
It’s not exactly surprising that Christian McCaffrey (85%) and Alvin Kamara (81%) are the most pass-heavy featured backs. Kamara played a group-high 36.5% of his snaps in the slot or out wide. No other workhorse back played more than 15% of his snaps out of the backfield.
Melvin Gordon (76%) and Joe Mixon (76%) were heavily featured in the pass game, setting career-high marks of 13 and seven targets, respectively.
Dalvin Cook (80%) resumed the same three-down role he had during Weeks 1-4 in 2017. He’s had 25, 14, 32, 14 and 22 touches in five career games. He has the group’s third-cheapest Week 2 DraftKings salary behind only Mixon and …
Fantasy’s cheapest back, Lamar Miller (77%), parlayed 21 touches into 109 scoreless yards. Alfred Blue (14%) managed to vulture a touchdown, but it seems like an isolated incident after Miller (4) and Deshaun Watson (3) each had more red-zone carries, and Blue subbed in during the drive after Miller recorded three consecutive rush attempts.
No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley (77%) isn’t a quarterback, but he’s very good at being a running back.
Lead Committee Backs (51%-74% of snaps)
The Dolphins amusingly started both Kenyan Drake (74%) and Frank Gore (29%) on the offense’s first snap. Drake out-carried and out-targeted Gore 14-9 and 4-0, respectively.
Peyton Barber (73%) is the lead man in Tampa Bay, with Jacquizz Rodgers (23%) working on pass downs and second-rounder Ronald Jones a healthy scratch. Barber’s salary has somewhat surprisingly decreased by $100 ahead of the Buccaneers’ home matchup against the Eagles.
Matt Nagy appears to not have been bluffing about how he planned to use Jordan Howard (71%) as a three-down player. The notoriously stone-handed back caught all five of his targets for 25 yards and out-targeted Tarik Cohen (40%) 5-4.
Kareem Hunt (71%) is the man in Kansas City, but it would make sense if gunslinger Patrick Mahomes isn’t as high on checking down as Alex Smith. Hunt received at least three targets in 14 of 17 games last season (including playoffs).
The Titans trailed the Dolphins by two scores early in the fourth quarter and ultimately rode Dion Lewis (71%) down the stretch. Derrick Henry (29%) has averaged an additional 3.4 DraftKings points per game as a favorite during his career. The status of Marcus Mariota (elbow) might decide whether the Titans are favored at home against the Texans.
The absence of Bruce Arians certainly didn’t help David Johnson (68%). More concerning than Johnson’s snaps was his lack of creative usage, as he lined up in the slot or out wide on only 8.3% of snaps. (His 2016 average was 20.4%).
Aaron Jones will return from his suspension in Week 3, but Jamaal Williams (62%) figures to remain the early-down and goal-line back on Sunday against the Vikings. Still, both backs will have to deal with Ty Montgomery (38%) seeing plenty of work whenever the offense is in catch-up mode.
T.J. Yeldon (62%) worked well ahead of Corey Grant (10%) during Leonard Fournette‘s (33%) absence. Yeldon is the back to target in fantasy if Fournette ultimately misses time with his hamstring injury.
Theo Riddick (59%), Jordan Wilkins (56%), Adrian Peterson (53%) and Alfred Morris (52%) led their respective backfields in snaps, but each benefitted from a mostly positive game script for their respective talents and aren’t entrenched as three-down backs.
Devonta Freeman (56%) and Tevin Coleman (51%) seem poised to split snaps into perpetuity, but Freeman left the Eagles game early with a knee injury. Coleman has averaged 15.2 PPR points per game in three career games without Freeman.
The Bills and Browns are moving forward with LeSean McCoy (53%) and Carlos Hyde (53%) as their lead backs until further notice.
Committee Backs (25-50% of snaps)
The Raiders, Broncos and Ravens were the only teams without a back who played more than 40% of the offense’s snaps. Marshawn Lynch (36%) and Royce Freeman (39%) appear to be stuck in committee backfields, but Alex Collins (34%) should benefit from future non-blowout game scripts as well as Kenneth Dixon‘s (28%) knee injury.
Rex Burkhead (49%) had a carry or target on 21 of his 38 snaps and is positioned to work as the undisputed goal-line back after Jeremy Hill (16%) suffered a torn ACL. James White (48%) lined up in the slot or out wide on 28% of his snaps and has averaged an additional 3.2 PPR points per game with Julian Edelman sidelined since 2015.
Other than White, the group’s only backs with more than five targets were Jalen Richard (50%), Duke Johnson (46%), Nyheim Hines (45%), Chris Thompson (42%), Buck Allen (38%) and Darren Sproles (40%). Each back will regularly be game-flow dependent. Sproles in particular was featured against the Falcons due to specific game planning and because …
The Eagles eased Jay Ajayi (40%) into the game after he was limited in practice during the week with a calf injury. He was one of just four committee backs to see at least 15 carries but he offers weekly upside thanks to his goal-line role.
Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny played identical snaps and received the same number of rushes and targets. Head coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that Carson “really took the lead” at running back.
Notable backs who played fewer than 25% of their team’s snaps include: Jacquizz Rodgers (23%), Kerryon Johnson (23%), Latavius Murray (20%), LeGarrette Blount (19%), Corey Clement (18%), CJ Anderson (18%), Spencer Ware (16%), Alfred Blue (14%), Jonathan Stewart (14%), Doug Martin (14%), Mike Gillislee (11%), Chris Ivory (11%) and Corey Grant (10%)
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