Week 1 of the NFL season provided a few surprises at the running back position, and many of the same faces generating highlights.
Focusing on touchdowns can sometimes lead you astray if you are just looking at fantasy points scored. Sometimes the best values are identifying guys with good usage rates who haven’t scored, and those with mediocre ones who have scored multiple times.
Using rush attempts and passing targets, here is a breakdown of what we have seen at the running back position through Sunday’s games in Week 1.
These are the guys who carried the workload for their teams and had at least 75% of the touches/targets for their team.
James Conner, Pittsburgh (100%)
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati (92%)
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas (90%)
Saquon Barkley, NY Giants (83%)
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans (83%)
Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay (83%)
Lamar Miller, Houston (79%)
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay (77%)
James Conner get almost all the carries was highly likely with Le’Veon Bell out, as Pittsburgh seems to prefer using one back even when they haven’t had Bell in the past. Joe Mixon did it all for Cincinnati and Gio Bernard was not used much, which has to excite you if you have Mixon. Yeah, Elliott didn’t get enough touches but he still handled most of them for the Cowboys. Barkley and Kamara were big factors. The surprises here were Barber, as rookie Ronald Jones didn’t even record a stat and Barber was the man, and Jamaal Williams, who got a high percentage despite the Packers trailing almost all game.
Leonard Fournette would have been part of this group if he had not left with an early injury.
These guys didn’t quite get the same percentage but were still big factors and the clear top back for their teams.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City (74%)
Melvin Gordon, LA Chargers (72%)
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina (70%)
Adrian Peterson, Washington (66%)
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland (63%)
Hunt did not have a big game but he still was the clear lead guy for the Chiefs. Gordon and Ekeler both got a ton of targets in the passing game while the Chargers tried to comeback. McCaffrey was spelled by C.J. Anderson on some carries but was still heavily used as both a receiver and runner.
Peterson and Hyde both got most of the carries, while another back (Thompson and Duke Johnson) were heavily involved as receivers. Peterson benefitted from a matchup against a poor offense and playing with the lead all day in racking up 29 rush attempts.
These are the case where two backs on a team got at least 30% of the touches each and at least 90% of the overall touches.
David Johnson (69%) and Chase Edmonds (31%), Arizona
Dion Lewis (69%) and Derrick Henry (31%), Tennessee
Kenyan Drake (67%) and Frank Gore (33%), Miami
Jordan Howard (67%) and Tarik Cohen (30%), Chicago
Dalvin Cook (64%) and Latavius Murray (31%), Minnesota
Jordan Wilkins (52%) and Nyheim Hines (42%), Indianapolis
Devonta Freeman (50%) and Tevin Coleman (50%), Atlanta
Philip Lindsay (49%) and Royce Freeman (41%), Denver
Chris Carson (48%) and Rashaad Penny (48%), Seattle
Matt Breida (48%) and Alfred Morris (44%), San Francisco
Should we be concerned about David Johnson? Yes, they fell behind early and played from behind, but he’s as valuable as a receiver as he is a runner. Maybe it was just a one-week work him back in thing but his usage being well below other top picks is something to keep an eye on. Dion Lewis was the more productive back in Tennessee and was heavily used late when trailing. Dalvin Cook is coming back from the knee injury and Minnesota spelled him with Murray. Freeman got hurt or would have been a higher percentage.
Philip Lindsay was a pleasant surprise for Denver. He and Freeman had identical rushing numbers and Lindsay had the big TD catch. Carson and Penny split time in Seattle as did Breida and Morris for San Fran.
LeSean McCoy (48%), Marcus Murphy (38%), Chris Ivory (14%), Buffalo
Jay Ajayi (47%), Darren Sproles (38%), and Corey Clement (16%), Philadelphia
Rex Burkhead (48%), James White (32%), Jeremy Hill (11%), and James Develin (9%), New England
Kenneth Dixon (42%), Javorius Allen (32%), Alex Collins (26%), Baltimore
We know the Patriots are going to utilize their backs in a variety of roles and spread it out. Burkhead handled most of the carries with Sony Michel sidelined while White was a big part of the passing game. Jay Ajayi scored twice, but he looks like he’s in a full-blown committee with Sproles still being a factor.
Meanwhile, I don’t know what is more concerning coming out of the Buffalo-Baltimore game. The fact that LeSean McCoy got fewer than half the running back touches for Buffalo, or that Alex Collins was out-touched by two other backs on his own team, who were more productive and also both scored. I’m going to say both are real concerns.