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Running Back Opportunity Breakdown: Week 1

Football officially returned! And, to my dismay, so did hurricane season. Watching regular season football and accomplishing nothing on Sunday could not come too soon. The weather complications of this time of year reared their head in Week 1, leading to the longest game in NFL history. From bliss to panic, moods in my area changed quickly as preparing for the impending storm became a necessity.

Once prepared and safely clear of the hurricane’s path, I could conduct my analysis of Week one. Merely glancing at box scores remains a staple of fantasy players’ routine for Sundays, but these only hold part of the story.  Truly analyzing the numbers gives fantasy players the edge necessary to continue success or turn around tough starts. With the day and age of the committee backfield, looking closer at running back opportunity share and usage holds more importance than ever.

Total Opportunity Rank Name Team Rush Attempts Targets Total Team Total Backfield Opportunity % of Backfield Opportunity
1 J. Conner Pit 31 6 37 37 100
2 A. Peterson Was 26 3 29 44 66
3 M. Gordon LAC 15 13 28 39 72
4 T. Gurley LAR 20 5 25 28 89
5 C. Hyde Cle 22 2 24 38 63
6 S. Barkley NYG 18 6 24 29 83
7 J. Mixon Cin 17 7 24 26 92
8 D. Lewis Ten 16 8 24 35 69
9 D. Cook Min 16 7 23 36 64
10 L. Miller Hou 20 2 22 28 79
11 R. Burkhead NE 18 3 21 44 48
12 TJ Yeldon Jax 14 7 21 34 62
13 J. Howard Chi 15 5 20 30 67
14 A. Kamara NO 8 12 20 24 83
15 P. Barber TB 19 0 19 23 83
16 E. Elliot Dal 15 4 19 22 86
17 C. McCaffrey Car 10 9 19 27 70
18 P. Lindsay Den 15 3 18 37 49
19 K. Drake Mia 14 4 18 27 67
20 D. Johnson Ari 9 9 18 26 69

 

Top 10 Running Back Opportunity Hogs

James Conner – 37 Opportunities, 31 Rush Attempts, 6 Targets

Conner came out of the gates for 2018 blazing! His 31 rush attempts by far topped the week, and his opportunity share for the running backs literally could not be better, coming in at 100%. Essentially playing 5 quarters, Conner benefitted from the additional opportunity in overtime, but he saw ample usage regardless. While Conner looked effective against a respectable rush defense, he only posted a 45% success rate on his runs. This should not be of concern though as opportunity and volume rule all in the land of fantasy football. Fantasy players should note the injury to star guard David DeCastro. Conner looks forward to an anemic Kansas City defense in Week 2, so he is set up for another top 5 performance. His value could tank at any moment with the return of Le’Veon Bell though.

Adrian Peterson – 29 Opportunities, 26 Rush Attempts, 3 Targets

Is the Purple Jesus’s revival sustainable? Vintage Adrian Peterson returned in Week 1 in a big way, churning out 166 total yards and a touchdown. Interestingly, last year after Peterson saw heavy usage, he failed to produce the following week. The healthy Washington line forged ample holes for Peterson against a weak Arizona run defense in Week 1. However, Peterson, who is notorious for his lack of receiving prowess, could fall victim in coming weeks of negative game scripts, especially because of Chris Thompson. Adrian appears in prime position to continue his success in Week 2 playing against the weak Indianapolis Colts defense, though. Fire up Peterson as a top option this week.

Melvin Gordon – 28 Opportunities, 15 Rush Attempts, 13 Targets

Reports came out this summer of Anthony Lynn, head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, calling Gordon a “better receiver than I ever thought he was”. This comment at the time seemed near comical because Gordon had already proved his receiving chops with 58 receptions a year ago. Week 1 indicates this comment should not be overlooked, Gordon finished with 13 targets, the most of any running back. He is a workhorse who is positioned to be a staple near the top of this list every week. After last week, Gordon leads all players with 117 YAC (yards after catch). Gordon is set up well for Week 2 with a matchup against the Buffalo Bills, though tackle Joe Barksdale may be missing from the lineup.

Todd Gurley – 25 Opportunities, 20 Rush Attempts, 5 Targets

Gurley may have taken a couple quarters to produce in Week 1, but, as he frequently did last year, he delivered. Gurley ended with the third highest percentage of backfield opportunity (89%). His burst showed last week as he finished the day with four runs of 10+ yards, setting the pace for running backs around the league. DVOA, defensive-adjusted value over average, is yet another stat that Gurley fared well with, finishing with 30.0%, the seventh highest of the week. Gurley is another bell cow trying to defend his lofty draft position. In Week 2, he faces the Cardinals, who Adrian Peterson and the Redskins mauled in the trenches just a week ago.

On another note, John Kelly, though he impressed in the preseason, was a late healthy scratch in Week 1. For those looking at Kelly as the handcuff to Gurley, maybe Malcolm Brown should be in your crosshairs now.

Carlos Hyde – 24 Opportunities, 22 Rush Attempts, 2 Targets

Carlos Hyde signed with the Browns this offseason from the San Francisco 49ers. Hyde outplayed Nick Chubb during the preseason for the starting job and the coaching staff’s trust in Hyde showed in Week 1. In classic fashion, Hyde toted the ball 22 times to a woefully inefficient line of 62 yards but was able to salvage the day with a touchdown. Hyde only managed a rushing success rate of 35% last week and Nick Chubb impressed in his limited appearances. So, touch totals like this may not be sustainable. Week 2 features a matchup against the New Orleans Saints, who were galvanized by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1. Hyde owners and the Browns hope to do the same and bring home their first win since 2016.

Saquon Barkley – 24 Opportunities, 18 Rush Attempts, 6 Targets

Saquon Barkley’s final stat lines impressed, but box scores can deceive. His 68-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter shows the potential the Giants saw in Barkley, but it also covers up an otherwise mediocre game. Other sites may boast of Barkley’s six yards per carry and his five-plus yards after contact per attempt, but this single run skews those measures of central tendency drastically.

In upcoming weeks, the Giants’ offensive line should open more holes than against this impressive Jacksonville front. Runs to the right may be a concern as the inadequacies of Ereck Flowers reared their head early and often for the newly transitioned right tackle. Barkley’s targets could remedy some concern. The Giant’s commitment to utilizing Saquon’s receiving skills should solidify his place as a top running back option week to week. Barkley should find more consistent success in Week 2 against the Cowboys.

Joe Mixon – 24 Opportunities, 17 Rush Attempts, 7 Targets

Joe Mixon entered this season with many more questions than answers. Yes, Mixon possess the skill set to succeed as a featured back, but would the line improve and would he be deployed in this role? Although only one week of regular season football has been played, the answer to his featured status appears to be a resounding yes, getting 92% of the opportunity share for the Bengals’ running backs. Seeing Mixon line up in the slot on a number of plays shows the Lazor’s commitment to use Mixon to the fullest and put him in advantageous positions. The matchup for week two should be a much better test against the formidable Baltimore Ravens defense.

Dion Lewis – 24 Opportunities, 16 Rush Attempts, 8 Targets

Derrick Henry came out early dominating the usage, but after his early troubles, the Titans deployed Lewis frequently. Monitoring the backfield opportunity in Tennessee should be an interesting practice as the season begins. Will Henry or Lewis solidify themselves as the top option or will this be a full RBBC? Seeing how the Titans use Lewis in goal-line opportunities will be important, especially due to Henry’s reputation as a powerful bruiser.

Given Lewis’s previous success in the red zone and in Week 1, he may see more opportunities as they come. However, fantasy players should note that Henry had a 61-yard touchdown called back on a questionable holding call. Possibly losing tackle Taylor Lewan and quarterback Marcus Mariota, on top of the already missing Jack Conklin, could prove problematic for the Titans offensive output in Week 2.  They face the Texans, who possess a stout running defense.

Dalvin Cook – 23 Opportunities, 16 Rush Attempts, 7 Targets

Cook’s highly anticipated return looked impressive on tape, but the analytics may not back that up. Out of running backs with eight-plus rushes in Week 1 (ranked on DVOA by Football Outsiders), Cook ranked 36th out of 36 with a DVOA of -66.4%. But, take this with a grain of salt as he reacclimates to the gridiron.

Conversely, Cook paid the bills through the air last week raking in six receptions for 55 yards. The Vikings may ease him back into a fully featured role in order to not to wear him out before their potential playoff run. The offense is powerful enough that it could supplement this potential lower usage with more red zone opportunities. Green Bay, an impressive run defense last year, is on deck for Cook and the Vikings in Week 2, but they did allow Jordan Howard to rush for 82 yards on 15 carries and snag five catches for 25 yards in Week 1.

Lamar Miller – 22 Opportunities, 20 Rush Attempts, 2 Targets

Lamar Miller once again resumed his role as the lead back for the Texans. Deshaun Watson’s return to the field should benefit Miller and increase his efficiency, as teams need to account for Watson’s legs. Near the end of last season, Miller played himself out of this role and split snaps with Alfred Blue. Now, Miller is again the most trusted back in Houston, at least until Week 6 when D’Onta Foreman can return. Look for Miller to add on to his solid start at Nashville in Week 2.

Intriguing Running Back Opportunity Totals

Alvin Kamara – 12 Targets

Kamara showed the extent that he is game script proof in Week 1, as the Saints lost unexpectedly to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New Orleans truly used Kamara as the 1B in the receiving game to Michael Thomas’s 1A. Statistics lead one to think Kamara’s efficiency should fall, but with Kamara performing like this, he may be the exception.

Phillip Lindsay – 18 Opportunities

Lindsay entered the week as a little-known rookie outside of beat reporters and die-hard Broncos fans, but he left as a top waiver wire claim. Lindsay had the “hot hand” in Week 1 and spelled the potential Royce Freeman breakout that many in the fantasy community thought was impending. While Freeman should still be viewed as the top option going forward for Denver, Lindsay made his case and with more impressive performances could push Freeman. With top running backs being few and far between, fantasy players should not overlook Lindsay.

Jalen Richard – 11 Targets

Marshawn Lynch is not known for his receiving capabilities. Well, Richard has now claimed the spot as the receiving downs back for Oakland. If Oakland finds themselves behind in more matchups, then Richard will have value, particularly in PPR leagues.

Alex Collins – 8 Opportunities

The fantasy community talked up Collins all offseason, but in Week 1 he disappointed with 19 yards, a touchdown, and a fumble. The Ravens simply did not require the services of the solidified starter because of their ample lead over the Bills week one. This could provide an opportunity to buy low on a solid asset going forward.

TJ Yeldon – 21 Opportunities

Once Leonard Fournette went into the locker room, Yeldon received the bulk of the opportunities in Jacksonville’s backfield. With Fournette’s injury history, Yeldon holds high value as a handcuff. If Fournette misses any time, Corey Grant will most likely receive more run than he did in Week 1 with more time to prepare. However, Yeldon will no doubt lead the backfield. Fantasy players should monitor this situation, as Yeldon might be the running back play of the week if Fournette sits.

Thank you for tuning in for Week 1 running back opportunity breakdown! Please check out all the content at The Fantasy Authority  and follow me @Neil_P_Farley on Twitter!

Neil Farley attends The College of William and Mary, where he is pursuing a B.S. in Psychology. Neil's fantasy days date back to the fifth grade when he participated in his first fantasy football league. Check him out on twitter @Neil_P_Farley.

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