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Snap Counts and Opportunities: Week 5 RBs

Running backs can’t score fantasy points if they aren’t on the field, so this weekly article will provide impressions by analyzing snap counts and snap percentages. Here we go with the Week 5 snap counts and opportunities for running backs.

Fantasy football is all about opportunity, and the NFL players having higher snap counts have a higher probability of scoring lots of fantasy points. I provide fantasy football snap counts here with some context and impressions to help you make fantasy transactions and gain an edge on your competition. Looking at context will involve analyzing carries and targets and whether running backs were able to convert opportunity to yards gained. Be sure to also read TFA’s Target Analysis article to see the full picture of all the week’s action.

Detroit and Miami were on BYE this week, so you won’t find them in the report below.

As you have noticed, this article is getting a bit repetitive. As such, I am going to focus on the biggest changes and ignore consistency, unless consistency is notable. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@NateHenryFF) for instant reactions to running back usage!

Fantasy Football Snap Counts and Reactions

Arizona Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 David Johnson 70% -16% 17 5 156
RB2 Chase Edmonds 35% 14% 8 4 86

David Johnson and Chase Edmonds were highly effective against a below-average Cincinnati defense. Edmonds played additional snaps due to a back injury for David Johnson. The injury isn’t serious, yet, but I would be stashing Edmonds, especially if you are a Johnson owner.

Atlanta Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Devonta Freeman 54% -8% 11 5 70
RB2 Ito Smith 47% 9% 5 6 64

We are back to a 50-50 split in Atlanta, with neither back being particularly effective. Freeman continues to be far more effective through the air, rendering him at least usable, but unable to win you a week. Dan Quinn appears to be on the hot seat, so Freeman’s role could change if there is a coaching change. For now, he’s at best a flex play. If Ito continues to get 50% usage, he might be a decent play against a plus matchup if you are in bye-week hell.

Baltimore Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Mark Ingram 65% 19% 19 2 49
RB2 Gus Edwards 26% -3% 5 1 23
RB3 Justice Hill 6% -17% 2 0 7

Whenever the score is close or Baltimore is behind, they rely more heavily on Mark Ingram, and his snap counts increase. Pittsburgh’s defense has leveled up in the past few weeks, so the low efficiency isn’t overly concerning. Those rostering Ingram can continue to rely on him as an RB2. That said, he might be a sell candidate for the right offer. I would move him for someone like Mike Evans or Tyler Lockett.

Buffalo Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Frank Gore 51% 5% 14 2 69
RB2 Devin Singletary 0% 0% 0 0 0
RB3 TJ Yeldon 49% -5% 2 5 28

In a defensive slug-fest, Frank Gore wasn’t particularly involved in the game play. Much of his efficiency and usage came at the end of the game when Buffalo was trying to run out the clock. Devin Singletary returned to practice but didn’t play this week, likely because Buffalo wanted to give him the extra rest coming into the bye week. He will look to be close to 100% in Week 7 when he returns. I’d be starting him against Miami.

Carolina Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Christian McCaffery 86% -14% 19 9 237

McCaffery owners continue to enjoy the ride. McCaffery wasn’t playing at the end of the game, even though the score was close. However, McCaffery reported that he was merely dealing with cramps. Reggie Bonnafon came in, busted a big play, and scored. McCaffery owners should take notice and potentially grab this insanely valuable handcuff.

Chicago Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 David Montgomery 52% -17% 11 1 36
RB2 Tarik Cohen 53% 14% 4 7 49

For the first time this season, Montgomery saw his snap counts decrease. The beneficiary was Tarik Cohen, who interestingly saw a goal-line carry. Matt Nagy has not impressed me as an offensive coach. Only Montgomery can be started, but his ceiling is a flex-ranking.

Cincinnati Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Joe Mixon 63% 2% 19 1 109
RB2 Giovani Bernard 39% 6% 2 3 26

No real change in Cincinnati as they continue the 60-40 split. Mixon saw enhanced efficiency against a weak Arizona defense.

Cleveland Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Nick Chubb 84% 20% 16 1 99

Chubb continues to dominate snaps and opportunity in Cleveland. Continue to start him as an RB1 with confidence.

Dallas Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Ezekiel Elliott 93% -4% 12 4 91
RB2 Tony Pollard 7% 4% 4 0 19

Dallas was losing for most of this game, which meant fewer carries for Zeke.

Denver Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Phillip Lindsay 46% 1% 15 4 147
RB2 Royce Freeman 54% -8% 13 2 67

This backfield remains a 50-50 split, but Lindsay looked like the far more dynamic running back. Based on 5 weeks of data saying the same thing (50-50 split), I don’t foresee Lindsay receiving more usage, but he is at least dynamic enough to justify a high-end RB3 ranking. I wouldn’t hesitate to sell Lindsay for the right price. Meanwhile, Freeman’s usage could be relatively valuable in a deep league, and he could be purchased for pennies on the dollar, I’d bet.

Green Bay Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Aaron Jones 68% -16% 19 8 182
RB2 Jamaal Williams 0% -1% 0 0 0
RB3 Tra Carson 32% 32% 6 4 32

Aaron Jones had a day (not shown here – 4 TDs). With Williams still recovering from a devastating concussion, GB activated a practice squad player to occasionally spell Jones. It didn’t matter, as Jones was super efficient when on the field. Jones is an RB1 with Williams out.

Houston Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Duke Johnson 40% -25% 9 1 67
RB2 Carlos Hyde 64% 16% 21 1 60

Duke remains the far more efficient back, but these roles are clearly defined. As such, both backs are game-script dependent. Here, Houston was up big, and Carlos Hyde saw increased snap counts and usage. Atlanta couldn’t cover Will Fuller, so the underneath passes to Duke were unnecessary. Neither is a fantasy starter right now.

Indianapolis Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Marlon Mack 67% 31% 29 3 148
RB2 Nyheim Hines 21% -24% 2 5 45
RB3 Jordan Wilkins 14% -7% 7 0 28

Indianapolis’s game plan was to control the clock and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands, and it worked. It worked because Marlon Mack was incredibly efficient, even against a weak KC run defense. He looked healthy again, so he’s back in the RB1 mix, but he won’t probably receive 29 carries again this season.

Jacksonville Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Leonard Fournette 92% 8% 23 7 137
RB2 Ryquell Armstead 7% -9% 1 1 6

Fournette continues to dominate snap counts and opportunity. Also, he is running really strong. Maybe it’s health, maybe it’s a new lease on life. Either way, he passes the eye test with ease. He’s an RB1 going forward.

Kansas City Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Damien Williams 56% 56% 9 4 38
RB2 LeSean McCoy 22% -24% 0 2 23
RB3 Darrell Williams 22% -29% 0 0 0

Damien Williams played quite a bit in his return to action. However, he may have seen inflated carries because McCoy fumbled on an important screen play. Also, Darrell Williams played well enough to earn some snaps and cap the upside of the other Williams. This backfield has become quite murky, and I can’t recommend starting anyone other than Damien Williams. Even Damien only saw 11 touches, which isn’t enough to sustain an RB2 projection. He’ll be a flex play next week.

LA Chargers Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Austin Ekeler 66% -6% 3 16 93
RB2 Melvin Gordon 46% 4% 12 6 35

True to his word, Anthony Lynn eased Melvin Gordon back into the lineup. Surprisingly, that didn’t mean less playing time for Ekeler, who saw 16 (!!!) targets. Ekeler isn’t leaving your lineup, barring injury. Gordon should see more snaps next weekend, and hopefully, he kicked off the rust. Gordon will return to my starting lineup next week because I love seeing 12 carries and 6 targets on only 46% of the snap counts. Those numbers bode very well for his future usage. Ekeler looks like he will take a Tarik Cohen-esque role and run with it, which will be valuable. They are probably both RB2s/Flex plays now. Melvin maintains RB1 upside.

LA Rams Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Todd Gurley 93% 17% 15 5 57
RB2 Malcolm Brown 4% -20% 1 0 3

Gurley played a season-high in snap counts. He saw 20 opportunities, which he turned into two touchdowns. 20 opportunities is a lot for any running back, and 93% snap counts is crazy high for a running back in today’s NFL. If he keeps up this usage, he will be firmly back in the RB1 discussion. I told you to trust opportunity with Fournette, and if you listened to me, that paid off. Trust opportunity again here because Gurley’s opportunity is trending in the right direction. Stash Brown if you can afford a handcuff.

Minnesota Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Dalvin Cook 66% -13% 21 6 218
RB2 Alexander Mattison 23% 13% 7 0 52

Another great game from Dalvin Cook. His snap counts dipped slightly because Minnesota was firmly in control of the game towards the end. This trend has occurred multiple times this year: when Minnesota gets ahead, they give Cook a break. Worry not, he posts fantastic games even when he rests.

New England Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Sony Michel 49% 4% 16 3 123
RB2 James White 40% -12% 6 9 72
RB3 Rex Burkhead 0% -18% 0 0 0

We finally saw some efficiency from Sony Michel! Sony looked patient, deliberate, and strong. I take the efficiency with a grain of salt because Washington’s defense isn’t spectacular. However, the biggest change from this game is that Sony saw three targets! Notably, these targets appeared to be scripted because Tom Brady looked for Michel as the first read on 2 of his three targets (the third was a dump-off to the flat). NE appeared to be trying to prove that Michel can catch passes and that his presence on the field does not automatically mean a running play. Personally, I think the passing game involvement opened up a few running lanes for him. While you don’t love a player who only plays 50% of the time, he’d be a clear-cut RB2 if he saw three-to-five targets a game. Meanwhile, White did what he always does. Only start White if you have to.

New Orleans Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Alvin Kamara 69% -8% 16 7 104
RB2 Latavius Murray 33% 8% 7 2 34

Teddy Bridgewater appeared to find his groove, which means that Kamara isn’t as integral to a Saints win as before. I’d expect Kamara to continue to see this type of usage and playing time (70% snap counts) moving forward.

NY Giants Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Wayne Gallman 9% -26% 2 0 14
RB2 Jon Hilliman 64% 46% 9 2 24
RB3 Elijhaa Penny 36% 36% 3 1 24

Gallman got knocked out early with a concussion, so NY turned to rookie Jon Hilliman. None of the Giants were efficient against a strong Vikings defense, and opportunities were limited in a negative game script. Saquon may return soon, so don’t rush to pick up Hilliman. Also, NY plays the Patriots next week, so Hilliman should not be in your lineup unless you are in a super deep league.

NY Jets Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Le’Veon Bell 88% -12% 15 9 88
RB2 Ty Montgomery 14% -2% 2 0 1

Bell continues to dominate carries in a terrible offense. His efficiency should improve when Darnold returns.

Oakland Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Josh Jacobs 68% 14% 26 4 143
RB2 Jalen Richard 15% -13% 2 2 36
RB3 DeAndre Washington 18% -1% 6 3 32

Obviously an avid reader of this column, Jon Gruden listened to my advice and got Josh Jacobs more involved in the passing game. He also rode the hot hand and gave Jacobs a ton of carries in a positive game script. This output was surprising against a strong Chicago defense. Still, credit where credit is due; Jacobs is a solid RB2.

Philadelphia Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Miles Sanders 43% 8% 9 5 64
RB2 Jordan Howard 43% -10% 13 0 62
RB3 Darren Sproles 15% 4% 3 1 4

Jordan Howard is clearly the best running back on the team, even if Miles Sanders is the better all-around player. According to Doug Peterson, Howard has earned more carries. I think you need to sit Miles Sanders for the foreseeable future, even if he seems relatively useful in the passing game. Alternatively, Howard can be started as a flex.

Pittsburgh Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 James Conner 80% 16% 14 0 55
RB2 Jaylen Samuels 25% -21% 3 4 13

Conner played a lot in this game with Samuels injured, but oddly saw no targets. Pittsburgh is starting it’s 3rd string quarterback for the time being, so Conner’s ceiling isn’t particularly exciting. Conner is a low-end RB2, at best.

Seattle Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Chris Carson 84% 8% 27 2 123
RB2 Rashaad Penny 16% 16% 6 2 49
RB3 C.J. Prosise 0% -22% 0 0 0

No fumbles; no problems. Carson has officially ended his fumbling streak, and Pete Carroll rewarded him with 27 carries. Carson also scored a touchdown on one of his two targets. Penny’s involvement may have been easing him back after the injury, but Carson is the clear lead-dog in this backfield. Prosise was rendered irrelevant with Penny back in the lineup.

San Francisco Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Matt Breida 34% -7% 11 3 129
RB2 Tevin Coleman 34% 34% 16 0 97
RB3 Raheem Mostert 32% 2% 7 0 34

Tevin Coleman’s return moved Jeff Wilson back to the inactive list. As established, Shanahan activates three running backs and uses all of them pretty equally, which would be frustrating if not for the 49ers crazy run efficiency. Previously, we established that Jeff Wilson had received the “goal-line” role, but with him inactive, it wasn’t clear who would assume that role. Last night, we didn’t get any clarity on who that goal-line back might be when Wilson is inactive. Coleman got a carry from the 9, which he ran for 4 yards, but the next play, Breida was playing and caught a TD pass from the 5. My best guess is that Coleman assumed the goal-line role, and Breida was only playing in the Green Zone because the 49ers intended to pass from the 5, not run. Either way, Breida, and Coleman are both startable because the 49ers running game is legit.

Tampa Bay Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Peyton Barber 34% -15% 8 3 34
RB2 Ronald Jones 34% 8% 9 3 53
RB3 Dare Ogunbowale 32% 4% 1 1 23

We have another true three-headed monster in Tampa. Ronald Jones continues to be the most efficient and deserves to see more carries, but nothing indicates he will. I saw a lot of “Ronald Jones is a league winner” tweets this week. I don’t quite see it based on usage, but the talent appears to be there. If he starts to creep closer to 50% of the snaps, he could be a really important piece to a championship team.

Tennessee Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Derrick Henry 61% -14% 20 0 78
RB2 Dion Lewis 40% 12% 2 4 30

Game script continues to dictate Derrick Henry’s snap counts. Buffalo was never ahead by more than a touchdown, so Henry saw increased snap counts. He remains efficient, but zero targets is concerning (continuing his low passing game involvement trend to the extreme). You can continue to play him, but in games where Tennessee is projected as an underdog, you might want to consider taking more risky, higher-upside decisions with other roster spots.

Washington Snaps  +/- Carries Targets Total Yards
RB1 Adrian Peterson 27% -12% 7 0 18
RB2 Chris Thompson 54% 1% 4 7 38

Peterson has become so inefficient that Washington is beginning to mix in Wendell Smallwood, who didn’t play any better. Washington is a mess, and you can’t start any Redskin with confidence. Only Thompson can justify a “what-the-heck” flex play. His role in the passing game makes him somewhat interesting, but don’t expect a touchdown from him… like ever.

Biggest Takeaways

  • David Montgomery’s ceiling is capped by Nagy and poor QB play
  • Aaron Jones is a top-5 RB play until Jamaal Williams returns
  • Austin Ekeler saw 16 targets in a game where Melvin Gordon saw 6; Ekeler should still be started in all leagues
  • Melvin Gordon was shaking off some rust, but his usage points to big opportunity in the future, even with Ekeler’s continued presence on the field
  • Gurley’s snap counts are back to where they were in 2018; follow this opportunity
  • Sony Michel saw 3 targets, and his efficiency dramatically improved as a result of being slightly involved in the passing game
  • Miles Sanders is no longer a starting candidate because Jordan Howard has overtaken him as the RB1 on the team
  • Tevin Coleman’s return moved Jeff Wilson off the active roster, and Coleman should be started due to the 49ers extreme rushing efficiency
  • It’s unclear who the 49ers “goal-line” back is with Wilson inactive, but it’s probably Coleman

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