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Running to Daylight - Part 1

All Out Blitz: Volume 182

By Doug Orth | 9/23/21 |
Part 1 | Part 2

Television networks and analytics companies seem to subscribe to the notion that it is better for them to have access to the information many fantasy managers could use to make better drafting and lineup decisions (knowledge is power) than it is for the general public to be more educated about the game we love. Much as what can happen when the conversation turns to the subject of politics, ignorance sparks debate. In this little hobby of ours, debate then drives some people to pay big money to get the answers they desire (or at least ones that confirm their bias) in an effort to get an edge.

Among the many reasons I spend so much time talking about running backs each year has to do with the relative mystery - or dare I say the lack of intricate information available to the general public - of their usage. Snap counts are really just the tip of the iceberg. While playing time is a big deal, knowing snap count numbers is no more helpful than a basketball box score that provides nothing more than how many minutes each player played.

To that end, I thought it would be helpful to take a deeper look into more specific usage numbers this week. More specifically, I want to dig into specific run- and pass-game usage. While I have repeatedly suggested I have doubts about the "educated guesses" that Pro Football Focus has to make when grading players and charting games, some of their information can be invaluable when we have questions about certain players. Two weeks is still a very small sample size to draw rock-solid conclusions, but usage patterns are already starting to form in many cases.

For the sake of brevity, I will cover 16 teams (in alphabetical order) this week and the other 16 next week.

Key to table below:

Tm Snaps - Total offensive snaps
Tot Snaps - Player's overall snap total
Snap % - Tot Snaps/Tm Snaps
Opp % - The percentage of opportunities (carries plus targets) a player is getting
R Snaps - Snaps in which a run play occurred when a player is on the field
Car - Carries
P Snaps - Snaps in which a pass play occurred when a player is on the field
Routes - Number of routes run
Route % - How often a player is running a route on a pass play when he is on the field
T/RR % - How often a player is getting targeted on passing plays when he is on the field
YAC/A - Yards after contact per attempt

 RB Usage (Weeks 1-2)
Player Tm G Tm Snaps Tot Snaps Snap % Opp % R Snaps Car P Plays Routes Route % Tgts T/RR % Rec YAC/C
Chase Edmonds ARI 2 143 79 55.2% 36.7% 24 20 55 51 92.7% 9 17.6% 9 3.0
James Conner ARI 2 143 58 40.6% 41.4% 33 24 25 18 72.0% 0 0.0% 0 2.6
Mike Davis ATL 2 130 99 76.2% 37.4% 29 24 70 58 82.9% 13 22.4% 10 2.7
Cordarrelle Patterson ATL 2 130 48 36.9% 47.9% 18 14 30 24 80.0% 9 37.5% 7 3.1
Ty'Son Williams BAL 2 144 72 50.0% 38.9% 32 22 40 29 72.5% 6 20.7% 5 3.7
Latavius Murray BAL 2 144 48 33.3% 39.6% 32 19 16 13 81.3% 0 0.0% 0 2.5
Devonta Freeman BAL 1 144 10 6.9% 20.0% 5 2 5 5 100.0% 0 0.0% 0 2.0
Devin Singletary BUF 2 150 107 71.3% 29.0% 31 24 76 60 78.9% 7 11.7% 5 2.4
Zack Moss BUF 1 150 18 12.0% 55.6% 10 8 8 6 75.0% 2 33.3% 2 3.3
Matt Breida BUF 2 150 12 8.0% 33.3% 8 4 4 4 100.0% 0 0.0% 0 2.0
Christian McCaffrey CAR 2 140 111 79.3% 54.1% 51 45 60 46 76.7% 15 32.6% 14 2.5
Chuba Hubbard CAR 2 140 26 18.6% 42.3% 8 8 18 16 88.9% 3 18.8% 2 1.3
David Montgomery CHI 2 134 93 69.4% 43.0% 44 36 49 40 81.6% 4 10.0% 4 3.4
Damien Williams CHI 2 134 45 33.6% 35.6% 10 8 35 28 80.0% 8 28.6% 6 2.1
Joe Mixon CIN 2 124 100 80.6% 55.0% 51 49 49 40 81.6% 6 15.0% 5 2.8
Samaje Perine CIN 2 124 18 14.5% 38.9% 5 5 13 9 69.2% 2 22.2% 1 2.4
Nick Chubb CLE 2 121 66 54.5% 43.9% 34 26 32 27 84.4% 3 11.1% 3 4.4
Kareem Hunt CLE 2 121 51 42.1% 45.1% 21 19 30 24 80.0% 4 16.7% 4 3.1
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 2 146 114 78.1% 27.2% 30 27 84 68 81.0% 4 5.9% 4 2.3
Tony Pollard DAL 2 146 41 28.1% 56.1% 17 16 24 20 83.3% 7 35.0% 7 3.5
Melvin Gordon DEN 2 135 74 54.8% 39.2% 25 24 49 42 85.7% 5 11.9% 5 2.3
Javonte Williams DEN 2 135 61 45.2% 47.5% 29 27 32 25 78.1% 2 8.0% 2 3.0
D'Andre Swift DET 2 149 99 66.4% 35.4% 22 19 77 65 84.4% 16 24.6% 12 1.6
Jamaal Williams DET 2 149 54 36.2% 51.9% 18 16 36 32 88.9% 12 37.5% 11 2.7
Aaron Jones GB 2 122 73 59.8% 41.1% 26 22 47 34 72.3% 8 23.5% 8 2.1
AJ Dillon GB 2 122 35 28.7% 34.3% 12 9 23 17 73.9% 3 17.6% 2 3.6
Kylin Hill GB 2 122 19 15.6% 36.8% 10 7 9 7 77.8% 0 0.0% 0 1.6
Mark Ingram HOU 2 139 55 39.6% 78.2% 42 40 13 9 69.2% 3 33.3% 1 2.8
David Johnson HOU 2 139 48 34.5% 31.3% 12 9 36 28 77.8% 6 21.4% 5 2.6
Phillip Lindsay HOU 2 139 34 24.5% 44.1% 17 13 17 12 70.6% 2 16.7% 1 0.9
Jonathan Taylor IND 2 142 72 50.7% 55.6% 33 32 39 33 84.6% 8 24.2% 7 2.4
Nyheim Hines IND 2 142 59 41.5% 30.5% 11 10 48 41 85.4% 8 19.5% 7 1.7
Marlon Mack IND 1 142 12 8.5% 50.0% 5 5 7 7 100.0% 1 14.3% 0 3.6
James Robinson JAC 2 129 87 67.4% 28.7% 20 16 67 55 82.1% 9 16.4% 6 2.6
Carlos Hyde JAC 2 129 39 30.2% 38.5% 12 11 27 23 85.2% 4 17.4% 2 2.1
Clyde Edwards-Helaire KC 2 116 80 69.0% 37.5% 30 27 50 43 86.0% 3 7.0% 3 1.4


Running backs of note: James Conner, Chase Edmonds

Comment: It seems nearly impossible to believe that a team averaging 36 points through two games would not have a single rush attempt from inside the 5. (Kyler Murray's only red zone rush was a 12-yard touchdown, Edmonds carried inside the 10 once for no gain from the 9 and Conner lost three yards on his only carry from the 6.) Conner is responsible for 44.4 percent of the team's rushing attempts, but he has only 33 percent of the team's rushing yards. He appears to be the team's top option of the goal line, but he has yet to get an opportunity as noted earlier. Good luck to any fantasy manager hoping for a contribution from him in the passing game: he has yet to be targeted on 18 routes while Edmonds has run nearly three times as many routes (51) and seen a ball thrown in his direction 17.6 percent of the time.


Running backs of note: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson

Comment: Davis was an easy fade for me all summer. What I didn't know then was which player was the most likely to be the player that likely relegated him to a committee back. It turns out it was Patterson, who was listed as a receiver on many fantasy sites (the primary reason why he was not on my Big Boards). At any rate, the backfield usage is shaking out almost as I expected - the only thing that has surprised me is how quickly it has happened. Davis holds (and likely will continue to) a significant five-carry-per-game advantage over Patterson. He has also more than doubled him up in total number of pass plays (70-30) and routes run (58-24), yet Patterson has accumulated more total yards (136-135) and touchdowns (2-0). Put another way, Davis has been on the field for 99 total snaps and received an opportunity (carry or target) on 37.4 percent of them. Patterson has been on the field for 48 total snaps and been granted an opportunity on 47.9 percent of them.


Running backs of note: Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman

Comment: The Ravens have strongly suggested publicly they will not lean too heavily on a single running back. What is clear now is that Murray has no business taking snaps away from Williams unless the latter needs a break. Murray and Williams have logged nearly the same number of rushing attempts (22-19), yet Williams has been far superior in yards per carry (6.5-3.4) and, more importantly, yards after contact per attempt (3.7-2.5). Somewhat interestingly, Williams has been targeted six times on his 29 routes run (20.7 percent), while Murray and Freeman have yet to be thrown at on 18 combined routes. That could easily be a product of Lamar Jackson being unfamiliar with the new arrivals, but it seems clear at the moment Williams will probably see AT LEAST half of his position group's work on the ground - more than enough for fantasy purposes for a team that runs as much as Baltimore. It remains uncertain if Freeman or Le'Veon Bell can get familiar enough with Jackson at any point this season to put a dent into Williams' work in the passing game.


Running backs of note: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss

Comment: We probably cannot read too much into this situation yet considering that Moss was a scratch in Week 1. (There are differing accounts as to why.) The one thing that stands out more than any other above regarding this backfield is Singletary's 60 routes run on 76 pass plays (two games) versus Moss' six routes run and eight pass plays (one game). The argument can be made that Moss saw an opportunity on 12 of his 18 snaps in Week 2, however, and holds a decided edge in yards after contact per attempt (3.3-2.4). Ultimately, expect this backfield to shake out in the same kind of way that Arizona's is trending, with Moss playing the Conner role with limited pass-game involvement and Singletary emulating Edmonds.


Running backs of note: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard

Comment: McCaffrey's usage is right in line with what his fantasy managers expected. He has been targeted on an insane (for a running back anyway) 32.6 percent of his routes and played on 79 percent of his team's offensive snaps. Another notable takeaway is that Hubbard has logged 26 snaps, suggesting the Panthers are more comfortable taking CMC off the field for a snap or two than at any point since his rookie year.


Running backs of note: David Montgomery, Damien Williams

Comment: There are not too many surprises here either, outside of the fact that Williams has played about half as many snaps and trails Montgomery in pass plays (49-35) and routes run (40-28), yet Williams has been targeted twice as much. Williams has not been a complete non-factor as a runner, but four carries per will not get it done in the flex spot in most leagues. Montgomery and Justin Fields have handled all of the rushing work inside the 10 to this point as well.


Running backs of note: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine

Comment: The Bengals have truly committed to Mixon thus far, as he ranks seventh among running backs in total snaps (100) and second in snap percentage (80.6). His 40 routes run seem low when compared to that of a committee back like Melvin Gordon (42), but it should be noted that Cincinnati ranks 26th in the league with 57 pass attempts (one more than Baltimore). As the Bengals become more comfortable with Joe Burrow's health and/or ability to avoid punishment in the weeks ahead, it's reasonable to assume Mixon will run more routes if only because Cincinnati will likely pass more often and play at a faster pace. (Their 124 offensive snaps are among the fewest in the league.) Otherwise, Mixon is the only running back keeping pace with Derrick Henry (52) in carries with 49.


Running backs of note: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt

Comment: It would be easy to get carried away and suggest Hunt is in a near-even committee with Chubb based solely on usage. It would be more correct to say the Browns are using Hunt in the same way they are using Chubb but saving their stud for the stretch run. Why am I confident in this? Chubb's efficiency is off the charts once again, as he is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 4.4 yards after contact. (Hunt is at 4.4 and 3.1, respectively.) Chubb has run more routes as well (27-24). Based on his usage over the second half of last season, it is fair to assume the Browns have taken the approach of monitoring Chubb's workload in September and October so that he can be unleashed in November and December. Given the current state of affairs with Cleveland's banged-up receivers, HC Kevin Stefanski may not have a choice but to put more on Chubb's plate earlier than he wants.


Running backs of note: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard

Comment: Much like Cleveland, the early statistical returns suggest Pollard could be on his way to eating into Elliott's playing time. When we consider HC Mike McCarthy has repeatedly said how important it was to monitor Elliott's workload moving forward - given his career workload - with the fact the Cowboys have already run 146 plays, it is not hard to understand why Pollard has been on the field so much. Elliott's 114 snaps lead ALL running backs. What is clear is that Pollard will not usually be a decoy when he is on the field, as he has either taken a handoff or been targeted on 56.1 percent of those plays. Therefore, Pollard is not forcing his way into a committee so much as Dallas is highlighting his skills with a package of plays designed to accentuate his strengths. In that way (and probably only that way), this backfield is like Atlanta's in that Pollard and Cordarrelle Patterson are "offensive weapons." The major difference between the two situations is Mike Davis isn't Elliott and wasn't signed this offseason with the idea that he was.


Running backs of note: Melvin Gordon, Javonte Williams

Comment: Fantasy managers are advised not to lose their nerve when it comes to this backfield. While every manager wants to come out of September undefeated, there are 32 backfields in the league and usually 32 stories to tell as it relates to how the work will be distributed. Fantasy managers should be encouraged that Williams is splitting work with Gordon almost right down the middle thus far, although the veteran does have the edge in the number of pass plays he has been on the field for (49-32) and routes run (42-25). Again, this should have been expected; Gordon has typically been very solid in the passing game. Once again, we look to yards after contact per attempt to find that Williams has been a more productive runner (3.0-2.3). Fantasy managers also need to keep in mind that 70 of Gordon's 132 yards rushing came on one run. He is sporting an average of 2.7 YPC on his other 23 attempts. Much like Nick Chubb in Cleveland, it is not hard to imagine the coaching staff turning the bulk of the rushing attack over to Williams once November rolls around.


Running backs of note: D'Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams

Comment: Perhaps the most surprising thing about this backfield has been how even Swift and Williams' receiving numbers look. One look at the number of pass plays and routes run tells a different story, however. Swift has more than doubled up Williams in the former (77-36) and the latter (65-32). In fact, Swift trails only Ezekiel Elliott in terms of routes run among running backs (68-65), which should tell fantasy managers there is plenty of meat being left on the bone for both players. If Detroit was a bigger threat for positive game script, there would be reason to hold Williams (as opposed to buying or selling) because it makes sense Detroit wants him to be the four-minute back. However, his aforementioned usage in the passing game - when compared to Swift's - makes Williams worth selling high if/when possible and Swift more of a buy-low.

Green Bay

Running backs of note: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon

Comment: There was reason to believe this summer - especially with what the team invested last year into Dillon - that Jones would lose a bit of his rushing workload to the second-year back and take on more of the work on passing downs given the departure of Jamaal Williams. While the opener was a nightmare for all parties involved in Green Bay, Week 2 seemed to be a clear indication that Jones will be treated as a workhorse. Even factoring in the Week 1 disaster, Jones is at least doubling up Dillon in snaps (73-35), rush attempts (22-9), pass plays (47-23), routes run (34-17) and targets (8-3). Expect Dillon to get a bit more run as the season progresses, but the notion that Jones will serve as Green Bay's version of Alvin Kamara and Dillon will operate in a Latavius Murray-like role feels like a safe bet at the moment.


Running backs of note: Mark Ingram, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay

Comment: It would be nice to care about this backfield in fantasy if only because the Texans only have one receiver of note and want to rely so heavily on the run. After two games, we have three running backs with at least 34 snaps and a good idea of what Houston is thinking; Ingram is the early-down pounder who will serve in that role for as long as the Texans keep things close. Johnson is primarily the third-down and two-minute back (he has been on the field for 36 pass plays and run 28 routes, which is more than Ingram and Lindsay combined). Lindsay is operating as the primary backup for both. Because Houston figures to be trailing for most of the season, Johnson should win out for fantasy purposes (as long as he stays healthy). Ingram's usefulness in fantasy will likely be limited to games Houston has a chance to win.


Running backs of note: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines

Comment: The problem with Taylor right now is not usage - he is almost certain to get as much as he can handle when the Colts hold a lead - as it is his current circumstances. Carson Wentz, the defense and the offensive line are beat up. Hines also just happens to be one of the better scatbacks in the league, creating a bit of a glass ceiling not unlike the one Antonio Gibson experienced last year with Washington. To that end, Taylor only holds a 72-59 advantage in total snaps through two games. While Hines was always going to be a thorn in the side of Taylor from a fantasy perspective, one of the major reasons why the snap count is so close is because Indianapolis has held the lead for just over six minutes of game time.

The key number for Taylor above is how often he is getting the ball when he is on the field; of the regular starters listed above, he ranks third at 55.6 percent - right behind Damien Harris (63.2) and Derrick Henry (57.0). When the Colts can play with a lead for a significant amount of the game this year, it is a good bet that will be reflected in Taylor's bottom line. Until then, he will likely be losing more snaps to Hines than any fantasy manager wants to see. Also keep in mind that Taylor leads the league in rush attempts inside the 20 (12), inside the 10 (eight) and inside the 5 (6). He will not remain with a touchdown much longer.


Running backs of note: James Robinson, Carlos Hyde

Comment: The good news is that after a confusing Week 1 in which Robinson was hardly involved in the running game, Week 2 saw him hold a 12-3 edge in rushing attempts over Hyde. Robinson has also enjoyed a decided advantage over Hyde in passing snaps and routes run in each game. The problem is none of these things should have been a concern in the first place. Somewhat interestingly, both Robinson (4.5) and Hyde (4.6) are over the usual league average in terms of yards per carry, suggesting the Jaguars would be doing themselves a favor if they stuck with the run a bit longer. All in all, playing time is not a problem for Robinson, as he has been on the field for a healthy 67.4 percent of the team's snaps. However, it seems as though HC Urban Meyer and OC Darrell Bevell view Robinson as more of a good lead back rather than a workhorse.

Kansas City

Running backs of note: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrel Williams

Comment: Edwards-Helaire's fumble as the Chiefs were positioning themselves for a potential game-winning field goal is not what anyone wanted to see and is just another reason fantasy managers may be looking to sell for pennies on the dollar. It is fashionable to blame him for the fumble as well because he isn't producing at the level most expected from him (or an Andy Reid running back, for that matter). While running backs are at least partly to blame for any fumble they commit, they don't expect to get hit in the backfield when running behind one of the highest-paid guards in the league in a critical situation (which is exactly what happened when Joe Thuney got beat versus the Ravens).

CEH is an odd case when it comes to his early struggles. On the plus side, he has played 69 percent of the snaps (good for 13th among all backs) and ran a route on 86 percent of the pass plays he has been in the game (fourth among backs with at least 70 snaps). I have been mostly impressed with the ferocity with which he has run as well, even if his yards-per-carry and yards-per-carry per attempt aren't very impressive. Williams doesn't appear to be a threat either. So what gives?

One of the "lessons" the Chiefs supposedly learned from their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay last season was to incorporate more short throws into the offense. No one will dispute that the majority of those throws should go to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. However, there is no explanation as to why a running back that Reid suggested was better than Brian Westbrook has only been targeted on seven percent of the 43 routes he has run. (For the sake of comparison, Ronald Jones is an afterthought in the passing game and he is at 13.3 percent.) The excuse cannot be "let Patrick (Mahomes) be Patrick" and have him buy time to throw downfield on every other play. Another issue for CEH has been the lack of plays Kansas City has run through two games. Ten teams are averaging at least 70 plays. The Chiefs are averaging 58.

Reid has a history of underutilizing his running backs as runners, but he has typically made up for it by making them a key part of the passing game. Long story short, Edwards-Helaire's playing time is not an issue. There is a significant problem with how he is being utilized. Why has a back that handled at least 25 touches in three of his first six NFL games been trusted with more than 15 touches only twice in 11 games since? Here is another question: why is he being asked to run plays that aren't a good fit for his skill set?

Part 1 | Part 2

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.