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Running to Daylight - Part 2

All Out Blitz: Volume 183

By Doug Orth | 9/30/21 |
Part 1| Part 2

Before I begin this week, I would like to take a minute to acknowledge the passing of renowned fantasy analyst Mike Tagliere due to COVID-19 on Sept. 24. He was 39.

There are many things wrong with the fantasy industry, but "Tags" was one of the things that was right about it. So few people in the industry 1) actually watch enough of the games to speak intelligently about each team and 2) do so with a discerning eye and can apply it to fantasy. He was one of those people and it came through in his work. In what can sometimes be a cruel industry, Mike embodied what it should be: work and research like crazy but do so with humility while treating people with the utmost kindness and respect. His love for his family - specifically his wife Tabbie - was obvious to anyone who knew him or followed him on social media.

I met Mike at the King's Classic in 2018 and talked with him again in 2019 before the pandemic forced the 2020 event to be held online. While I don't have a ton of stories about him, I felt we were kindred spirits in the way; his weekly Primer at FantasyPros was basically the same beast I created back in 2007: Inside the Matchup. There are only so many people willing to grind out 20,000 words per week about football. It does not take long for someone with that kind of passion to stand out to another person with that kind of passion.

In case anyone reading this introduction questions how big of a loss this is for the industry, perhaps this will help. Over the last few days, countless analysts on social media have credited Mike as one of the driving forces as to why they got into the industry. Another example of his reach: a GoFundMe page was established for Tabbie and the family shortly after news of his passing was made public. By the end of the weekend, roughly $200,000 was raised. As this article hits the site less than a week later (Sept. 30), that number is pushing $400,000. To say Mike was respected and beloved by his peers is an understatement.

Rest in peace, Tags. You are missed.


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.

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 1-3)
Player Tm G Tm Snaps Tot Snaps Snap % Opp % R Snaps Car P Plays Routes Route % Tgts T/RR % Rec YAC/C
Peyton Barber LV 2 235 66 28.1% 62.1% 41 36 25 20 80.0% 5 25.0% 3 4.1
Kenyan Drake LV 3 235 125 53.2% 28.8% 27 21 98 76 77.6% 15 19.7% 13 2.1
Josh Jacobs LV 1 235 45 19.1% 26.7% 15 10 30 23 76.7% 2 8.7% 1 3.7
Austin Ekeler LAC 3 218 141 64.7% 35.5% 42 35 99 79 79.8% 15 19.0% 15 3.3
Larry Rountree III LAC 3 218 43 19.7% 34.9% 16 13 27 16 59.3% 2 12.5% 1 1.9
Justin Jackson LAC 3 218 35 16.1% 25.7% 11 7 23 16 69.6% 2 12.5% 2 3.4
Sony Michel LAR 3 177 67 37.9% 52.2% 33 31 34 29 85.3% 4 13.8% 3 2.4
Darrell Henderson LAR 2 177 89 50.3% 39.3% 39 29 50 42 84.0% 6 14.3% 4 2.1
Myles Gaskin MIA 3 211 117 55.5% 35.9% 28 27 89 64 71.9% 15 23.4% 12 2.9
Malcolm Brown MIA 3 211 59 28.0% 30.5% 24 17 35 14 40.0% 1 7.1% 0 2.4
Salvon Ahmed MIA 3 211 39 18.5% 35.9% 10 9 29 27 93.1% 5 18.5% 2 2.1
Dalvin Cook MIN 2 219 106 48.4% 49.1% 43 42 63 43 68.3% 10 23.3% 8 3.0
Alexander Mattison MIN 3 219 73 33.3% 53.4% 32 30 41 34 82.9% 9 26.5% 8 2.1
Ameer Abdullah MIN 3 219 32 14.6% 28.1% 8 6 24 22 91.7% 3 13.6% 2 3.0
Damien Harris NE 3 206 87 42.2% 58.6% 48 45 39 31 79.5% 6 19.4% 5 3.3
James White NE 3 206 63 30.6% 38.1% 11 10 52 38 73.1% 14 36.8% 12 1.4
Brandon Bolden NE 2 206 35 17.0% 22.9% 6 4 29 21 72.4% 4 19.0% 3 1.5
J.J. Taylor NE 2 206 15 7.3% 33.3% 4 3 11 11 100.0% 2 18.2% 2 1.3
Rhamondre Stevenson NE 1 206 5 2.4% 40.0% 1 1 4 2 50.0% 1 50.0% 1 2.0
Alvin Kamara NO 3 168 134 79.8% 48.5% 67 52 67 56 83.6% 13 23.2% 10 2.4
Tony Jones NO 3 168 47 28.0% 40.4% 22 16 25 18 72.0% 3 16.7% 3 2.3
Saquon Barkley NYG 3 200 147 73.5% 35.4% 51 39 96 76 79.2% 13 17.1% 9 2.5
Devontae Booker NYG 2 200 34 17.0% 23.5% 9 6 25 20 80.0% 2 10.0% 2 2.2
Michael Carter NYJ 3 192 72 37.5% 44.4% 28 24 44 36 81.8% 8 22.2% 5 2.8
Ty Johnson NYJ 3 192 99 51.6% 27.3% 21 19 78 54 69.2% 8 14.8% 2 2.7
Tevin Coleman NYJ 2 192 24 12.5% 58.3% 15 14 9 5 55.6% 0 0.0% 0 3.5
Miles Sanders PHI 3 187 121 64.7% 32.2% 41 30 80 62 77.5% 9 14.5% 8 2.3
Kenneth Gainwell PHI 3 187 62 33.2% 40.3% 19 16 43 34 79.1% 9 26.5% 7 1.9
Najee Harris PIT 3 197 190 96.4% 35.3% 48 40 142 121 85.2% 27 22.3% 20 2.8
Chris Carson SEA 3 161 99 61.5% 46.5% 48 41 51 44 86.3% 5 11.4% 5 3.3
Alex Collins SEA 2 161 20 12.4% 15.0% 3 3 17 15 88.2% 0 0.0% 0 4.0
Rashaad Penny SEA 1 161 7 4.3% 28.6% 2 2 5 4 80.0% 0 0.0% 0 1.0
Travis Homer SEA 3 161 32 19.9% 15.6% 0 0 32 22 68.8% 5 22.7% 5 0.0
DeeJay Dallas SEA 1 161 3 1.9% 66.7% 2 1 1 1 100.0% 1 100.0% 1 3.0
Elijah Mitchell SF 2 195 78 40.0% 48.7% 46 36 32 22 68.8% 2 9.1% 2 3.0
Trey Sermon SF 2 195 42 21.5% 33.3% 18 11 24 20 83.3% 3 15.0% 2 2.4
JaMycal Hasty SF 2 195 41 21.0% 29.3% 12 6 29 24 82.8% 6 25.0% 5 2.3
Leonard Fournette TB 3 201 99 49.3% 38.4% 27 24 72 66 91.7% 14 21.2% 12 2.5
Ronald Jones TB 3 201 44 21.9% 38.6% 20 15 24 18 75.0% 2 11.1% 1 2.4
Giovani Bernard TB 3 201 56 27.9% 26.8% 0 0 56 47 83.9% 15 31.9% 13 0.0
Derrick Henry TEN 3 221 156 70.6% 59.0% 85 80 71 51 71.8% 12 23.5% 12 3.6
Jeremy McNichols TEN 3 221 62 28.1% 21.0% 8 5 54 41 75.9% 8 19.5% 7 3.2
Antonio Gibson WAS 3 180 110 61.1% 49.1% 54 45 56 46 82.1% 9 19.6% 6 2.8
J.D. McKissic WAS 3 180 76 42.2% 21.1% 13 8 63 51 81.0% 8 15.7% 7 1.8

Las Vegas

Running backs of note: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Peyton Barber

Comment: Bear in mind the Raiders have run at a league-high 235 plays (an unsustainable 78.3 per game), due in no small part to two overtime games. As such, it is difficult to read much into Barber and Jacobs' snap counts or snap percentages. Jacobs only played in the opener in a negative game script, while Barber had next to no chance to get going in Week 2 (gained 47 yards after contact in a game in which he rushed for 32 yards). The easiest application for this data is to treat it like Las Vegas is treating its backfield (i.e. Barber is Jacobs' direct backup and being asked to assume his role in the offense during his absence, while Drake is the clear top option in the passing game). Drake's snap share is in part a reflection of how often the Raiders have been trailing in games during their 3-0 start, and his 2.1 yards per carry on 21 rushing attempts through three games isn't going to help him become the handcuff that so many thought he was going to be when he signed with Las Vegas this spring.

LA Chargers

Running backs of note: Austin Ekeler, Larry Rountree III, Justin Jackson

Comment: A snap share of 64.7 percent is not elite by any stretch, but Ekeler is more of a full-time back than he has been at any point during his NFL career. His passing game usage predictably dwarfs that of Rountree and Jackson, but it comes as a bit of a surprise that he is playing more than three times as many plays as either one of his teammates and has nearly doubled them in run snaps (42-27) and rush attempts (35-20). The bigger mystery with this backfield is his best handcuff for fantasy purposes. Given their respective skill sets (Rountree in college, Jackson as a pro), it is reasonable to believe Jackson is the better one because he is the strong favorite to handle duties in the passing game. To that end, Rountree has only run a route on 59.3 percent of the pass plays in which he has been on the field (69.6 for Jackson, 79.8 for Ekeler). Through three games, it appears OC Joe Lombardi is content letting Ekeler handle about 10-12 carries and figuring out who the hot hand is with the rest of the carries.

LA Rams

Running backs of note: Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel

Comment: This is another situation in which an injury to the starter limits what we can surmise about the backfield usage as a whole. The Rams are not playing with great pace (their 177 offensive snaps are the third lowest of the 16 teams covered this week). Los Angeles also appears to have faith in Michel in the passing game (he ran 22 routes of his 29 routes for the season in Week 3 and is running a route on 85.3 percent of the pass plays that he is on the field for so far), which is a clear departure from how the Patriots utilized him. Perhaps even more telling, Michel saw 24 opportunities (23 touches) in his first start with the Rams in the worst possible matchup for running backs (Tampa Bay). Henderson hasn't seen that kind of workload in any of his 30 games since becoming a pro. Expect Henderson to remain the starter indefinitely, but Michel will almost certainly take enough work away from Henderson moving forward that Week 1's encouraging usage will not be repeated anytime soon as long as both players are healthy.


Running backs of note: Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown, Salvon Ahmed

Comment: Despite all the handwringing of Gaskin being featured as he was last year, the fact of the matter is that he has been a bit of a Chase Edmonds clone in a lesser offense through three contests. He is playing twice as many snaps as Brown or Ahmed and has one more rushing attempt than the other two combined. Gaskin should be primed to see more work as a rusher as the season progresses if his early averages hold up; his 2.89 yards per carry after contact is nearly a half-yard better than Brown or Ahmed and his 5.1 yards per carry is more than a full yard better. His usage in the passing game is where he is standing out versus his teammates; his 64 routes run and 15 targets are more than twice as many as Brown or Ahmed. Ultimately, the Dolphins do not appear to be in a hurry to abandon their quasi-committee, but there is reason to believe they could down the road.


Running backs of note: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison

Comment: Cook's absence in Week 3 skews a lot of these numbers and averages, so I will refer to some of his more important usage statistics as it stood through two weeks: 73.6 percent of the snaps, 49.1 percent opportunity share and a T/RR % of 23.3 percent. That last number ranked ninth among all backs with at least 70 snaps in their first two games. Mattison was predictably the only show in town in Week 3, attracting all the targets by a Minnesota running back and playing a Cook-like 68 percent of the snaps. We can probably assume Cook will return to his usage numbers from the first two weeks as soon as he is cleared, but the Vikings need to consider the possibility of lightening his load whenever possible. While his ankle injury was not one in which overuse was to blame, he entered the season with a significant injury history. Overuse was the primary reason why I was down on him this summer and Minnesota still is not acting as though it believes saving him for the stretch run is a good idea.

New England

Running backs of note: Damien Harris, J.J. Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson, Brandon Bolden

Comment: Harris has established himself as the clear early-down option - his 48 run snaps and 45 rushing attempts are more than twice the number of the rest of his teammates combined. However, James White's hip injury (and subsequent uptick in Bolden's playing time) in Week 3 casts some doubt as to the identity of the back who will take the bulk of his pass-catching role moving forward. While Bolden is primarily a special-teamer at this point of his career, he has earned the trust of HC Bill Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels over the years. Perhaps it should not be a surprise then that he took over for White after his injury.

With a full week of practice to prepare him for the role he will likely hold next year and beyond, I expect Taylor to take the lead as Harris' complement (with Bolden getting mixed in primarily for his ability to pick up the blitz). New England probably will not use either player as a 1-for-1 replacement for White, but this offense needs juice anywhere it can get it. Taylor has it. Bolden does not. The problem with singling out Taylor is that Stevenson is also quite adept as a receiver. Will White's injury end his two-game punishment for fumbling in the opener? Only Belichick and McDaniels know the answer to that question right now.

New Orleans

Running backs of note: Alvin Kamara, Tony Jones

Comment: Kamara is a stud. His usage is awesome. With that said, there is reason for his fantasy managers to be concerned. Kamara's YPC per-game marks have been at 4.2 or lower in all three games and some of that was even before the Saints lost LT Terron Armstead and C Erik McCoy to injury. He has 10 catches after three games, which pales in comparison to the 27 he had at the same time last year or the 17 he had through three outings in 2019. New Orleans is also playing at an incredibly slow pace, averaging 56 offensive plays per game. This is the way the Saints are likely to play at least until Michael Thomas (and to a lesser extent, Tre'Quan Smith) return, but his return isn't going to suddenly stretch the defense to the point it will potentially extend drives and/or drastically increase the number of plays. Kamara isn't going to fall out of the RB1 ranks, but expectations regarding his upside need to be adjusted. The slow pace of play and reliance on the defense is most likely the root cause of Jones not getting the same amount of work Latavius Murray saw during his time as a Saint.

NY Giants

Running backs of note: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker

Comment: Booker was a healthy scratch in Week 3 and Barkley assumed the workhorse role many expected. Even with the Giants easing him into action over the first two games, Barkley has still been on the field for 73.5 percent of the team's offensive snaps and touched the ball on 35.4 percent of the 147 plays he has been on the field. The primary concern - as it has been for years with New York - is the offensive line. Barkley's 41-yard run in Week 2 accounts for 30.5 percent of his rushing yards this season. His other 38 carries have netted him a total of 93 yards (2.4 YPC). Like Najee Harris, Barkley's heavy usage is not expected to change much moving forward barring injury, so volume is going to keep him firmly in the RB1 conversation. However, it is somewhat concerning that Miles Sanders (4.9) and Leonard Fournette (4.7) each pushed five yards per carry against a defense (Atlanta) that limited Barkley to 3.2.

NY Jets

Running backs of note: Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, Tevin Coleman

Comment: It took one game for New York to realize what many fantasy managers already knew: Coleman should not be a starting running back in the NFL anymore. Coleman played only 10 percent of snaps in Week 2 before sitting out Week 3 due to an illness, and it is fair to wonder if he will see five touches or top 15 percent of the snaps in another game anytime soon. Interestingly, Johnson has emerged as the top option in the passing game, while Carter holds a slight edge in terms of work on the ground.

Johnson has been on the field for 78 pass plays (versus 44 for Carter) and ran 18 more routes (54-36), but the oddity here is that Carter has just as many targets (eight) and three more catches (5-2). The most likely reason for this is that Johnson is seeing the majority of long down-and-distance work, which is usually not conducive to running backs piling up catches unless the team is great at running screens. The other thing to keep in mind here is that Jets' running backs have yet to score a touchdown and are averaging 19 carries, 73 rushing yards, 2.3 catches and 21.6 receiving yards. There is just not much upside here, especially when the opportunity is spread in two (and sometimes three) directions.


Running backs of note: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell

Comment: Most people already know about the three total carries by Philly's running backs on Monday against the Cowboys. (Including QB Jalen Hurts, Pro Football Focus charted five called runs and seven scrambles in all.) The snap percentage of the two backs seem to reflect the overall usage of Sanders and Gainwell, as there appears to be a 2:1 ratio across the board in run snaps (41-19), rush attempts (30-16), pass plays (80-43) and routes (62-34). The one semi-interesting nugget here is that Gainwell has the same number of targets (nine) and one less reception despite seeing significantly less work in the passing game. Sanders himself said during the preseason that Gainwell "probably has the best hands in the (running back) room." It is reasonable to assume Sanders will maintain his current level of work as a runner (roughly two-thirds of the run plays) while Gainwell continues to incrementally take over more of the work as a receiver. If there is one positive to take from the Eagles' distribution so far, it might be that Gainwell would likely be featured if Sanders misses time.


Running backs of note: Najee Harris

Comment: Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson would be proud. Harris has played 96.4 percent of the snaps. He has also accounted for all 27 of the targets and run 96 percent of the routes by Pittsburgh running backs. Especially in today's game, that kind of usage will keep a running back in the RB1 discussion regardless of how poor his offense is or how bad his offensive line plays.

San Francisco

Running backs of note: Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, Kerryon Johnson, Jacques Patrick (and eventually Jeff Wilson)

Comment: The sheer number of injuries to this backfield makes it difficult to conclude much for this kind of analysis. However, it seemed clear from watching Week 3 that Sermon's "great" week of practice was not enough for him to earn the trust of HC Kyle Shanahan. Sermon carried the ball once on San Francisco's first two drives and only had three rushing attempts at halftime. At least for the moment, it appears as if Mitchell has captured the imagination of Shanahan - if only because his speed opens a part of the playbook that was only available when Raheem Mostert was healthy over the last few seasons.

There is too much volatility in this backfield to be certain of anything, but it appears as if Sermon will need Mitchell to miss significant time if he is going to make much of an impact in 2021. The elephant in the room (perhaps as early as late October or as last as Thanksgiving) is Wilson. He needs to be on a roster in any league with IR spots right now. Perhaps Shanahan will trust Mitchell the same way he already trusts Wilson in another month or so, but last year's finish was a clear sign that Wilson has earned his place in Shanahan's circle of trust.


Running backs of note: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Alex Collins, Travis Homer

Comment: The first takeaway from Carson's per-game utilization is that his routes run percentage has dropped each week. He is also seeing virtually none of the long down-and-distance or two-minute snaps. That seems to be where the Seahawks want to rest him in favor of Penny or Homer. Carson figures to see the "money touches" for the foreseeable future (inside the 5, especially) and his opportunity share of 46.5 percent is excellent for a back who is on the field as much as he is. Unfortunately, Seattle has run a lackluster 161 offensive plays per PFF - the lowest mark in the league. One of the explanations for that low number is the relatively high number of big pass plays (12 20-yard pass plays) the Seahawks have hit in the early going. Big pass plays lead to shorter drives (in terms of the number of plays), which helps to explain how a running back averaging 4.9 yards per carry only has 41 attempts through three games. Either way, it's easy to conclude that new OC Shane Waldron is not placing a heavy emphasis on getting Carson (or any of his running backs, for that matter) involved in the passing game.

Tampa Bay

Running backs of note: Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones, Giovani Bernard

Comment: The best thing about this backfield is that it could be trending toward one back on early downs, as Jones cannot seem to get out of his own way - at least in the eyes of HC Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich. Fournette is running a route on 91.7 percent of the pass plays he is on the field for and leads the team with 66 routes run, which cannot be what anyone had in mind when the Bucs added Bernard in the offseason. What appears obvious after Week 3 is that Bernard will only be worth using in fantasy when the Bucs face negative game script or get into a wild-west kind of shootout, neither of which should happen often as soon as Tampa Bay's secondary gets healthier. Bernard has yet to carry the ball, making him nothing more than a glorified receiver on a team that is loaded with pass-catching options. (Bernard could miss multiple weeks with the knee injury he suffered on his TD catch last week.) For better or worse, the Bucs are showing very little commitment to the running game, giving the running back position an average of 13 carries (to go along with 8.7 receptions) through three games. It is one thing when that is going to one back. The Bucs are spreading that work among three.


Running backs of note: Derrick Henry, Jeremy McNichols (and eventually Darrynton Evans)

Comment: Fantasy's overall RB1 through three weeks has several factors working in his favor right now. He's been targeted on 23.5 percent of his routes run, which is the highest percentage for a running back of the 16 teams covered in this piece who has played at least 75 snaps. He has one less target than Alvin Kamara (13-12) does. One year after the coaching staff admitted they overworked him in the first half of the season, Henry is averaging 30.7 touches - good for a 521-touch pace in a 17-game season. Suffice it to say that number will start coming down soon.

The Titans are averaging 73.7 offensive snaps. Good running teams can typically average 70 plays, but Tennessee's passing game has not exactly held up its end of the bargain yet. While the Titans' Week 2 overtime win in Seattle obviously contributed to the high play average, Henry's six touches and Tennessee's 10 non-punt snaps in that extra period aren't driving up their respective averages THAT much. Evans will likely take McNichols' snaps at some point in the near future when he returns from IR, but the question becomes if Henry gives up much of the work in the passing game since he is handling what he has seen so far exceptionally well.


Running backs of note: Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic

Comment: The Football Team entered the season with a solid plan: ride Gibson and a strong defense loaded with first-round draft choices and let Ryan Fitzpatrick work his magic when necessary. Well, Fitzpatrick lasted less than a half and the defense has yet to show up. Perhaps that helps to explain why Gibson hasn't assumed control of this backfield in the way many expected (hoped?). It is clear McKissic is the back of choice in long down-and-distance and two-minute snaps because Gibson is rarely on the field in those situations, whether the reason is to give Gibson a rest or because Washington simply likes McKissic to handle those opportunities.

Unlike most backfields, there is clarity with this one for now. Consider Gibson a potential high-end RB1 just about any time Washington is expected to play with a positive game script. (It hasn't happened much to this point because the defense has struggled.) Any time the Football Team is expected to face negative game script, set expectations more at the low-end RB2 level. His big-play upside - as he showed on his 73-yard TD catch last week - will save him on occasion, but consistency will not be his forte until his lack of usage in traditional passing situations changes.

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.