With Week 1 in the books, it’s time to examine the running back trends we saw on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday, in order to properly fill out our fantasy lineups headed into Week 2. So, without further ado, here’s the “2015 Running Back Workload: Week 1 Review”.
The first week of the NFL season saw some interesting storylines develop, showcasing running backs that were either undervalued in drafts, or overlooked all together. Featuring some of the best backs from Week 1, this list is compiled of guys who are watching their fantasy stock rise for a variety of reasons, oftentimes including, performance, circumstance, usage, and skillset. Here are the backs who I see trending in the most upward direction of all the other NFL runners, in no particular order…
Dion Lewis: 15 rush, 69 yds; 4 rec, 5 tar, 51 yds (11 standard, 15 PPR league points)
To kick off the season on Thursday night, the Patriots and Steelers battled it out; both without their lead running backs from last season. Who the Pats were going to go with in the backfield during this game was particularly puzzling, as they boasted a stable of unknowns and outcasts without LeGarrett Blount; the most accomplished of their misfits. Belichick and the gang decided to feature Dion Lewis on Thursday night, a young, oft injured, back out of Pittsburgh, who showed incredible promise in college.
Against the Steelers on Thursday night, Lewis seemed to always be available when Brady and the offense needed him the most, rushing for not only 69 hard earned yards, but also catching four passes for 51 yards. The numbers alone are enough to indicate that he is trending upward, but the Confidence that Brady and Belichick seemed to show in him is what really makes me want to say that he might be a big part of this offense going forward.
Despite fumbling the ball on the goal line in the second half, Belichick went right back to the young running back, something that he almost never does with his players. Lewis’ ability to play on all three downs and to block out of the backfield make him a legitimate option in this Patriots offense and the back to own outside of Blount on this roster for the rest of the season.
Chris Ivory: 20 rush, 91 yds, 2 TD’s (21 fantasy points)
Although it was no secret that Ivory was going to be the lead back for the Jets headed into Week 1, it was good to finally see him in a situation where he was not expected to share a large portion of his team’s touches. Receiving 20+ carries in a game for only the fifth time in his six year career, Ivory didn’t disappoint on Sunday afternoon, not only rushing for 91 yards, but also rumbling in for two red zone rushing touchdowns.
I say that Ivory’s stock is trending upwards not just because of his unquestioned lead back role, but because of the lanes that the Jets offensive line were able to create for him and because of how fresh his legs looked in the open field. If Ivory can consistently get to the second level, it appears possible that he can lead the NFL in yards after contact this season. Translation: Ivory seems poised to score a lot of fantasy points, and a lot of touchdowns in 2015.
Matt Forte: 24 rush, 141 yds, 1 TD; 5 rec, 8 tar, 25 yds (22 fantasy points)
Seemingly snubbed by pundits headed into this season, Forte silenced the haters on Sunday afternoon against the Packers. From start to finish, Chicago shoved a heavy dose of Forte down the throat of the Green Bay defense, giving him the ball a total of 29 times, while he tallied a combined 166 rushing and receiving yards. He led all running backs with 22 fantasy points on Sunday (behind only Carlos Hyde’s 29 points to lead all Week 1 backs), and proved that he still should be considered an elite option headed into weekend matchups. It is a little unreasonable to expect him to duplicate his record breaking 100 receptions from a year ago, but his tank still appears to have plenty of gas in it, contrary to what many experts were saying prior to the season opener.
Ameer Abdullah: 7 rush, 50 yds, 1 TD; 4 rec, 4 tar, 44 yds (15 fantasy points)
Abdullah already had a bit of steam behind him headed into the regular season opener, but what he did on Sunday was confirm the impact he can have on a game, despite receiving limited touches. In three facets of football: rushing, receiving, and kick returning, he flashed game changing potential. Early on in the first quarter, Abdullah wasted no time getting his NFL career started off with a bang, as he broke off a 24 yard TD run on his first career carry to give the Lions an early lead. He only received a few more carries after that, but his tide changing impact on the game wasn’t over yet. Later in the first quarter he broke a kick return for 48 yards, giving the Lions excellent field position to work with on their upcoming drive. Throughout the rest of the game he peppered in a couple of more receptions and runs, all the while showcasing his incredible agility and vision that should make him a very successful NFL player for years to come.
By the end of the game, Abdullah led all Lions players in touches, all Lions running backs in rushes, yards, and touchdowns, while tying for first on the team in receptions, and finishing second in receiving yards. He accomplished all of this from the third spot on the running back depth chart, leading me to believe that he will certainly be in the mix for a bigger role going forward.
Karlos Williams: 6 rush, 55 yds, 1 TD (11 fantasy points)
Karlos Williams; a big, hulking, 6’1” 230 lbs. back out of Florida State, is the antithesis of LeSean “Shady” McCoy. He delivers the blow at the point of attack, is a decisive one cut runner, and finishes off his runs with incredible power. This is not to say that McCoy is not a fantastic running back in his own right, but Williams’ fantasy potential now appears relevant due to his different skill-set that he can offer Rex Ryan and the Bills offense.
He broke out on Sunday against the Colts, his first career game, for 55 yards and a touchdown on only six carries. Expect the impulsive Rex Ryan to keep feeding Williams going forward, especially since he provided Buffalo with a spark on Sunday, while McCoy struggled in his debut with the Bills. McCoy owners should do their best to snag Williams off the waiver wire in order to have the proper handcuff, while those who already own Williams shouldn’t consider it out of the realm of possibility for the Bills to move forward with the bruiser as their red zone and goal line back.
Danny Woodhead: 12 rush, 42 yds, 2 TD’s; 4 rec, 7 tar, 20 yds (18 fantasy points)
Woodhead was expected to have an impact mainly in PPR leagues this season, but on Sunday, coach Mike McCoy tossed everyone a curveball, by featuring the slender back in the red zone often enough to get him two rushing touchdowns. What makes this particularly dumbfounding is that the Chargers spent a first round pick on a much bigger, record setting, Wisconsin back, in Melvin Gordon, this offseason. Gordon wasn’t terrible on Sunday either, but after missing most of last season, Woodhead appeared to enter training camp this season with a large chip on his shoulder and he proved himself during the preseason.
What we learned on Sunday is that McCoy is not going to favor Gordon just because he was a number one draft selection. He plans on playing the hot hand at the moment, and whether it’s Gordon, Woodhead, or even Brandon Oliver, the best player will be getting the touches. This bodes well for Woodhead, being that he already has the passing down reps secured; so if he can just succeed on those third downs, then coach Mike McCoy might keep riding him for as long as he can produce. He doesn’t seem to fear Woodhead’s slight frame around the goal line, so touchdowns from anywhere on the field are now in play for the eighth year man out of Chadron State.
Carlos Hyde: 26 rush, 168 yds, 2 TD’s; 2 rec, 2 tar, 14 yds (29 fantasy points)
Many of us predicted production like this from Hyde last season, but he was stuck behind the veteran Frank Gore, who played in all 16 games, preventing him from breaking out as a rookie. Last night, Hyde showed me nothing that I didn’t expect from him when finally given the proper amount of touches. He is a decisive, yet patient runner, who uniquely combines his speed, power, and balance all into one super trait that very few backs possess. Using his incredible skill-set; Hyde gashed a very formidable Vikings defense for 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns, leading all Week 1 rushers with 29 fantasy points. He has virtually no backfield competition with Reggie Bush suffering an injury on Monday night, and will be properly spelled when needed by Aussie rugby sensation Jarryd Hayne, who appears to have some fresh legs in his own right. Although predicted to breakout this season, Hyde appears poised to exceed preseason expectations after what he displayed on Monday night against the Vikings.
Mark Ingram: 9 rush, 24 yds; 8 rec, 9 tar, 98 yds (19 PPR league points)
Ingram struggled running the ball on Sunday afternoon against the stout Cardinals front seven, however he opened some eyes as a receiver, posting 19 PPR points without gaining over 25 yards rushing. Ingram has never been a guy known for his passing down prowess, even as far back to his Heisman Trophy days at Alabama, but with the injury to C.J. Spiller for Week 1, the Saints had to get creative. Don’t expect another eight reception game from Ingram again any time soon, but 3-to-5 catches per game is not out of the question now that he has proven to the coaching staff that he is capable of playing on third downs.
Lance Dunbar: 8 rec, 8 tar, 70 yds (15 PPR league points)
Headed into this season, Dunbar was expected to handle most of the passing down situations for the Cowboys, and on Sunday night against the Giants, that expectation held true. He hauled in all eight of his targets for 70 yards in Week 1, good enough for 15 PPR fantasy points. Where he managed to surprise everyone was by leading all Cowboys running backs with 33 snaps against the Giants. Now the number might be a bit crooked due to the fact that the Cowboys were running their two-minute drill with eight minutes left in the fourth, but still, it should mean something that he was a critical part in their comeback, catching a lot of passes on their two late-game scoring drives. That is something that his backfield
teammates competition, Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden can’t say for their Sunday night performances. This isn’t a ringing endorsement saying that Dunbar is the back to own out of the Dallas backfield rotation, but something needs to be said about his immense PPR potential, especially now with Dez Bryant sidelined for the next six weeks or so.
DeAngelo Williams: 21 rush, 127 yds (12 fantasy points)
I give Williams the “Honorable Mention” here because his fantasy potential likely goes back down the drain once Le’Veon Bell finishes serving his two game suspension. Having said that, Williams was excellent on Thursday night against a good Patriots defense, showing burst that he hasn’t possessed since 2008 at the latest. Headed into Week 2, Williams will still be the starter, and will have his work cut out for him going against a 49ers defense that just stood up Adrian Peterson for only 31 rushing yards on 10 carries. Considering how good Pittsburgh’s offensive line looked on Thursday and the fact that they also have an intimidating passing game, I still like Williams’ chances next Sunday, despite going up against a surprising 49ers defense. Check him out in daily fantasy leagues like FanDuel.com, as he might not be worth an add in season long leagues with the impending return of Le’Veon Bell.
Bishop Sankey: 12 rush, 74 yds, 1 TD; 2 rec, 4 tar, 12 yds, 1 TD (20 fantasy points)
I left Sankey off the list here, not because he wasn’t impressive, but because the Titans displayed a carry split with Terrance West that wasn’t anticipated. After the blowout was over, Sankey only finished with one more touch than West and finished with one less carry than him. They had an exact 50-50 split in snaps, both receiving 23 of them, so without the rushing touchdown and the arguably fluke receiving touchdown, Sankey’s day would not have been fantasy starter worthy due to his lack of starting reps. Likely, Sankey’s superior talent level will edge him over West as the season moves along, but for now, I would not say that his stock is trending straight upward like the other players on the list.
Some backs on this star driven, albeit shorter, list came into the 2015 NFL offseason with lofty fantasy expectations. Some players were changing teams; seemingly filling gaping voids in their “one piece away” potentially playoff bound new homes, while others were looking to build off of hot streak endings to the 2014 season. The last tandem of players on the trending downward list are in heated backfield battles with younger, seemingly more talented, runners, who in Week 1 showed more burst and game changing ability than them. Here are your Week 1 downward trenders…
LeSean McCoy: 17 rush, 41 yds; 3 rec, 4 tar, 46 yds (8 fantasy points)
It’s not full panic mode for McCoy just yet, as he did look good in receiving situations, but it’s never good for a running back’s confidence when he gets 17 rushes and can’t average more than 2.4 yards per carry. What makes things worse for Shady is that his backup, rookie Karlos Williams, succeeded in running the ball against the Colts defense, where he personally struggled mightily. With the emergence of Williams, it appears as though goal line rushes for McCoy might be dwindling by the week, while he also might start to see a larger chunk taken out of his overall touches going forward. For the Bills, this is a good thing to have: two completely different backs, both with an impressive set of skills. The issue lies for McCoy’s fantasy owners, who were expecting an unquestioned every down, every situation back when they drafted him during the summer.
Frank Gore: 8 rush, 31 yds; 2 rec, 3 tar, 0 yards (3 fantasy points)
Okay, lets get out of the way, the fact that Gore and the Colts were going up against one of the toughest defenses in the NFL on Sunday afternoon in the Bills. However, with Buffalo missing their best defender in Marcell Dareus due to suspension, The Colts should have been able to make some kind of headway in the running game. That wasn’t the case, and it looks like yet another year of an inept offensive line in Indy.
At this point in his career, Gore can’t be expected to make his own room as a runner anymore, but rather he should be the veteran guy who will be counted on to find and hit the open hole. If the Colts can’t make lanes for Gore to run through, then there are going to be a lot more ugly stat lines like this in his future. People were high on Gore headed into the season, but from what Indy showed in Week 1, fantasy owners need to curb their enthusiasm.
C.J. Anderson: 12 rush, 29 yds; 4 rec, 8 tar, 19 yds (3 fantasy points)
This isn’t only an indictment of Anderson, but of the entire Broncos offense, who were punched in the mouth by the Ravens defense on Sunday afternoon. Luckily Denver’s top-notch defense kept them in and eventually won them the game, but the Broncos know that an offensive showing like that will not be tolerated going forward.
Now what makes things worse for Anderson, aside from being virtually useless on Sunday, is that for the first time since mid-way through last season, he saw a pretty even backfield split. The split didn’t come in total snaps, which would indicate that his third down reps are still safe, but he ended up with the same number of carries that Ronnie Hillman did, which is not an encouraging sign for fantasy owners who drafted him in the first round. It’s obviously not time to pull the plug on Anderson just yet, but keep an eye on the rushing attempts on Thursday night, as they take on another good defense in Kansas City.
If Anderson is to replicate the second half that he had last season, a good offensive line will be one of the largest proponents, but this season, with all new starters in different places along the up front unit, the consistency that both Anderson and Manning need to succeed just might not be there. Hopefully as a unit they get stronger as they get more reps together, but that might be asking too much at this point. Be weary of Anderson as a top 10 back again this season.
Isaiah Crowell: 12 rush, 20 yds; 2 rec, 2 tar, 13 yds (3 fantasy points)
Crowell looked helpless against the Jets rabid front seven on Sunday afternoon, as he struggled to even reach 2.0 yards per carry. He ended the day with three measly fantasy points, and from a starting back; that is unacceptable. Rookie running back, Duke Johnson didn’t fare much better in his NFL debut, but there were a few times that he showed better vision and explosion, at least keeping the Jets defense on their toes.
It was rumored in camp that Johnson was right on the heels of Crowell on the depth chart anyway, and if it weren’t for some preseason ailments, he would likely be the starter. As the season goes on, expect Johnson to get a larger portion of the carries, eventually phasing Crowell out of the picture, aside for maybe red zone touches. Despite what the depth chart might say, no longer consider Crowell a starting NFL back in terms of potential production.
Joique Bell: 6 rush, 14 yds; 2 rec, 2 tar, 27 yds (3 fantasy points)
Bell is in a very similar situation to Crowell, who is in danger of losing his “starting” gig, if he hasn’t already. Bell was on the field for only 18 of Detroit’s 47 snaps, while yielding three more to apparent “third stringer” Ameer Abdullah, who had 21 snaps on Sunday afternoon. He still might be in the lead for goal line carries on this Lions ball club, but the feeling around the league is that Abdullah is the guy for them everywhere else going forward.
I don’t have to get into the particulars about Abdullah again, as I fleshed them out in my “Trending Up” section, but just let it be known that as his stock is rising, Bell’s is crashing. He finished behind Abdullah in carries, he finished behind him in yards, he finished behind him in catches, he finished behind him in total snaps, and he finished behind him in touchdowns. That’s the story right there.
Melvin Gordon: 14 rush, 51 yds; 3 rec, 3 tar, 16 yds (5 fantasy points)
It’s tough to be hard on a guy who didn’t jump off the screen in his first career NFL game, even when they come out of college as highly regarded as Melvin Gordon did this season. Plus I made it pretty clear in my season preview that Gordon’s transition to the pro style game might take a few weeks to get used to.
He was notably not used in a few red zone situations, instead being supplanted by much smaller Danny Woodhead, which surprised many, myself included, but we can’t overreact to something like that with a rookie in Week 1. If his snap and touch total (36 and 17 respectively) were much less, then I would see the cause for concern, but just because Danny Woodhead played well, there is no reason to overreact. The Chargers did and are going to use Gordon plenty, so long as he provides adequate production. On Sunday he wasn’t terrible, and I would say that his production was adequate enough for a first go as a professional. He will be fine going forward.
DeMarco Murray: 8 rush, 9 yds, 1 TD; 4 rec, 6 tar, 11 yds, 1 TD (13 fantasy points)
There is no question that Murray didn’t look like himself on many of his 12 touches that he got on Monday night against the Falcons, but he did manage to score two touchdowns, making his fantasy line workable. I didn’t include him on the “Trending Down” list because anyone who expected a similar role for Murray with the Eagles this season that he had in Dallas last season was not being realistic.
Philly wants to have a tough stable of talented backs that they can rotate in and out of the game often, in order to keep a fresh runner always on the field against a winded defense. Murray should be the snaps, touches, and touchdown leader for the Eagles this season, despite two thirds of that not being true on Monday night. His Week 1 performance was not his best by any stretch, but to say that his stock is falling would also not be fair, as he saw close to the number of reps and scoring production that was expected of him each game when he signed with the Eagles this offseason. Most of Monday night, the Eagles were working with a short field, artificially limiting the number of rushes and yards that he could get anyway. Next week against Dallas, his production on the ground should go up, as they are unlikely to give the Eagles the same favorable field position that Atlanta gave them on Monday night.