Fantasy football managers feverishly revamp their rosters on a weekly basis so that their lineups include as many fantasy relevant running backs (RBs) whose potential snap counts, receiving targets, and carries give them the best chance to win their weekly matchups. Setting fantasy football lineups will be even more difficult this week with the Lions, Texans, Raiders and Titans all being on a bye this week. 

As is often expected when analyzing NFL backfields, we saw changes in RB usage in Week 5. We’ll be watching the Vikings backfield carefully this week. Alexander Mattison played the most snaps and highest snap percentage of the season in Week 5. He ran more routes (19) than Dalvin Cook (17) as well. Is this a trend or a result of Cook’s lingering nagging shoulder injury? 

In this week’s column we’ll identify a few RBs who could see increased or decreased opportunities this week. We’ll also take a closer look at a few backfields that are in flux and analyze their recent and potential future RB usage in an attempt to project how their RBs will be managed and utilized moving forward.


NFL Week 5 Running Back Usage Report


The situation needs to be monitored, but Jonathan Taylor (ankle) is expected to be active for his Week 6 matchup against the Jaguars. Nyheim Hines is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol as this article is being written and if he’s unavailable this week, Deon Jackson would likely fill the Colts’ change of pace role and see activity in the team’s passing game. With Taylor out in Week 5 and Hines sidelined early in the game, Jackson played the majority of offensive snaps out of the Colts’ backfield (58%). Phillip Lindsay, was activated off the Colts’ practice squad and played 38% of the team’s offensive snaps. Both Lindsay and Jackson were targeted four times in the Colt’s passing game. Lindsay was sent back down to the team’s practice squad after the game but both RBs should be on your watch list for now.


In the Broncos’ first game since Javonte Williams season ending injury, Melvin Gordon played significantly more snaps (41) than Mike Boone in Week 5 (30), but Boone was the more effective back. Boone outgained Gordon by almost two yards per carry (5.4 to 3.6) Gordon (21 routes run) and Boone (19 routes run) were targeted three times each and basically split passing down opportunities in the Broncos’ anemic Week 5 passing game. Latavius Murray, who was signed off of the Saints’ practice squad was inactive for the Thursday night matchup but should see playing time this week. As a historically effective goal line back there’s a good chance that he’ll cut into Gordon and Boone’s scoring opportunities. Gordon should remain in starting lineups in most formats, but the Broncos backfield utilization could get a bit messy over the next few weeks.


Austin Ekeler’s 173-yard rushing performance rewarded fantasy football managers who made him a first-round pick in most preseason drafts, but the pecking order in the Chargers’ backfield seems to have shifted in Week 5. Joshua Kelley played a season high 38% of offensive snaps against the Browns (his previous high was 27%), and Sony Michel, who’d been considered Ekeler’s backup by many, played just two snaps on the heels of his subpar 1.83 Week 5 YPC performance. Kelley performed well this week. He rushed 10 times for 49 yards (4.9 YPC) and scored a TD, but it should be noted that the Browns have allowed the sixth most rushing yards (603) and 5.8 YPC to RBs so far this season. Time will tell if Week 5’s role changes become permanent. 


The fact that the Browns give up lots of yardage to fantasy RBs is welcoming news for Patriots RB Rhamondre StevensonWith Damien Harris expected to miss multiple games (hamstring) Stevenson is in line to take over as the Patriots’ primary back. Pass catching specialist Ty Montgomery (knee) is eligible, but not ready, to be activated from the IR. Pierre Strong Jr., who has a college career 7.2 YPC average, was a healthy scratch in Week 5 and should be active this week. The Pats could also choose to call up J.J. Taylor, Kevin Harris and Lynn Bowden Jr. to add depth to their backfield. With the Pats being a run first team this season and the Browns having porous run defense, Stevenson should have a big Week 6.


Rashaad Penny will have season ending surgery to repair his broken fibula and that leaves Kenneth Walker III as the Seahawks’ primary back moving forward. With Travis Homer on the IR, DeeJay Dallas will likely function in a change of pace role and on passing downs as well. The Seahawks also claimed Tony Jones off waivers from the Saints and have the option of eventually adding further depth to their backfield by elevating Darwin Thompson from their practice squad. 


In only his first game of the season after recovering from two gunshot wounds to his right leg, Brian Robinson led Commanders RBs in carries. He had nine compared to just three for Antonio GibsonJ.D. McKissic led Commander RBs in snaps played with 26 and in routes run with 22. Neither Robinson (2.4 YPC) or Gibson (2.0 YPC) ran the ball well but there’s a good chance that Gibson’s days as the Commanders’ primary back will be behind him before long. McKissic should retain his role as the team’s passing down back but as a former college WR, Gibson could potentially steal some of those third down snaps from him in the future.


Tevin Coleman, who spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the 49ers, was elevated from the team’s practice squad prior to their Week 5 matchup against the Panthers. He played 28% of the team’s offensive snaps and appears to be Jeff Wilson’s backup. With the 49ers releasing Marlon Mack this week and Tyrion Davis-Price only active in Week 2, Wilson seems firmly entrenched as the team’s primary back for now.


Keep an eye on the Cardinals’ backfield as kickoff approaches in Week 6. James Conner was suffered a rib injury and Darrel Williams suffered a knee injury in Week 5. If both Conner and Williams are unavailable for Week 6 Eno Benjamin would get the majority of playing time out of the Cardinals’ backfield. As this article is being written the severity of the injuries to Conner and Williams has not been publicly announced, but the Cardinals signed former Colts and Ravens RB Ty’Son Williams on Tuesday.

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