When the owners in my fantasy league get together on Mondays at the barbershop to talk about the week that was, many different topics come up. One of them is almost always running backs. One of the fellas will be rejoicing in a huge week from a guy like Mark Ingram in Week 3 or Nick Chubb on Sunday or lament their roster of backs not living up to expectations.
These conversations, typically include me chiming in, “You can’t score fantasy points if you’re not on the field.” Several factors come into play when it comes to running back playing time, including game flow (if you are ahead or behind by double digits), injuries that happen during games and the offensive scheme run by the team. Some teams mix and match running backs by design and the day of the bell cow running back isn’t dead, but it is endangered.
Through four weeks of the season only nine running backs have been on the field for 70 percent or more of their teams’ offensive snaps and some of them may surprise you. Saquon Barkley would have been high up on that list – in his two full games, he was on the field for 114 of 136 snaps (83.8 percent), but he has been sidelined and fallen off the list due to his unavailability.
When I look for a fantasy back I want to put out on the field, even if he has struggled, is the guy who is the clear-cut choice of the coaching staff to be on the field. There is a huge demarcation line beyond the top three in percentage time, but fantasy owners can only hope they have one or two of these guys on their roster.
Christian McCaffrey (265 of 269 snaps – 98.5 percent). He’s the man and everyone knows it.
Le’Veon Bell (182/189 – 96.3 percent). He hasn’t produced a lot, but the Jets are getting their money’s worth out of him in the three games before their Week 4 bye.
Leonard Fournette (238/262 – 90.8 percent). Not many think of him as a three-down back, but the Jags are leaning heavily on him.
David Johnson (229/283 – 80.9 percent). He has carved out a consistent role in Arizona and has put up this kind of number most of his career.
Alvin Kamara (194/256 – 75.8 percent). With Ingram gone, he’s getting more time.
Nick Chubb (203/277 – 73.3 percent). He was showing this kind of field time last year when the Browns traded Carlos Hyde and nothing has changed this season.
Ezekiel Elliott (194/267 – 72.3 percent). After being a pitch count in Week 1, over the last three weeks he has been in on 79 percent of plays.
Austin Ekeler (191/269 – 71.0 percent). Many fear the return of Melvin Gordon is going to cut into his number significantly.
Todd Gurley (216/305 – 70.9 percent). There are concerns about his gimpy knee, but the Rams are still using him a lot.
Over the years, much of the success a lot of fantasy owners have had has been tied into having running backs that can carry the load where others are forced to field players who are in timeshares. As they’ve guys have proved, to win in fantasy football, you need players who are on the field most of the time and, at the quarter-pole of the 2019 season, these are the best options to score points because you can’t score points from the sideline.
Here is the Week 5 Fantasy Market Report:
Will Dissly – Outside of the Dissly family, there wasn’t a clamoring for fantasy owners to jump on the Seattle tight end. However, he has become a red zone favorite of Russell Wilson. Over the last three games, Dissly has been targeted 20 times, catching 18 passes for 169 yards and four touchdowns. At a time when some of the top fantasy tight ends are struggling to find the end zone, Dissly is pushing his way into the conversation by scoring every week.
Jacoby Brissett – Want to win a bar bet? Who is the only quarterback in the NFL to have at least two touchdown passes in all four games of the 2019 season? Brissett. For owners who had Andrew Luck as a big part of their 2019 plans had a great gnashing of teeth when the offense was turned over to the unproven Brissett. But, through four games, he has thrown 10 touchdown passes and is becoming a safer fantasy play all the time.
Cooper Kupp – Before he got hurt last year, Kupp was on pace to catch 80 passes for more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. If you have Kupp, you know what his deal is. Through four games, he has been targeted 46 times – 11 less than Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks combined! In his last three games, he has topped 100 yards in each game, being targeted 36 times and caught 25 passes for 342 yards and three TDs. He’s never mentioned in the Julio Jones-Michael Thomas conversation of dominance, but he’s putting up those kind of numbers.
Matthew Stafford – Anyone who has owned Stafford knows his M.O. He has always been capable of huge games. He has nine touchdown passes so far this season, with a pair of three-TD games with more than 290 passing yards. The Lions run game has been spotty at best and, while Stafford remains a middle-of-the-pack weekly fantasy QB, he’s posting numbers that should be getting him ranked higher. With the Lions having their bye this week, he may remain somewhat under the radar for fantasy owners and comes back with a pair of huge games against the Packers in Green Bay and at home against Minnesota – the true test of his 2019 value.
Austin Ekeler – Melvin Gordon finally ended his holdout, but one has to wonder if Ekeler will see a significant drop in production. In the four games without Gordon, Ekeler has rushed 56 times for 220 yards, caught 24 passes for 270 yards and scored six touchdowns with at least one in three games and two or more in two. Gordon has been the focal point of the Chargers offense, but Ekeler has earned his role with the team, even if it looks as though it will decrease.
Tyrell Williams – Who needs Antonio Brown? He isn’t posting eye-popping numbers, but Derek Carr has just six touchdown passes in four games and four of them have gone to Williams – one in each game this season. His scoring prowess is getting him some attention by daily fantasy players, but he is still flying somewhat under the radar in fantasy leagues despite his continued scoring.
Trey Burton – Burton was a splashy free-agent signing by the Bears and seemed like a glove fit in Matt Nagy’s offense in Chicago. In his first six games with the Bears, he caught four touchdowns. In his final 10 games of the 2018 regular season, he never topped 40 yards and caught just two TD passes. He has been recovering from sports hernia surgery in the spring, but has played in the last three games – all wins for the Bears – but has done next to nothing. He has caught eight passes for just 41 yards (a hideous 5.1 yards per catch and has rendered himself virtually fantasy moot. With big money comes big expectations and, over the last 14 games, he hasn’t lived up to his hype by any objective measure.
Baker Mayfield – On the subject of hype, Mayfield has been putting up solid yardage numbers (three games with 285 or more yards), but he has just four touchdown passes – one in each of his four games. At a time when fantasy quarterbacks are expected to throw for 300 yards and multiple touchdowns with consistency, despite Cleveland’s current uptick, he isn’t posting the kind of numbers that make people think he deserves to be a fantasy starter.
DeAndre Hopkins – Hopkins owners will never bench him – nor should they. But, after a big Week 1 at New Orleans, in the last three games, including a pair of home games, he has caught 16 passes for 148 yards and no TDs. Those are Jarius Wright numbers, not D-Hop. It won’t last, but it can explain why Hopkins owners are shaking their heads.
Kirk Cousins – The love-hate of Cousins is well documented among fantasy owners, but the one thing he always had going for him was that he was one of only two quarterbacks (Philip Rivers being the other) that had thrown for 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in each of the last four seasons. Through four games, he hasn’t thrown 100 passes, his high yardage game is 233 and he has just three TD passes. Extrapolated over a full season, that comes out to 2,940 yards and 12 TDs. He’s looking up at Gardner Minshew. He’s poison right now, despite having two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers and a pair of solid tight ends.
Sony Michel – He’s only two years into his NFL career and the word of his arthritic is making more news than his on-field production. He remains the primary back in New England’s offense (his 62 carries are twice as much as the rest of the Patriots’ running backs combined), but he is averaging just 2.8 yards and provides nothing in PPR leagues – he has been targeted once in four games and it was an incompletion. Michel owners aren’t ready to pull the plug just yet, but many more games with little return may change that.
Sammy Watkins – When Watkins went off in Week 1 at Jacksonville (9-198-3) it was impossible for Watkins owners to consider going in a different direction. However, for the last year, we have warned fantasy owners that, with the exception of Travis Kelce, production for Chiefs receivers is going to be spread around, which is why Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson are on rosters in your league while the team waits for Tyreek Hill to come back. In the three games since that Week 1 blowup, Watkins has caught 14 passes for 167 yards and no touchdowns – not the kind of numbers you look for in your weekly lineup. As always, you roll the dice when you have four or five guys on the receiving end of Mahomes. You have to blow on the bones just right to hit a winning combination.