The running back position. One of the most fun and confusing positions in all of fantasy football. All summer long we poke and prod at multiple backfields in hopes of deciphering the outcomes of their running backs. “Will so and so be a workhorse?”. “Who is the bell cow to own in *insert team name here* backfield?”. Analysts scramble to find out who “the guy” is but to our displeasure, we’re sometimes wrong. The fact is as soon as week one ends, we are all left with our hands at our hips shaking our heads.
Don’t be discouraged though. In this ‘Rushing Report’ article, we’ll be profiling some of the off-season’s most questioned backfields and their week one performances. We’ll cover stat lines, usage, and help predict how they may continue to shake out down the road. Let’s dive in and take a closer look.
The Fantasy Football
Rushing Report for Week One
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Ronald Jones. We knew the reports coming out of camp weren’t great. But can anyone say they predicted he would be a healthy scratch in week one? I sure did not. The reports from Tampa Bay all summer suggested that Peyton Barber was going to be the fantasy back to own. Ronald Jones struggled through much of training camp and his atrocious preseason stat line apparently left a bad taste in the mouth of Dirk Koetter. It clearly carried over to the start of the season as Jones was dubbed a healthy scratch on Sunday morning.
With Jones being benched, the lion share would go to Peyton Barber with little help from Jacquizz Rodgers. Barber saw 19 carries for 69 yards and 0 touchdowns. He totaled just 6.9 points in PPR scoring formats. From a fantasy perspective, those aren’t great numbers. However, the game script was pass-heavy as Tampa Bay found themselves in a shootout with the Saints and Ryan Fitzpatrick got hot through the air. Despite the air attack game plan, Barber looked decent on the ground and even ripped off a long 23 yard run late in the first quarter. Jacquizz Rodgers was almost nonexistent as he only saw two attempts for one yard on the ground. He also managed a measly one reception through the air for two yards.
Owners should take note of Barbers usage and Rodgers lack thereof. It’s clear that Barber owns the backfield. As long as Ronald Jones is off the field there’s little resistance for touches. Week two brings a home matchup with the Eagles. A team with a great front seven that let up just 74 total rushing yards and one rushing touchdown to the tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
It would be wise to temper expectations for Barber this week. His usage is enticing but its likely that the Eagles defense puts a stop to any of Tampa Bays rushing attack. If so, that could force Fitzpatrick to look for success once again through the air causing Barber to have similar production to week one. Barber is a risky flex play this week at best but only because of the matchup.
Just when we think we have it all figured out, the Broncos go and leave us scratching our heads. All offseason owners went back and forth on who they believed would be the back to own. Then preseason happened. Royce Freeman looked like he would completely take over. Devontae Booker became a strong fade and Phillip Lindsay? Well, you were going out on a limb if you thought he was going to be the guy to own. Or maybe you were just way ahead of the curve? Sunday’s game may have answered that question for us.
To the pleasure of fantasy owners, Royce Freeman trotted out on the opening drive to start the game. But a couple plays later, Phillip Lindsay came out too. It was early in the game, but the stench of a dreaded committee quickly filled the air and unfortunately it stuck around all game long. Regardless of the circumstance, both backs made good on their opportunities.
Phillip Lindsay is seriously fast
— Josh Cohen (@jco3215) September 12, 2018
Freeman rushed 15 times for 71 yards on the ground. Lindsay was utilized on the ground and the passing game. He totaled 15 rush attempts for 71 yards on the ground and two receptions on three targets for 31 yards and one touchdown through the air. It should be noted that most of Lindsay’s receiving stats came on one play that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown catch late in the first quarter. If it weren’t for that, Freeman and Lindsay would have nearly identical stat lines. Freeman had a slightly higher snap count percentage with 39.19% to Lindsay’s 35.14% of total offensive snaps. Something worth monitoring in the coming weeks. More snaps could lead to one of these guys breaking away from the other.
Both guys had solid fantasy outings but it was clear early that Denver plans on using both backs in a committee. We may see one of these backs get more opportunity in the future but for now, we should limit expectations. Lindsay presents the better play for now. He had more receiving work and that could continue moving forward. However, don’t count out Freeman. If he continues to have a sizeable percentage of snaps like he did in week one, he may break out.
Week two presents a good matchup against a Raiders defense with low morale after losing to the Rams. The Raiders surrendered 140 rushing yards and 39 receiving yards to Todd Gurley. I know, Gurley is a different animal but he showed that the Raiders can be had by the position. Especially if Denver’s defense can put the offense in good field position. It’s likely that owners who have Freeman drafted him with a high draft pick and could be forced to play him this week. However, owners who were able to scoop up Lindsay on the waiver wire may be wise to stash him on the bench this week if they can. The matchup is enticing but owners should be wary for now. At least until one of these guys breaks away from the other. Or perhaps Denver proves it can sustain a high powered tandem.
San Francisco 49ers
From the moment that Jerrick McKinnon went down, the fantasy world knew this backfield was going to be a crap shoot. Owners knew little to nothing about who would be the guy to own out of Matt Breida and Alfred Morris. The fact is, we still don’t. Coming into the season we knew that both guys had different skill sets to be utilized. But no one knew just how Kyle Shannahan would deploy the two-headed monster. Morris came from the lineage of Shannahan running backs but Breida fit the mold of what Shannahan’s offensive philosophy is. So, with both backs having decent upside, it was easy for owners to side with one and get comfy for the season, right? wrong.
Whatever fantasy upside owners thought they had by rostering one of these guys, took a hard gut check on Sunday morning. Owners knew that the 49ers going on the road against a top-ranked defense and coming back with a win was a tall order. It wasn’t. it was an insurmountable task. The 49ers looked bad from the jump. The Vikings marched down the field and scored on two of their first three drives to start the game. The Vikings defense also stood tall and put the 49ers offense in a lot of long yardage situations.
The early negative game script and stout defensive play practically killed the run game early. Because of that, we didn’t get to see either running back live up to the hype. Alfred Morris finished Sunday’s game with 12 attempts for 38 yards on the ground with no touchdowns and one fumble. Matt Breida finished with 11 attempts for 46 yards and had two targets through the air for five yards. A very unimpressive outing for owners who chose to put faith in this backfield.
Sunday’s mishaps can be blamed on what was just a poor road matchup to start the season. However, some may say that the performance was indicative of what will be an all-around bad offense. As of now, I lean toward the latter. Regardless of how you view the week one performance, week two comes with the opportunity for the running backs to redeem themselves.
This week the 49ers will face off against a Lions defense that was gashed by Isaiah Crowell for 102 yards and two rushing touchdowns. If the week one performance of Morris and Breida was in fact due to the bad matchup, then both back present some high upside coming into this weeks matchup. If owners have the guts to put Morris or Breida into their lineups the pay off could be huge. A word of advice, if you do choose to start one of them, set it and forget it and let the chips fall where they may.