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Nov 27

Touches and Targets Week 12: Running Backs

The final numbers tell one part of the story, but fantasy football is a game of volume. Knowing any given week who is going to get the looks, and in what situations those looks are coming, can help you make important lineup decisions – touches and targets on a weekly basis play as big a role as the name on the back of the jersey. With that in mind let’s take a look back at workloads from this past weekend and start thinking forward to who may find themselves in a more favorable situation in the fantasy stretch run. This post takes a look at Running Backs; we addressed the touches and targets for Wide Receivers and Tight Ends in a previous article.

Running Back Touches Week 12

  • Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount combined to play seven snaps and lose two fumbles for New England. If my read on the situation is correct, Ridley will be lucky to see seven snaps the rest of the season (OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but, I elaborate here on why I just don’t see him getting much time). With that, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden got all of the work. Vereen will most certainly see more carries than projected down the stretch, and with eight catches in this one he’s a good bet to factor in for 14-16 touches each week, if not more. I’m not entirely sure on Bolden’s role, though. He ran well against Denver with 13 carries for 58 yards and did most of his damage between the tackles (all but two runs and four yards), so, it is conceivable that the Patriots would use him as their early down back but even when Vereen was out he didn’t come close to this number, so, I’m not sure they’re ready to fully commit to him carrying the mail. Still, he’s worth a roster spot and an eyeball on his workload this week against Houston.
  • Pierre Thomas continued his quietly spectacular season with 130 total yards on 15 touches (five receptions) and is doing his best Darren Sproles impression – which is nice for the Saints because Darren Sproles isn’t. Thomas had five receptions or more for the fourth straight game. Mark Ingram ran well enough, but with just nine carries won’t have the type of volume to make him appealing down the stretch. He may sneak a big game or two in, but it’s hard to project his workload (9-7-16-4 touches over his last four games).
  • More than anything, the draft will tell us their intentions but it’s time now for Steven Jackson‘s closing stretch to show us whether he can be useful for Atlanta next season or not. His 19 touch, 79 yard effort was a start in that direction as Jackson ran well Thursday night against the Saints.
  • Not even Chris Ivory – who had at least been functional of late – was appealing for New York as they were demolished by the Ravens this week. Bilal Powell started, ran for a poor average, and saw five more touches than Ivory (14-9). I’m not sure that much needs to be drawn from this though. If the NY offense can muster some sense of competency Ivory is still an RB2 to close the season.
  • We tried to warn you, Ray Rice owner. In the toughest RB matchup in the league, Rice sunk back to mediocrity. He still had plenty of opportunity (17 touches, 11 for Bernard Pierce), but that was all we can say about Week 12, where he finished with just 27 yards. Again, he’s a matchup play and nothing more… closing with the Steelers, Vikings, Lions and Patriots he may be worth a look as a back end RB2 next week and a decent option in Week 14 but beyond that I don’t see much use for Rice.
  • Le’Veon Bell had a quiet 98 total yards on 23 touches. If you’re tracking the backup situation here at all congrats on playing in a competitive 20 team league, beyond that… note that Felix Jones had more work last week, and in Week 12 it tilted toward Jonathan Dwyer. He gained just eight yards on seven touches, though. This is Bell’s backfield, beyond that, we can do better elsewhere.
  • After a strong Week 11 and indications that he’d be eating into some of Willis McGahee‘s workload, Chris Ogbonnaya split touches evenly with Fozzy Whittaker (6-7). OGB was more productive with his opportunities, turning in 41 total yards, but he also put the ball on the ground. He is the definite upside play of the two, but, with Whittaker and McGahee (played just seven snaps but had only two fewer touches than Ogbonnaya) lingering, there might not be enough work for weekly FLEX relevance.
  • Detroit is tough to run on. Really, they are. They give up just 88 yards per game on the ground and 3.8 yards per try. So, here is what we need to know about this week’s game: while he only had 35 yards, Bobby Rainey picked up 18 touches to Brian Leonard‘s two. He has control of the backfield and there are better matchups ahead (not next week against Carolina, but, your fantasy championship weekend against St. Louis looks nice).
  • The Lions employed a single back set almost exclusively, with Reggie Bush taking 45 of their 80 snaps and 35 going to Bell (Riddick played a two snap cameo). A week after seeing limited use after a) it rained or b) he fumbled, depending on what you want to believe, Bush picked up 19 touches and hit 100 total yards for the sixth time this season. Bell had just seven touches.
Adrian Peterson ran well against the Bears earlier this season... expect him to do so again against a softened defense (Photo: Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

Adrian Peterson ran well against the Bears earlier this season… expect him to do so again against a softened defense (Photo: Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

  • Adrian Peterson had discussed a groin injury that apparently limited him in Week 11 and there was some concern over the damage heading into Week 12. 33 touches and 148 yards later, and, there is no such concern any more. With that said, it remains a situation to monitor particularly after a big workload. Toby Gerhart has 160 total yards over the last two weeks after limited use for most of the season and had nine touches against the Packers. He’s worth having on your roster in case Minnesota decides to even things up, and/or Peterson can’t go to close the season. The Vikings alternate easy matchups (Chicago this week, Philadelphia Week 15) with difficult ones (Baltimore, Cincinnati) but you’ll be glad to have added Gerhart today if Peterson can’t go and the TG tugboat draws Philly alone in Week 15.
  • Eddie Lacy had continued to average more than 20 touches in the post-Rodgers era for Green Bay but hadn’t run with the same effectiveness (though, the volume allowed for good fantasy outings) until this week. Lacy had 31 touches (6/6 receiving) for 158 total yards and a score. Green Bay shows no signs of, or interest in, easing the rookies workload as the season draws on so let’s just enjoy the closing four weeks. He has one of the nicest matchup/workload combinations over the final four weeks of the fantasy season.
  • Cam Newton led the Panthers in rushing for the second consecutive week (at least, I’m going from memory here…) and while DeAngelo Williams‘ 12 touches are reasonable (eight for Jonathan Stewart) the three/four headed backfield is counterproductive to fantasy value. If I can, I’m staying away from them all moving ahead.
  • Speaking of backfields to avoid: a week after seeing five fewer touches than Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller played 54 snaps to Thomas’ nine and had 14 touches. Still, behind an offensive line down three starters (keep an eye out for Incognito and Pouncey returning shortly) and with a fluctuating workload Lamar Miller was again a disappointment. He carried 10 times for eight yards against Carolina. We should note that Thomas left the game with an ankle injury this week – and will be on the shelf for the rest of the year – if Miller takes the backfield alone in Week 14 he gains a degree of appeal, but, a .8 average only gets you so far.
  • I didn’t see many of the carries,  but, I actually view Chris Johnson‘s day more positively than most. With a 150 total yards spread out between the last two games he has established a fairly reasonable floor, meaning that you can wait for one of the explosive runs and be ok if you don’t get it in a given week. Johnson didn’t have any this week, with a long of 12 yards, but he still averaged 3.7 yards per carry which actually suggests to me that he was getting consistent positive yardage (as opposed to gaining say, 80 on his 20 carries but having 40 of them come on one play).
  • Marcel Reece was fantasy relevant with a receiving touchdown (and 44 yards on four catches) but the backfield again belonged to Rashad Jennings in Oakland. He picked up 122 yards on 20 touches against Tennessee (admittedly a generous RB defense) meaning that he’s had at least 20 touches and 12 fantasy points in each of the four games he’s started in place of Darren McFadden. DMC will be back, likely this week, and when he returns he’ll take work… but… if you’re looking for FLEX points out of Jennings it would be hard to envision a situation where the team gives him fewer than 12-14 opportunities even with McFadden in the lineup.
  • Just when Ryan Mathews was stringing together a couple of good games (three in a row over 12 fantasy points), it looks like he’ll miss at least one week with a hamstring injury. With that said, when he does return, it’s looking like a workload split something like this week’s should be in the offing the rest of the way: 14 carries, two catches vs. Danny Woodhead‘s six and four. In the interim, Ronnie Brown will pick up a few totes, but, I’d expect a heavier share for Danny Woodhead until Mathews gets back.
  • Jamaal Charles has actually been held under 20 touches for consecutive weeks, but the result was just fine against San Diego. He topped 150 total yards and scored twice on 18 chances. Nothing more to say here, Charles is in charge of this backfield (one touch apiece for Davis, Sherman).
  • Michael Bush carried seven times and lost five yards, dropped one of his two pass targets, and somehow finished with 6.5 fantasy points on the day – just three behind Matt Forte. This week, unlike any all season, Bush drew goal line duties for Marc Trestman. Maybe it had something to do with Forte’s earlier fumble, maybe it was a specific weakness he thought he saw in the St. Louis defense, but, it happened. And we’d all like to forget about it. Bush running backwards for five yards doesn’t help the Bears and his taking a TD doesn’t help Forte owners. I wouldn’t expect the trend to continue – it just wouldn’t make sense coming out of nowhere. Forte had 23 touches (seven catches), by the way, so we can’t complain about workload.
  • If you wore a Rams jersey and you ran the ball, you had an awesome day. If you were named Isaiah Pead or Daryl Richardson, though, you didn’t touch it. Instead, Zac Stacy started with 13 touches (12 carries) for 97 yards and a score against a porous Bears run D and after his concussion, Benny Cunningham had 13 for 109. Both scored TDs, as did Tavon Austin – 65 yards – on the ground. Despite Cunningham’s strong game, expect Stacy to maintain his typical percentage of the carries (read: lots) when he returns.
  • Remember when Denard Robinson was anointed Jacksonville’s RB2? No? Good. He doesn’t either… it was like a strange dream. Robinson threw more passes this week (one) than he had opportunities as a back. Jordan Todman picked up a healthy 12 touches and MJD was up over 20 again. The difference this week was that he used them very efficiently, compiling 144 yards including 60 yards receiving, and scoring for the third straight week. The fantasy community should be thankful to coach Gus Bradley for keeping Jones-Drew involved as the season draws to its conclusion given that he may not be in town next year. If there was anyone worth evaluating, we might be in trouble.
  • Ben Tate produced absolutely nothing on the ground (OK, he produced one yard on seven carries tantamount to nothing) and was relieved by Dennis Johnson who ran reasonably well against a Jacksonville team that had come in extremely generous to RBs (if not on a per touch basis). I don’t envision a situation where Tate cedes touches to Johnson permanently – at least, not at this juncture moving into Week 13 – but I do think the junior back will get some opportunities. Maybe more of a 70/30 split as opposed to the 23-2 touch distribution we saw in Week 11.
  • The tough matchup helps explain the lack of production, but, I’m not sure what to say about the use of Donald Brown relative to Trent Richardson this week. Brown actually posted negative total yardage on three touches while Richardson had 13 for a virtually backwards 26 yards. Stick a fork in TRich, and, if the workload distribution looks anything like this in Week 13 you can do the same to Brown.
  • Don’t look now, but, Rashard Mendenhall has been in the endzone in consecutive weeks and he turned 13 touches into fantasy gold this week, looking fairly agile against the Colts. Andre Ellington climbed back into flex appeal territory with 12 touches and 71 yards of his own, but, with the scoring touch Mendy has greater week to week value as long as the carries remain split.
  • DeMarco Murray‘s workload was back up to 17 touches after the bye – the same as Week 10 – after a quiet Week 9. He won’t often see more than that number, but, it is nice to see it hold two weeks in a row. If you’re in a really deep league, Lance Dunbar was his primary backup – not Joseph Randle who didn’t see a snap and has played extremely sparingly since Week 8.
  • It was just another day at the office for Andre Brown in his return, totaling 138 yards on 26 touches – bringing his per game average to 26.33 since his return. Brandon Jacobs ran well in the soft matchup, too, posting 75 yards on nine carries. When the Giants bring him in, it’s to do a job – he carried the ball nine times on just 14 snaps.
  • I haven’t looked back, but, I have to assume that Knowshon Moreno received the biggest workload of any back this season, with 38 touches (37 carries) against New England. He left the game in a walking boot, and given the sub-32 temperature he’s lucky he left it walking at all. The word is that Moreno will be back in the lineup this week. The weather should be better in Kansas City but in games where it gets cold, you can expect the Broncos to lean heavily on the run. Provided he’s healthy, he’ll have plenty of work but if he tops 30 again before the playoffs I think the team is mad. He’s already at a post-rookie-season career high in carries. Montee Ball, meanwhile, had been Moreno’s primary backup and was primed to be fantasy relevant down the stretch. Then, he put another ball on the ground. In fairness, everyone was fumbling in this one – but, with three lost on the season he’s moving into Ridley territory. CJ Anderson picked up three carries after the Ball fumble and he’s my bet to backup Moreno if Denver decides to take Ball out of the mix – Ronnie Hillman hasn’t been active since Week 8.
  • I was surprised to see Frank Gore struggle against a Washington defense that gives up four yards per carry and has yielded 15 rushing touchdowns on the season, but struggle he did on Monday night, tallying 14 touches and 31 total yards. That’s two weeks in a row under five fantasy points for Gore and three weeks in a row with less than 20 touches, but, it’s not like others in the backfield are taking his work here – so, there isn’t much to worry about. Deploy as normal.
  • With Washington in a hole in the second half (something we’re all getting used to) Alfred Morris actually played fewer snaps than Roy Helu against San Francisco, posting just 14 carries and 52 yards. It was his lowest workload since the opener, though, so I wouldn’t count on that continuing. Darrel Young didn’t see the field; there goes that cute play that you should have known better than to use.

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