Welcome to the Week 4 edition of the RB Market Share Report. In this column, I report usage statistics and advanced metrics for all NFL running backs. I will also summarize RB workload statistics for all 32 NFL teams and highlight key trends as applicable.
I will publish updates to this column each week following the conclusion of Monday night’s games. As more games are played, our market share data becomes increasingly reliable — but at the expense of our foresighted edge on the public. Utilize this data to gain insight into play-calling trends and to target players with advantageous metrics before they break out.
To aid you in that effort, check out my new Monday column called The Jump Cut, where I provide immediate reactions to RB performances from Sunday’s slate of games. And as always, look out for the Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist: AFC | NFC on Wednesdays for more thorough analysis on RB depth charts and waiver wire adds.
Team RB Per-Game Averages
The following chart reports per-game averages for each team’s backfield. The purpose of this chart is to highlight which teams employ their backfield units in greatest service to their respective offenses.
|Team||Rush Att.||Targets||Opportunities||Total Yards||Total TD||PPR Points|
San Francisco outpaces all other teams in Team RB PPR points and total RB opportunities. However, the 49ers also utilize one of the more cumbersome and frustrating backfield committees in the league with Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Tevin Coleman (likely returning in Week 5). Many “committee” teams rank highly in total RB opportunities per game, including New England, Chicago, Denver, Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia.
Among non-committee backfields, Minnesota, Detroit, and Dallas stand out as backfields with the strongest overall RB opportunity. These are precisely the kinds of backfields we want to target for lucrative “next man up” situations. Alexander Mattison, Ty Johnson, and Tony Pollard stand out as strong handcuff options for this very reason.
Team RB Advanced Metrics
Below, I’ve provided definitions for some of the more obscure advanced metrics reported in this article. To learn more about these metrics and how to interpret them, check out my Passing Revolution series1 and my RB Game Script series.2
Team Opps% — The percentage of a team’s total offensive plays that ended in a RB opportunity (e.g. rush attempt or receiving target). This may be used to measure how frequently an offense utilizes its RBs in its offensive game plan.
Opps% (Tar) — The percentage of a backfield’s total opportunities that are receiving targets. This may be used to describe how an offense utilizes its RBs. For instance, pass-catching specialists like Theo Riddick report a career Opps% (Tar) of 70% or higher. Fantasy RB1s typically report an Opps% (Tar) between 25% and 30%.
Team PPR% — Similar to target share percentage (TS%) and rush share percentage (Rush%), this metric reports a backfield’s total PPR points as a percentage of the team’s total PPR points scored.
PPR% (Rec) — The percentage of a backfield’s total PPR points that derive from receiving statistics. Backfields with high PPR% (Rec) metrics provide ideal conditions for RBs to flourish.
|Tm||Tm Rush%||Tm TS%||Tm Opps%||Opps% (Tar)||Tm PPR%||PPR% (Rec)|
Scouting Potential RB Breakouts
Over the last two seasons, we’ve witnessed the rise of a new fantasy RB1 paradigm. Modern fantasy RB1s derive about half of their PPR production from receiving statistics. Shawn Siegele elaborates on this trend in his Derrick Henry offseason breakdown:
This trend directly results from the fact that, from 2000-2015, NFL teams were not getting the necessary value from their stud RBs because they were using them in ways that didn’t add to drive success. Savvy coaches have shifted the way they use their star runners. If you have weapons like Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, and David Johnson, it’s imperative to deploy them in the service of scoring points.
More than raw opportunity or PPR scoring, what we’re really looking for is evidence that a coaching staff gets it. Whether or not a player is the current lead-back in his offense, what’s most important is that his coach is utilizing RBs in the passing game. For context, here are metrical averages for PPR RBs over the last two years:
|Team Rush%||Team TS%||Team Opps%||Opps% (Tar)||Team PPR%||PPR% (Rec)|
A couple key takeaways to keep in mind from the chart above:
- The primary differentiator between RB1s and RB2s is receiving acumen. Fantasy RB1s average a 15.3% team target share, whereas RB2s average just 7.6%. This difference is mirrored in Opps% (Tar) and PPR% (Rec).
- The primary differentiator between RB2s and RB3s is rushing volume and/or total opportunity. Both groups report similar target shares, but RB2s average an 11.7% improvement in Team Rush% and a 5.3% improvement in Team Opps%.
- Fantasy RB3s are more similar to RB1s than to RB2s. Ideally, we want to target fantasy RBs with borderline starting value that would inherit grand opportunity contingent on depth chart disruption. Examples include Dion Lewis in 2017, James Conner in 2018, and Austin Ekeler this season.
Advanced Workload Metrics for All NFL RBs
* Qualifying RBs must have recorded at least 20 total opportunities through Week 4.
|Player||Tm||PPR||Tm Rush%||Tm TS%||Tm Opps%||Opps% (Tar)||Team PPR%||PPR% (Rec)|
Top 10 Risers in Cumulative Opportunities per Game
Cumulative week-over-week averages calculated based on point-in-time statistics.
|Player||Team||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Plus/Minus|
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Since Detroit released C.J. Anderson prior to Week 3, Kerryon Johnson’s workload value has gone through the roof. His expected fantasy points per game from rush attempts (ruEP) never eclipsed 11.7 EP during his rookie season. He’s now hit 17 ruEP in consecutive weeks.
In fact, Johnson’s 40.3 total EP over that span ranks fifth among RBs — above elite lead-backs like Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, and Ezekiel Elliott.
The only thing weighing down Johnson’s scoring output is his fantasy points over expectation (FPOE), which measures a player’s efficiency. His abysmal -11.3 FPOE since Week 3 is not reflective of his rookie season performance, which suggests that Johnson still has upside left to offer. He reported 2.1 FPOE per game in 2018 versus 1.4 fantasy points per game below expectation this season.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In Week 1, we witnessed a fairly even workload split between Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones. Then in Week 2, Barber inexplicably rushed 23 times for 82 yards and a TD while Jones only earned seven offensive snaps. Entering Week 3, many analysts (myself included) were mystified by Barber’s backfield reclamation and had no idea how to project Jones’ usage for the rest of the season.
But beginning in Week 3, Jones began a full assault on Barber’s RB1 status. Over the past two weeks, Jones has earned 35 touches and gained 203 total yards. His ruEP has more than doubled over that span, and his ruFPOE has increased by 3.2 points while Barber’s has fallen by 4.7 points.
In Weeks 1 and 2, Barber out-snapped Jones 65 to 29. Since Week 3, Jones leads the backfield with 59 offensive snaps to Barber’s 45. Jones’ ascension still places him squarely in a timeshare, but it is encouraging to see head coach Bruce Arians reward Jones’ explosiveness and efficiency.
We’re still dealing with a very small sample size here, so Jones’ breakout narrative may be an issue of statistical variance rather than a concerted shift in coaching philosophy. Nonetheless, Jones’ snap share supports the narrative, and the eye test does as well. Jones now deserves your attention — and your fantasy investment.
Important Update: My RotoViz colleague Pat Kerrane contacted me following this piece’s initial publication and tipped me off to a key piece of information that this article omitted. During Tampa Bay’s Week 2 contest against the Panthers, Pat noted that Jones appeared to limp off the field following an early 12-yard run. Buccaneers beat writer Greg Auman corroborates this finding via a tweet on September 18th later that week.
This apparent ankle issue could explain Jones’ lackluster Week 2 opportunity share. If that is the case — and we dismiss his Week 2 performance due to injury — then Jones’ weekly opportunity share and recent ascension become all the more impressive.
Jones tweaked his ankle on his 12-yard run, came off limping. And with Barber running well, just went with that rest of the way. https://t.co/jWQb4nS0F8— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 18, 2019
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Rejoice, Devonta Freeman owners, for all hope is not lost! Freeman may have started the season slowly (which we may have expected for a player returning from injury), but he’s gaining a full head of steam entering Week 5. To report Freeman’s week-to-week improvement, I first turned to the NFL Stat Explorer — but he has improved so many of his metrics over the past weeks that a table became the most economical way to present it.
|Off. Snaps||Opportunities||Total Yards||Total EP||Total FPOE||PPR Points|
His rushing efficiency notwithstanding (yuck), Freeman reports steady improvements in nearly every other facet of his weekly workload. This progression culminated in a season-high 17.1 EP and his first positive FPOE outing of the year. Despite an abysmal start to the season — and despite failing to score a TD through four games — Freeman somehow still ranks 24th among RBs in total fantasy points (46.0).
His swelling workload and improving efficiency have oriented Freeman’s fantasy stock in an upward trajectory. It’s unlikely that he’ll achieve a fantasy RB1-level workload this season, but a mid-RB2 fantasy finish is still well within his grasp.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
First, the good news: David Montgomery’s role in the Chicago offense is steadily increasing. His week-to-week snap share has improved, along with his total volume of opportunities:
- Week 1: 38% snap share, seven opportunities.
- Week 2: 45% snap share, 21 opportunities.
- Week 3: 65% snap share, 16 opportunities.
- Week 4: 69% snap share, 26 opportunities.
Now, the bad news: He has been woefully inefficient with his touches and has only earned extended usage during positive game script conditions. Montgomery ranks 445th out of 457 qualifying players in total FPOE (-12.4) and ranks third-to-last among RBs with -11.8 ruFPOE.
His inefficiency is further compounded by his relatively lucrative rush opportunities. Montgomery has faced an eight-man box on 22.4% of his carries,3 which is fairly average among RBs this season. Contrast that with Derrick Henry’s 43.6% rate against eight-man boxes, or Kerryon Johnson’s 32.4% mark.
He has looked slow on the field and has yet to demonstrate his tackle-breaking prowess from his time at Iowa State.4 But in fairness to Montgomery, head coach Matt Nagy has not put him in a position to succeed.
Nagy has been fickle in his treatment of Montgomery, hamstringing the rookie’s potential by limiting his early-game touches. Nearly two-thirds of Montgomery’s per-game fantasy production has come in the second-half this season.
Those splits widen even further if we examine Montgomery’s usage when Chicago trails versus leads.
Contrast Montgomery’s leading verus trailing splits with his backfield-mate, Tarik Cohen.
Cohen’s receiving usage takes a bit of a hit in leading game scripts, but overall his total EP is fairly even no matter the score. Montgomery, by stark contrast, is only deployed when Nagy feels confident in Chicago’s lead.
These are some of the worst game script-related splits I’ve seen this season. While Montgomery’s workload may be increasing, it is likely due to Chicago’s early lead in each of its past two games — not as a result of Nagy’s increased confidence in him as a featured back.
In case this analysis was insufficient in conveying my implicit recommendation, allow me to be more direct: Sell, sell, sell.
High-Priority Backfield Situations to Monitor in Week 5
In this section, I highlight backfield competitions and key statistical trends to follow during next week’s NFL games.
Marlon Mack’s opportunities have declined in each of the past three weeks, he has failed to break the century-mark in yards in each of his past three outings, and he has offered almost zero receiving production to offset those deficiencies. Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins continue to filter increasingly into personnel rotations as Indianapolis has expanded its passing attack.
The result? Mack ranks 109th out of 116 qualifying RBs in FPOE (-7.2) and ranks 35th in fantasy points (29.0) over that span.
Mack drew an ideal Week 1 matchup against the Chargers and predictably (in hindsight, at least) went off for 174 yards and a TD on 25 rush attempts. But beginning in Week 2, he faced stiffer competition, and his rush attempts have dwindled in each successive week.
Admittedly, his season-low 11 carries in Week 4 do carry mitigating circumstances. Mack suffered a late-game ankle injury that held him out of most of the fourth-quarter.5 Then again, if he only accrued 11 attempts for 39 yards through three quarters, what realistic odds did he have of salvaging his fantasy performance as Indianapolis went full-on air-raid to close the game?
Unfortunately for Mack owners, the schedule doesn’t get much easier from here. Mack’s next matchup against a soft defense won’t come until Week 10 against Miami.
Indianapolis draws the fourth-most difficult schedule for RBs over the next five weeks, which may further depress Mack’s trade appeal if his rushing usage stagnates over that span.
The time to sell was after Mack’s electric Week 1 performance — or perhaps after Week 3 against Atlanta. Now, Mack owners must grin and bear the looming onslaught of above-average rush defenses and pray to the fantasy gods that Mack uncharacteristically factors into the Colts passing game. Of course, this is no small task when you share a backfield with Nyheim Hines.
Kansas City Chiefs
Damien Williams was inactive for the second straight week as he nurses a nagging knee injury. Initially, the injury was reported as minor, but Williams has failed to practice since Week 2. He has slim odds of returning in Week 5 against Indianapolis, and Kansas City has little cause to rush his return.
In Williams’ absence, LeSean McCoy has logged back-to-back starting designations and ranks 10th among RBs in fantasy points (39.9) since Week 3. Darrel Williams has picked up the slack as the Chiefs’ de facto No. 2 RB, metaphorically stiff-arming rookie Darwin Thompson off the field entirely in Week 4. Darrel Williams reports an impressive 7.1 FPOE over that span and ranks 11th among RBs with 36.5 fantasy points of his own.
The Chiefs RB duo has operated in a true 50-50 split as each player averages exactly 13 opportunities per game and are nearly indistinguishable in terms of rushing vs .receiving usage. Darrel Williams’ usage and performance sends a clear message that head coach Andy Reid intends to employ a 50-50 split regardless of which players are active in a given week. Based on these developments, I conclude that whenever Damien Williams makes his return to the lineup, it should not affect McCoy’s workload whatsoever.
Pittsburgh pulled out all kinds of tricks on Monday night to avoid a fourth straight loss this season — especially to a division rival in Cincinnati. Utility player Jaylen Samuels added a new tool to his ever-growing skillset by operating multiple offensive sequences as the team’s wildcat quarterback. That throwback strategy yielded Samuels’ first rushing TD of the season, and he also added 33 passing yards on three Tim Tebow-style jump passes.
Of greater import — and to the greater benefit of predicting future usage — Samuels logged a season-high eight receptions (with a perfect 100% catch-rate) for 57 yards. He finished the game with 23.5 fantasy points after totaling only 4.5 in his three previous games combined.
Not to be outdone, lead-back James Conner added eight receptions of his own for 83 yards and a TD. Each Steelers RB earned exactly eight passing targets and 10 rush attempts in the game, which is a huge departure from the backfield split we’ve witnessed over the last three weeks.
Samuels was a trendy breakout/high-upside candidate entering 2019 due to his unique multi-positional skillset, perceived standalone value, and elite handcuff status. But prior to Week 4, he had been a colossal disappointment. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if many fantasy owners gave up and dropped him prior to his Week 4 explosion.
What do we take away from this, exactly? Even I’m not certain. The game plan to utilize Samuels as a wildcat QB feels like a one-week gimmick rather than a sign of things to come. But Samuels’ increased rushing and receiving usage are nonetheless promising for his rest-of-season fantasy potential. Best of all, Samuels’ increased usage paradoxically benefitted Conner tremendously as he scored a season-high 26.5 fantasy points in Week 4.6
If Samuels was dropped in your league, it’s a no-brainer to snatch him up immediately. But as far as Week 5 is concerned, I’m still in “wait and see” mode. Regardless — no matter how the backfield workload shakes out this week — my eyes will be glued to the television screen as Pittsburgh hosts Baltimore.
Image Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: David Montgomery.
- I introduce PPR% (Rec) in this series. (back)
- I introduce Opps% (Tar) in this series. (back)
- Per NFL Next Gen Stats. (back)
- Montgomery ranks 39th out of 44 qualified RBs with 1.4 average yards after contact. (back)
- Preliminary reports suggest the injury was only a mild tweak, and Mack is tentatively listed as Probable for Week 5. (back)
- This, despite missing time with a minor hamstring tweak early in the fourth quarter. (back)