Welcome to the Week 5 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|
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.
Projected End-of-Season RB1s Based on Advanced Metric Profiles
Through five weeks of action, there are 14 players with an advanced metric resume that suggests end-of-season RB1 potential based on historical precedent.
|Player||Tm Rush%||Tm TS%||Tm Opps%||Opps% (Tar)||Tm PPR%||PPR% (Rec)|
Notable exclusions from this list include:
- Mark Ingram, Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, and Kerryon Johnson — each of whom reports insufficient receiving-based scoring to warrant consideration. Among this group, only Johnson reports a PPR% (Rec)3 that suggests untapped receiving upside.
- Devonta Freeman and Joe Mixon — each of whom report excellent advanced metrics but are stymied by pass-first offenses with offensive line troubles.
- Saquon Barkley — who would assuredly contend for weekly RB1 status pending his return from a current ankle injury.
Advanced Workload Metrics for All NFL RBs
* Qualifying RBs must have recorded at least 25 total opportunities through Week 5. PPR points per game (PPR/G) reported relative to total team games rather than active player games.4
|Player||Tm||PPR/G||Tm Rush%||Tm TS%||Tm Opps%||Opps% (Tar)||Tm PPR%||PPR% (Rec)|
Top 10 Risers in Cumulative Opportunities per Game
Cumulative week-over-week averages calculated based on point-in-time statistics. Inactive weeks due to injury are excluded from analysis.
|Player||Team||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Plus/Minus|
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones exploded with a career-high 49.2 fantasy points against Dallas. He received 27 opportunities (the second-highest total of his career), gained 182 total yards, and punched in four rushing TDs.
His TD scoring was clearly the highlight of his performance, but don’t allow that to distract you from his blossoming workload. Granted, I have bemoaned Matt LaFleur’s fickle rotations since Week 1, and Jones’ Week 5 performance came with Jamaal Williams (concussion) sidelined, but there are still several metrics-based indicators that are pointed in the right direction.
Any season-long or DFS player with a pulse has recognized how efficient and explosive Jones can be when he is given sufficient volume. In six career games with at least 17 rush attempts, Jones has averaged 133.8 total yards and 25.9 fantasy points per game. In all other games, he’s only managed 50 yards and 10 points per game.
Jones’ 92 career FPOE testifies to his elite efficiency and ranks sixth among RBs since 2017. His ability is more than sufficient, his efficiency is unquestioned, but his career usage has been disappointing. However, despite LaFleur’s insistence on a timeshare, Jones has achieved at least 18 EP in three games this season. He had only broken 16 EP twice in his 22-game career prior to 2019.
Jones’ four-TD performance likely won’t be repeated any time soon, but he should maintain RB1 status until Williams returns to the lineup. Will Jones be able to secure a bell-cow role when Williams is healthy? Your guess is as good as mine. But after a stellar Week 5 performance — and with fans across the NFL chanting #FreeAaronJones — Green Bay will face a deafening uproar of public scrutiny if it rescinds Jones’ touches.
Chase Edmonds & David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson rushed 17 times for 91 yards and added 65 receiving yards on three catches against the Bengals. Meanwhile, backup Chase Edmonds received a season-high 27 snaps and set career highs in opportunities (12), rushing yards (68), and total yards (71) in a 17.6-point fantasy performance.
After a feeble early-season start, Johnson has kicked it into high-gear over his past three contests, logging 64 opportunities for 360 yards and 59 fantasy points over that span. He has now received at least 20 opportunities in four of his five games, with the lone exception coming in Week 2 against Baltimore — during which Johnson missed two quarters due to a wrist injury.
Johnson’s increased opportunity and production over the last few weeks is likely a byproduct of Arizona’s ailing WR corps (at least in part). Christian Kirk (ankle) and Damiere Byrd (hamstring) were inactive due to injury in Week 5, which left the Cardinals thin at WR for the second straight week. Arizona’s solution? Plug in Johnson instead.
Johnson has lined up in the slot or split-out on 17.5% of his snaps this season. He reports 40 total snaps lined up outside the backfield, which ranks second only to Alvin Kamara (42) among RBs this season. It’s difficult to parse Johnson’s receiving targets by alignment, but the sum result has been 25 targets since Week 3 — plus six more for Edmonds. Johnson’s high receiving volume has buoyed his fantasy value to compensate for a mediocre rushing workload.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has also opted for more balanced play-calling over the past two weeks, which is a strong step in the right direction for Johnson’s rest-of-season fantasy outlook. Arizona averaged 45.7 pass attempts and a 71% pass-rate from Weeks 1 to 3 versus 32 pass attempts per game and a 51.2% pass-rate from Weeks 4 to 5.
However, it may be premature to conclude that Kingsbury has meaningfully altered his offensive philosophy. After all, the Cardinals rushed a season-high 38 times in Week 5, predominately due to the team’s commanding lead throughout the contest. Furthermore, it’s also sensible to temper pass attempts given Arizona’s injuries at WR. Next week’s potential passing shootout against the Falcons should reveal Kingsbury’s true commitment (or lack thereof) to a balanced offensive game plan.
Be advised that Johnson suffered a back injury in the second half against the Bengals, but he remained in the game despite the injury. Nonetheless, his injury status clouds his availability for Week 6 against Atlanta. Be on the lookout for an in-depth profile on Edmonds in Wednesday’s Zero RB Watch List column, but do not hesitate in snatching Edmonds off waivers immediately.
James White, New England Patriots
Rex Burkhead was inactive for Week 5 due to a lingering foot injury that limited him the previous week. Over the two-week span while Burkhead has been ailing, James White has logged 19 targets, 14 receptions, and 130 total yards. White expectedly reports improved usage and production without Burkhead in the lineup since they became teammates in 2017.
White’s plus-5.72 fantasy point average is impressive, but his more remarkable split is with early-down back Sony Michel. In three games without Michel last season, White averaged 23.1 fantasy points per game and poached four total TDs.
Through four games of action, White has averaged 7.5 targets, 5.5 receptions, 0.25 TDs and 60.3 total yards per game. Assuming that Week 3 is his only missed game this season,5 White’s current pace projects him for 195.4 fantasy points, even despite his poor TD scoring. That fantasy total would have ranked 17th among RBs last year but falls 81.2 points short of his 2018 total. White’s 11.3 reEP per game ranks third among RBs and is exactly the same as his 2018 average.
Sure, his 13 fantasy points per game won’t blow you away, but his steady receiving usage gives him a remarkably high floor. Over the past two seasons, White has delivered an RB2 performance or better in 75% of his games. Add in a couple inactive designations for Michel and Burkhead in the coming weeks, and White could deliver a couple RB1 weeks to sweeten the deal for fantasy owners.
Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders
Jacobs delivered a career performance against the Bears in London, amassing 143 total yards, two TDs, and 29.3 fantasy points. He finished as this week’s RB3 behind only Aaron Jones (49.2) and Christian McCaffrey (47.7). His 30 opportunities in Week 5 marked Jacobs’ highest total of his young career, and there’s reason to believe that 20 to 25 touches is a very realistic expectation in subsequent weeks.
Jacobs suffered a groin injury against Kansas City in Week 2, forcing him to make an early exit in the contest. That same injury hampered him against Minnesota, and you can see from the chart above that his usage declined in accordance with his injury status. Moreover, his weekly FPOE has followed a similar trend, dipping in Weeks 2 and 3, and surging from Week 4 onwards.
This is a rare instance where all the pieces align to form a cogent argument for Jacobs’ rest-of-season fantasy expectation. He sustained an injury that caused a temporary dip in his opportunities as a precautionary measure to protect his body as it healed. That dip in usage corresponded with a dip in efficiency, which is precisely what we would expect from an injured player.
Now, his opportunity and efficiency have both returned in full force, which signals that Jacobs is healthy. It also strongly implies that Jacobs’ Week 1 and Week 5 usage (24 and 30 opportunities, respectively) is indicative of his weekly expectation. Jacobs ranks seventh among RBs in FPOE (19.2) despite his early-season injury. Combining that level of efficiency with a reclaimed elite workload is a recipe for fantasy stardom.
Oakland is on bye in Week 6, so Jacobs will resume his rookie breakout season against the Packers in Week 7.
High-Priority Backfield Situations to Monitor in Week 6
In this section, I highlight backfield competitions and key statistical trends to follow during next week’s NFL games.
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon made his not-so-triumphant return to the Chargers in Week 5, and he delivered 7.8 fantasy points on 18 opportunities. His 16.4 EP ranked 12th among RBs, but his 8.6 points below expectation ranked dead-last. Gordon’s fantasy production should improve as he shakes off the rust from his four-week holdout. Still, his Week 5 performance was thoroughly unimpressive and deflating for fantasy owners.
Meanwhile, Austin Ekeler proved the doubters wrong with another stellar 24.3-point fantasy week. Ekeler has made a living off of his receiving chops in recent weeks, but his Week 5 stat-line was on another level. He hauled in 15 of his 16 targets for 86 receiving yards in an impressive slot receiver-esque receiving performance. Best of all (for my sanity, at least), he validated my prediction regarding Los Angeles’ potential workload split.
“Gordon and Ekeler will operate in some form of a committee, and I expect Gordon to dominate early-down rushes while Ekeler retains a strong percentage of his current target share. Gordon is no slouch as a receiver either, so I’m not suggesting that Ekeler has stolen that role from him entirely.
Instead, I believe Ekeler could harness a new role as a Nyheim Hines- or Jaylen Samuels-like split-out option. Wide receiver Mike Williams is dealing with a persistent back issue, Travis Benjamin has a hip injury, and tight end Hunter Henry will not return for the foreseeable future. The Chargers’ thin receiving corps likely affords Ekeler and Gordon sufficient target volume to sustain both backs as viable fantasy assets.”
Nonetheless, contrary to my initial speculation, Ekeler did not operate primarily as an in-line or split-out receiver. In fact, he’s lined up in the backfield on 90.7% of his plays this season — and that did not change markedly in Week 5. That actually improves his probability to garner a meaningful share of the team’s rush attempts in more positive game scripts, which should synergize with his elite target share to afford him a solid fantasy floor each week.
Also of note, Ekeler’s 46 snaps this week falls squarely in line with his 48.5-snap average from Weeks 1 to 4. His usage may have skewed heavily towards receiving targets, but his playing time has not changed. Both Gordon and Ekeler draw a phenomenal matchup against the Steelers’ linebacking corps in Week 6, and I’ll be keenly interested in observing the Chargers’ backfield split in a positive home game script.
Why on earth am I recommending you watch Washington football this season? Because interim head coach Bill Callahan may turn sour lemonade into rotten lemons.
Following the firing of Jay Gruden and Callahan’s subsequent promotion, Callahan emphasized his intention to run the football more than his predecessor. Establish the run?! Coming from a career offensive line coach?! Color me shocked.
(My sarcasm levels do not relent over the next few paragraphs.)
If Callahan is serious about that claim, then I’m super eager to witness how he game plans for lead back Adrian Peterson. Over his last eight games, Peterson has earned 26 fantasy points below expectation. That mark ranks dead-last among all RBs over that span. This season, he has averaged an abysmal 2.7 yards per carry and ranks 125th out of 127 RBs in FPOE (-14.6).
In fairness, some responsibility for Peterson’s ineptitude must be placed on his subpar supporting cast — which, in turn, is an indictment of Washington’s leadership, beginning with owner Dan Snyder and general manager Bruce Allen. Washington’s wretched administrative staff aside, Peterson is simply in a poor situation for real-world or fantasy success. If Callahan seriously intends to “establish the run,” he’s going to face an uphill battle while employing a 34-year-old early-down rusher with multiple LCL, ACL, and Meniscus tears in his right knee. Good luck with that.
But, if I’m being honest, I don’t intend to belittle Peterson. After all, he wasn’t relevant in fantasy before this point, and he likely won’t be moving forward. His team situation is of minimal consequence for the vast majority of fantasy players.
Rather, my ire is due to Chris Thompson’s likely demotion from waiver wire hero to sub-Flex commodity. Under Gruden, Washington ranked among the league’s most pass-happy offenses, enabling Thompson to feast on seven targets per game. He ranks third in the league in receiving yards (267) and ranks 22nd in total fantasy points (58.5).
Perhaps Thompson will usurp Peterson as the team’s primary rusher, but that outcome seems unlikely. Instead, Thompson’s receiving usage may crater, and whatever rushing volume he picks up likely won’t be able to compensate for his loss in receiving statistics. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m about as optimistic about that as Washington fans are of ever seeing a Super Bowl in their lifetimes.
Image Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: David Johnson.
- I introduce PPR% (Rec) in this series. (back)
- I introduce Opps% (Tar) in this series. (back)
- 2019: 42.4%. 2018: 41.9%. (back)
- I report fantasy points per game this way in order to more accurately convey a player’s average scoring output relative to his cumulative team opportunity. This reporting method enables you to manually alter a player’s projected opportunity share for a given week — or for the rest of the season — and infer his projected fantasy output accordingly. (back)
- White has only missed three games over his last 50. (back)