With NFL Week 1 in the books, it's time to take stock in how some notable running backs were used in terms of snap count and touches as you make fantasy football lineup moves. We have a few running backs trending down the fantasy football rankings whether due to lower usage than expected or an appearance on the NFL injury report. We also have plenty of fantasy football sleepers in the backfield rising up NFL weekly projections and looking like top fantasy football waiver wire pickups. Now may be the time to check out the Trade Analyzer and see if a league mate may be looking to sell low on a running back that has struggled in Week 1. A running back’s average yards-per-carry is obviously an important stat that is used to measure his ability and performance. However, in our preseason primer on RB usage, we also talked about health, ball security and pass protection as key factors that affect a running back's playing time and whether or not a team might use a running back by committee (RBBC) approach to managing its backfield. We’ll mention all three in this article and take a closer look at the number of carries and percentage of offensive snaps played as we try to get a handle on potential future RB usage for some newsworthy backfields after Week 1 of the NFL season. 




NFL Week 1 Running Back Usage Report

Pittsburgh Steelers

Najee Harriswho suffered a sprained Lisfranc in training camp, injured his foot and was removed from the Steelers’ Week 1 matchup against the Colts late in the game. He was later seen in a walking boot, but the Steelers claimed that he avoided serious injury. Harris has proclaimed that he’ll be active in Week 2, but fantasy managers rostering him should monitor his situation closely and seek to either trade for or add his handcuff, Jaylen Warren, off the waiver wire. If you have a deep bench, it might even make sense to add Benny Snell, who is more likely to be available than Warren on league waiver wires. 

Los Angeles Rams

We’re not here to make excuses for Cam Akers terrible Thursday night performance. Still, he's just about one year removed from suffering a torn Achilles tendon and he spent a chunk of the summer dealing with a “soft tissue injury." On the one hand, Sean McVay’s postgame comments stating that Akers needs to play with “an increased level of urgency” makes it seem like the team thinks that he’s healthy enough to be a major offensive contributor. On the other hand, Darrell Henderson Jr. got the Rams’ first four carries of the game and Akers didn’t touch the ball until 16 minutes and 36 seconds of the game had already been played. When Akers did carry the ball, he looked like he was running in quicksand. 

However, you have to wonder if the Rams had planned on easing Akers into action this season and the disparity in playing time between he and Henderson was planned all along. The fact is, Akers only played 18% of the Rams’ offensive snaps on Thursday night and we’ve moved Henderson ahead of him on our RB grid for now. Don’t do something irrational like dropping Akers just yet. You might not want to start him this week against the Falcons, but as his injuries get further and further behind him, he might eventually end up being the Rams back who gets the most playing time. 

San Francisco 49ers

Elijah Mitchell was placed on the IR after suffering a sprained MCL that is expected to keep him sidelined for eight weeks. Jeff Wilson Jr. will likely take over as the 49ers’ primary back with Mitchell out of action, but rookies Jordan Mason and Tyrion Davis-Price should also have a role in the teams’ ground game and need to be on your watch list. Both are good at picking up short-yardage gains but unfortunately both need to work on improving their pass blocking skills. The 49ers have signed Marlon Mack to their practice squad. 


Houston Texans

Dameon Pierce’s ADP soared this preseason and leading up to Week 1, Texans head coach Lovie Smith named him the team’s starting RB. However, veteran RB Rex Burkhead played 71% of the Texans’ offensive snaps against the Colts on Sunday compared to Pierce’s 29%. Some fantasy analysts who didn’t feel that Pierce was worth a seventh-round investment in 12-team leagues pointed to the fact that he averaged just under seven carries per game in his four-year college career.  However, it wasn’t his lack of stamina that limited his Week 1 usage. When asked about Pierce’s limited workload after the game, Smith suggested that the Texans want to expand Pierce’s role in their offense but that he’s going to have to improve his pass blocking and pass catching skills before that can happen. It sounds like if you have patience and hold onto Pierce you’re going to be rewarded eventually.

New Orleans Saints

If you’re concerned about Alvin Kamara’s subpar performance on Sunday – nine carries for 39 yards and just three catches for seven yards – you have a right to be. Saints coach Dennis Allen revealed that Kamara was dealing with a “little bit of a rib issue,” which forced him from Sunday’s game against the Falcons late in the fourth quarter. Kamara played 62% of the Saints’ offensive snaps before being escorted to the locker room. Mark Ingram II, who played 33% of the Saints’ offensive snaps on Sunday, would likely get the start should Kamara be forced to miss time. Kamara and the Saints are downplaying the injury, but they did sign Latavius Murray to their practice squad on Tuesday.  

Baltimore Ravens

With J.K. Dobbins inactive Sunday afternoon, it was Kenyan Drake (who the Ravens signed less than two weeks ago) who played the majority of snaps (59%) among the teams’ RBs. Many presumed that Mike Davis would get the majority of work out of the Ravens’ backfield with Dobbins sidelined. However, Davis and Justice had the same number of carries (2), but Hill played more snaps (20%) than Davis (12%). Dobbins, who is recovering from 2021 ACL surgery, is expected back “soon” and Gus Edwards (PUP) won’t be active until after Week 4 at the earliest. Until then, it’s looking like Drake will be the Ravens RB who’ll get the majority of playing time in the short term. Unfortunately, QB Lamar Jackson has a career 10.5 rushing attempts per game average, and his presence will limit the fantasy production of the teams’ running backs. 


Kansas City Chiefs

Don’t be fooled by Isiah Pacheco’s big Week 1 numbers. Yes, he’s going to have a significant role in the Chiefs’ offense moving forward, but  Clyde Edwards Helaire is still the Chiefs’ primary back. Pacheco had 12 carries for 62 yards (5.2 YPC) and scored a TD, but nine of his 12 carries came in the fourth quarter of a Chiefs blowout win. Ronald Jones was a healthy inactive in Week 1 and Jerick McKinnon led Chiefs RBs with four targets. We’ll consider McKinnon the teams’ third down back and move Pacheco into the handcuff slot in our Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuff Grid.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Jones may have played slightly more snaps (37, 61%) than A.J. Dillon (31, 51%) but it was Dillon who was the more fantasy relevant RB on Sunday afternoon.  Dillon had twice as many carries (10) than Jones (5) and Dillon led all Packers receivers in targets (6), catches (5) and receiving yards ( 46). We’ll leave Jones and his Week 1 9.8 yards per carry average as the teams’ primary back on our Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuff Grid, but this could be a situation where each of these backs has stand-alone fantasy value in points per reception (PPR) scoring formats. 

Denver Broncos

Many fantasy football managers were hoping that this would be the season that Javonte Williams would take over as the primary back in the Broncos backfield. However, Williams and Melvin Gordon split the teams’ offensive snaps at a rate that was close to that 60/40 split that we heard so many beat writers and analysts talking about in the preseason. Williams, who played 58% of the snaps, scored 21.8 PPR fantasy points on Monday night on the strength of his 11 catches off of 12 targets. Gordon played 41% of the snaps, out-carried Williams 12 to seven, and only recorded two catches. He scored just 9.2 PPR fantasy points. Unfortunately, both backs each lost a fumble at the goal line. We’ve only got one game to go by, but it’s likely that both of these backs will have stand-alone fantasy value. Williams has a better shot at being the more fantasy relevant RB this season, though.

Don’t forget to utilize our Fantasy Football Running Back Handcuff Grid throughout the week. 


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