Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, and Ray Rice are first, second and fourth respectively in total running back opportunities (carries plus receptions), each averaging at least 23 per week. Now that this has been said, there’s no point in mentioning them again. Regardless of experience, everyone in your league knows these three and all are as involved in their offenses as they were expected to be. What useful information can be extracted from looking at these statistics through four weeks?
The Top 10
Marshawn Lynch (third) is taking advantage of his opportunities, averaging a career-best 4.6 yards per carry and nearly 120 total yards per game. On pace for 396 total opportunities, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his workload decrease over the remainder of the season. While Seattle is a run-first team and has a strong defense, he has struggled with injuries in the past and preseason/dynasty favorite Robert Turbin (#62) is available to spell him on short-yardage situations.
Adrian Peterson (tied with BenJarvus Green-Ellis for fifth) and Jamaal Charles (seventh) are elite talents, the only surprising aspect of their inclusion on this list being the potential limitations from injury recovery. Owners who took the risk are reaping big rewards.
Despite the holdout, Maurice Jones-Drew is racking up the eighth most opportunities of any running back, thanks in part to injury woes for Rashad Jennings. Averaging just under five yards per carry and on pace for more than 50 receptions, MJD is still one of the few true #1 backs.
The two highly touted rookies, Doug Martin (ninth) and Trent Richardson (tenth), round out the top ten with over 21 opportunities per game for each. They have almost exactly the same yards per carry (Martin’s 3.48 to Richardson’s 3.47), though Richardson’s four touchdowns and pace for 60 receptions gives him the edge on the early-season returns. Increases in opportunities for LeGarrette Blount (#71) and DJ Ware (#84) speak more to Tampa Bay wanting to keep Martin healthy over the long haul.
Including Michael Turner (#22) as a promising trend was difficult to grasp (particularly as a dynasty owner heavily invested in Jacquizz Rodgers), but the numbers are the numbers. Since his 11 carries and no receptions in week one, Turner has averaged 17 opportunities per game including increasing passing targets every week. The dropoff is coming, but Turner is doing all he can to avoid it.
Cedric Benson (#17) is living up to his workhorse reputation, accumulating an unimpressive 3.56 yards per carry while being heavily utilized. Since a poor first week all around for the Green Bay offense, he has seen at least 22 opportunities per game. This is a top five workload, even if the talent to take advantage of those chances isn’t at an elite level. Most surprising is that Benson is catching three passes a game, on pace to nearly double his career-best in a season.
If he’s somehow available in dynasty leagues, scoop up Ronnie Hillman (#66). Inactive through week two, a couple carries and a reception in week three led to ten carries and two receptions in week four. He’s still behind Willis McGahee and Lance Ball on the depth chart, but is trending up quickly and could see regular third-down duties sooner than later.
Darren McFadden (#11) received four more opportunities than any other back in week one and has seen the workload slashed nearly in half, averaging just over 17 opportunities per game in weeks two through four. Without much else to show on offense, the Broncos displayed a successful defensive strategy by focusing on stopping the run game and making Carson Palmer beat them through the air. His injury history and opposing defenses stacking the box don’t add up to an increase in opportunities, perhaps opening the door for us (just a little) to see what Taiwan Jones can do.
Darren Sproles (#31) is actually on pace for more receptions this year than last, but has only received three carries per game. In standard scoring, he’s averaging 10.5 fantasy points per game. While that’s bumped up to 16.5 points per game in PPR leagues, Sproles just isn’t getting the ball enough. A lack of creative play-calling is partially to blame, and the Saints will likely see the correlation between their record and the need to give the ball to their playmakers more. The early numbers haven’t looked great, but I think Sproles is a good buy-low candidate.
Speaking of underperforming running backs in New Orleans, Mark Ingram (#42) has three games with seven or fewer opportunities. Perhaps that’s due to his paltry 2.81 yards per carry, frustrating those hopeful for improved play in his sophomore season. The handoffs and targets won’t come until he improves his performance on the chances he does get.
For all the Chris Johnson (#19) hate (which is warranted when it comes to work ethic), he’s still being given plenty of chances, trending up in opportunities since week two (11-16-27). Darius Reynaud, Javon Ringer, and Jamie Harper have combined for 11 opportunities, including a total of three since week one. With his week four breakout and Jake Locker’s injuries, the Titans will continue to feature their temperamental running back.
Jacquizz Rodgers (#37) hasn’t lit up the fantasy world, but is averaging nearly ten opportunities a game and gaining the trust of Matt Ryan. With 11 receptions (including nine combined in weeks three and four), Quizz is making progress on living up to his preseason sleeper status.
Jonathan Dwyer (#48) did have 13 opportunities in week one and 14 in week two, and the Steelers gave him a true timeshare with Isaac Redman (#37) to begin the season. However, three carries for -1 yards in week four made him a non-factor. While I still like him long-term, a combination of injuries and the return of Rashard Mendenhall mean a minimal workload in the foreseeable future.
Follow me on Twitter at @JLFoster10.