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RB Snap Counts and Touch Trends: Week 2 Analysis


Welcome to Week 3! Whether you are undefeated or trying to snag your first win, Week 3 is a turning point in many leagues. At this point, players start to solidify into categories: stud, bust or anything in between. And in most leagues, while wide receivers are a dime-a-dozen on the waiver wire, finding running back talent is a bit of a tougher task.

So, once again, the question becomes decoding which impressive performances and which disastrous flops are actually either a one-time fluke or a marker for the future. One way to do this is to look at a player’s snap count: players who are on the field more will, after all, be more likely to score more fantasy points. 

Here, we examine three offensive situations from Week 2, where either there was no lead back or the lead back forfeited a significant portion of touches. In this article we will put this data into context and then decide whether this might lead to buy or sell opportunities in the near future.

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San Francisco 49ers

Matt Breida (Snap %: 29%) / Raheem Mostert (Snap %: 47%) / Jeffery Wilson (Snap %: 21%)

Kyle Shanahan might just be a genius. In Week 2, without lead back Tevin Coleman, the 49ers rushed for an absurd 259 yards, tearing apart the Cincinnati Bengals Defense in a 41-17 victory. Each member of the running back committee contributed to the ground game assault: Matt Breida had 12 carries for 121 yards, Raheem Mostert had 11 rushes for 83 yards, and Jeffery Wilson, Jr. had 10 attempts for 34 yards and two touchdowns. In the passing game, Mostert reigned supreme, corralling three receptions on four targets for 68 yards and a touchdown. But which back should fantasy footballers trust?

While Matt Breida is the incumbent and the nominal starter, the snap percentage seems to indicate that Mostert has become the lead back. Don’t be fooled. The former saw most of the carries throughout the game and was rested in the fourth quarter of the Week 2 contest, while the latter continued to play, splitting carries with Wilson. Breida remains an unbelievably efficient rusher, averaging 5.9 yards per carry on the year, which isn’t a surprise as he averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2018.

That isn’t to say that Mostert won’t see significant usage in the future; however, he remains the clear RB2 for rushing work. Where the fifth-year will thrive is in the passing game. Breida has never been utilized as a receiver, while Mostert’s blocking ability will see that his on the field for third-down situations, especially with veteran offensive lineman Joe Staley missing time with injuries. The result is that Mostert will see more and more targets in the passing game over time. Unfortunately, while Breida should remain effective throughout the season, the eventual return of Tevin Coleman will hurt Mostert’s snap percentage the most, as they fill in the same role.

Meanwhile, Jeff Wilson should see something that neither Mostert or Breida will see: goal-line touches. His usage in Sunday’s contest indicates that he could become the primary back near the end zone. However, this isn’t for sure; Breida’s efficiency or Mostert’s pass-catching ability could easily overtake Wilson’s usage. In fact, the sophomore only saw usage in the fourth quarter, so his performance should be treated as an anomaly.

Verdict:

Fantasy-wise, Matt Breida will continue to lead the backfield in touches and be an RB2 in all formats for the foreseeable future, thanks to his prior success in Shanahan’s scheme. However, the return of Tevin Coleman after the bye week could lead to him being downgraded to an RB3.

Raheem Mostert will be a high-end RB3 in PPR leagues, as his usage on third-downs should lead to him seeing a decent amount of targets. His snap count could decrease heavily in future contests, either due to positive, non-blowout game scripts (where Matt Breida will be heavily used) or Coleman’s return.

Jeffery Wilson Jr. should remain on waivers in 10-12 team formats and is an RB5 at best, who is extremely reliant on touchdowns. His snap count of 21% could easily disappear next week.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Miles Sanders (Snap %: 43%)  / Jordan Howard (Snap %: 22%) / Darren Sproles (Snap %: 35%)

Why has a team led by one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and protected by a strong offensive line been unable to generate a successful rushing attack? It’s a question Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson must be asking himself after Week 2. On Sunday night, the Eagles’ run game was primed for success. Unfortunately, despite the fact that, first, the offensive line was fully healthy with the return of All-Pro tackle Jason Peters, and that, second, both key wide receivers (Alshon Jeffery & DeSean Jackson) and the quarterback (Carson Wentz) were injured, and that, third, the Falcons had given up over 170 yards rushing a week prior, the Eagles were only able to muster 49 yards on 21 carries. Rookie Miles Sanders led the way with 10 attempts for a mediocre 28 yards, while the former Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard had eight attempts for an abysmal 18 yards. Darren Sproles was the only other running back to see offensive snaps, but the veteran had only two receptions for five yards. 

For Howard and Sproles, this sub-par production isn’t necessarily shocking. Since his breakout years in Chicago, Howard has been unable to replicate the tools and traits that led him to success. Rather, he seems plagued by both issues with his rushing efficiency and pass protection abilities. Sproles, on the other hand, is older and has lost some of his agility. While he maintains some value in the passing game, he is no longer effective on the ground. 

However, for Sanders, his lack of success over the last two games has been a bit baffling; he could easily have secured the workhorse role with more impressive performances, but he has failed to shine despite the opportunities. One possibility is that the rookie hasn’t adjusted to NFL speed; he has had the lowest elusiveness rating of any RB from the 2019 draft class. Another possibility could be game script; in both games, the Eagles trailed at half time, so despite injuries, the team was forced to throw the football more. However, whatever the reason may be, Week 3 represents an important turning point for Sanders. He’ll most likely be the lead back against a mediocre Detroit Lions Defense, as the snaps indicate, but his performance could serve as either confirmation for his inefficiency or sign of brighter days to come.

Verdict

Miles Sanders remains a mid-tier RB3, mainly due to opportunity, but if he is unable to perform as a lead back, expect the rookie’s snap count to fall and Sanders to regress into the low-tier RB4 range.

Jordan Howard has value in 14-16 man formats; be aware, though, that he remains relatively uninvolved in the passing game and is highly TD dependent. Unless the veteran surpasses Sanders on the depth chart, his snap count indicates he has minimal fantasy value.

Darren Sproles is an option in 14-team PPR leagues as has no usage in the ground game, but the veteran could see more passing work if the injuries to Jackson and Jeffery linger.

 

Oakland Raiders

Josh Jacobs (Snap %: 46%) / Jalen Richard (Snap %: 31%) / Deandre Washington (Snap %: 23%)

One of the more surprising snap counts of Week 2 occurred when the Oakland Raiders faced off with the Kansas City Chiefs. Supposed lead back Josh Jacobs, who saw 74% of offensive snaps in Week 1, had a greatly reduced role on Sunday afternoon (46% of snaps), splitting significant time with veteran Jalen Richard and fourth-year DeAndre Washington. This isn’t to say that Jacobs performed poorly with the load he received; rather, he rushed for 99 yards on 12 carries. Comparably, Washington had three carries for nine yards and Richard had two attempts for three yards. So why did Jacobs’ usage fall?

The most likely answer is game script; while the Raiders led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, they fell behind 28-10 by half time. The result was an increased focus on the passing game, leading to more usage for both Richard and Washington, who have proven to be both effective pass catchers and blockers. However, that isn’t to say that Jacobs can’t be a third-down back; out of college, Jacobs was considered to be a dual-threat RB could thrive on short-yardage passing usage, so the fact that the rookie saw so little action in the second half, even when behind, is extremely surprising.

The answer could lie in injury concerns. Reports out of the locker room suggested that Jacobs missed drives due to cramping and even Jon Gruden mentioned in a press conference that the rookie was dealing with a groin injury. While this could be the case, Week 3 remains the litmus test to see if Jacobs will be used in the passing game. The Minnesota Vikings, with a talented offense (even though quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn’t found his groove), could push the Raiders into a negative game script and force more reliance on quarterback Derek Carr. How Jacobs is utilized in that situation, without injury concerns, remains to be seen.

Verdict

Lock Josh Jacobs in as mid-tier RB2, as his efficiency on the ground, will keep his fantasy value consistent. However, monitor Jacobs’ snap count Week 3; if the percentage mirrors his usage against the Chiefs, expect him to be low-end RB2 in PPR leagues. If Jacobs is utilized in the passing game, upgrade the rookie’s ceiling to a potential low-end RB1.

For Jalen Richard, Week 3 is important as well. If Jacobs is unable to retain snaps on third downs, Richard could be a sneaky option in 14-team leagues as a low-end RB3 in PPR formats. However, if Jacobs fulfills his role as a workhorse, both the veteran and teammate Washington hold zero fantasy value and should be left on waivers across all formats.

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