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Target report: How Falcons' RB timeshare could impact fantasy football owners

A look at the target and snap numbers from Week 1 reveals insights on the Falcons’ backfield, David Johnson, two risers in Philly and much more.

Wednesday is the perfect day of the week to take stock of what happened the previous Sunday and figure out how to apply it going forward. The waiver period has passed, but you still have plenty of time to assess your roster, gauge the rest of the league, consider trades and set your lineup.

That also makes Wednesday the perfect day for our Target and Snap Report. Every week, I’ll go through some of the more interesting developments in the target and snap departments, and help you figure out how to leverage that information. We may just have one week’s worth of games in the books, but we already gleaned actionable information from what we saw on the field last week. To wit...

The Atlanta backfield timeshare

This is the biggest news, with respect to playing time, from Week 1. Devonta Freeman is in trouble. He played 36 snaps on Sunday, while Tevin Coleman played 32. Freeman got 11 carries and five targets. Coleman carried the ball eight times and had six targets, and was the more effective receiver, catching five passes for 95 yards. The results are less important than the fact that Freeman and Coleman were essentially No. 1 and No. 1A backs for the Falcons in their loss to the Buccaneers. If that trend continues, Freeman will almost certainly be a disappointment for his owners, while Coleman will provide a nice return on his draft-day value.

Two unlikely players earned a 100% snap share

Five skill players, other than quarterbacks, played 100% of their team’s snaps in Week 1. Three of them won’t surprise you. Greg Olsen and Jason Witten rarely leave the field for the Panthers and Cowboys, respectively, and neither did so last week. Odell Beckham also played every snap for the Giants, hauling in four passes for 73 yards. The other two were a bit of a surprise, and could have hidden fantasy value after Week 1.

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Jesse James was on the field for all 68 of Pittsburgh’s snaps in its win over Washington on Monday night. He got seven targets, pulling down five of them for 31 yards. The snap and target numbers for James resemble exactly what the team asked of Heath Miller for so many years. So long as Ladarius Green is out, James can be a fringe TE1, putting him on the stream radar every week.

Kenny Stills dropped what should have been a walk-in 71-yard touchdown, but that didn’t land him in the doghouse. Stills played all 53 Miami snaps in its 12–10 loss against Seattle last week. He had just one reception for 16 yards, thanks in large part to the tough matchup. A 2–87–1 line against the Seattle defense would look a whole lot better next to that 100% snap rate. DeVante Parker’s return could change Stills’s role in the offense, but he’s the obvious deep threat for a Miami offense desperate to find some consistent playmakers.

Dak Prescott learns quickly, trusts Witten

Playing all of your team’s snaps helps a pass-catcher rack up targets, but that doesn’t fully explain Prescott looking in Witten’s direction 14 times. The only player with more targets was Allen Robinson, who had 15 in Jacksonville’s loss to Green Bay. Witten led the Cowboys with nine catches and 66 yards, routinely bailing Prescott out of tough situations. We already knew Witten would be on the field for nearly all of Dallas’s plays this season. If Prescott continues to favor him in even remotely the same fashion, he’ll be a top-10 tight end.

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Dez Bryant was third on the team with five targets, also trailing Cole Beasley, who had 12. Beasley’s average depth of target (aDOT), as measured by Pro Football Focus, was just 7.4 yards, while Witten’s was 5.8 yards. Bryant’s, conversely, was 27 yards. That Prescott struggled with the deep ball last week is a bit concerning, but remember that the two nearly hooked up for a touchdown that was jarred loose from Bryant at the last second. You should have already downgraded Bryant to a WR2 after Tony Romo’s injury. If you’re banking on that return, you’ll likely be pleased.

Two rookie receivers don’t disappoint in Week 1

Will Fuller and Tajae Sharpe became darlings of the fantasy community during the summer, with both becoming late-round targets in competitive leagues. They immediately showed up for their fantasy owners, with Fuller leading the way. The Notre Dame product caught five of his 11 targets for 107 yards and a touchdown, finishing seventh among receivers in points in standard-scoring leagues. He let another long pass slip through his hands that could have made him the high scorer at the position for Week 1.

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Sharpe also got 11 targets, securing seven of them for 76 yards. Andre Johnson and DeMarco Murray both had seven targets, making Sharpe the clear leader in the clubhouse after the first game of the season. He sat for just three of the team’s 67 snaps, and appears to be the top receiver at Marcus Mariota’s disposal. Bump him up your rest-of-season rankings. Sharpe is already a legitimate starter in most 12-team formats.

Trouble afoot for Matt Jones

Washington always had the look of a team that could, more or less, abandon the run this season. Jones wasn’t very good in a supporting role alongside Alfred Morris last year, didn’t inspire much confidence in the summer and missed a lot of the preseason because of a shoulder injury. Monday’s performance only added fuel to that pass-heavy fire.

Washington attempted to establish the run game early, but met with little success. When the Steelers went up 14–6 in the second quarter, it abandoned it entirely. All told, Jones had seven carries for 24 yards. Chris Thompson got four carries, picked up 23 yards, and vultured a touchdown from the starter. What’s more, with Washington throwing for most of the second half while trying to chase down the Steelers, Thompson ended up playing 39 snaps. Jones played just 19, and the two never appeared on the field together.

Thompson got just two targets in the game, catching both for 16 yards. While he didn’t produce much, it’s clear that he’ll be on the field whenever Washington is in an obvious passing situation. That wouldn’t be terrible for Jones owners if he had total ownership of the running game, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Jones already has the look of a depth back.

The Workhorse Stable, led by David Johnson

The only thing that could possibly hold back Johnson this season is a limited workload, driven by the presence of other seemingly viable backs on the Arizona roster and the desire of a team with Super Bowl aspirations to preserve one of its best players. It was something that concerned me, and that’s already looking like a mistake.

Johnson played 58 of Arizona’s 61 snaps on Sunday night. He got 16 of the team’s 16 carries, and six of the eight running-back targets. In short, he handled as much of the responsibility as was realistic. Johnson racked up 132 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, but his owners had to be just as happy to see his total domination of the touches coming from Arizona’s backfield.

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Seven more backs played at least 75% of their team’s snaps while getting at least 80% of the carries and two-thirds of the targets out of the backfield. They were Lamar Miller, C.J. Anderson, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, T.J. Yeldon, Arian Foster and Jeremy Langford (hat tip to Scott Barrett of PFF for the stat).

Of those, Langford is the most interesting. He had 17 of Chicago’s 18 running-back carries, and all four of the team’s running-back targets. Ka’Deem Carey played just two snaps, and Jordan Howard didn’t see the field. There should be no question about who owns the Chicago backfield. Langford may not blow you away with talent, but the volume will be there all season.

Two conspicuous absences from the club above

Ezekiel Elliott and Adrian Peterson, two backs taken in the first round of most drafts, fell well short of inclusion in the Workhorse Stable. Elliott played 61.5% of Dallas’s snaps, and while he carried the ball 20 times, Alfred Morris stole away seven totes. Peterson was on the field for just 60.3% of Minnesota’s snaps, giving away four carries to Matt Asiata and two targets to Jerick McKinnon.

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Neither Elliott nor Peterson is in any trouble of losing a ton of looks to their respective understudies, but their owners should be just a touch nervous after what we saw in Week 1. There was always a concern that the Cowboys would take it comparatively easy on Elliott, given that he’s the future of the franchise. Peterson, meanwhile, is 31 years old and absolutely essential to the Vikings’ playoff hopes this year, especially without Teddy Bridgewater. In games where they’re nursing comfortable leads, as was the case against the Titans last week, don’t be surprised if they get him more time on the sideline than he has had in the past.

Coby Fleener disappoints, but it’s not all bad news

The Saints scored 34 points and rolled up 507 yards of offense in their loss to the Raiders last week. Coby Fleener was responsible for six of those yards and no points. The new starter at tight end got four targets and caught just one of them, leaving most of the fun to Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead. The good news, however, is that Fleener played 81.2% of the Saints’ snaps, ceding just 13 of them to backup Josh Hill. Outside of Cooks, who is a constant, the production in the New Orleans passing game will bounce around from week to week. So long as Fleener is playing four of every five snaps, he’s going to get his.


Beware a false prophet in Kansas City?

Spencer Ware was excellent against the Chargers, running for 70 yards, catching seven passes for 129 yards and scoring one touchdown. There’s no question that he’s the man in charge of the backfield while Jamaal Charles is on the shelf.

It is worth noting, however, that Charcandrick West played the same number of snaps (34) and got six targets to Ware’s eight. West had just four carries, and Ware was a whole lot more effective, but West isn’t going to be a total afterthought while Charles continues to nurse his way back to health. He’s more of an annoyance than a real problem for Ware, though. The latter’s owners should pay attention to West’s presence, but should continue to start their guy with confidence.

Same old story, with a slight twist, in San Diego

Melvin Gordon was one of the early Week 1 stories, scoring his first two career touchdowns in what eventually became a heartbreaking loss for the Chargers. Despite his early success, however, Danny Woodhead still led the backfield in a number of ways.

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Woodhead got 16 carries and seven targets while playing 50 snaps. Gordon had 14 carries and wasn’t targeted at all, getting on the field for 23 snaps. Woodhead ran for 89 yards, while Gordon totaled 57. The twist, at least compared with last year, is that Gordon was effective in his 23 snaps, but Woodhead still appeared to be the favored back in the San Diego offense. Both carry RB2 value on a weekly basis, but it might be hard for them to stay out of each other’s way more often than not.

Sticking in San Diego, the team ran 39 plays after Keenan Allen’s knee injury. Travis Benjamin led the team in targets the rest of the way with seven. Tyrell Williams had four, Woodhead and Dontrelle Inman had three, and Antonio Gates had one.

Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles looking up in Philadelphia

This isn’t the place to discuss Carson Wentz’s surprising NFL debut, especially since it’s hard to tell how much of it was him and how much was the putrid Cleveland defense. What was easy to see was how rejuvenated Matthews appeared with Wentz under center. The third-year receiver caught seven of his 14 targets for 114 yards and a touchdown. He was second among receivers in targets this week, trailing only Allen Robinson, and sixth in points in standard-scoring leagues. Mere competence from the quarterback position would be great news for Matthews. He might have not only that, but some prime real estate in his quarterback’s heart as well.

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Ryan Mathews led the Eagles with 22 carries and 77 rushing yards, but Sproles played one more snap than him and totaled 10 carries-plus-targets. If he gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 12 chances to make plays every game, he’s going to register as a solid depth back in all fantasy formats.

Detroit’s refreshingly effective running back combo

The fantasy community wasn’t expecting much from Lions runners this year after falling in love with Ameer Abdullah last season. He and Theo Riddick had a cushy matchup with the Colts in Week 1, but that shouldn’t detract much from what they were able to do.

Abdullah got 12 carries, picking up 63 yards. Riddick ran the ball seven times for 45 yards and a touchdown. Both backs had five targets and both caught them all. Abdullah’s five receptions went for 57 yards and a score, while Riddick notched 63 yards and another touchdown on his five catches. No backfield was more productive than Detroit’s in Week 1, and that was something we did not say once in all of 2015.

Abdullah led the way with 40 snaps, and Riddick spelled him for 24. The two did not appear on the field together, something that isn’t likely to change much this season, although the Lions could take a look at lining up Riddick out wide. There will obviously be tougher days ahead for Abdullah and Riddick. They’re not the last two running backs who will give the Colts headaches this season. We can say with some certainty, however, that both should be on the flex radar in all formats, with Abdullah carrying a bit more value thanks to his larger, more bankable role in the offense.