Fantasy Football Week 1 Workload Watch

Matt Camp@TheMattCampFantasy Football Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2017

Fantasy Football Week 1 Workload Watch

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    Is Darren Sproles the best fantasy back in Philadelphia?
    Is Darren Sproles the best fantasy back in Philadelphia?Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    For the last two seasons, we examined snap counts and touches in weekly videos like this one to help determine the best options in each backfield. In effort to expand that idea, those videos will be replaced by this weekly article looking at the workloads of the most confusing and frustrating backfields, with an occasional check-in on some wide receiver groups. 

    Of course, the snap counts and touches from the preseason don't mean much since we only see glimpses of first-team offenses in basic situations. Next week, this article will focus on the most intriguing backfields from Week 1 and what we learned about them. 

    For this edition, the discussion will center around determining logical guesses for the season leaders in snaps, carries and targets in nine of the most fantasy-relevant backfields. In the Week 1 BS Meter, the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans were addressed, so they'll be covered in future editions of the Workload Watch. 

    Steering clear of potential landmines can help you get ahead on the waiver wire. Darren Sproles might be the best back to own in Philadelphia, but is there a bigger battle shaping up between LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood? Should you be concerned with the committee talk in Kansas City? Let's jump into it.

               

    Note: All fantasy stats used to calculate finishes or snap counts are from FantasyPros. All advanced stats are calculated using data from Pro Football Reference. All stats are based on a points-per-reception (PPR) format.

Baltimore Ravens

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    If he stays healthy, Danny Woodhead should have a busy season.
    If he stays healthy, Danny Woodhead should have a busy season.Ron Elkman/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    When the Ravens lost Kenneth Dixon for the season to a knee injury, it took away arguably their best ball-carrier but seemed to clear up what was positioned to be a confusing rotation. The addition of Danny Woodhead gave the team one of the best pass-catching RBs in the league to join Dixon and Terrance West. So without Dixon, what should you expect? 

    West led the Ravens with 52.6 percent of the carry share in 2016 and Dixon at 24 percent, although their snap count was closer, with West at 39 percent and Dixon at 31 percent. Woodhead registered at least 100 carries just one time in his career (2013 with the Chargers), so West could see that carry share rise unless Buck Allen can find his way into the mix. 

    Woodhead's most prominent role has always been in the passing game. Last season, the Ravens dedicated 13.2 percent of their targets to Dixon and Kyle Juszczyk, who departed for San Francisco. In 2015, Woodhead's last healthy season, he led the Chargers with a 16.1 percent target share (106 targets), so a similar number could easily be in play in his first year with the Ravens.

    In three years, West has never looked like anything more than a decent back without any special traits, as evidenced by his 3.9 yards per carry career average. His fantasy value is tied to the volume he should get, but it's Woodhead who has the most value with what should be an active role in the passing game.

                         

    Snaps leader: West

    Carries leader: West

    Targets leader: Woodhead

Green Bay Packers

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    How much of the workload can Ty Montgomery handle?
    How much of the workload can Ty Montgomery handle?Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The Packers enter this season with a much different-looking backfield to last year, although the one holdover is very important. As we know, Ty Montgomery was a WR at this point last season, but he turned into the team's best RB by the end of the season following a position change. Can he take on the full workload for an entire season? 

    When the team moved on from Eddie Lacy and James Starks, they restocked the backfield with rookies Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays. If you include FB Aaron Ripkowski, the team enters the season with a total 114 NFL carries (80 for Montgomery, 34 for Ripkowski). Montgomery should lead the way in total touches, but this will be a team effort to establish and sustain a ground game. 

    If you start with Montgomery's first notable performance in 2016, which was Week 6 (10 receptions, 98 yards, 3 carries, 6 yards), Montgomery averaged 50.1 percent of the snaps in 11 games. That's a healthy percentage that would put him among players like Bilal Powell (51 percent) and Latavius Murray (52 percent), each of whom finished as top-20 RBs in PPR formats. 

    Expecting Montgomery to carry the ball 15-plus times per game isn't really fair, although he won't need to if he keeps up his average of five targets he had over that 11-game span last season. Williams enters the season second on the depth chart and might have the best chance to establish a role outside Montgomery. While he's not a big-play threat like Jones, Williams is a better between-the-tackles runner and good in pass protection.

    In an effort to keep Montgomery fresh and effective, the Packers would be wise to keep Williams in a consistent role in the rushing attack. He could edge Montgomery out for carries, but Montgomery will easily lead the way in overall touches and snaps. Predicting the distribution of touches each week will likely depend on the opponent and game plan.

                     

    Snaps leader: Montgomery

    Carries leader: Williams

    Targets leader: Montgomery

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Jeremy Hill won't stay in front of Joe Mixon for long.
    Jeremy Hill won't stay in front of Joe Mixon for long.Kareem Elgazzar/Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

    A quick glance at the depth chart shows Jeremy Hill at the top of Cincinnati's RB group, with Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon following. If you drafted Mixon early and are spooked by this, don't be. 

    Teams will often list their third-down or change-of-pace back second on the depth chart, but that doesn't always make that player the backup. In the case of Bernard, he's not a lead back and has seen a drop in carries in each season of his four-year career. Bernard averages 3.4 receptions per game and has at least 39 receptions in each season, so he's a safe bet to lead this backfield in targets.

    An understandable concern is how the team will use Hill and Mixon. It's not controversial to say that Mixon is a far better talent than Hill, so he should finish the season as the top back, but it doesn't mean he'll start that way. In fact, the old-school ways of head coach Marvin Lewis could keep Hill leading the way until Mixon earns more carries via his play in the regular season.

    Hopefully, that won't take too long since Hill averaged just 3.7 yards per carry on 445 carries in the last two seasons. If Mixon does get off to a slow start because he doesn't have a big role, I'd highly suggest trading for him on the cheap from an impatient owner. He'll easily be their best fantasy back. Week 1 may not tell that story depending on how the touches are divided between the three.

                     

    Snaps leader: Mixon

    Carries leader: Mixon

    Targets leader: Bernard

New York Giants

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    Has Paul Perkins done enough to hold down the starting job?
    Has Paul Perkins done enough to hold down the starting job?Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

    The best-case scenario for a fantasy RB is talent and opportunity. That's what made Ezekiel Elliott such a no-brainer for fantasy in 2016. When you can't have both, you try to settle for one or the other.

    Was LeGarrette Blount one of the nine best RBs last season? From a fantasy standpoint, he was, but no one in their right mind would call him a top-10 talent at the position. Theo Riddick had 92 carries last season, but he finished as a top-25 RB because he was talented enough to get the most out of his role.

    The problem for the Giants is that they don't have a lot of talent in their backfield and ranked 20th in rushing attempts last season. Paul Perkins will open the season as the starter, yet there's little reason to be excited about him because he lacks top talent and significant opportunity.

    While the Giants would probably like to run the ball more, they also added Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram to a receiving corps that already had Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. Plus, Shane Vereen remains the top receiver in this backfield.

    Even if Perkins can hold off the competition, mainly Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman, for carries, he still has to deal with Vereen getting the majority of targets. Leading the way may not mean much for Perkins in this offense.

                     

    Snaps leader: Perkins

    Carries leader: Perkins

    Targets leader: Vereen

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Wendell Smallwood might be a serious threat to LeGarrette Blount.
    Wendell Smallwood might be a serious threat to LeGarrette Blount.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Can you sit out the preseason and increase your fantasy value? If you're Darren Sproles, the answer to that question is yes. Sproles didn't take a snap in the preseason while LeGarrette Blount looked out of place in the Eagles offense and Wendell Smallwood worked his way into first-team reps. 

    When asked about using the five RBs kept on the roster, head coach Doug Pederson told reporters, "It goes back to game plan, quite honestly. We understand that LeGarrette might be a little different runner than even Sproles or Wendell. I think it's game-plan specific."

    Sproles was never a lead back in the truest sense, and he's never had more than 94 carries in a season. He has had at least 40 receptions in each of his three seasons with the Eagles and topped 50 receptions six times in the last seven years. He's also finished no worse than the No. 28 fantasy RB in his three years with the Eagles, including No. 24 last year.

    Sproles' role is pretty safe, and his reception total could rise following Jordan Matthews' trade to the Bills. In fact, he could have a busy opening weekend against the Redskins if Alshon Jeffery is blanketed by Josh Norman. Blount will likely lead the way in carries at least early in the season, but the presence of Smallwood can't be ignored.

                  

    Snaps leader: Sproles

    Carries leader: Blount

    Targets leader: Sproles

Kansas City Chiefs

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    The Chiefs must feature Kareem Hunt.
    The Chiefs must feature Kareem Hunt.Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

    What's the easiest way to scare a fantasy owner? Show them a quote about one of their top RBs entering a committee to open the season.

    After head coach Andy Reid tabbed Kareem Hunt as the "feature" back right after Spencer Ware (knee) was lost for the season, the rookie shot up draft boards and into the low RB1/high RB2 conversation.

    According to Adam Teicher of ESPN.com, when offensive coordinator Matt Nagy was asked about Hunt, Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller this week, he said, "These guys are all prepared. They're all prepared to play. They all know they're a big part of this game plan. That's the exciting part. We have a team of guys that we're not just loaded with one guy at one position. We have a group of guys that can all play well and we trust them at all positions."

    That quote set off alarms and concerns of a committee approach. Teicher removed some of that worry when he reported Hunt would be the "regular featured back in Thursday night's game against the Patriots."

    Do the Chiefs really have any choice? Travis Kelce is a superstar, but Tyreek Hill is the only other playmaker on the roster and is being pushed into a much bigger role without much help around him, especially with Alex Smith under center. 

    Hunt is a talented player set for a lot of volume in an offense that truly needs him to succeed if the Chiefs plan on returning to the playoffs in a tough division and conference.

                   

    Snaps leader: Hunt

    Carries leader: Hunt

    Targets leader: Hunt

Carolina Panthers

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    The Panthers have every reason to feature Christian McCaffrey.
    The Panthers have every reason to feature Christian McCaffrey.The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

    Much like with the Bengals, if you believe in what the team's depth chart says, McCaffrey is the backup to veteran Jonathan Stewart. If you've seen McCaffrey play at any point in the last year, you know he's arguably the most talented player in the offense outside Cam Newton

    So how long before McCaffrey makes a big impact? According to Dianna Russini of ESPN, "McCaffrey has his own separate playbook, a large part of the offense devoted to him." That doesn't sound like a player whose position on the depth chart should matter much, if at all.

    The Panthers don't seem to be in a rush to push Stewart out of the mix, as both players worked with the first-team offense during the preseason. However, Stewart hasn't played a full season since 2011 and missed at least three games in each of the last five seasons. Instead of the 200-plus carries Stewart racked up over each of the last two seasons, his workload will be lighter, and that could make him more effective.

    Unlike the Mixon-Hill questions in Cincinnati, there's little doubt McCaffrey will open the season with an important role even if Stewart stays in the mix.

                      

    Snaps leader: McCaffrey

    Carries leader: McCaffrey

    Targets leader: McCaffrey

Detroit Lions

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    Will Ameer Abdullah bounce back from an injury-plagued 2016 season?
    Will Ameer Abdullah bounce back from an injury-plagued 2016 season?Dave Reginek/Getty Images

    Last year's Week 1 performance from Detroit's backfield was the stuff fantasy dreams are made of, but unfortunately, it didn't last very long. In that 39-35 victory over the Colts, Ameer Abdullah ran for 63 yards on 12 carries and added five receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown. Theo Riddick carried seven times for 45 yards and hauled in five receptions for 63 yards with a score on the ground and through the air.

    Abdullah never returned after tearing a ligament in his foot in the second game, so we never got to see how this tandem would work for an entire season after they were in more of a committee in 2015. Both are healthy entering Week 1 after Riddick recently returned from surgeries on both wrists.

    In Abdullah's absence, Riddick led the Lions with an average of 65 percent of the snaps played in 10 games last season. He also led the team in carry share, but that equated to just 26.3 percent (92 carries), although he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. His best contributions came as a receiver, where he caught 53 passes a year after bringing in 80 the year before.

    Riddick shouldn't have to carry the ball much, nor should he with Abdullah being a better early-down back. It becomes a question of how big a role Abdullah can handle after compiling just 161 carries in his first two seasons. Can Abdullah be a weekly fantasy starter if he's not getting big volume in the passing game? His value will depend on how well he runs the ball. 

    Both players will be keys to the team's chances of beating the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, especially since their secondary will give Matthew Stafford and the receivers a stiff challenge.

                     

    Snaps leader: Abdullah

    Carries leader: Abdullah

    Targets leader: Riddick

New Orleans Saints

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    Alvin Kamara might have the clearest role in the Saints' backfield.
    Alvin Kamara might have the clearest role in the Saints' backfield.Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    In the past three seasons, Mark Ingram finished eighth, 10th and 15th among fantasy RBs, with the best campaign of his six-year career coming last year. So what did the Saints do? The signed Adrian Peterson just days before the NFL draft and traded up to take Alvin Kamara in the third round.

    Those additions could potentially take away major points from Ingram in both the passing game and at the goal line. Kamara should step right in as the team's top passing-down back after he easily beat Travaris Cadet out for the job. Ingram had 96 receptions over the last two seasons.

    Ingram has been able to put up strong fantasy seasons without huge touchdown numbers in the last three years. He rushed for 21 touchdowns during that span, but the chances of matching that seven-touchdown--per-year average could be in doubt with Peterson joining the fray. In eight of 10 seasons, Peterson has at least 10 rushing scores, with the two exceptions coming in 2014 and 2016 when he played a total of four games. 

    Even with Peterson and Kamara in the mix, Ingram remains the team's best all-around back, so he won't fall off the fantasy radar. However, it's hard to consider any of these backs reliable weekly options until we learn more about a potential rotation or clear roles. Kamara might be the easiest to deal with since he should see the most work in the passing game. 

    It might not be wise to base any analysis off the team's Week 1 game in against the Vikings in Minnesota. As Peterson's former team, he may be afforded plenty of chances to take it to his old team. This backfield will likely be a fantasy headache all season.

                 

    Snaps leader: Ingram

    Carries leader: Ingram

    Targets leader: Kamara

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