Backfield Touches Report: Week Seven Edition

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We are literally at the midpoint of the regular Fantasy Football season. With only six games left before playoffs, the backfields for NFL teams continue to become clearer every day. Studs are being studly, new studs are emerging out of nowhere and it’s easy to see which running backs are going to be busts this season.

With only two teams on bye this week, we had a larger number of running backs touch the ball for owners this week. Below are the stats for how much running backs touched the ball:

Total RBs to Touch Ball 78
RBs with 20 or more Touches 12
RBs with 15-19 Touches 8
RBs with 10-14 Touches 22
RBs with Less than 10 Touches 36

The number in this chart that I like the best is that we have more than half of the running backs touching the ball at least 10 times. Offenses understand that you have to run the ball to control the clock. It’s unfortunate that we only had 12 running backs to get over 20 touches this week. As you can see, it’s the same studs we are used to seeing atop the list:

Running Back Total Touches Fantasy Points
Le’Veon Bell 38 22.2
LeSean McCoy 28 29.2
Ezekiel Elliott 27 40.9
Todd Gurley 26 25.4
Mark Ingram 26 21
Jay Ajayi 26 10.7
Kareem Hunt 22 15.7
Doug Martin 22 10
Isaiah Crowell 21 11.1
DeMarco Murray 21 10.6
Jordan Howard 21 6.5
Aaron Jones 20 22.8

The names on this list that I want to focus on are Jay Ajayi and Jordan Howard. Both Ajayi and Howard were drafted in the first two rounds of all drafts this year and I believe they are both vastly underperforming for Fantasy Football owners.

Jay Ajayi

As the 13th overall pick in most drafts this year, Jay Ajayi has been a huge bust on the season so far. At 135 total touches, you would have expected some significant production if he is on your team. 491 total yards and no touchdown later, you’re likely either sitting him or trying to trade him.

Jay Ajayi finished with 287 total touches for 1,423 total yards and eight touchdowns in 2016. At his current pace, Ajayi will finish with 360 total touches, but that will only translate to 1,309 total yards and no touchdowns.

While I anticipate that he will score a touchdown or two by the end of the year, owners should be nervous about Jay Ajayi and his production. Ajayi is getting the work, but is not getting the production. The production per touch has gone from five yards a touch to 3.6 yards per touch.

Hello this year’s Todd Gurley.

Jordan Howard

Taken two spots later than Ajayi, Jordan Howard has also not lived up to expectations this year. Everyone didn’t care that he was going to be on a bad offense. The consensus was that he was on a bad team in 2016, so nothing had changed. There have been a lot of variables in my opinion that have led to Howard being considered a bust in my opinion.

First and foremost, Jordan Howard is not producing at the same clip he was last year. Every time he touched the ball he was getting Fantasy Football owners 5.7 yards on average. This year, he has only been averaging 4.1 yards per touch. I know that is still pretty good, but Howard could have been the leading rusher last year had he started all of the games.

The other wild card that people didn’t take seriously was how involved Tarik Cohen was going to be this season. The experts said that Tarik Cohen could become a star if Jordan Howard became injured. Cohen didn’t need an injury to become a significant cog in the Bears’ offense.

In a side by side comparison, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen have both been great for Fantasy Football owners this year:

Jordan Howard Tarik Cohen
Rush Attempts 139 50
Rush Yards 560 226
Receptions 16 36
Receiving Yards 59 228
Total Touches 155 86
Total Yards 619 454
Yards Per Touch 4 5.3

The rookie Cohen is out performing on his touches compared to Howard, and the Bears can see that. The saving grace for Howard, and owners of him, is that he has outscored Cohen four to one on the season. The issue owners will have to contend with is that this will become more and more of a timeshare as the season continues, which NO ONE wants to see happen if you play Fantasy Football.

Over Performers

While Jay Ajayi and Jordan Howard disappointed owners this week, there were plenty of running backs that rewarded owners who started them. While these running backs received less than 20 touches, they were able to turn them into more than 15 points for owners this week:

Running Back Total Touches Fantasy Points
Latavius Murray 18 17.3
Chris Thompson 15 17.4
Alvin Kamara 14 15.7
T.J. Yeldon 11 21.7
James White 9 15.7

I am not surprised to find that Chris Thompson and Alvin Kamara were among the running backs to get limited touches and produce high fantasy points. Both of them have been doing it all year. In seven weeks, only Chris Thompson has had over 20 touches in a game, and that happened only once. Thompson is averaging 11 touches per game and Kamara is averaging 10.

There are two names that owners are likely surprised to see on this list, and that’s Latavius Murray and T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon’s production came off of one play where he scored on a 58-yard run. Yeldon has not been active in a single game all year, and was only activated this week because Leonard Fournette was out. When the Jaguars return from the bye week, Yeldon will resume his role on the inactive list and we will all forget about this game.

The fact that Latavius Murray got as much work as he did surprises me and makes me nervous for Jerick McKinnon. To be fair, McKinnon got all of the receiving work out of the two running backs. Murray was not targeted once in the game. Murray only touched the ball two more times than McKinnon, so I’m not totally worried that Murray will be taking over the backfield. It’s just something I am keeping my eye on moving forward.

And the Patriots’ running back roulette stopped on James White this week. Who will it stop on next?! Stayed tuned for my report next week to find out!

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I have been writing about Fantasy Football for two years for various sites, and became a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association (FSWA) in 2017.

The primary focus of my writing will be reviewing backfield touches for all teams this season. I will also provide “trending topics” articles from time to time.