Fantasy Football Rushing Report: Touches, schemes, matchups, more ahead of Week 9

2T49Y17 Seattle Seahawks running back Zach Charbonnet (26) carries in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

• Don’t expect clarity regarding the Chicago Bears backfield anytime soon: In Roschon Johnson’s return from injury, the Bears' usage of their running backs was as confusing as ever.

Seattle Seahawks rookie Zach Charbonnet played a season-high 59% of snaps: Though he was still untouched by veteran Kenneth Walker, Week 8 still marked the first time all season that Walker had fewer than 10 touches in a game, which could create a complicated dynamic for fantasy managers moving forward.

• The Green Bay Packers continue to split work between Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon: Week 8 didn’t yield an increase in touches for Jones, who is another week removed from the hamstring injury that derailed the first half of his season. However, there was one data point that may be encouraging for fantasy managers moving forward.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Don’t get lost in the flurry of trade news and analysis following Tuesday’s trade deadline — we still have work to do analyzing Week 8 – particularly when it comes to some of the league’s most confusing backfields. Here are five running back takeaways from Week 8’s targets and touches report that could bear a significant impact on running back outlooks in Week 9 and beyond.

WR:CB Matchup Chart

Roschon Johnson leads the Chicago Bears backfield in snaps but is out-touched by D’Onta Foreman

Johnson missed Weeks 6 and 7 with a concussion, and with starter Khalil Herbert on injured reserve due to an ankle injury, D’Onta Foreman was called to step up. You know, the same Foreman who’d been a healthy scratch Weeks 2-5? Yeah, that guy! Foreman was pretty effective in those opportunities, posting 158 rushing yards and two scores while averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 3.3 yards after contact per attempt to rank among the league’s most productive backs across those two weeks.

Johnson returned in Week 8 after clearing the concussion protocol. Here’s what happened when he did: Foreman started and led the team with 10 touches for a 52.6% touch rate on snaps. Johnson led the team with 23 offensive snaps and 13 routes run with eight total touches on the day (three of which were receptions). That wasn’t the end of the mess, however. Darrynton Evans, who was just signed in early October and is not even currently listed on the depth chart, received just one fewer touch than Johnson and just as many targets despite running five fewer routes on the day.

In short, despite the fact that Foreman got the start and led the team in touches, this backfield is a complicated one. It only stands to get more complicated, too, as Herbert will be eligible to return from IR in Week 10 if deemed ready. Beware.

Seattle Seahawks rookie Zach Charbonnet plays more snaps than Kenneth Walker III for the first time

Despite Walker's obvious talent following a 1,215-scrimmage-yard, nine-touchdown campaign as a rookie, the Seahawks went back to the running back well in 2023, drafting UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet with the 52nd overall pick. It felt like the epitome of a luxury pick, especially considering a lack of involvement in the offense early on in his rookie season as the team favored Walker. Week 8 marked a shift in that regard, however, as Charbonnet’s 59% offensive snap share exceeded Walker’s for the first time this season. It didn’t amount to a heavy workload, totaling just five carries on the day for 53 yards while catching each of his two targets for another 11 yards through the air. Still – it was an encouraging sign to see him earn time on the field, and even more encouraging (especially for dynasty managers) to hear HC Pete Carroll’s glowing comments about him as a player following the game. 

Walker’s fantasy managers may be in panic mode coming out of Week 9, but it’s worth a reminder that Charbonnet and Walker are two very different types of running backs. Walker’s efficiency and speed make it such that he doesn’t need as significant a workload as other less-efficient backs. Charbonnet is also a bit of a tackle-breaker himself, albeit more thanks to creativity as a runner and a size/strength advantage. Both are incredibly talented backs, but the difference in their skill sets makes it such that they may be able to coexist, even if that does cause a bit of unrest among fantasy managers.

Gus Edwards’ takeover of the Baltimore Ravens backfield wasn’t a fluke

To this point in the season, Edwards has led the Ravens in touches by nearly a two-time margin over Justice Hill. However, prior to Week 6, the gap in fantasy production between Edwards and Hill hadn’t been as significant, as they entered that week as the RB33 and RB34 respectively. In Week 7, something changed, with Edwards posting back-to-back 20-plus-point fantasy performances that suddenly have him sitting as the overall RB2 for the past two weeks. So, what’s changed?

The biggest shift has been in their usage in the red zone. In Weeks 1-6, Hill led the running backs room with 13 red zone carries while Edwards had just seven, and they split carries inside the five-yard line evenly. Over the past two weeks, Edwards has received nine carries inside the red zone. That’s right — Edwards had two more red zone carries than he received in the six prior weeks! To cap it off, he has received 100% of the carries inside the five-yard line, which are the most valuable carries on all of the field. Edwards converted for a rushing touchdown on each of them, too, which could be just the push this team needs to continue with this type of utilization. If they do, then Edwards’ fantasy production might not be a mirage.

An injury to Cleveland Browns RB Jerome Ford may have opened up the backfield

Since the season-ending ACL injury to Chubb in Week 2, Ford has stepped up in a big way to lead the backfield. The Browns weren’t necessarily ready to hand him the keys to the offense, however, so they got him some help, trading to acquire Pierre Strong from the Patriots and electing to bring back a familiar face in Kareem Hunt

Heading into Week 8, Ford was managing an ankle injury that forced him to miss two of three practices ahead of the game. With that, the pendulum swung in favor of a split backfield, as Hunt, Ford and Strong played 35%, 33% and 31% of offensive snaps, respectively. Hunt led the backfield with 14 carries, totaling a season-high 55 rushing yards and a score with the opportunities, while Strong played just behind him with 10 carries for 41 yards. 

It will be crucial to keep an eye on this backfield in Week 9, as Ford is another week removed from his injury to evaluate further trends. If one of these running backs is to be trusted moving forward, though it appears most likely to be Hunt, who has totaled just one fewer carry than Ford over the last four weeks (even if he has been less efficient on those carries), dominating with nearly 70% of the running back carries in the red zone and 100% of such carries inside the five-yard line in that span. These are the most valuable touches anywhere on the field, which has helped set him up for four touchdowns over the past three weeks.

Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones plays another week with limited touches, but it’s not all bad news

Ahead of Week 9, Jones is still seeking his first game with 12 or more touches on the season. The Packers’ hesitation to give him a heavy workload, while frustrating, likely isn’t without good reason, as he’s managed a hamstring injury that forced him to miss three games earlier this season. In his second week returning from injury and the team’s Week 6 bye, Jones totaled 11 touches – just as many as he’d seen in the week prior. 

The lack of increase in Jones’ touch total in Week 8 may be frustrating for fantasy managers, particularly considering that teammate A.J. Dillon was more efficient on the same number of opportunities. Still, Week 8 marked a significant shift that wasn’t reflected on the stat sheet necessarily, being the first game all season Jones has exceeded 50% of offensive snaps played. Coincidentally or not, it also marked the third consecutive week that Dillon saw a decrease in carries and offensive snaps. The Packers’ offense hasn’t been overly productive this season, which in turn limits overall fantasy production, ranked in the bottom half of the league in terms of EPA per play (-0.036), first down production (119), successful play rate (31.9%) and yards per play (5.0). However, if these snap trends continue and Jones’ workload increases, we know the upside is tremendous considering his finish as the overall RB1 to open up the year.


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