It was a brutal week for running backs as a number of big names faltered in the early goings. Even the backs that did succeed (see Kareem Hunt) saw much of their value come on one run as opposed to consistent success. Sorting out the reliable receivers is expected to take a few weeks, but now the runners are joining that circle. The NFL has delivered remarkably unimpressive offense to begin the season, something dreadful to see for fantasy owners.
Week 2 Booms
Chris Thompson – RB (WAS)
Washington bounced back from a poor start against Philadelphia’s front seven by establishing the run game early and often against the Rams. Fat Rob Kelley was off to a strong start in the first half before exiting the game with a presumed fractured rib. While Samaje Perine took over bellcow duties in the backfield (21 carries), Thompson broke off a highlight reel play for the second straight week.
The Redskins have expressed faith in Thompson as their third-down back. Nothing showcases this more than the $7 million extension he signed on September 5th. His limited role means he will never be more than a FLEX option as he tallied 29 offensive snaps (41%) against the Rams in Week 2. It remains fairly unclear as to Thompson’s role in Kelley’s absence. With Kelley playing, Thompson’s only targets came on third down. Following the injury, Thompson took on the expected larger role with opportunities on first and second down.
J.J. Nelson – WR (ARI)
A wide receiver exploding for one of the week’s top performances against the Colts’ secondary is hardly worth noting (see Week 1: Kupp, Cooper). However, when that receiver is third on the depth chart and second in team targets, it’s worth noting. J.J. Nelson delivered a well-rounded performance. He elevated from simply being an efficient play to a difference maker with a 45-yard touchdown reception that narrowed the Indianapolis lead to three.
Nelson may not be the first (or even second) weapon in the offense, but the chances have been there. In Arizona’s first game without star running back David Johnson, the offense dialed up passing routes on 40 of 65 snaps. Part of this was the result of the new look Colts defense which held the team to 3.3 YPC, and part of it is the nature of today’s game. Relatively noteworthy is a higher percentage of run plays in Week 2 compared to Week 2, but an expected increased in receiver targets as opposed to the backs.
Michael Crabtree – WR (OAK)
Crabtree’s value continues to be tied almost entirely to touchdowns. Luckily for owners, the former Texas Tech star made a trio of touchdown catches in Oakland’s rout of the Jets at home. Perhaps most important is that he continues to find an even distribution with Amari Cooper for targets. Derek Carr has mastered the art of spreading around the offense and the result is a steady opportunity for one of the league’s best red zone targets.
Crabtree, Cooper and tight end Jared Cook have all emerged as the clear front three in Oakland’s passing game. While all have demanded their share of targets, Crabtree has delivered the most consistency through the first two weeks. The veteran tallied six receptions for 83 yards against Tennessee before hauling in six more for 80 yards on Sunday. 6/80 every week is an unlikely number to rely on each time out, but it is a clear benchmark that his performances are likely to balance around (5.5 receptions, 62.6 yards per game in 2016).
Tom Brady – QB (NE): 30/39, 447 yards; 3 TD
Carson Wentz – QB (PHI): 25/46, 333 yards; 2 TD, 1 INT
Javorius Allen – RB (BAL): 101 total yards, 1 TD
Kareem Hunt – RB (KC): 109 total yards, 2 TD
Week 2 Busts
Jordan Howard- RB (CHI)
Howard owners let out a collective sigh of relief when the second-year back was confirmed available for Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers. That move was a bit preemptive as he delivered the single-worst performance of his career. Howard collected just seven yards on nine carries as the Tampa Bay front seven gave Chicago fits. It was not only Howard, though, Tarik Cohen’s team-leading 13 yards on seven carries were far from impactful with his impact coming in the passing game.
There are extreme concerns about Howard’s one-dimensionality within the Bears’ offense. If Chicago was in a more reliable position to run the ball in second halves, his ability as a runner would propel much more confidence. That said, they are likely to be trailing late and that plays better to Cohen’s ability. Howard has carried the ball just six times in the second half of games thus far (22 overall carries). An underwhelming workload and questionable hamstring have formed major questions around his early season reliability.
LeGarrette Blount – RB (PHI)
Many will blame LeGarrette Blount’s lack of success outside of New England on his playstyle and attitude, but when a team that runs heavily out of the shotgun brings in an I-Formation running back, something is bound to give. The result of Blount’s traditional build was him failing to register a single carry against the Chiefs in Week 2 (his one opportunity was called back). Philadelphia ran the ball just 13 times against Kansas City, something that will need to change next week against the Giants.
Blount reacted rather publicly to a number of unhappy fantasy owners following his dud of a performance. While he may not care about the touches short-term, memories of his time in Pittsburgh suggest he might not be as content if the pattern sustains. Carson Wentz’s 46 passes rank as the third highest total of his career (all losses). With Philadelphia dropping the game on the road, a return to form for the home opener would make sense.
Ezekiel Elliot – RB (DAL)
It was a complete rout of the Cowboys by Denver on Sunday afternoon, and it was no more evident than in the backfield. Superstar running back was held to less than one yard per carry as the Broncos’ defense outmatched the Dallas offense. There was slight concern surrounding Elliott after a long run of 10 yards in Week 1, and that came to fruition in the Mile High city. He is not expected to be held down this much again, but it is a definite shock to the system for owners who had been patting themselves on the back for value drafting the supposedly suspended star.
Elliott has been called out by a number of media sources for a poor display of effort on Sunday, a rare sight for the explosive back. The frustration was well-deserved as the highly touted Dallas line failed to open up the holes we’ve seen for the past three seasons. Part of what makes Elliott such an effective runner is his first move. Whether it is a jump cut a yard or two past the line, his signature hurdle, or simply kicking it into fourth gear, his ability to work away from tacklers is what makes him special. The Broncos minimized his chances to make those moves by forcing him off his line early and often, typically behind the line of scrimmage. Even the best backs need some space to make defenders miss.
Aaron Rodgers – QB (GB): 33/50, 343 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
DeMarco Murray – RB (TEN): 9 carries, 25 yards
Greg Olsen – TE (CAR): 1 reception, 2 targets, 10 yards (injured)
Larry Fitzgerald – WR (ARI): 3 receptions, 6 targets, 21 yards