Updated: Tuesday, July 31, at 12:55 p.m. EDT
With the popularity of point-per-reception leagues, fantasy footballers find themselves with different strategic decisions to ponder before draft day.
One of the most common scenarios is not necessarily a strategic move but a situational problem every gamer eventually will encounter: Not every player you will covet is ideal for PPR scoring, of course, so it forces gamers to feel like they need to chase receptions elsewhere, almost as some with roto scoring in baseball.
This scenario tends to be most commonly found at the running back position. Derrick Henry and Derrius Guice immediately come to mind as the types to compel investment in reception-friendly counterparts. This also happens at wide receiver, where low-volume players tend to make fantasy owners look for make-up points elsewhere.
Naturally, gamers will gravitate toward reception hogs. When only two receivers (DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown) saw more than 30 percent of their team’s targets in 2017, and roughly four individual receivers per year catch 100 balls, it becomes a draft position game to build around rapacious receivers.
In this space, we’ll focus on players who will come cheaper than the Nuks and Todd Gurleys of the world. Everyone knows about slot receivers in New England, for example, but these names should help more casual owners up their PPR game.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
The second-year back is drafted in the middle of Round 7. A gadget type, Cohen could be the Tyreek Hill of this offense. New head coach Matt Nagy’s system will look awfully similar to Andy Reid’s, and history sides with a third-down or change-up back having a major role in the passing game. Catching 50 passes is well within reason, and Cohen’s electricity in the open field could lead to several monster plays. RB3 value in PPR all day long.
Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns
Johnson was one of the few bright spots in Cleveland a year ago, finishing with 74 receptions and the 11th-most fantasy points among his positional mates. Yes, Duke Johnson was an RB1 in 2017. He was rewarded with a contract extension, yet his fantasy worth is trending the wrong direction with the prospects of a sober and clean Josh Gordon, the reception-robbing Jarvis Landry, and a second year of comfort from David Njoku. Johnson simply won’t be asked to do as much, so expecting anywhere close to his 93 targets from last year is short-sighted. He’s still at least an RB3, however.
Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
On a per-game basis last year, Thompson ranked 10th in PPR points among running backs with at least 10 appearances. He’s healthy and enters a backfield with the aforementioned Guice as the presumed two-down lead back. The offensive system throws to the backfield, and Washington’s personnel in the passing game is suspect. Alex Smith could rely heavily on the checkdown game, benefiting Thompson the most. Don’t be surprised if he finished as a sound RB2 in this scoring format — not a bad return on a nearly 10th-round ADP.
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
The rookie is lining up all over the field for the Colts this summer, and he joins a backfield that is hardly set in stone. Marlon Mack is returning from shoulder surgery and isn’t nearly the receiving asset of Hines’ caliber. If Andrew Luck indeed plays, will he limit his downfield throws and toss a higher volume of checkdowns? Hines is dynamic and could be one of the rookie surprises of 2018 fantasy football as an RB4.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard is nearly two years removed from knee reconstruction and is still just 25 years old. While Joe Mixon is an adept receiver in his own right, Bernard was paid handsomely in his last contract and should at least be the primary third-down target from this backfield. The main concern here is Cincy has so many weapons in the passing game, which could lead to Bernard being lost in the shuffle some weeks. An offensive line that remains a work-in-progress promotes the idea of more short-area passing, if Andy Dalton struggles to have time to let routes develop down the field. Bernard has RB4 appeal.
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
Riddick took a step backward on a weekly rate last year vs. the two prior seasons. Even still, he managed 9.8 fantasy points per game and hauled in 53 balls as one of several weapons in a strong Detroit passing game. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones should steal most of the looks, but the loss of Eric Ebron opens a few targets to come back to Riddick. Kenny Golladay will see a healthy share, as well, so the upside isn’t great, but the safety of adding Riddick as a component should lure an RB4 selection somewhere in the early stages of the second half of drafts.
James White, New England Patriots
There is nothing sexy about adding White to a fantasy backfield, which is partly why he goes in the final rounds, when he does come off of the board. However, for gamers who miss out on catches early or employ a strategy that leaves them thin at the position, drafting White is a fine way to secure modest production with little investment. He has averaged 52 receptions a year over the past three seasons, and that includes missing six games along the way. The offense is built on the short-passing attack, and likely no Julian Edelman in the first month should mean more action for White.
Bilal Powell/Elijah McGuire, New York Jets
Update: Powell could fend off the push from McGuire after a broken foot will sideline the second-year back through valuable training camp and preseason action. Until he is back up to speed on and off the field, Powell is the PPR target of this backfield. It very well could play out where McGuire doesn’t get a legit shot at the chores in 2018.
McGuire is making noise in the summer and has drawn improbably high comparison after his positional coach likened him to LaDainian Tomlinson. We won’t go that far, but McGuire has the makings of being a viable fantasy option in PPR formats if he secures the third-down chores. Bilal Powell remains in the mix, though he’s 30 years old and coming off a disappointing campaign. The Jets will rely on Isaiah Crowell as the predominant ground-control choice, and a substandard set of receivers will lead to McGuire seeing ample targets if he can hold off Powell. He’s an intriguing flier in deep setups.
Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams
The second-year wideout has the makings of being ready to jump to the next level. Kupp is the possession weapon in this offense and has an obvious rapport with Jared Goff. The Rams effectively swapped out Sammy Watkins for Brandin Cooks as the long-ball hitter, while Robert Woods returns after a surprising season. He’s an injury in the making, though, and Kupp has a prime opportunity to increase his strong rookie slash of 62-869-5. There is enough room for growth to expect the precision-minded Kupp to approach 90 receptions.
Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins
Crowder was a personal favorite of mine entering last season, but a nagging hamstring injury helped stymie his numbers. Sometimes you’re just a year premature in pegging a true breakout. The Redskins moved on from Kirk Cousins in favor of Alex Smith, whose game is better suited to short-area passing — right up Crowder’s alley. The lack of elite weaponry makes Crowder a legitimate factor to lead this offense in receptions.
Cole Beasley, Dallas Cowboys
No Dez Bryant and Jason Witten frees up a wealth of looks for the veteran slot receiver to consume. Dallas’ passing game is likely to remain limited with Dak Prescott under center, yet someone has to catch the ball. The diminuative receiver fell off of the fantasy radar last year, registering only 36 receptions for 314 yards and four scores, all marks of regression from 2016’s slash of 75-833-5. Beasley has shown chemistry with Prescott, something we cannot say about newcomers Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup. Gamers can turn to a low-end WR4 or ideal No. 5 flier in Beasley.
Danny Amendola, Miami Dolphins
Jarvis Landry’s departure vacates an insane 161 targets from a year ago. Although Amendola won’t be utilized nearly as much, he still has an intriguing opportunity to claim the majority of them. The 32-year-old former Patriot and Ram comes with durability concerns, and he will have to learn a new system with a massive drop-off at quarterback. Even though there are clear negatives, Amendola is one of the wisest buy-low PPR fliers who still has some upside for a 75-catch season.
Trey Burton, Chicago Bears
Matt Nagy will bring a version of the West Coast offense to the Windy City. This system features the tight end position and will rely on the former Philadelphia Eagle — who is coming out of Doug Pederson’s WCO, making the transition relatively easy. Pederson came from Andy Reid’s coaching tree, as did Nagy. The do-all Burton could be a poor man’s version of Travis Kelce in 2018, flying down the seam and utilizing his athleticism to create a mismatch. Kelce has hauled in at least 67 balls in each of his seasons under Reid, surpassing 1,000 yards in both of the past two years.
Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Doyle benefited from Andrew Luck’s injury in 2017. The offense regressed, and the big plays dried up. Checking down to tight ends became all too common. The veteran increased his targets from 75 to 108, upping the number of receptions to 80 from 59 — all in one fewer game. Luck should return in ’18, though his willingness (or even ability) to drive the ball down the field could be diminished. Doyle may not catch 80 passes again, but he could be more efficient with the balls he snares. Furthermore, the receiving corps in Indy has a lot to prove and little in the way of a track record. Doyle has gone around the 13th round, on average, which is a fine value in this scoring structure.