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 players do with roto scoring in baseball.
This scenario tends to be most commonly found at the running back position. Derrick Henry and Marlon Mack 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. DeAndre Hopkins saw more than 32 percent of Houston’s targets in 2019 — the largest share of any wideout. There’s only one of him to go around, so we’ll focus on players who will come cheaper than the Nuks of the world. Everyone knows about slot receivers in New England’s system, for example, but these names should help more casual owners up their PPR game.
Identifying which teams utilize their running backs the most in the passing game is a fine place to start. In 2018, the top target shares at the position belonged to:
1) New England Patriots (31.2 percent)
2) New Orleans Saints (28.6 percent)
3) Los Angeles Chargers (27.9 percent)
4) New York Giants (26.5 percent)
5) Chicago Bears (26.0 percent)
None of those teams experienced turnover in the play-calling department, so we’ll start our examination there. Three of those squads boast elite fantasy backs in Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon and Saquon Barkley. Can catches be found around those guys? Not really. Austin Ekeler in LA is the only backup in those offenses with a clearly defined role in the passing game. Barkley and Kamara won’t cede many catches to their backfield mates. Ekeler also is a nice piece to have as a handcuff to the occasionally injured Gordon.
In New England and Chicago, however, we see more distribution of the ball, and nothing in the way of elite fantasy production by any one back. James White and Tarik Cohen, respectively, lead the way for each roster’s backfield in the passing game. There are PPR points to be found, though, with rookie David Montgomery in Chicago being a capable catcher … not so much in New England, but it could change a little with the drastic turnover at wideout and tight end.
One thing to look for is an offense with suspect receivers, making the incorporation of running backs into the aerial game a must. This was quite apparent last year when examining the order of the next 11 teams.
6) Jacksonville Jaguars (25.6 percent)
7) Detroit Lions (25.4 percent)
8) Oakland Raiders (25.1 percent)
9) Carolina Panthers (24.7 percent)
10) Miami Dolphins (23.7 percent)
11) Arizona Cardinals (23 percent)
12) Denver Broncos (22.7 percent)
13) Washington Redskins (22.2 percent)
14) Dallas Cowboys (21.7 percent)
15) Seattle Seahawks (21.4 percent)
16) San Francisco 49ers (21 percent)
Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
There has been much speculation about Riddick’s potential release, so monitor the situation. He’s likely to latch on elsewhere in the event Detroit opts to go younger. Kerryon Johnson also will be involved in the passing game, regardless of what happens to Riddick. We’ve seen what he’s capable of in space, and Riddick is finally healthy of the injuries that have plagued him in recent seasons, specifically a balky knee last year that robbed him of his trademark quick-twitch skills.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
This one is a double whammy if Todd Gurley’s knee flares up. Henderson, a rookie third-rounder, will garner a substantial role in the passing game when Gurley is healthy. He becomes a top-flight fantasy option if the star back is unable to play with any efficacy, as we saw in last year’s Super Bowl run. Henderson brings a Kamara-like explosiveness to the passing attack in LA.
Duke Johnson/Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
There has been plenty of talk about where Johnson plays in 2019, and Cleveland has made it clear he’ll be in a Browns uni … at least through the Hunt suspension, which lines up closely with the NFL trade deadline. Johnson easily could be a trade candidate if Hunt evades further league discipline. For now, Johnson is the primary third-down spell for Nick Chubb.
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers
This inclusion is of the speculative nature. Samuels has been rumored to be poised for more work in a shared attack with James Conner. The tricky part of this situation: Conner is no slouch in the passing game with 71 targets and 55 grabs in 13 games last year, so just how often does Pittsburgh really want to take him off of the field. At any rate, for durability and longevity purposes, he’ll get breaks in favor of Samuels.
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Marlon Mack is on the verge of a breakthrough season that could make him a household name in casual fantasy homes, and Hines will have a supporting role out of the backfield. A 2018 rookie, Hines landed 63 of his 81 targets — just six backs were thrown at more. He will remain a factor in the aerial action, and there’s an added incentive of increased playing time should Mack’s injury-prone ways continue into 2019.
Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens
A speculative inclusion, Hill could be the checkdown outlet and designed screen back for this offense. He’s explosive and beyond dangerous in the open field, something the Ravens won’t find in Mark Ingram. The situation and quarterback come with limitations, so don’t count on a 100-target guy here. Hill could be asked to do a lot with low-volume work, catering to his big-play nature.
Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
A dynamic receiver out of the backfield, the veteran will be asked to share touches with Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice. Luckily for gamers looking to Thompson for help, neither of those backs figure much into the passing game. Thompson comes with injury concerns, so understand what you’re buying. He managed 5.5 targets a game in 2018, and despite injuries each of the last two seasons, Thompson has averaged a respectable four grabs per contest.
Receivers and tight ends
There are obvious buys atop the position, plus a handful more in the WR2 tier. Some of the lower-end players with more speculative value can help make all of the difference.
WR Geronimo Allison, Green Bay Packers
We all know about Davante Adams, and second-year receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling brings great speed to the outside, but Allison should be a reception machine over the middle as he bids to replace Randall Cobb. Injuries derailed what was shaping up to be a 76-catch season for Allison in 2018, so durability and consistency could be his biggest obstacles.
WR Keke Coutee, Houston Texans
Anyone after DeAndre Hopkins is fighting for scraps in this offense. The backfield doesn’t offer much in the way of receiving help, and tight ends are practically non-existent in this system. Will Fuller cannot stay on the field, and even when he does, the profile is as a deep threat. Coutee has an opportunity to seize.
WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
He gets included, even though he’s bound for Canton. Partly due to Fitzgerald entering his age-36 season, fantasy footballers are ignoring the role he’ll play for this Air Raid offense. Fitz fought injuries early and a mess around him in 2018 to depress his stats, which many drafters may confuse with old age. He averaged two targets more per outing once the hamstring wasn’t a factor, and Fitzgerald’s per-reception average increased nearly 1.5 yards once he was healthy. With a nearly ninth-round ADP, there’s money to be made here.
WR Donte Moncrief, Pittsburgh Steelers
While the veteran offers more than being just a possession guy, there are a ton of targets to fill — 169 precisely — after the trade of Antonio Brown. JuJu Smith-Schuster will dominate the looks, and others will get in on the action. Moncrief has a chance to see considerable volume as the presumed WR2 of this offense. Staying on the field proved difficult for him at times in his career, but he’s in the prime of it now, and fantasy owners should look forward.
WR Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
Brian Daboll’s offense likes to include plenty of movement and action from the slot, which is where Beasley will butter his bread. He’s returning from abdominal surgery and practicing on a limited basis at this time, so look for a full go of it before the summer expires. This offense craves a possession weapon from the inside, and as long as quarterback Josh Allen matures as we think he should, Beasley could be in for several targets on a weekly basis. Owners can do much worse with a late flier.
TE Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
He’s a massive injury risk, no question. However, if Olsen can stay upright, he’s also a major source of targets from Cam Newton. And if Superman’s shoulder isn’t 100 percent after surgery, perhaps we see even more underneath work. Running back Christian McCaffrey will steal plenty of looks, but there are ample targets to be found due to a suspect receiving corps. Olsen is a late-round gamble, if you can stomach the possibility of injury reflux.
TE Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans
Always a favorite of Marcus Mariota, Walker, coming back from serious injury and in the twilight of his career, could serve as even more of a safety blanket. His quarterback enters a do-or-die season, and even with new targets at wide receiver, it’s a safer bet that Mariota will rely on faces he recognizes. Walker’s ADP of the Rounds 12-13 turn mitigates much of the injury concerns.