Finding fantasy football PPR value buys: Running backs

Finding fantasy football PPR value buys: Running backs

Fantasy football draft strategy tips and advice

Finding fantasy football PPR value buys: Running backs

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With the tremendous 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 certain categories in roto scoring in baseball.

This scenario tends to be most commonly found at the running back position. Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb 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. We’ll examine WRs and tight ends in an upcoming release.

Most targeted in 2020

Identifying which teams utilize their running backs the most in the passing game is a fine place to start. In 2020, the top target shares at the position belonged to:

Rk
Team
RB Targ
Targ %
1
New England Patriots
122
29.2
2
New Orleans Saints**
143
28.8
3
Washington Football Team
161
28.1
4
Indianapolis Colts
135
25.7
5
Los Angeles Chargers*
156
25.5
6
San Francisco 49ers*
136
24.5
7
Green Bay Packers
115
23.0
8
Carolina Panthers
114
21.7
9
Las Vegas Raiders
112
21.5
10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
119
19.6

*denotes change in offensive system
**denotes change in OC but system remains in place

Note: All ADP figures are courtesy of MyFantasyLeague.com and use 12-team, PPR scoring, unless noted otherwise. The figures are based on redraft-only leagues conducted after June 1.

  • No team targeted its backfield more on a percentage basis than the Patriots, despite the return of pass-catching back James White, whose 2020 per-game target count was the lowest since his rookie season of 2014. Expect the target share of New England backs to depreciate in 2021 after an upgrade to the receiving outlets, but White shouldn’t be too far off from his ’20 averages (4.4 targets and 3.5 receptions). There’s very little upside to drafting White, even at a discount.
  • Alvin Kamara should be heavily targeted once again, even though offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi took a lateral career move with the LA Chargers.
  • Austin Ekeler will have a new offensive coordinator in Lombardi, a Sean Payton understudy, whose system should frequently target the backfield. There’s potential for another massive target share for Ekeler, provided he remains healthy, after LA arguably regressed at tight end and doesn’t have a clear-cut WR3 to ascend. The Payton system hasn’t been known for using three-wide base sets, anyway.
  • Mike McDaniel became the official OC in the offseason, but it’s still Kyle Shanahan’s system. The 38-year-old McDaniel has followed Shanahan along the way since Washington in 2013 and was the running game coordinator the past four years for the Niners. Quarterback issues as well as injuries at wide receiver and tight end last year are mostly responsible for the backfield seeing such a high share of the overall targets. Jerick McKinnon’s 46 looks led the team’s position. He left for KC and hasn’t been replaced with as capable of a receiver. This team is destined to fall out of the top 10 slots for 2021.
  • Aaron Jones returns to the Packers, and the system is the same. Jamaal Williams walked in free agency and takes 35 targets with him. While Jones will remain involved in the dump-off designs, the draft addition of WR Amari Rodgers and the promotion of A.J. Dillon as RB2 likely won’t keep this backfield in the top dozen or so teams for targeting backs.
  • Josh Jacobs‘ 45 targets represented 40 percent of this backfield’s 112 looks. There should be gains at receiver with Henry Ruggs III improving in Year 2, and running back Kenyan Drake comes along to help complement Jacobs, including in the passing plans. Great for real football … not so much for fantasy.

Least targeted

Rk
Team
RB Targ
Targ %
1
Pittsburgh Steelers*
81
12.4
2
Tennessee Titans**
58
12.4
3
Los Angeles Rams*
71
12.6
4
Buffalo Bills
77
13.5
5
Denver Broncos
72
13.5
6
Chicago Bears
88
14.8
7
Baltimore Ravens
62
15.8
8
New York Jets*
75
16.2
9
New York Giants
83
16.6
10
Cleveland Browns
79
17.0
  • The team with the fewest RB looks in relation to overall targets was Pittsburgh, and a fair amount has changed. James Conner is out, and rookie Najee Harris is in as the primary ball carrier. Matt Canada takes over as the OC, although the system really shouldn’t change too much. With a talented stable of pass-grabbing weapons, don’t expect serious gains for fantasy purposes, despite a collegiate link between Canada and running back Anthony McFarland Jr.
  • Similarly, a new coordinator in Tennessee won’t make much of a difference in how plays are called. WRs A.J. Brown and Julio Jones will gobble up a ton of a looks, and there should be a relatively smooth transition from tight end Jonnu Smith to Anthony Firkser. Unless something unexpected occurs and second-year back Darrynton Evans surprises, there’s nothing to see here for PPR leagues.
  • The Giants drastically upgraded at wide receiver and tight end. Saquon Barkley‘s knee is still going through the rehab phase, and he could be limited in 2021’s first month or so if the coaching staff is nervous about throwing him right into the fire. There may be a small window for Devontae Booker to carve out a notable third-down role, yet he remains undraftable.
  • Chicago added Damien Williams, a capable receiver in his own right, and Tarik Cohen is coming back from knee reconstruction. In addition, a possible move from Andy Dalton to a rookie quarterback makes this situation shaky, at best, for finding reliable value in fantasy football drafts.
  • Cleveland could go either way. The tight end position is loaded with underperforming talent, and Odell Beckham Jr. returns from a torn ACL. Rashard Higgins comes back as the third wideout, but the system is what mostly will limit Kareem Hunt from seeing an overwhelming volume after garnering a modest 51 looks in 2020.

Best value buys

The combination of necessity, system design, and personnel talent almost exclusively control what manufactures a running back-heavy share of receiving work. The following running backs should help owners up their PPR game.

  • Washington’s J.D. McKissic will see a slight drop in involvement with Curtis Samuel joining the short-area passing game, though the third-down back remains a strong RB3 in PPR scoring and can be had on the cheap after his stellar campaign.
  • Indy gets Marlon Mack (Achilles) back this year, but he isn’t a factor in the passing game. The offensive system shouldn’t change much under Marcus Brady after 2020 OC Nick Sirianni became Philadelphia’s head coach. Pass-catching back Nyheim Hines may take a minor hit if WR Michael Pittman Jr. steps up in Year 2 and Parris Campbell finally lives up to his potential. Hines’ safe projected outlook is around 50-55 catches, and a 12th-round ADP makes for a respectable value.
  • Leonard Fournette saw 47 targets in 2020, leading the backfield and helping the group sneak into the top 10. Also helping: Chris Godwin fighting injuries, Antonio Brown missing the first eight games, Tom Brady still learning the offense midway through the year, and Rob Gronkowski needing time to shake off the rust. Former Cincy back Giovani Bernard joins the team this year, likely robbing Fournette of significant worth. Bernard’s 18th-round ADP makes for a worthwhile stab, but the ceiling is extremely low. He’s much better suited for best-ball formats.
  • Detroit will almost certainly vault into the top 10 for share of targets sent toward the backfield. Jamaal Williams comes over from Green Bay to complement D’Andre Swift. Aside from tight end T.J. Hockenson, this is among the weakest corps of pass-catching options in the league right now, which greatly improves the odds of Swift and Williams seeing consistent looks. The former is a borderline first-rounder, so target Williams if you are desperate for cheap receptions later on.
  • A parallel can be found in the Atlanta backfield. Mike Davis comes over from the Panthers and has a clear path to being one of the most targeted players at his position in 2021. Rookie Javian Hawkins could be one of the slyest draft selections for PPR gamers. He reminds of a Darren Sproles-type running back, and the loss of Julio via trade will clear the way for a serious number of targets to be available.
  • Presuming Christian McCaffrey remains healthy, he should be among the top few backs in the league for targets. The aforementioned Davis saw 70 looks last year with CMC battling multiple injuries, and the loss of Samuel will open more targets from Sam Darnold. McCaffrey obviously isn’t a value at ADP No. 1 overall. Look to spend a late-round pick on rookie Chuba Hubbard, who could emerge as a spell on third downs and also offers RB1 touches if McCaffrey gets hurt again.

Honorable mentions

  • Arizona’s Chase Edmonds won’t be a fantasy monster, largely due to a potentially lethal receiving corps and the addition of Conner, but his value will be enhanced in PPR.
  • Philly’s Boston Scott was a strong contributor down the stretch in 2019, showing potential for “what could be” prior to a lackluster 2020 season. Scott now has Sirianni and OC Shane Steichen on his side — both adept at involving RBs in the play designs. With so many running backs in this stable, it’s a risky bet but not one to immediate write off.
  • Todd Gurley remains homeless, but a potential suitor could sign him to be a third-down back as a method to avoid the wear and tear on his balky knee. Keep tabs on his situation.

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