Best Fantasy Backfields for PPR Leagues

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With the NFL evolving into more of a pass-heavy league with each passing year, the amount of big-time, bell-cow running backs are shrinking. However, the ones that remain are continuing to put up extremely helpful rushing and receiving totals, with a plentiful amount of touchdowns. Players like David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott are all focal points of their team’s offensive philosophies. They need to be taken at picks #1, 2, and 3. But what about the rest of the RB?

Aside from the do-it-all, clear-cut options at RB, there are still plenty of backs who serve a good purpose on your fantasy roster, and the ones who rack up targets and receptions out of the backfield will help you most in the point per reception (PPR) formats. Many leagues have shifted to “Half PPR” scoring settings, but those half points can still accumulate in bunches when you choose the right backs. We intend to help you narrow your list and take the guessing out of your process.

Let’s breakdown the teams that have at least one clear cut PPR-worthy RB and a supplemental back capable of producing points as well. Also factored in is the QB getting the ball to them (some of the less experienced/confident signal callers check down to their RBs), what their 2016 results gave us, and then rank them on which teams deserve a longer look than the rest of the NFL:

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Best Pass-Catching Fantasy Backfields

#1 Atlanta Falcons

Most Wanted: Devonta Freeman - 65 Targets, 54 Receptions for 462 Yards and 2 TDs
Partner in Crime: Tevin Coleman - 40 Tgt, 31 Rec for 421 Yds and 3 TDs

Freeman has put up explosive PPR stats since he earned the starting role in 2015. His 8.1 yards per reception on so much volume tells us how effective he is at catching the ball out of the backfield. Sidekick Tevin Coleman is a very capable #2 here. He gets less looks than Freeman, but some may wonder why with a very impressive 13.6 Y/R of his own. The only concern is if OC Kyle Shanahan’s departure for San Francisco means Atlanta moves more into a one back scheme. I do not feel that Coleman should be neglected in any format, and he is one injury away from RB1 status.

#2 Arizona Cardinals

Most Wanted: David Johnson - 120 Tgt, 80 Rec for 879 Yds and 4 TDs
Partner In Crime: Andre Ellington - 19 Tgt, 12 Rec for 85 Yds

If this tandem is compared to Batman & Robin, then one could wonder if Robin stayed back at Wayne Manor while Batman saved the city of Phoenix time and time again. The reality is that Johnson was a physical marvel and target-hog all throughout 2016, racking up a whopping 373 total touches over 16 games. Ellington has flashed his abilities in the past, specifically in 2014 when he produced a 46 catch season with over 1,000 all purpose yards in only 12 games. He sports a career 8.9 Y/R and could step in nicely if anything should happen to DJ.

#3 Pittsburgh Steelers

Most Wanted: Le’Veon Bell - 94 Tgt, 75 Rec for 616 Yds and 2 TDs (12 Games Played)
Partner In Crime: James Conner (R) 21 Rec, 304 Yds and 4 TDs (2016 College Stats)

Bell did all of that damage in just three quarters of a season, which leads some to believe that he is the overall #1 RB in PPR formats. He has the ability to break records when he plays a  full season, and in 2014 he racked up 2,215 all purpose yards in 16 games. He has a history of missing chunks of seasons due to either suspension or injury, but is a major threat whenever the ball finds him. Third-round rookie James Conner out of Pittsburgh profiles as more of a goal-line bruising back at 233 pounds, but he was able to amass nice receiving stats during his final year of college, averaging 14.4 Y/R. Another factor to this backfield is that if Bell should miss significant time again, crafty veteran DeAngelo Williams is still a free agent, one who has 236 catches for 2,106 yards and 8.9 Y/R for his lengthy and productive career.

#4 New England Patriots

Most Wanted: James White - 86 Tgt, 60 Rec for 551 Yds and 5 Tds
Partner In Crime: Dion Lewis - 24 Tgt, 17 Rec for 94 Yds (7 Games Played)

You may remember James White for scoring the game-winning TD in the Super Bowl. It was a very nice tackle-shedding run on a Toss-Right. Traditional running plays are not what he is known for at this point, as he split backfield time recently departed Legarrette Blount, however we could stand to see a lot more carries from JW going forward. White is a receiving specialist for Tom Brady’s bunch, and we saw it all playoffs long with his brilliant 18 catches, 137 yards and 2 TD in three playoff games for the Patriots. He was rewarded with a new contract in the offseason with hopes of him repeating his great campaign and likely even building on it. Counterpart Dion Lewis was out with injuries nearly half of last season, but we saw flashes of PPR goodness in 2015 when he put up 10.8 Y/R and 50 targets. He should get some work, and becomes an instant pickup if anything happens to White.

#5 Cincinnati Bengals

Most Wanted: Joe Mixon (R)  37 Rec, 538 Yds, 5 TDs (2016 College Stats)

Partners In Crime: Giovani Bernard - 51 Tgt, 39 Rec for 336 Yds and 1 TD
Jeremy Hill - 27 Tgt, 21 Rec for 174 Yds

On paper, it looks to be a crowded Bengal backfield in 2017. The pre-season will be an interesting look at how the competition breaks down, but we expect that the dynamic rookie will end up handling the lion’s share when the jungle fog clears. Joe Mixon brought trouble on himself in 2014 when he assaulted a woman, a huge no-no in modern society that is amplified immensely in the football world. You have to hope that kind of behavior is behind him for good now, because if he stays on the field for 16 game seasons, the sky's the limit for the former Oklahoma standout. The second round pick is just 20 years old, and coming off a blistering 1,812 all purpose yard, 15 TD season in Sooner backfield which he also split with another recently drafted rookie, now Redskins back Samaje Perine. Mixon’s game translates well to the NFL, and Andy Dalton is not opposed to getting his backs involved in the passing game. He has two RB counterparts that will see action, however former fantasy stud Jeremy Hill is coming off a poor season and has never really been a threat to rack up receptions. Gio Bernard has the ability and will contribute in the passing game, but many will tell you he is yet to reach his potential and the clock is ticking. Mixon and his 14.5 Y/R in 2016 will have every opportunity to become a RB1 in PPR formats.

 

The Best of The Rest

New York Jets

Bilal Powell - 74 Tgt, 58 Rec for 388 Yds and 2 TDs
Matt Forte - 43 Tgt, 30 Rec for 263 Yds and 1 TD

It is no surprise that Jets quarterbacks like to utilize their RB in the passing game. Bilal Powell has made a pretty nice living off of it, putting together an 1,110 all purpose yard season in 2016. It is to his benefit that the Jets have rid themselves of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, as there will be a ton of targets to be had. You also have to factor in how many times the Jets will be playing catch up late in games as they basically “tank away the season.” Crafty veteran Matt Forte figures to be in on the action also has he too was able to reach over 1000 yards for the season.

Detroit Lions

Ameer Abdullah - (Stats Unavailable)
Theo Riddick - 67 Tgt, 53 Rec for 371 Yds and 5 TDs

Ameer Abdullah was only on the field for two games last season due to injuries, so we did not feel the need to give you his receiving stats. However it is worth noting that he averaged 11.4 Y/R, and many scouts have touted him to be a breakout player in 2017. Detroit did not sign a goal-line back, so he figures to see plenty of work, and backfield mate Theo Riddick is coming off two wrist injuries he suffered last season. Speaking of Riddick, we hope he can return to form because he was a PPR dynamo the last two seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards off 133 catches and 8 TDs.

Baltimore Ravens

Danny Woodhead - (N/A)
Kenneth Dixon - 41 Tgt, 30 Rec for 162 Yds and 1 TD (12 Games)

Joe Flacco and the Ravens threw the ball an obscene amount of times in 2016. 672 times to be exact. That spells targets galore for anyone attached to the Baltimore offense. While we cannot expect 672 again, this is an offense under Jim Harbaugh and Marc Trestman that loves to air it out. PPR legend Danny Woodhead was signed in the offseason, and he is certainly no stranger to high volume reception seasons. He lost a year due to injury, but we recall in 2015 when he made his stamp on the fantasy world by producing 80 catches on 106 targets, with 755 yards and 6 TDs. He also added 336 rushing yards and was surprisingly useful by the goal line too. Woodhead is the clearly the RB to target in a crowded backfield. Kenneth Dixon is facing suspension for the first four games of the season, but once he returns his fresh legs will be a welcomed sight for Ravens fans and fantasy owners alike. He outplayed the other RB on the roster Terrance West down the stretch last season, was useful in the passing game, and the team did not draft another RB. The belief is there that Dixon can be relied on for every down if needed.