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The running back position remains firmly entrenched at the pinnacle of importance within our fantasy landscape, and one of the contributing factors has been the increased usage of backs as receiving weapons. Last season, 14 different backs collected over 50 receptions, while eight caught 60+. This represented a notable rise from 2016, when 11 runners attained 50 catches, while only four garnered at least 60. The contrast to 2014 presents an even larger gap, as just three backs reached 60 receptions, while only five managed to secure 50.

Of course, the increase in receptions corresponds directly to a rise in targets for the most productive backs. In 2014, five rushers were targeted at least 70 times, while 11 collected 60+. In 2016, those numbers expanded, as seven backs received 70+ targets, while 13 were allotted 60+. Last season, the surge was more significant, as 13 backs garnered 70+ targets, while 16 accumulated 60+.

This has elevated the value of backs who are utilized with frequency in their teams’ passing attacks, which becomes particularly enticing for those of you who participate in PPR leagues. As you have been supplied with an excellent opportunity to pursue backs who are prime candidates for a sizable number of targets, which will enable them to accumulate coveted fantasy points for your teams. With that groundwork established, here are some running backs that can function effectively as RB2/Flex options on your PPR rosters.

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Running Backs to Target in PPR Leagues

Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

Cohen garnered 75 targets during his 2017 rookie season, which was the 10th highest total among all running backs. However, six of the nine rushers who accumulated more targets, also finished within the top seven in offensive snaps (Le’Veon Bell 945/Todd Gurley 794/Carlos Hyde 783/Christian McCaffrey 757/Melvin Gordon 750/LeSean McCoy 722), while Cohen was involved in just 360 for Chicago.

He began the year by amassing a season high eight receptions in both Weeks 1-2, yet compiled a grand total of just 37 catches during the next 14 games. Fortunately, John Fox cannot undervalue his playmaking potential again this season, while Matt Nagy has the acumen to deploy Cohen as the dynamic weapon that Chicago's offense desperately needs. As a result, Cohen’s targets should increase as Nagy uses him with greater frequency.

This is not a suggestion that Jordan Howard will be relegated to a complimentary role. But even though he has accrued over 2,435 yards on the ground during his first two seasons, his deficiencies as a receiver cannot be ignored. He managed just 52 receptions in 2016 and 2017 combined, while committing a problematic 12 drops during that span. This could make it difficult for him to match last season’s snap count (578) in Nagy’s newly-designed system. Cohen's stature negates the likelihood that he will stockpile rushing attempts.

However, Cohen did finish eighth at his position with eight red zone targets, and that number should also rise this season. Owners should make it a goal to select him in all PPR leagues, and a high priority to secure him on best ball rosters. The reward for your investment will be desirable points totals when he explodes for big plays.

Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins

Thompson was in the process of assembling a breakout season in 2017, before a broken right fibula abruptly sidelined him in Week 11. He had been primed to establish new career bests in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and receptions, and had already registered new highs in total yards (804), receiving yards (510), and receiving touchdowns (4), before that unfortunate injury occurred. Even though Thompson was ultimately limited to 338 of Washington’s offensive snaps (33%), he still managed to collect 54 targets, which was the 18th highest total among all backs. He also averaged six targets from Weeks 1-10, and would have tied for fourth with 96 if that pace had been sustained throughout 16 games.

His versatility and ability to generate big plays have cemented his role with the Redskins attack. Otherwise, the other components with Washington's backfield stable are unimpressive. Rob Kelley battled rib, ankle, and knee issues, then was ineffective while averaging a forgettable 3.1 YPC. Samaje Perine’s stock is certainly higher than Kelley’s. But he managed just 3.4 YPC, and the Redskins could easily insert another back into the equation via free agency or the NFL Draft.   

However, Thompson’s status as the backfield’s essential receiving weapon should be secure. It appears that he will be ready to participate when training camp begins, although his recovery should be monitored as the months unfold.  When his health is restored, the 27-year old should resume his role as a dynamic playmaker, who should easily accumulate the most targets among members of the Redskin backfield. Which will provide owners with a viable RB2/Flex option.

Jerick McKinnon, Free Agent

Dion Lewis and James White were both potential candidates for this section, although their status as feasible RB2/Flex options remain highly dependent upon which team Lewis will be performing with in 2018. That shifts the focus to McKinnon, who appears primed to depart Minnesota. The fifth-year back has stated his preference to operate as an RB1. after producing career bests in rushing yards (570), rushing touchdowns (3), receptions (51) and receiving yards (421) last season.

But he was only involved in 22% of the Vikings’ offensive snaps until Week 5, when Dalvin Cook’s torn ACL propelled McKinnon and Latavius Murray into expanded roles. McKinnon ultimately performed on 47% of the snaps as a result of Cook’s absence. But with Cook’s return now imminent, and Murray likely to commandeer any remaining carries, McKinnon must relocate during the free agency process in order to replicate his 2017 workload. Despite his desire to procure a feature back situation, he has not demonstrated anything during his tenure as a Viking that suggests he can be proficient in that capacity.

However, it is realistic to project him functioning effectively as his next team’s trusted pass catching back. McKinnon was 13th among all back with 73 targets and utilized those opportunities to achieve those aforementioned receiving numbers. That should compel another organization to entrust him as its primary receiving weapon from the backfield. Which will enable him to surpass his 2017 snap count (528), and establish career highs in receptions and receiving yards.

 

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