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Running Back Target Leaders - Finding PPR Value at the RB2/Flex


To be successful playing fantasy football, you have to...well, you have to do a lot of things, but one of those things is to get good value on draft night.

In PPR leagues, one of those ways to find value is to draft running backs who are active in the passing game. A guy like Tarik Cohen has value in standard leagues, but his value is even higher in PPR because he gets a ton of targets. Cohen's draft stock next year is likely to reflect that value, especially if the Bears move on from Jordan Howard, but there are other players whose ADP is relatively low compared to their value last season.

Let's talk about how to find value from running backs in the passing game. Below, you'll find the top 20 running backs from 2018 in terms of targets, and below that you'll find some expansion on some of the deeper value options from those 20 names.

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Top 20 Running Back Target Leaders

Player Targets PPR Finish
1 Christian McCaffrey 127 2
2 Saquon Barkley 125 1
3 James White 123 7
4 Alvin Kamara 111 4
5 Ezekiel Elliott 98 5
6 Tarik Cohen 92 11
7 Todd Gurley 86 3
8 Nyheim Hines 84 28
9 Jalen Richard 83 29
10 David Johnson 79 9
11 James Conner 75 6
12 Kenyan Drake 75 14
13 T.J. Yeldon 75 22
14 Theo Riddick 73 43
15 Dion Lewis 65 27
16 Melvin Gordon 64 8
17 Duke Johnson 64 38
18 Joe Mixon 56 10
19 Chris Thompson 55 54
20 Devontae Booker 54 55

 

James White, New England Patriots

James White finished as the RB7 in PPR last season, but in our site's most recent redraft rankings, White sits down at RB28. Why? I know there's that old adage of never trust a Patriots running back, a piece of advice so old that it possibly predates my first time playing fantasy football, but last season's numbers ran counter to that idea. White had 10 or more PPR points in 12 of his 16 games, and while the four where he didn't were clustered near the end of the season (which is, admittedly, a bad sign and good reason to not rank him in, like, the top 15 or something), his overall performance showed signs of being replicable.

Most notably, White's usage in the passing game means that the emergence of Sony Michel doesn't cut too much into what he can do. In White's two worst fantasy games, he ran the ball one time and four times, but he was able to put up strong fantasy performances at other times with limited rushing touches because he was such a threat in the passing game.

White's biggest problem at the end of the year wasn't Michel, whose snap rate stayed fairly the same as the year went on despite being used more when on the field, but Rex Burkhead coming in and taking about a quarter of the team's running back snaps over that stretch where White struggled. Burkhead is still around and can still cause problems, but he never really proved to be a big factor in New England's passing attack. With a ton of question marks in the receiving game and an aging Tom Brady likely to need to rely more on throwing short, White should have a sizable role next season and a top 20 PPR season would be a bet I'd be willing to take.

 

Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders

Richard was the RB29 last year in PPR leagues. That's not great, but it's better than you'd expect when you consider how little Richard was talked about around the fantasy football world. Our rankings team has him at RB65 heading into next year, mainly, I think, because he's a restricted free agent and we don't know what'll happen with him.

If Richard is in Oakland next year, I'd be very interested in him at his current price. Richard is basically a nonfactor in the run game, but he caught 68 passes last season for 607 yards. He failed to find the end zone as a receiver and added one rushing score. There's nothing super exciting about Richard, but the Raiders are one of those teams without many weapons at receiver who are likely to try to mitigate that issue by getting their backs involved in the passing game.

Richard was seventh among backs in targets. Seventh in receptions. Sixth in receiving yards. The big thing that depressed his fantasy numbers is that he didn't manage to score despite that usage, but that seems like an issue that should work itself out if he continues to see similar usage. Other than that, Richard was second among backs in yards per touch and second in breakaway run rate; he's got the speed to make big things happen when he touches the football. He also has great hands, finishing fourth among running backs in catch rate. If Richard has anything close to the same role next season, he's a steal at RB65.

 

T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars

I wrote "Jacksonville Jaguars" up above because Yeldon was a Jaguar this past season, but he's also hitting free agency and Jacksonville is unlikely to bring Yeldon back, especially after that whole "sitting next to Leonard Fournette on the bench and sulking during the final Jaguars game" thing.

That means determining Yeldon's value at this point is tough because situations are so important. You wouldn't want to own Yeldon if ended up in Cleveland, for example, because he'd be competing for touches with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. You wouldn't want him if he ends up on a team like Dallas, where Ezekiel Elliott dominates touches. But on a team that doesn't have a clear pass-catching back? Yeldon could shine.

Yeldon carried the ball 104 times for 414 yards and a touchdown last season, showing that he's capable of toting the rock for a team if necessary. But where he's more likely to make an impact is as a receiver; he was targeted 78 times, hauling in 55 of them for 487 yards and four scores. It was Yeldon's best season in the receiving game. We should probably revisit this pick after free agency when we see where he winds up, but if he winds up as the main third down back for a team, he can deliver strong value at a low cost.

 

Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins

Injuries limited Thompson to 10 games in 2017 and 10 games again in 2018, and that's got his value depressed heading into the 2019 season. But Thompson gives Washington their own James White-esque player, and the addition of quarterback Case Keenum should be good news for the team's short passing game.

Let's talk about Keenum first. While he was 13th in air yards last season, that's a little misleading because Keenum was only 24th in air yards per attempt. The three running backs in Denver combined for 118 targets last season, and the back who led the team in targets was Devontae Booker. (Another interesting note? Since 2013, the percent of throws to running backs has gone up for Keenum each year, and last year he targeted his backs on 23.4 percent of pass plays.)

Chris Thompson is a better NFL player than Devontae Booker, and Case Keenum is going to love having him on the field. He's a sure-handed receiver who caught four touchdowns in 10 games in 2017 before having a down year last season. Thompson has missed six games in each of the past two seasons and injury is a definite concern, but he's shown flashes of being one of the better receiving backs in the league before.

The biggest concern for Thompson is how Washington uses Derrius Guice. Guice missed his rookie season with a torn ACL and the Redskins turned to Adrian Peterson to fill the starting role. Guice will get early down work this season as Washington moves on from Peterson, but I'd expect to see Thompson still in the mix, especially on third downs. He's also likely to see some time split out wide on a team whose wide receiver situation is a complete mystery at this point.

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