Fantasy Football Running Back Targets: Who Led the Way in 2016?

New Orleans Saints running backs are PPR gold (and black)

Fantasy owners in PPR leagues: this one is for you. While fantasy owners often don't pay a lot of attention to league scoring (ok, it's PPR vs. standard), those points per reception can make a huge difference, and should alter your draft strategy when it comes to running backs. A player like Danny Woodhead (aside from injury) has a ton of value compared to a player like Jonathan Stewart.

 

When looking at the value of a player in a PPR format, analyzing both the targets and the receptions is key. Without targets, the receptions won't be there, but the targets are often an indicator of how often a player is involved in the offense.

 

In 2016, here are the running backs that got the most targets:

Player

Targets

Receptions

David Johnson, ARI

120

80

Le'Veon Bell, PIT

94

75

James White, NE

86

60

Bilal Powell, NYJ

75

58

Duke Johnson Jr., CLE

74

53

Darren Sproles, PHI

71

52

T.J.Yeldon, JAC

68

50

DeMarco Murray, TEN

67

53

Theo Riddick, DET

67

53

Devonta Freeman, ATL

65

54

 

The only other player that would tie for top 10 in receptions would be LeSean McCoy, with 50 catches on 57 targets. Keep in mind, these receptions don't equate to the guys with the most fantasy points. However, those receptions are an extra point (or half a point in some leagues) for every time the player simply catches the ball. It seems crazy, but James White's 60 receptions helped him finish with more fantasy points than Jonathan Stewart or Ryan Mathews.

 

For the most part, these players aren't going to lead your fantasy team because they are the pass-catching back on their team. However, those points per reception do add up each week. Also, pay attention to trends. A look at the target leaders among running backs in 2015 produces some familiar names:

Player

Targets

Receptions

Theo Riddick, DET

99

80

Devonta Freeman, ATL

97

73

Darren Sproles, PHI

83

55

Duke Johnson Jr., CLE

74

61

Bilal Powell, NYJ

63

47

 

That's not to say draft Duke Johnson over Todd Gurley (although after his past season, you might consider it). However, know that these players have a key role in the passing game. Devonta Freeman is typically thought of as the between-the-tackles runner while Tevin Coleman is the passing down back, however, in 2016, Coleman had 31 receptions compared to Freeman's 54. Both Falcons are used in the passing game, but Freeman has had more success (although Coleman did miss time in 2015 because of injury).

 

It's no secret that the Detroit Lions like to throw the ball, and the running backs are a beneficiary of that. Theo Riddick was in the top 10 for targets and receptions at his positions each of the past two years, and that's despite playing in just 10 games in 2016 because of injuries.

 

Regardless of who the backs are, it's also a good idea to look at the targets and receptions by team. The team with the fewest targets to their running backs this past season was the Carolina Panthers. Their four running backs combined for just 44 receptions on 70 targets all season. Darren Sproles beat those figures himself. Cam Newton doesn't look to check down. He'll run the ball himself rather than throw a short pass. He'll take the goal-line carries rather than look for a screen play. Panther RBs may be fine in standard leagues, but they should not be targeted (pun intended) in PPR formats.

 

On the flip side, the team that passes the ball to the running backs the most? The New Orleans Saints. The Saints actually do a good job of spreading the ball around (which is rough on fantasy owners).  In 2016, Mark Ingram had 58 targets; Travaris Cadet had 54; Tim Hightower had 26; and John Kuhn had 20. Those four combined for 124 receptions, which is 17 more than than the NFL's leading receiver (Larry Fitzgerald, 107) had this season. The Saints also had the most touchdown catches by running backs by far with 10. (Again, even distribution with four each to Ingram and Cadet and one to Hightower and Kuhn). The takeaway is that if you are in a deep PPR league, don't hesitate to take any Saints running back in the late rounds. You'll get decent value.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Event Date: 
Tuesday, January 31, 2017 - 22:13

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