Target Analysis Breakdown: Running Backs
- Matt Forte CHI: Last season Forte lead all RBs in targets and catches. He was the only back to have triple-digit receptions (102) while setting the single-seasons receptions record for a RB in the process last year. Forte is just the 3rd back ever to reel in 100 catches and the first to accomplish the feat since LaDainian Tomlinson had 100 in 2003 (Cardinals Larry Centers held previous record with 101 catches in 1995). Crazy right? What about the fact that Forte is just the 5th back to have back-to-back seasons with 75+ receptions (LaDainian Tomplinson 02-03, Brian Westbrook 06-07, Darren Sproles 11-12). Marshall Faulk is the only one who did it 3 straight years (2000-2002). Forte has had 70+ targets in all but one of his 7 NFL seasons, and with the departure of Brandon Marshall and his average of 153 targets per year in Chicago, those targets will be split up and Forte could join Faulk as just the 2nd RB of all time to have 3 straight years with 75+ catches.
- Le’Veon Bell PIT: Bell was the only back not named Forte to garner 100+ targets from his quarterback in 2014. He pulled in 83 passes while leading all RBs in receiving yardage with 854. Bell got 1 target per 9 snaps he was on the field, he had the 2nd most snaps among RBs last year. With his 3 game suspension looming Bell will definitely take a step back in total numbers but if he can still average 6 targets per game while maintaining his 83% catch rate and his 10 YPC, he should still see around 70 catches for over 700 yards and a few scores. Beyond respectable numbers for a back playing a full season let alone a RB missing almost a quarter of the year.
- Fred Jackson BUF: When will Jackson’s batteries run out? Energizer should really consider putting Fred on their packages from now on over that bunny cause the dude just does it year after year after year … oh yeah and he’s already 34 years old. Last season Jackson finished 3rd in receiving yards, and was just 1 of 3 guys to have 500+ receiving yards (Bell and Forte also did it). Jackson, in PPR scoring, has averaged double-digit fantasy points per game every year since 2009. Even when C.J. Spiller was “the guy” in Buffalo, he had just 2 seasons of 35+ receptions in 5 years. Jackson has had 35+ catches in 3 of the last 4 years and 5 times in his career. Hell even when it comes to rushing Jackson has as many 1000 yard seasons as Spiller (both have 1). With the Bills acquiring LeSean McCoy in the offseason you know Jackson’s touches and opportunities will be diminished in 2015, however if you draft McCoy then Jackson is a necessary handcuff. He may be ancient in terms of age for a RB but he’s proved year in and year out that he can step up and provide teams with fantasy points, especially you PPR guys.
- Shane Vereen NE (NYG): Vereen was the pass-catching back for the Patriots the last 2 seasons, but now he’s moved on to New York but don’t expect his role to change much with the Giants. Rashad Jennings will be the featured back and get a bulk of the carries and touches but Vereen will slide in nicely as the 3rd down and passing downs back. He has 10 of 24 games over the last 2 seasons with 5+ receptions and averaged 10+ fantasy points per game each of those years. Going from Brady to Manning, Eli isn’t as big of a drop off at QB as most may think. Last year the Giants main backs, Jennings and Andre Williams, combined for 48 catches for 356 yards and 0 touchdowns. Vereen went 53-447-3 all by himself. He will be a big upgrade in that Giants passing attack for 2015, and since he’s away from the “backfield from hell” (at least to fantasy players) up in New England don’t be shocked to see Shane post career numbers in the passing game.
- Andre Ellington ARZ: Many people expected a lot of Ellington last year and he disappointed in many ways. He went from averaging 7.5 yards per touch in 2013 to under 6 in 2014. Bruce Arians said he wanted to get Ellington 25+ touches per game before last season started, and El came in under that with 20 touches per game. Nothing to sneeze at but he didn’t seem to make those touches count as much as he could have. Arizona’s offense lost a lot when they lost Carson Palmer for the year, and it affected Ellington as much as anyone. Andre had 23+ touches in 6 games last season, 5 of those came with Palmer under center. Not only will the Cardinals get Palmer back but they upgraded their O-line as well so they should help Ellington with his numbers in 2015. Ellington has caught over 70% of his targets his first 2 NFL seasons and if his targets see another 12% increase like year one to year two and Andre can stay healthy (haven’t played a full 16 yet), then we should see Ellington catch 50+ passes and break the 400 receiving yard plateau in 2015. He won’t be drafted as high this year but that bodes well for those who want to take a chance on him as a RB2 (finished 19th in PPR scoring last year).
- DeMarco Murray DAL (PHI): Everyone’s first thought on Murray after last year is “rushing leader.” Correct, but did you also know he had the 2nd best catch percentage among all running backs? Murray reeled in a stellar 93% of his targets (just 1 of 4 men on this list to catch better than 90% of their targets). While he set career highs in receptions (57) and receiving yards (416) he did fail to score on a pass play in 2014. He moved in division from Dallas to Philadelphia this offseason. He went from the best O-line in the game to perhaps the most innovative offensive mind (Chip Kelly) who will find very creative ways to take advantage of Murray’s athleticism. Murray is more of a North-South runner which will fit perfectly in Philly but the Eagles did lose one of their best lineman and another is disgruntled so that is already a negative impact on Murray. Add in Darren Sproles who will be the predominate back for passing downs, and Ryan Mathews who will rotate in to help keep Murray as healthy as possible and we can expect Murray to take a step backwards in production this year, especially in the pass game. His numbers in the pass game could slip back to a modest 30-35 catches for around 200 yards. He will still be a top tier pick at RB but don’t expect him to follow in the footsteps of past Eagles backs who were used in the passing game frequently a la LeSean McCoy (who saw his pass game stats drop each of his 2 seasons under Kelly) or Brian Westbrook.
- Darren Sproles PHI: The qunitessential pass-catching back of the last half decade plus. Last year was the first season since 2008 Sproles failed to hit 45+ receptions and 400+ receiving yards. He will be 32 when 2015 kicks off and the Eagles do have a crowded backfield with the aforementioned Murray and Ryan Mathews, however Sproles will still be the guy in on passing downs. Not only that but with no true WR1 as of now, the Eagles offense will have to get creative in the pass game, and who’s the first name that comes to mind? Darren Sproles. He may not go back to his career line of 87-710-7 in the passing game but he should see an improvement over his 2014 numbers of 40-387-0. He is merely a handcuff at this point in his career; maybe a flex play if you can snag him in the mid to late rounds of your draft but even in PPR leagues, his best days are more than likely behind him.
- Matt Asiata MIN: Questions were abound last year once Adrian Peterson got suspended for the entirerty of the year after week 1. As a fantasy player you’re first question was who would be the Vikings new top back? Matt Asiata and Jerrick McKinnon both had chances and at times both showed flashes, but Asiata became the go to guy. Asiata wasn’t even looked at as the guy in the passing game but still managed to haul in 44 of his 58 targets for 312 yards and a score. He was a great waiver wire find and with Peterson coming back, at full strength and angry, Asiata will be nothing but an after thought unless AP goes down to injury. Asiata may get scooped up as a handcuff at drafts but guarantee if Peterson is the anywhere near the Peterson we’re used to, Asiata will be one of the first players to be dropped when moves are made.
- Justin Forsett BAL: Much like Asiata, Forsett was a guy who was looked at as the back up or the 3rd back on the Ravens heading into camp. Then Ray Rice took a fateful trip in an Atlantic City elevator and the rest is history. Forsett still had competition in Bernard Pierce (who is now gone as well) but Justin stepped up to become, arguably, the best RB wavier wire pick up of 2014. Forsett played all 16 games and had at least 1 target in all 15 of the Ravens 16. Forsett averaged 15 points per game last year, and 4 of those weekly points came out of the passing game. Baltimore’s receiving corps is a question mark right now. They lost their top WR and TE from 2014 in Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels, and Steve Smith is another year older and we could see him slowing down last season as the year progressed. Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams coming in via the draft will help replace Smith and Daniels but Forsett is someone QB Joe Flacco already knows and trusts so don’t be shocked to see him look Justin’s way early and often when the season kicks off. Even if Forsett’s use in the passing game diminishes as the year goes on, it should’t shock anyone if he sets career highs in 2015 in said passing game (his current career highs: 44 catches, 350 yards, 1 touchdown).
- Arian Foster HOU: There are a lot of backs you can make an argument for as most exciting in space, but Foster may be my pick in that category. Foster has had 55+ targets in 4 of the last 5 seasons and had 40+ catches in 3 of those 4 years. He’s gone over 325 receiving yards in 3 of the last 5 years, and has multiple receiving TDs in 4 of the last 5 years. In fact among active RBs just 3 have caught multiple TDs in 4 of the last 5 years; Foster, LeSean McCoy, and Darren Sproles. However McCoy and Sproles both failed to find the endzone last year while Foster put up a career high in receiving touchdowns with 5. Lots of numbers to let sink in but man does this dude show up with consistency year in and year out. He’s got more talent around him offensively now with Cecil Shorts and Jaelen Strong at wide receiver and DeAndre Hopkins is emerging into a superstar at the position as well. The more defenses have to focus on the passing game the better Foster will be. He should be a round 1 pick in all formats but as far as PPR goes, getting an extra 8 points per game (in 2014) just via passes makes Foster arguable a top 5 pick.
- Giovani Bernard CIN: Bernard burst onto the scene in 2013 and everyone thought he’d build on a great rookie year in 2014. Then Jeremy Hill happened. Hill is going to be the RB1 is Cincinnati this year, but Gio is still going to see his fair share of looks. Bernard actually was on the field for more snaps than Hill (524 vs 515) despite playing in 3 fewer games. Even though his total targets decreased from 2013 to 2014 (71 to 59) he actually saw a better targets per game average in 2014 (4.5 per game vs 4.4 in 2013). Hill can catch out of the backfield (caught 27 of his 32 targets last year), but Bernard is still valuable in PPR leagues. He finished as the 16th best back in PPR leagues last year. He will still see in that 5 targets per game range this year so should he remain healthy he can be an every week starter in PPR leagues and a potential weekly flexer in standard leagues.
- Eddie Lacy GB: Lacy should see this list consistently should the Packers core offensive group remain whole. He’s never going to be a top guy hitting that 70+ target mark, but he should see in that 50 range each year. He’s got the games best QB and is on the NFL’s top offense. Lacy took a huge leap in the passing game his second year in the league in 2014. He pulled in just 7 more balls but his yardage went from 257 to 427 and went from 0 touchdowns to 4 scores. A 66% jump in yards and 400% increase in TDs. With all the mouths to feed in the passing game in Green Bay don’t expect Lacy to make huge strides in his receiving numbers this year, but anywhere close to a repeat performance in 2015 will make Lacy owners ecstatic.
- Jamaal Charles KC: Charles is arguably the top player off the board in all leagues this year, and his pass-catching ability is a huge reason why. Just two years ago Charles was targeted 104 times on his way to 693 receiving yards and 7TDs. Last year Charles saw a decrease in targets, down to 59, but still ripped off 5TDs with a modest 291 yards as well. The Chiefs upgraded the middle of their offensive line in the offseason as well as got themselves a legitimate receiving threat in Jeremy Maclin. All those factors should equate in Charles having an easier time in both the rushing and receiving game. If he’s 100% healthy all season Charles should once again see near his career average of 62 targets.
- Reggie Bush DET (SF): Bush has been a great play in PPR leagues since he came into the league and got 122 targets his rookie season. Although he’s slowed down recently, he still got 52 targets last season in only 11 games. But that was Detroit and Bush is now in San Francisco so how does that change things? Bush will still be relied on for passing downs but RB1 Carlos Hyde is going to be used like former bell cow Frank Gore which means less touches for Bush overall. Bush is also at that scary 30 year old mark. Last year Bush posted his 3rd fewest receptions, his 2nd fewest yards, and it was the first time in his 9 year career he failed to score a touchdown via the air. Bush is on the downswing of his career and may help in bye week replacement time, but he can’t be trusted as a week-to-week starter any more.
- Pierre Thomas NO (FA): Thomas had a great run in New Orleans and as of now is still unsigned in the NFL. Averaged 41 catches for 326 yards and just under 2 touchdowns per season in the passing game. Even if he gets signed don’t expect much out of the 30 year old back.
- Benny Cunningham STL: One of the four men on this list to catch damn near everything thrown his way in 2014. Cunningham reeled in 45 of his 49 targets, or an outstanding 91.8%! Even with the Rams drafting Todd Gurley with their first round selection in the NFL draft this year, Cunningham will still be counted on as the pass-catching back to start the season. Neither Tre Mason (16 receptions last year), or Gurley (averaging 22 catches per year in college) are a huge threat in the passing game so Cunningham should be safe in his job in that respect, but if Gurley and Mason can ground and pound the ball for Jeff Fisher, Cunningham will see fewer opportunities this year (led Rams backs in snaps in 2014 with 415) which could lead to him falling off this list in 2015. Another potential flex play for bye weeks but as of now not much more value than that.
- Lamar Miller MIA: Miller finished 9th among RBs in PPR scoring last year. A lot higher than most of you expected huh? Miller is the type of back that can do it all. Not only was he averaging 5.1 YPC but he caught 38 of his 48 targets good for 275 yards and a score. Miller is going to be ranked as a low RB1 in leagues and should go as such. The Dolphins o-line was atrocious last season with injuries and sliding players out of their comfort zone position. They should be at full strength in 2015 and the weapons added around Miller in Kenny Stills and rookie DeVante Parker to pair with Jarvis Landry at WR, not to mention getting Jordan Cameron at TE. The Fins did draft RB Jay Ajayi out of Boise St who could steal 3rd down looks away from Miller. However Ajayi’s health was a major concern entering the draft and he’s had 668 touches (397 in 2014) over his final 2 collegiate seasons.
- Joique Bell DET: Bell is still slated to be the starter for the Lions but rookie Ameer Abdullah could take that job away. Maybe not before the season kicks off but during the year I wouldn’t be shocked. Bell saw a tumble in the passing game, after back-to-back seasons with 69 targets, Bell saw just 47 last year. That’s a 46% decrease in targets in 2014, a year that saw Reggie Bush miss 5 games while Bell missed just 1. No Bush and Bell getting less opportunity out of the backfield makes me wonder … plus Bell has had a sub 4.0 YPC mark the last two seasons (3.9 for both). Numbers like that won’t get it done and with a hungry young rookie who’s shown he can play big in the college game (averaged 1705 yards and 14TDs his final 3 years at Nebraska), Bell could be the guy watching most of the game from the bench in 2015.
- Theo Riddick DET: Riddick will once again be the 3rd RB on the Lions depth chart entering this season, but instead of being behind Bell and an aging Reggie Bush, Riddick will be behind Bell and a rookie brought in to be a stronger version of Bush in Ameer Abdullah. Last year of Riddick’s 50 targets 37 of them, or 74%, as well as 84% of his yards (267 of 316) came in the games Bush missed. Abdullah will be the guy PPR drafters will want off the Lions this season so once again Riddick will be an afterthought barring injury to either Bell or the rookie out of Nebraska.
- Ahmad Bradshaw IND (FA): Coming off a broken leg in week 11 last season and a marijuana charge in Ohio earlier this offseason, things aren’t looking good for Bradshaw’s 2015 in the NFL. He’s 29, and has only played a full 16-game slate once in his 8 year career. Last season Bradshaw had over 30 catches for the 3rd tim in his career, over 300 yards just the 2nd time, and set a high in TDs with 6 (more than the previous 7 seasons combined). Like Thomas I don’t expect much from Bradshaw this year but he could be a better contributor than Thomas if he is signed at some point.
- Branden Oliver SD: The Chargers just drafted Melvin Gordon to be their feature back and PPR extraordinaire Danny Woodhead will be back off injury for 3rd down and passing situations for San Diego. Oliver showed us last year he could contribute once Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead went down in back-to-back weeks but once again Oliver will be 3rd on the Chargers depth chart and if Gordon and Woodhead both remain healthy I don’t expect many touches for Oliver in 2015.
- Roy Helu WSH (OAK): Helu is one of the quietest RBs in the passing game. Take away an injury-shortened 2012 and Helu has gotten 40+ targets every season in the NFL, including 60 his rookie season in 2011. He’s moved on from Washington and Alfred MOrris’ back up to Oakland and Latavius Murray’s back up. Murray still isn’t proven and even though he can catch out of the backfield (23 targets in limited appearances in 10 games during his rookie year last season), Helu will be used on long and obvious passing situations. Helu very well could make this list again in 2015, but outside of a potential bye-week flex-play fill-in for PPR scoring formats, Helu won’t have much value unless Murray goes down.
- Darren McFadden OAK (DAL): The biggest question mark on this list is McFadden. He caught 81% of his passes last year behind a mediocre Raiders offensive line. Now he is going to be the first in line to receive the bulk of touches in Dallas behind the leagues bet O-line. DeMarco Murray is leaving behind 61 targets, and TE Jason Witten (not counting an anomaly of a year in 2012) has been on the steady decline the past 4 years seeing his targets, receptions, and yards all drop each of those years. McFadden eclipsed the 300 receiving yard mark and multiple receiving touchdowns just once in 7 seasons. Being behind the NFL’s best line and on an offense that is a huge step up from any he’s ever played on, McFadden has a great shot at setting career numbers in both the passing and rushing game in 2015.
- Marshawn Lynch SEA: Yet another stud on this list who, isn’t necessarily known for his accolades in the passing game, but has shown consistency and slight improvement each each in Seattle. His 43 targets last year were 2nd most of his career and the most BeastMode has seen while with the Seahawks. He’s gotten 40+ targets in 3 of his 4 years in Seattle and Lynch has seen his yards and TDs increase virtually each year as well. Aside from a slight dip in yards from 2011-2012 (212 to 196) he’s betters his yards each year and his TDs ran a pattern that looked like this: 1-1-2-4. The last 2 seasons are the onyl years in his career Lynch has seen multiple scores through the air, and with Jimmy Graham now in the mix I won’t be shocked to see Lynch’s passing stats decrease in 2015. Even if he gets himself 25 catches for 225 yards and a score, based on rushing merit alone Lynch is still a top pick in 2015.
- Travaris Cadet NO (NE): Had a great catch percentage last year at 88% but moving into another crowded backfield in New England. Not only that but we all know how Bill Belichick does us fantasy players with his RBs. Not only that but he is buried on the Patriot’s depth chart as the 5th RB currently. He could become the new Vereen but he will need to step up and show a lot to even make the team, let alone be able to contribute weekly.
Five Up/Five Down
Every year we see new players emerge as passing threats as well as watch some people drop the ball for their opportunity to reappear on this list next season. So who could make the leap to potential PPR glory? And who will trip and fall flat in 2015? Here are a few names to keep in mind.
The Five Up
Ameer Abdullah DET
LeSean McCoy BUF
Jonathan Stewart CAR
Latavius Murray OAK
C.J. Spiller NO
The Five Down
Fred Jackson BUF
Joique Bell DET
Reggie Bush SF
Marshawn Lynch SEA
Branden Oliver SD