- Christian McCaffrey CAR: Call him “Carolina Drake” cause CMC just went back-to-back in this category! McCaffrey became just the 8th running back in NFL history to have consecutive seasons with 100+ targets; spoiler alert, another member of this elite club is on this list as well. If McCaffrey can manage 100 or more looks again in 2019, and barring injury that shouldn’t be much of a challenge for him, he would be just the second back to every hit that number in three or more straight years; Marshall Faulk did it for five straight from 98-02. CMC had the 5th most targets (124) in a season by a running back, while his 107 receptions and catch rate of 86.3% are both tops in NFL history. In my mind there are two guys who should go with the top overall selection in fantasy drafts this year and McCaffrey is one of them; number two on that list will be on this list very, very shortly.
- James White NE: For as much of a beast as White has been in the PPR fantasy format the last three seasons, this was actually the first year of his career he’s hit the 100 target mark. He snagged 87 balls that were thrown his way; 3rd most among backs and his 5.4 receptions per game placed him just behind Christian McCaffrey (6.7) and Saquon Barkley (5.7) in that category. While White set career marks in targets (123), receptions (87), receiving yards (751), and receiving touchdowns (7), it’s not unrealistic to think he could break those records just a year later in 2019. Tom Brady will be without Rob Gronkowski as his safety blanket, and even though the Patriots added in Austin Seferian-Jenkins to replace Gronk at tight end, other tight ends have entered the line up with nowhere near the success of Gronk. Brady will always look for guys he trusts first and right now Julian Edelman and Mr. White are those guys heading into 2019.
- Saquon Barkley NYG: You already know Christian McCaffrey became the 8th back in NFL history to have back-to-back seasons of 100+ targets, well Barkley will become number 9 after this season comes to a close. Saquon was an absolute monster in his rookie campaign, becoming just the 4th rookie rusher to accumulate better than 100 targets, and his 121 looks tied him with Reggie Bush’s record from 2006. Barkley had the most grabs as a rookie running back with 91, and his catch rate of 75.2% was second to Alvin Kamara’s 81% just the season before. The Giants got rid of Odell Beckham Jr., and while Golden Tate has come in as the team’s top wide out, he’s no OBJ, plus Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard have health issues so Saquon should once again be near the top, if not sitting at the one spot, of this list after the 2019 season. If you’re picking 4th in your draft and Barkley slips to you for some stupid reason, praise the fantasy gods because they will be smiling on you from ear to ear!
- Alvin Kamara NO: Remember when I said there was another guy on this list that had back-to-back 100+ targets to go along with CMC? Remember when I said there was another guy on this list that HAS to be a top two pick with CMC? Well here is the man to fit both those molds, Alvin Kamara. Find me one person who has had Kamara on their squad over the last two seasons and complained about it and I will personally drive to their house and slap them upside the head. In his first two NFL seasons, Kamara has caught 162 of his 205 targets for an insane 79% rate. He is on one of the NFL’s best offenses, with one of the NFL’s all-time best quarterbacks, and one of the greatest coaches in the game today who always utilizes his weapons. Kamara has been a beast since day one and he should only be better in 2019 with Mark Ingram moving on to Baltimore and basically leaving the bulk of work to Kamara; yes the Saints signed Latavius Murray as a short-yardage and change-of-pace guy, but this is Kamara’s backfield now! Look at what he did last year when Ingram missed the first four games of the year due to suspension; all four games over 15 points, three of them with 34+, and two with over 40! He’s played 29 games since week 3 of his rookie season in 2017 and has been held under 15 points just 5 times and has averaged over 22PPG in that span. Don’t skip over Kamara, I have a sneaky feeling he will be the fantasy MVP for 2019.
- Ezekiel Elliott DAL: We all know about Zeke’s ability to rush the ball, but before the 2018 season he came out and said his goal was to become better in the passing game and boy did he! Last year Elliott caught 77 balls, more than his first two seasons combined (58), while his 95 targets were also a career-high, and more than his first two seasons combined (78). Zeke racked up 567 yards through the air as well as 3 receiving scores; both career numbers as well. He kept his promise to be more involved in the passing game and his fantasy owners were more than happy with his almost 22PPG. While Jason Witten will be back this year, and he may steal a few targets, it’s hard to believe he will contribute like he once did and it’s entirely possible that Zeke kicks up his receptions another notch and becomes the newer member of the running back 100+ target club in 2019.
- Tarik Cohen CHI: Cohen really got more involved overall in his sophomore season last year. His 71 catches in 2018 were the same as his total targets (71) in 2017. He more than doubled his yardage from 353 to 750 and his touchdowns skyrocketed from 1 to 5. Cohen posted double-digit points in 10 of 16 games last year in PPR leagues and was able to score 15+ points seven times. The Bears shipped Jordan Howard to Philadelphia so Mike Davis will get the short yardage touches, but I can see Cohen getting more involved in the offense with the trust he gained from Mitch Trubisky last season as Cohen’s 71 grabs topped the team, his 750 yards were 4 short of Allen Robinson’s and Cohen’s 5 receiving scores were just 2 behind Anthony Miller’s for best on the team in those categories. Cohen (89) also had just 4 fewer targets than Taylor Gabriel (93) and 5 fewer than Robinson (94) for the Bears’ lead in 2018. Rookie rusher David Montgomery has some receiving skills he snagged 71 balls in 3 seasons at Iowa State, but still Cohen is the man in this backfield to own, especially in PPR leagues.
- Jalen Richard OAK: Richard had a career year in the passing game in 2018 with high’s in targets (81), receptions (68), and yards (607). His only downfall was the fact he didn’t find the end zone once in 2018 through the air, but he scored at least one receiving TD in his first two NFL seasons, so I can’t imagine he is held out of the end zone again in 2019. Marshawn Lynch is gone so ‘Bama rookie Josh Jacobs will fill that role, but his catching skills aren’t near tip-top as he averaged just over 1 grab per game in college (48 catches in 40 games). Richard will still be the man in the passing game out of the backfield, and could see more time than usual if Jacobs can’t pick up pass blocking fast enough to keep Derek Carr upright. Some PPR players are a steal in your draft and Richard could be one of those guys this year as the flashy rookie will be the Raiders running back everyone will clamor after. Let Jacobs go too early and let Richard use his PPR skills to help you reach a fantasy title!
- Nyheim Hines IND: Hines established himself as the pass-catching back in Indy as a rookie last season. His 81 targets were more than three times that of lead back Marlon Mack (26), so there is no reason Hines shouldn’t have another big role in 2019. Hines saw four or more targets 10 times last season, including four games of 9+ looks. His 425 receiving yards ranked 15th among running backs as he averaged over 10PPG in 2018. Much like the aforementioned Richard, most guys will spend a high pick on Mack and let Hines slip by the wayside but don’t let Nyheim slide past you in PPR leagues.
- Todd Gurley LAR: There are plenty of questions about Gurley’s health as he missed two games last year and looked barely like a shell of himself in the postseason, but there is no way you can let him get past you in the top half of round one of your draft. He’s on of few workhorse back’s that never comes off the field. He’s got himself over 80 targets each of the last two seasons, hauled in 59+ of those targets both years, racked up 580+ yards and 4+ touchdowns as well in 2017 and 2018. If I really have to sell you on Todd Gurley then fantasy football isn’t for you.
- T.J. Yeldon BUF (JAX): Yeldon left Leonard Fournette’s shadow in Jacksonville and headed way North to join the Buffalo Bills this offseason. He should see plenty of opportunities behind an aging and less-useful LeSean McCoy, who will be 31 entering this year and had his worst fantasy output (less than 10PPG) in 2018 since his rookie season in 2009. Yeldon has had more targets than Shady since T.J. entered the league in 2015 (233 to 230) while Yeldon was rarely a feature back. He set career-highs in targets (78), receiving yards (487), and receiving touchdowns (4) last year while he caught 50+ passes for the 2nd time in the last three years. Yeldon hit double-digit fantasy points in 9 of 14 games last year and failed to hit 9 points just four times. While the Jaguars have never been called an elite offense, the Bills are thought of even less than Jacksonville so Yeldon will be a late round gem for you to take a chance on and leave on the bench and could see significant time if Shady goes down at any point.
- David Johnson ARZ: David Johnson returned from injury in 2018 to have a better season than people give him credit for. It wasn’t a 400 point performance like he had in 2016, but he averaged 15PPG with 1,387 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns. When it comes to the receiving game he was once again one of the best racking up 76 targets and reeling in 50 of them. In the three seasons he’s played he has had no fewer than 57 looks, caught at least 36 balls for no fewer than 446 yards adding in 3 or more TDs each time. DJ dealt with a rookie QB in Josh Rosen last year and will once again have a newbie under center in Kyler Murray to go along with new coach Kliff Kingsbury, but I believe Johnson will be even better in the passing game with his new coach and QB. This offense will be all about getting the ball out quick, moving fast, and Johnson will be the biggest benefactor with a rookie quarterback who will need someone to rely on when he’s in trouble.
- Theo Riddick DET: I’m not sure how to feel about Theo Riddick at this point, but I am certainly souring on him. Three years ago he was one of those draft steals you could rely on almost every week in PPR formats to tear it up, but he’s been sliding as the years have gone on. He’s missed time in four of six NFL seasons, and he’s finished worse and worse each year at his positions; RB18 in 2015, RB25 in 2016, RB26 in 2017, and RB42 last season when he played 14 games (4 more than when he finished as RB25 in 2016). He averaged just over 8PPG last year; worst since 2014. He’s failed to hit 400 yards through the air in three of the last five seasons, and last year was the first time he didn’t find the end zone in the passing game since his rookie season in 2013 and the first time he failed to find pay dirt at all in his NFL career. He still has had 65+ targets each of the last four years, which is nice, but he hasn’t been doing much with those opportunities. Now the Lions have added C.J. Anderson to their backfield as well as a top rookie tight end in T.J. Hockenson who will both steal looks, not to mention sophomore Kerryon Johnson who was more involved in the passing game as the year went on (21 targets in his final four games after having 18 targets in his first six). For me, Riddick is trending the wrong way even in PPR formats.
- Kenyan Drake MIA: After bursting onto the fantasy scene in the second half of 2017, Drake followed that up with an even better 2018 as the man in the Dolphins backfield. He averaged just shy of 13PPG and when it comes to the passing aspect of his game he was targeted 73 times; better than 4.5 looks per contest. Miami is under a new regime with a new quarterback in Josh Rosen, or Ryan Fitzpatrick depending on who wins the starter battle in camp. There is no reason Drake shouldn’t dominate the touches in the backfield in 2019 with Frank Gore gone to Buffalo and back up Kalen Ballage getting just 45 touches in 10 games last year. Drake will be the man in Miami and worthy of taking up a RB2 spot if you load up on wide outs or an elite tight end to start your draft.
- James Conner PIT: With Le’Veon Bell missing all of last year James Conner stepped into the lead back role in Pittsburgh in a major way, ending the year as RB9 and arguably the steal of your 2018 draft. Conner was just like Bell in the fact he can do it all, finishing the year with the 11th most receptions by a back (55), and was on pace for 68 before he missed three of the final four games of the year. He scored double-digit points in all but one of the 13 games he played in, going for better than 22 in six of those contests. Bell has officially Jetted to New York (see what I did there) so the backfield is officially all Conner’s in 2019. Many people will fear the new look Steelers without Bell and Brown, but I think they will be out to prove they can win with the studs they got and Conner is the top of the stud list in Pittsburgh for 2019 and beyond!
- Dion Lewis TEN: Dion Lewis was the biggest disappointment in fantasy football last year. I, along with many, many others, thought he would be a steal late with everyone else clamoring over Derrick Henry and Lewis really let us all down. He averaged 10PPG, second worst since 2015, and while he did have career-highs in targets (67), receptions (59), and receiving yards (400) but having 10 games in single-digit points and just four games with 15 or more is disappointing for someone with so much talent in the passing game. Derrick Henry KILLED it in the fantasy playoffs and while I don’t trust either Titans running back this year I’d take my chance on Henry. As far as Lewis there is an old saying that goes, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice …” well, you know the rest.
- Melvin Gordon LAC: How badass is Melvin Gordon? He was just one of two running backs that played 12 or fewer games and still finished inside the top 20 at the position, and the only one to finish inside the top 10 as Gordon ended the year at RB8 (Kareem Hunt played 11 games and finished RB11). He was one of ten backs on this list to end the year with at least 4 catches per game and a catch rate of 75% or better. If he played a full 16 game slate, Gordon would have had career-highs in targets and receptions, but despite missing four games he still had a career-year in receiving yards (490) and receiving touchdowns (4) while posting a career-best in points and just shy of 23 per game. He’s a monster on the ground, he’s a monster through the air, he’s a guy you want to draft if you have a mid-first-round pick and if he slips past that to you at the end of the first scoop him up without hesitation!
- Duke Johnson CLE: Duke Johnson might be the most curious name on this list heading into 2019. He’s always been the Browns’ pass-catching specialist but I think that changes this year. Last year we saw Nick Chubb emerge and take over that backfield as a rookie and Cleveland also added in Kareem Hunt, who will miss the first 8 games but once he returns can catch out of the backfield with the best of them. Johnson may get some opportunities in the first half of the season but if Hunt comes in and plays like he has in Kansas City, Johnson will be the one left out in the cold come year’s end. Johnson had his worst year last season with career-lows in targets (62), receptions (47), receiving yards (429), and fantasy points (8PPG). Mr. Johnson, I wouldn’t touch you with a … thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!
- Joe Mixon CIN: Mixon took over the Bengals backfield as a sophomore last season and he came through in a big way, showing he can do it all. He finished the year as RB10 averaging over 17PPG with over 32% of his total points coming in the passing game. He snagged better than 78% of the passes thrown his way and in his first two seasons he’s reeled in 82% of his targets; since 1992 there have been 45 running backs with at least 89 targets and 73 receptions in their first two seasons and Mixon’s 82% catch rate rank him 3rd on that list (behind Joseph Addai and Steve Slaton). As long as he stays healthy, Mixon is a workhorse who will be given every opportunity to rack up points each and every week.
- Chris Thompson WAS: Thompson is a guy who is high risk, high reward. He’s missed 12 games the last two years but in the 20 games he’s played he is averaging 13 points per contest. He’s caught 80 balls on 109 targets finding the end zone 5 times and racking up 778 yards in that span. He was 8th among running backs last season with over 4 catches per game while hauling in just under 75% of his targets. Thompson will be splitting time with Adrian Peterson and Darrius Guice, neither of which are the best of pass catchers, which means Thompson should be able to carve out that role once again. We know he’s an injury risk so don’t spend too high of a pick but if he hits where you grab him in your draft you will be very happy with a solid flex and potentially a RB2.
- Austin Ekeler LAC: Ekeler has been quickly making a name for himself as a running back with great hands. He followed up his rookie receiving season of 27 grabs on 35 targets for 279 yards and 3 scores with 39 catches on 53 targets for 404 yards and another 3 scores. He got more time in the running game when Melvin Gordon missed time in 2018 and is rounding out as an all-around back, but his receding skills will be utilized weekly much like his predecessors in the powder blue like Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead. Plenty of RB2’s are just handcuffs but Ekeler is one of those guys that you can snatch up in PPR leagues and use on an almost weekly basis, and if Gordon misses time again you can start Ekeler with confidence on one of the best rosters in the NFL.
- Devontae Booker DEN: Booker was beat out by rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay (more on him later) last season. While Devontae was still used in the passing game, it didn’t do much to boost his value. He had a career-high in targets (51) and receptions (38) while his 275 receiving yards tied a career mark for him and he failed to find the end zone at all through the air. While he had highs in the passing game he had a career-low in fantasy points averaging just over 5 per game in 2018. With Lindsay and Freeman established at the one and two in the Mile High City, not much value for Booker unless someone ahead of him goes down.
- Dalvin Cook MIN: If Cook can stay healthy he will be an absolute force to be reckoned with. While he’s only played 15 games in two seasons he’s averaged 15PPG in the games he’s appeared in. He’s had 4+ targets in 8 of the 15 games he’s played; 6 games of four or more looks in 11 games last year. He caught at least 3 passes in 9 of 11 games last season and was good for just shy of 8YPC. With the Vikings letting Latavius Murray go South to the Saints, it’s truly Cooks’ backfield to lose and if he can stay healthy with the production we’ve seen from him I would bet dollars to donuts that he ends the year as a top 10 back.
- Giovani Bernard CIN: Bernard is entering his 7th NFL season and coming off his worst outing failing to reach 100 total points in 2018, and even though he played just 12 games he has missed time before and never had an issue hitting triple-digit point for his other injury-reduced years; 122 points in 10 games in 2016 and 187 points in 13 games in 2014. Not only did Gio have career-lows in targets (48 – first season under 50), catches (35), receiving yards (218), and touchdowns (0). With Joe Mixon as a jack-of-all-trades, Bernard’s time will continue to be reduced and at this point doesn’t hold much more value than Mixon’s handcuff.
- Phillip Lindsay DEN: Lindsay came into the league last year as an undrafted rookie and set the Broncos backfield on fire. While posting double-digit points in 12 of 15 games, Lindsay caught just shy of 75% of passes thrown his way. He was injured week 16 against the Raiders and required offseason wrist surgery which he should be fully recovered from come training camp. A wrist injury could be the kiss of death for a running back, so I’m approaching Lindsay with caution this season, but if he heals fully he will once again be a guy that will post points week in and week out for your team. If he works on the passing game during the offseason he could really establish himself as a bell cow and one of few backs in the league that can do it all at an elite level.
- LeSean McCoy BUF: Personally I think Shady is done. He was such an elite fantasy force for a long period of time but you could see last year how far he slipped from 2017, and he’s been slipping the last few years. He had 60+ targets in four of his first five NFL seasons, but has had just one such year in his last five. He has caught 50+ balls twice in the last five seasons and last year was the first time he failed to average double-digit points since he was a rookie in 2009. He will be 31 entering the 2019 season and on an offense that is nowhere near one of the best. I’m passing on Shady in every draft and would much rather take a risk late on his new teammate T.J. Yeldon.
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 2019? Here are a few names to keep in mind.
The Five Up
Devonta Freeman ATL
Le’Veon Bell NYJ
Leonard Fournette JAX
Tevin Coleman SF
Damien Williams KC
The Five Down
Devontae Booker DEN
Dion Lewis TEN
LeSean McCoy BUF
Duke Johnson CLE
Giovani Bernard CIN