Target Analysis Breakdown: Running Backs
- Christian McCaffrey CAR: Once he was given the opportunity to break out in his rookie campaign last year, boy did he! Run CMC finished with 113 targets, not only the most among running backs in 2017, but only David Johnson (120 in 2016) and Matt Forte (130 in 2014) had more running back targets in a single season over the last 10 years. With Jonathan Stewart gone and a breather-as-needed back in C.J. Anderson coming to town for 2018, McCaffrey should have no problem improving on his 14PPG rookie average. The guy closed out last year scoring double-digit points in 10 of the last 12 games and had 6+ targets in 12 of 16 games throughout the season. There are plenty of guys who could take the target title at the close of 2018, but McCaffrey is going to be right near the top of this list again, if not back to retain his spot at the top of the mountain.
- Le’Veon Bell PIT: In the last three seasons he’s played at least 12 games Bell has had 94 or more targets each year, over 100 looks twice, and caught at least 75 balls each of those years as well, better than 80 twice. He’s the only back to finish in the top 10 at the position in 3 of the last 4 years and in those four seasons only 3 backs have gotten at least 275 targets: Bell, Matt Forte, and Theo Riddick. However, Bell is the only one with better than 300 looks (331), as well as the only back with 250+ catches (he snagged 267 targets), better than 2,000 yards through the air (2,281), and has the top catch percentage at just shy of 81%. The dude has been the best back in the game the last few years, he’s on one the leagues top offenses and he’s only 26 years old. He will be a top 3 back once again and one of the best in the pass game at the position like always.
- Alvin Kamara NO: Kamara burst onto the scene last year seemingly out of nowhere. The Saints had Mark Ingram and the other back they added in Adrian Peterson was the talk of the town. Fast forward a month into the season and All Day was marching out and rookie Kamara jumped in and never looked back. After the Saints week 5 bye, Kamara scored double-digit point in 11 of 12 games while catching more than 5 balls in 9 of them and racked up 50+ yards in the air 7 times. He was one of three backs in 2017 with better than 100 targets, and just the 3rd back since 1992 to have 100+ targets in his first year (Christian McCaffrey 2017 and Reggie Bush 2006). Kamara also joined Herschel Walker as the only rookie backs to have at least 75 catches, 1,500 yards from scrimmage, and 12 total touchdowns. He’s a special back who will be given more opportunities in 2018, especially with Ingram suspended the first four games of the year.
- Duke Johnson CLE: Johnson seems to go under the radar every year despite making this list every year since his rookie season in 2015. Last year saw him reach career-highs in targets (93), receptions (74), receiving yards (693), and receiving touchdowns (3). He averaged over 13PPG last year, placing him 12th among back who played at least 12 games. While he’s be on a consistent upward trajectory his three-year career, I can’t imagine that trend continuing in 2018. The Browns added in Carlos Hyde at the position, as well as drafting Nick Chubb. And while Jarvis Landry isn’t a direct threat at running back he’s a target machine, not to mention Josh Gordon ready for a full season of work. So while Johnson may not fall of this board completely this year I’d temper my expectations of him for 2018.
- Carlos Hyde CLE (SF): Speaking of the devil coming into Duke Johnson’s backfield, here he is sitting in the five hole. Carlos Hyde has averaged just shy of 15PPG each of the last two years and 2017 saw him hit highs in the passing game of 88 targets, 59 receptions, and 350 yards. He is set to be the first man in at back for a Browns offense that, entering 2018, looks like it could be one of the most fun to watch. While the Browns have already said things this offseason about riding the hot hand at back with three viable options, Hyde should continue to get priority unless he shows regression or rookie Nick Chubb blows everyone out of the water for a few weeks. Will Hyde’s numbers take a dip? Yes, but shouldn’t be nearly the same dip a guy like Duke Johnson will see.
- Todd Gurley LAR: In a short career to this point Gurley has had highs and lows. He killed it on the ground as a rookie in 2015, but had nothing going for him in the pass game. 2016 saw an uptick in arial production but a huge slide in rushing. 2017 saw everything come together as Gurley was hands down the best fantasy player of the year. In 2017, he had more targets (87) than his first two seasons combined while catching 64 passes, as many as his first tow seasons put together. His 788 yards through the air last year were almost double that of 2015 & 2016 put together and he scored 6 touchdowns in the pass game (had had 0 in both 2015 and 2016). The Rams offense is one of the best in the league and will only be better in 2018 with the addition of Brandin Cooks. Gurley’s your number one player off fantasy boards this year, hands down the guy you want on your team!
- Melvin Gordon LAC: Since coming into the league three years ago, we’ve witnessed Gordon making big strides season-to-season in the pass game. He’s went from 37 to 57 to 79 targets. He’s caught more passes each year with his high of 57 last year; also had highs in receiving yards (470) and touchdowns (4). The feisty Austin Ekeler is always a threat to get some touches through the air (35 looks last year), Gordon will continue to be the main focus of this offensive backfield in every facet of the game. Will he see his average of 21 extra targets per season? It should be close. While he may lose some looks to Ekeler, no tight end can fill the shoes of Antonio Gates AND Hunter Henry. I’d expect Gordon’s targets to creep near 90 worst case scenario.
- LeSean McCoy BUF: With the news of the possible involvement of Shady with his ex-girlfriend’s home invasion and assault I’m not sure what to make of him this year. When he plays he’s one of the best backs in the passing game but I have to believe some sort of suspension is coming. Reuben Foster was still suspended after his ex recanted he previous statement of abuse so Shady is in for a rough final few months of the offseason. Not only does he have legal troubles looming but the Bills offense as a whole continuously downgrades with quarterback Tyrod Taylor gone and back-up-at-best A.J. McCarron and rookie Josh Allen fighting for the starting job. McCoy also had a big target number last year with his 77 looks; his most since he got 90 in 2010 and the first time he got more than 60 since 2013. The Bills also brought in Chris Ivory who can catch out of the backfield (average of 23 receptions each of the last three seasons while averaging 32 looks per game). This whole McCoy/Bills situation has me extremely weary on drafting him. Oh, and he enter 2018 with the scariest number a back can be attached to: 30 years old.
- James White NE: White is still the best pass-catching back in the Patriots backfield but he’s still got plenty of competition for touches not to mention the inconsistency we get from Belichick and his usage of backs. In the first half of last year White had fewer than 5 looks just once in seven games while getting 8+ targets three times. In the final seven of the season he got more than 5 just twice and never got more than 6 in a given game. Rex Burkhead was given 26 targets in the final 7 games compared to White’s 25. The Pats also draft Sony Michel to anchor the backfield while still having Mike Gillislee on the roster and adding Jeremy Hill as well. Yes, Julian Edelman is suspended the first four but once he returns Brady will dink and dunk more passes his and Gronk’s way over his backs. White is a nice guy to stash if you can grab him later with his potential for big plays in the passing game but its a risk and one I’m not taking personally.
- Mark Ingram NO: Ingram was on fire last year! He and Kamara were arguably the best back tandem we have ever seen in the fantasy world. Ingram had a career-high in targets (71) not to mention receptions (58) and receiving yards (416). The bad news? Ingram not only has Alvin Kamara to compete with in the backfield but Mark is missing the first four games due to a P.E.D suspension. This pair will once agin be one of the best in the NFL but Ingram’s fantasy stats will take big hit missing time and losing touches (even without a suspension I believe Kamara would have been the featured back overall but definitely in passing situations) to Alvin. You will get great value on draft day for him so snatch him up as a RB2 or flex weekly and if Kamara goes down or misses time, Ingram could once again be a top-tier weekly performer at the position.
- Tarik Cohen CHI: I’m still not sure how to feel about Cohen. He burst onto the scene last year catching 24 passes on 29 targets in his first month in the NFL. Then the rest of the season came and he posted just 29 grabs on 42 looks the final 12 games of the year; surpassing 4 grabs just once the final 12 while doing it twice in the first four. The Bears say they want to get Cohen more involved in the offense this year but with Allen Robinson (target hog) and Taylor Gabriel joining the receiving corps, and the sure-handed Trey Burton coming in at tight end, it’s hard to believe Cohen can wrestle many more targets away from them as well as featured back Jordan Howard (who had 32 looks himself last year and 50 as a rookie in 2016).
- Theo Riddick DET: Riddick has been a PPR specialist the last three seasons averaging just shy of 6 targets per game in that span. He’s caught at least 50 balls each of the last three years (something only he and Duke Johnson accomplished in that period), and gotten at least 65 targets over that span as well (once again only he and Johnson have done so). So after finishing as a top 12 back in targets each of the last three years (only he and Johnson have done that as well) what does 2018 hold for Mr. Riddick? Although he’s finished in the top 12 each of the last three years in targets he’s slipped each season; from 2nd to 9th to 12th. He’s slipped without much competition in the Lions backfield but he’s got a guy in rookie Kerryon Johnson who will pose a real threat to his playing time. Kerryon averaged 19 grabs per year in college so expect him to see in the neighborhood of 35-40 targets this season plus Ameer Abdullah is still in town to get his share of looks (he’s had at least 35 in two of his three seasons). Riddick will be serviceable some weeks but overall I see him taking a dip in passing production so don’t overvalue him on draft day this year like some fools in your league will do.
- Jerick McKinnon SF (MIN): Every year I have a man crush on a player. A guy I’m drafting in every league no matter what I got to do to get my hands on him and for 2018 it’s McKinnon. He’s been a solid contributor over as a back, rushing for 530+ yards in three of four seasons while being 2nd or 3rd banana on the Vikings depth chart but he’s always been that go-to guy in the passing game. He’s caught no fewer than 21 passes any NFL season and has been on the road of upswing as the years continue. He’s gotten 40+ targets three of four years including 50+ each of the last two and a career-high 68 in 2017. But now McKinnon is the man in the 49ers backfield with no competition around him like he’s seen in Minnesota; where he never got better than 49% of the teams total back touches. Now in San Francisco, McKinnon will be a young (and personally I think better) version of Carlos Hyde. Hyde moved on to Cleveland but last year had a career-high 88 targets, and 28 of them (32%) came in the final 6 games when Jimmy Garoppolo took over at QB. Love, love, LOVE me some McKinnon this year!
- Kareem Hunt KC: Hunt’s rookie season went as well as any other rookie who made this list. He made himself known to the fantasy world in a prime time showdown with the Patriots to open the year and never looked back. He got himself 63 targets throughout the year, catching 53 of them for a 84% catch rate; best among all back to make this list. He got 3 or more looks in 13 of 16 games and he caught 3 or more passes in all 13 of those games. The change at quarterback for the Chiefs is going to dictate much of how much success Hunt has in the passing attack this year. Alex Smith was always poised and more of a safe QB with the decision he’s made while new starter Patrick Mahomes we haven’t seen in regular season action yet. He has an absolute cannon on him and seems to be making the right moves thus far but will he be checking down like Smith did? Will he look deep at Tyreek Hill more? Will Travis Kelce be the biggest benefactor from a (basically) rookie QB? The Chiefs offense has the potential to be one of the best in the league again but it all rides on Mahomes’ arm. Hunt is going to be used like Jamaal Charles for the second straight year so I think his targets hover right around that 60 range once again and it’s hard to catch better than 84% so I’d expect to see Hunt right in the middle of the pack on this list once again after 2018 concludes.
- Javorius Allen BAL: Buck Allen got himself 60 targets last year, his 2nd season in the last three with 60+ looks. The problem with his 60 targets is the fact that I don’t see that number coming his way again in 2017. First off two other guys in the Ravens backfield can also catch in Kenneth Dixon; who missed last year but got 40 as a rookie, and Alex Collins; who is going to be the lead back and a guy who can play all three downs. Not only is Collins an all-around back, he took over the backfield big time as 2017 progressed. Allen got 50 of his 60 targets in the first 9 weeks of the year in 2017, then Collins started coming into his own and Alex finished the season 31 of his 39 targets from weeks 11 on. Buck will still hold some value in the three-headed monster of a backfield, but if Collins stays healthy and Dixon gets back to his rookie form it’s going to be hard for Allen to find his true place in the Ravens backfield.
- Giovani Bernard CIN: Bernard continues to impress with his high level of consistency. Gio hit 50+ targets for the 5th straight year in 2017, making him the only back to get at least 50 targets each of the last five years. He’s hit at least 60 looks in three of those seasons and he’s failed to caught at least 40 balls just once (when he snared 39 in 2016). He’s never given you less than 335 yards through the air and has found the end zone at least once in four of those five years. With Jeremy Hill out we should see much more of Joe Mixon as he enters his sophomore campaign, but he garnered just 34 looks last year in 14 games so Bernard’s job as the pass-catcher out of the backfield so remain the same. Another later round steal in PPR leagues.
- Andre Ellington ARZ: Ellington was released by the Cardinals this offseason and still hasn’t found a new home. His age of 29 years is not a good spot for a running back so only time (and training camp injuries) will tell is Ellington gets a shot somewhere in 2018. Even if he does, how much is left in the tank? He’s averaged less than 8PPG the last three season. While he caught 39 balls last year, his most since 2014, he only had 59 touches in a backfield that had a hodge podge of characters without David Johnson. Even if he signs on at some points I’m not trusting a roster spot to Ellington this season.
- Chris Thompson WAS: Thompson’s consistency, as well as slight improvement, each year in the passing game is what makes him so dangerous on the field and so attractive as a later round pick in fantasy drafts. He’s gotten 47+ looks each of the last three seasons, and would have had a career-high in targets had he not missed 6 games (he was on pace for 80 looks). He’s kicked up his reception yardage and touchdowns through the air each of the last three seasons, culminating with his 510 and 4 last year. Yes, the Redskins spent a high pick on rookie back Derrius Guice but he’s not a big pass-catching threat to Thompson (Guice caught an average of 10 balls per season in college). Thompson will continue to be the guy to be targeted out of the backfield and new QB Alex Smith has targeted his backs an average of 90 times over the last four seasons so Thompson should have no issues moving up on this list come the close of 2018.
- Shane Vereen NO (NYG): Vereen’s seen steady decline in production the last few seasons with his 53 looks in 2017 being his fewest in a non-injury season since 2012. He was just signed by the Saints as a stop-gap with Mark Ingram being suspended the first four games of the year. Don’t draft him, not worth a pick for a guy who may see a handful of touches the first month then be buried on the depth chart if not released come the end of September.
- Leonard Fournette JAX: As a college back Fournette wasn’t really one to be used much in the passing game so I wasn’t sure how he’d handle those duties at the next level, but myself and Fournette owners were pleasantly surprised by his 36 grabs on 48 attempts (1 of 13 backs on the list to catch at least 75% of his targets); and that includes him missing 3 contests. Fournette got himself 3+ targets in 11 of his 13 games and had multiple catches in all but one game last year. While he averaged just shy of 18PPG in 2017, 5PPG of that toal came in the passing game and he went for 5+ points through the air on 7 different occasions (better than half the games he played). Receiving is not his forte and not why he was drafted by Jacksonville last year, but if he can continue to improve himself in the passing attack he could become a real, real special player (on par with the Bell’s, DJ’s, and Zeke’s) in the fantasy world in 2018.
- Wayne Gallman NYG: Gallman is the 6th and final rookie to make the list this year, and it was impressive he made it considering he didn’t see more than 5 looks until week 14 and was held to 3 or fewer targets in 7 of his first 9 appearances. Gallman could still get some touches this year but the addition of Saquon Barkley in the draft will hurt Gallman as does the signing of Jonathan Stewart this offseason. Don’t put much stock in Gallman making a significant impact for your fantasy squad in 2018.
- Kenyan Drake MIA: It may look like Drake just squeaked onto the list this year, but let’s not forget he was sitting behind Jay Ajayi the first 7 weeks of 2017. Once Ajayi was traded to the Eagles at the end of October, that’s when Drake took over the Dolphins backfield and really began to explode. He had a total of 6 targets before Ajayi’s departure and after Jay flew North, Drake had at least 2 targets every games in the final 9 of the year including three games of 6 or more looks. He closed out 2017 catching 3 or more passes in five of his final six games and generated an average of 14PPG in the final eight weeks; double-digits in six of those games and 20+ points in weeks 13, 14, and 15. With a old Frank Gore, a 4th round rookie, and a journeyman back all behind Drake this year on the chart it’s apparent Kenyan will be the man in Miami at least for this year if not the foreseeable future. If you go wide receiver heavy to start your draft then Drake could be a steal as your feature back and he should be able to produce big numbers in the run and pass games in 2018.
- DeMarco Murray FA (TEN): Murray announced his retirement from the NFL this offseason.
- Devonta Freeman ATL: Freeman is usually much higher on this list and he’s posted 97 and 65 targets in 2015 & 2016 before his 47 last season. Now, he did miss two games last year that if he played he would have been right in that 60 target area once again. We all know Tevin Coleman will take touches and targets away from Freeman (as Coleman averaged 40 looks each of the last two seasons) but as long as Freeman stays healthy he’s one of the best in the business as an overall back. He’s averaged 54 grabs on 69 targets for 452 yards and a pair of scores the last three seasons, so as a mid-to-late 2nd round draft pick this year, Freeman could help take your squad over the top in 2018. Don’t sleep on him.
- Charles Sims TB: Sims has been up and down his 4 years in the league. From 27 targets to 70 to 32 to 47. Doug Martin moved out west and joined the Raiders but there are still three other backs on the Buccaneers depth chart ahead of Sims (rookie Ronald Jones, Peyton Barber, and Jacquizz Rodgers) so barring injury Sims won’t be seeing a ton of work and I think he’s yoyo trend of up and down continues this year and that means a down season in 2018 for Sims.
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 2018? Here are a few names to keep in mind.
The Five Up
Dion Lewis TEN
Saquon Barkley NYG
Isaiah Crowell NYJ
Dalvin Cook MIN
Alex Collins BAL
The Five Down
Andre Ellington ARZ
Buck Allen BAL
Charles Sims TB
Wayne Gallman NYG
LeSean McCoy BUF