While many of our RBBC teams tend to raise more questions than have answers, we look at the 2019 Tennessee Titans as one of the easier two headed backfields to predict. The reason? The backfield in Tennessee has two very clearly defined roles between the elite pass catcher Dion Lewis and the downhill bruiser Derrick Henry.
There weren’t many better redemption stories than the one authored by former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. After a disappointing first half of the season, he broke out in a massive way in week 14, posting excellent numbers to finish the season and propelling many fantasy teams to championships. The evidence was there, though, as early as week 9. Before the bye week, Henry was averaging a paltry 39 yards per contest, good for 3.25 YPC, and a single TD, but following the bye, his efficiency immediately improved with a four game stretch that saw him nearly double his season total and increase his efficiency to 4.5 yards per carry.
Then week 14 happened. The 238 yard, 4 TD performance against a reeling Jacksonville defense kicked off a four week stretch where he had no fewer than 84 yards on the ground and nearly a TD each week. It’s important to take the monster performance with a grain of salt, but the peripheral numbers showed he seemed to figure out a few things.
Henry’s counterpart in the Titans offense, Lewis was actually given the Lions share of touches early on, recording 12.2 rushing attempts per game on top of 41 targets through week 10. Unfortunately for Lewis, he struggled in the run game, averaging less than 3.5 yards per carry, and ceding early down touches to Henry at a time that he was heating up. He maintained a stranglehold on the passing downs, but that was much as we expected. Lewis’ bottom line of 155 touches and 517 yards was far from dominant, and is probably where we’d caution that regression is coming. Don’t expect that kind of share of the attempts in 2019.
But can we expect a similar output in the passing game? I think health is his only enemy in terms of target share. As one of the better passing game targets on the roster (only slightly behind perennial disappointment Corey Davis and the oft injured Delanie Walker) we can expect a similar number of targets (65-80) and his elite catch percentage means he’ll be a PPR gem in the 13th round (his current mock draft ADP).
Our biggest concern for this backfield is where Henry ultimately ends up being drafted. Currently going in the 4th round, he offers very little PPR upside, so he’s the kind of boom-or-bust back who’s TD dependency makes him a scary lead back in fantasy. While we do expect him to handle 250-300 touches, he may post a few duds as players of his ilk tend to do. In the 13th round, Dion Lewis is the real target in this offense. With a history of performances that make me think 2018 was a bit of an outlier, he’s still a threat to steal touches if Henry reverts to the sub 4YPC runner he’d been over the bulk of his career. If his ADP advances too far, then his value takes a hit, but both of these backs should prove to be fantasy producers in 2019.
- Derrick Henry | 265 Ru. Attempts, 1190 Ru. Yards, 10 TDs, 15 Rec. and 100 Receiving Yards.
- Dion Lewis | 120 Ru. Attempts, 45 Ru. Yards, 1 TD, 60 Rec, 360 Rec. Yards, 3 Rec. TDs
We’re going to try something a little new over here at the Dr’s Office, with a once-a-week mock draft and review. Each week we’ll draft from a different position in the draft and take a look at each major draft strategy to give you an idea of what to expect on draft day.
Last season, we fully embraced the idea that ZeroRB could be a viable draft strategy for the current fantasy landscape, especially given how many leagues have converted to half point and full point PPR formats.
We still think a full ZeroRB strategy is a risky proposition, especially in standard leagues, so really do your research before committing to it. We find that the current trend of workhorse backs returning to the early first round, ZeroRB really shines with a pick later in the draft. We randomized our draft position and received the 6th overall pick out of 10. Here’s how things went.
1.06 – Davante Adams, WR – GB
I was hoping DeAndre Hopkins would fall to me at six, but I’m not lamenting starting my draft with one of the most consistent receivers over the last few years. With Antonio Brown off to Oakland, Adams offers both the highest floor and highest ceiling of any receiver not named Hopkins. He’s a safe bet for 150 targets, 100 or so receptions, and his usual 10+ TD receptions.
2.05 – Mike Evans, WR – TB
Antonio Brown was available here, but I’m not convinced he’ll have the same consistency with Carr and Gruden leading the offense in Oakland. Instead, I went with the safer pick of Mike Evans. I’m actually surprised that Evans isn’t getting enough credit for being one of the top options at the position. His 2018 was his best year yet despite the flux at the QB position. With Winston under center from day 1 and less double teams thanks to emerging talent elsewhere on the offense, his floor is far safer than the other options surrounding him, which is one of my concerns when drafting for a ZeroRB roster. I don’t like to have too many down weeks from my studs, and the Adams/Evans combo is a lethal one.
3.06 – Adam Thielen, WR – MIN
I could take George Kittle here and pair my top 3 WR with a top 3 TE, but I’m going to stick to my guns and take the guy who fits my ZeroRB draft strategy the best. While boom or bust candidates like A.J. Green, Keenan Allen, and Amari Cooper may sit on most expert rankings ahead of Thielen, it’s the Minnesota product that really offers through the roof value in the third round. His first half last year was one of the best stretches for any receiver in the league, and even when things started to go sideways on the Vikings, Thielen managed to stay productive. As a WR3, I’m stocked to have him.
4.05 – Andrew Luck, QB – IND
It’s around this time that I begin plotting out my RB selections, and knowing that I have a three receiver group that should be well ahead of the competition, I’m willing to wait on TE and grab a player who could very well finish as the top QB in the league this year. Mahomes is the clear number one at this point, but unlike the situation in KC, Indianapolis has given a now-healthy Luck even more weapons to work with. With my plan to select a RB in round 6, I’d rather get a sure thing QB here than select another wide out and hope a top 5 QB I liked was available in round 5.
5.06 – Tyler Boyd, WR – CIN
This one is a bit off the board, but with the ZeroRB strategy, you need to make sure you’re taking the guys you want, and not just the guys at the top of the current ADP or rankings. With my commitment to the strategy, I’ll be selecting a handful of backs over the next few rounds, and I really like Boyd to repeat last years breakout season. With A.J. Green on the field, he was electric, and with this particular mock taking place in a PPR universe, his value is even greater considering the volume I expect him to see. As a fourth WR, you can’t do much better than a player who’s floor is padded thanks to his target share.
6.05 – Derrick Henry, RB – TEN
There were a few names I was hoping would drop to me, namely Kerryon Johnson, but alas he and Sony Michel went in the few picks leading up to mine in the sixth round. Still, I’m okay with beginning my RB hunt with a guy who, at one point, was as buzzy a prospect as we’d seen in some time. The former Heisman trophy winner was electric down the stretch, and it seemed at the time that the offense was being handed over to him in a more workhorse role. His skill set certainly supports the idea that in 2019 he’s going to be more of a bell cow, and I’m intrigued by his upside. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of shares of Henry in the coming season.
7.06 – Tarik Cohen, RB – CHI
Knowing the league format is always important, and grabbing a guy like Cohen as your RB2 is a dangerous proposition unless you’re in a full point PPR league. Given that Jordan Howard was sent packing and Devin Singletary doesn’t really profile as a pass catching back, the third downs safely belong to Cohen. Only Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel had a larger share of targets last season, and by a short margin at that. Cohen is a lock for 90 or so targets, and the prospect of additional work on the ground makes him an interesting ZeroRB target who could really return on that investment.
8.05 – James White, RB – NE
This is the point in the draft where many running back decisions come down to opportunity vs. upside. Guys like Chris Carson and Lamar Miller were solid, middle of the road backs last season, but both have young talent pushing them for touches. Likewise, guys like Derrius Guice and Jerick McKinnon saw promising seasons go down in the pre-season and are no guarantee to win back the starting gig with new backs in both systems. Getting White here was a bit of a cop out, as I’m not committing to any of those scenarios. Much like Cohen, White is entrenched as the pass catching back in New England, and with 90-100 target potential, especially in the face of Rob Gronkowski’s departure, and he’s a viable third option and flex starter during the season.
9.06 – David Njoku, TE – CLE
While Hunter Henry was still on the board, I’m not convinced that he’ll ever be more than a mid-tier fantasy producer. Instead, I went with the freak athlete on an ascending team in Cleveland’s Njoku. I don’t believe Odell Beckham’s arrival spells disaster for Njoku’s outlook either, as his roll as one of Baker Mayfields middle of the field safety blanket remains in tact. In fact, I expect him to see an even larger share of red zone targets this year than last year, as his 10 targets were half of Landry’s but converted to the most Red Zone TDs on the team.
10.05 – Jerick McKinnon, RB – SF
It was a terrible injury that felled McKinnon last pre-season, but he’s expected to be back healthy, and has already been suggested by coach Kyle Shanahan as the teams RB1 out of the gates. That could certainly change as the season approaches, but given the contract he signed, it’s likely that the team wants to see what McKinnon can do for them before moving on to Brieda or Coleman as the lead back. However, I don’t expect him to handle a ton of passing downs with, so his ceiling is relatively low for a guy who should be a starter on his team. Any earlier in the draft, and I’d be ignoring him as an option, but in the tenth I’ll take the chance, and keep the leash short.
11.06 – Rashaad Penny, RB – SEA
I was critical of Penny last year, but it wasn’t because he’s lacking talent. What Penny had to overcome was a lack of conditioning and a stranglehold on the starting gig by the milquetoast Chris Carson. Down the stretch, however, we saw how his talent may trump Carson’s incumbency, as he showed flashes of brilliance late in the year. This is purely an upside pick, and with as many pass catching backs, I felt comfortable taking Penny here over my other target of Nyheim Hines.
12.05 – Michael Gallup, WR – DAL
Given his pedigree, it makes sense that Amari Cooper is the big name being targeted in that Dallas passing game, but I’d caution that overlooking Gallup could be a mistake. After all, Cooper did most of his damage over a three week stretch, putting up 47% of his yardage and 71% of his TD production during that time. That leaves the door open for Gallup, who saw his targets increase after the bye, and his production improve with the arrival of Cooper as well. He’ll need to improve his catch rate, but I feel a good amount of that stems from Prescott airing it out to Gallup. There’s definitely a chance he busts, but in the 12th round, he has excellent upside for a flier pick.
13.06 – Ronald Jones, RB – TB
At this point in the draft, my strategy is to take the guy I think has the best chance to overcome whatever cons have him being drafted so late. The buzz surrounding Rojo last preseason was pure hyperbole, after all it was argued he was the next Jamaal Charles. This year, he’s a bit of an afterthought despite a major change with the coaching staff, and Bruce Arians arriving to help fix the mess that was last years Buccaneers. With his propensity to use his RB’s in the passing game, and Peyton Barbers tenuous hold on the starting job as it is, Ronald Jones could see himself on the field far more this season, and his pedigree is enticing at this point in the draft.
14.05 – Delanie Walker, TE – TEN
While I’m fairly convinced that Njoku will be productive in Cleveland, it doesn’t hurt to add a consistent weapon to your bench. Walker is an injury waiting to happen, but in the event that Njoku goes down or becomes ineffective, Walker is a very solid option to replace the production I expect from Njoku. I could have taken a swing here at Trey Burton as well, but he profiles much along the lines of Njoku, and I’m not willing to put too many eggs in the upside basket when it comes to my tight ends.
15.06 – DeaSean Hamilton, WR – DEN
I was a DeaSean owner last year, and I really liked how he played for a Denver team that struggled to throw the football all season. While Joe Flacco isn’t a major improvement for the Broncos, he’s an improvement nonetheless, and the second year receiver stands to gain a lot from his arrival. Given that Emmanuel Sanders is still recovering from an achilles injury, Hamilton figures to be used pretty heavily at times in the Bronco’s offense, and if the flashes he showed last year are any indication, there’s few names at this point in the draft with WR2 upside like Hamilton possesses.
16.05 – Dak Prescott, QB – DAL
As a backup QB, there’s not many options in this portion of the draft that has the kind of upside that Prescott has. With an elite O-line, a run game that keeps him protected, and an expanded cast at the receiver position, Prescott’s late season success is very easily transferable to the 2019 season. If Luck misses time, I’m comfortable rolling Prescott out there in his stead.
17.06 – Greg Zuerlien, K – LAR
I won’t get too into it, but when I’m drafting my Kicker and D/ST last, I tend to take the most “sure thing” contributor between the top options at both. In the event that I can get the top kicker, I’m more than comfortable taking a stab at a D/ST and streaming in the likely event that the selection isn’t elite.
18.05 – New Orleans Saints D/ST
They’ll do in a pinch, but I’m planning on streaming a defense anyways, so this is a throw away pick at best.
- QB: Andrew Luck, Dak Prescott
- RB: Derrick Henry, Tarik Cohen, James White, Jerick McKinnon, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones
- WR: Davante Adams, Mike Evans, Adam Thielen, Tyler Boyd, Michael Gallup, DeaSean Hamilton
- TE: David Njoku, Delanie Walker
- K: Greg Zurlein
- D/ST: New Orleans Saints
The strength of this team obviously resides at the wide receiver position. Having a potential top 25 guy as my WR4 means I can mitigate any effects that may arise from waiting as long as I did on backs. If I only have to start two of my backs most weeks, I’m in a much better position to succeed given the PPR format I drafted for.
Of course, you can take this strategy and adopt a slightly different variation. I know some folks wait even later in the draft, stockpiling pass catchers for trade and depth purposes, and I’ve seen some ZeroRB strategies that can be best described as hybrid strategies.
For example, I could have skipped the Tyler Boyd pick, and taken a back in the 5th round and landed either Philip Lindsay or Kerryon Johnson, players who went in the few picks following the selection of Boyd. There’s no real rule that says if you’re starting with a ZeroRB focus you can’t go off script to grab a player you really love.
As I’ve said in the past, this isn’t a strategy for folks uncomfortable with the deeper options at the back position. Being flexible and malleable week to week depending on matchups can be instrumental to success. It will require a great commitment to keeping tabs on your team and on the free agent pool, but the success of ZeroRB rosters can be through the roof if done properly.
As we know intimately here at the Dr’s Office, hitting on a depth player is one of the best feelings in fantasy. Whether it was a middle round pick who supplanted a starter, or a late round flier who steps up due to injury, there’s a handful of these occurrences seemingly every week. When it happens before the season starts… that’s when it can be confusing.
Jaguars list Keelan Cole and Donte Moncrief as their starters
For a time it seemed as though 2017 fourth round pick Dede Westbrook was carving out a nice little role for himself, but when the preseason games rolled around he didn’t do enough to claim one of the starting roles. With Marquise Lee down for the season, it seems as though last years playoff hero Keelan Cole (ADP 130) will be asked to slot in opposite former Colts third round pick Donte Moncrief (ADP 200). Both options are fantastic value considering where they are going, but Cole may be one of the drafts best sleeper picks at this point. With the proven rapport with Bortles and recent fantasy results, the 14th round is still too late.
DeVante Parker may not be ready for the season opener
This one is an ongoing situation that bears observation, but the talented youngster still has to prove that he’s more than just combine measurables. A quick look at his Player Profiler page shows the story of a player who hasn’t figured out how to play the position against NFL caliber defenses. His target shares are average between the 20s but he struggles to gain separation (98th among qualified WRs) and doesn’t factor into red zone plays enough to be a difference maker. With the lingering finger issue, Parker could be ready for week 1 and I’d be fading him hard. With Amendola and/or Albert Wilson inhabiting the slot and chewing up a good portion of Landry’s vacated targets, and Kenny Stills presence in the red zone, Parker is going to have a tough time overcoming these deficiencies. .
New England Backfield is still a mess
While the colors may look different, this Patriots Backfield is the same difficult to analyze painting of an NFL backfield every season. Between additions (Jeremy Hill, Sony Michel) and departures (Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden), there seems to be a never ending carousel of backs in the drivers seat. According to the Patriots depth chart, both James White and Rex Burkhead are listed as starters, further muddying the waters if you were trying to cash in on New England’s odd but excellent running back usage. In PPR leagues, James White’s value at an ADP of around 120 is excellent value.
With Edelman missing 4 games due to suspension and a litany of wide receiver issues, injuries, and departures, White should factor in heavily early on. Still, it’s Burkhead who figures to make the most of his increased usage as he’ll dominate red zone touches and should see a healthy amount of work on the ground. Both are great values despite the concerns over who will see the most touches.
Carlos Hyde listed as Cleveland Browns starting RB
Much like Frank Gore before him, former 49ers running back Carlos Hyde continues to get disrespected in the fantasy world, as his ADP of 75 is outrageous considering how well he’s played to this point in his career. Many would point to the crowded backfield and presence of Duke Johnson as reasons why he can’t repeat as a top 20 back, but I’d tell you they are wrong. The Browns are a much improved offensive unit and Hyde looked fantastic in his limited action in the preseason. With Chubb figuring as the future of the franchise, there’s no reason for Cleveland to not pound the rock with Hyde. I don’t anticipate him pushing into the top 10, but he’s one of the easiest targets in the 8th round to justify.
Derrick Henry listed atop the RB depth chart in Tennessee
While all the attention was paid to the off season signing of former Patriot Dion Lewis, Henry quietly went about his job, continuing to work towards a larger work load in 2018. While we don’t expect him to handle much of the passing downs, the truth is that he’s the better runner of the two, despite what the experts would have you think. Dion Lewis’ season last year was a bit of an aberration, and continued health concerns and the lack of a track record for high touch totals means Henry should be involved from week 1.
LeGarrette Blount to start over Kerryon Johnson in Week 1
We take this one with a grain of salt, but it’s hardly surprising to see the recently acquired veteran starting at the pole over the exciting rookie. Johnson looked like the most talented back on the roster all preseason, so we don’t think it will be long before he’s seeing meaningful touches, but Blount should be the primary goal line back. If Johnson can vulture some touches inside the 20s or some of the passing downs, he figures to be a much better option long term than any other back on the Lions roster.
It was a busy weekend with NFL action featuring several story lines that may or may not make your life easy as you prepare for your drafts. As we continue to inch towards D-day, we’ll continue to review the position battles and injury updates to help you navigate the potential pitfalls.
Tampa Bay vs Tennesee Titans
Suspended Jameis Winston showed why he’s still the best quarterback on the roster with his 13 for 18 performance, putting up a stout 226 yards and 2 TDs. DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans both saw down the field targets as their 4 combined cathes went for over 100 yards.
On a more concerning note, rookie running back Ronald Jones continues to lose ground to incumbent starter Peyton Barber as he managed only 2 yards on 4 carries. It’s been a bit of a slow start to his NFL career as he continues to make headlines for a lack of pass protection and efficiency. Peyton Barber is seeming like a more consistent weapon in the backfield. At their current ADP, you should be targeting Barber in redraft leagues.
On the other side of the football, Mariota wasn’t asked to do as much, but his 80 yards on 4 completions wasn’t too shabby.
In the absence of Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews, it was Taywan Taylor that garnered all the attention as he took his 4 receptions for 95 yards and a TD. If Matthews is forced to miss time, Taylor could be a nice deep sleeper target, or waiver wire add if you drafted early.
Unfortunately, not much headway was made in the running game as both Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry were ineffectual again with neither one doing much on the ground. While it’s mostly a blip on the radar, it’s a backfield I have highlighted as one to avoid. Aside from Lewis in PPR leagues, this backfield is one that I’m not keen to take a chance on at their current ADPs.
Much like our updates to the sleeper list, the Dr. is here to tell you who he’s avoiding in drafts this year. Of course, any time we’re suggesting to NOT draft a player, it’s understood that we’re referencing the current cost to acquire said player. All players have value, we’re just trying to help you maximize the value you receiving with each of your picks.
Tom Brady, QB – NE
As a card carrying member of the Tom Brady fan club, it pains me to include him on this list, but it’s important to remain realistic. His late season struggles in the last few years has been well documented, and much of the blame can be assigned on his offensive line. At 41 years old and behind one of the worst offensive lines he’s had in years, Brady is no safe bet to stay healthy all year, and the late season regression he’s seen for years now is a near guarantee. Sure, he’ll win 12 games for his football team, but he’s not as safe a pick as he has been in the past for your fantasy one.
Carson Wentz, QB – PHI
I’m not suggesting Wentz isn’t a good quarterback by including him on this list; I’m merely drawing attention to the fact that he’s being ranked far to high for my liking. While it’s encouraging that he’s returning from his injury so quickly, it’s important to remember that QB’s returning from knee injuries tend to take time to get up to speed. Head coach Doug Pederson went as far as to describe Wentz’s play as “tentative” further reinforcing the idea that he may not be 100%. Expecting the rushing game to return to the levels it did last year isn’t realistic, and neither is expecting him to remain hyper efficient in the face of NFL defenses. Expecting a low end QB1 finish isn’t outrageous, but drafting him at QB5 is expecting him to play at his ceiling; something I’m not confident a QB returning from injury can do.
Jerick McKinnon, RB – SF
When McKinnon was handed a three year contract by San Francisco in the offseason, I was one of the first to declare that McKinnon was set to breakout in a big way. After all, he was playing the lead back role in an up and coming Kyle Shanahan offense. Then, I put the time in to research, and while most of the industry is expecting big things, there’s a well defined group in the community who expect McKinnon to fall flat on his face. While I exist somewhere in between, the truth is that McKinnon has never really shown that he’s got lead back ability. Between losing snaps to Matt Asiata when Adrian Peterson went down, to posting sub 4 yards per carry in limited action over the last two seasons, it appears that we were a bit premature anointing the second coming of Emmett Smith. Expecting him to play all season as a RB1 is a recipe for disaster.
Derrick Henry, RB – TEN
Henry is a back that I personally think has the talent to be a top 10 RB in the league, but Tennessee had the great idea to add elite satellite back Dion Lewis to muddy the waters that had begun to clear when DeMarco Murray left town. Currently being drafted 25th overall, Henry has a steep hill to climb to secure a three down workload, and with a pick in the third round, I’m not sure I’m willing to spend it on a back who’s whole claim to the position was his college production. Henry could prove to be a very useful fantasy asset, but it’ll be only at the expense of Dion Lewis, who’d need to suffer a major injury to open up passing downs for the young Henry.
Tyreek Hill, WR – KC
I’d like to preface this by saying I think Hill is one of the most talented down-the-field receivers in the NFL, but not enough is being made of the situation he’s facing with a first year starter and added weapons suppressing his overall value. Alex Smith may be rightly panned over his career for being a conservative quarterback, but expecting Pat Mahomes to step in and play even close to the season Smith had last year is insane. As an MVP candidate, Smith was one of the most efficient deep ball practitioners last year, and while Mahomes features a monster arm, there are going to be growing pains. While Hill should still be productive, he’s a regression candidate yet he’s being draft as though that’s a fallacy. If he falls a round or two, he’d be worth grabbing, but not as a WR1.
Juju Smith-Schuster, WR – PIT
I’m amazed at how quickly a player went from being un-drafted to being over drafted, but Juju managed it in record time. While he’s a name that I was hoping to target in drafts this year, I’m not touching him at his current price. Being drafted before Brandin Cooks, Josh Gordon, Larry Fitzgerald, and Demaryius Thomas, there’s clearly an unreasonable expectation that the Pittsburgh offense can support both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as top 5 players and elevate Juju to anything more than a back-end WR2. The issue with drafting him at 42nd overall, his current ADP, is that you can’t expect him to outperform that position. We say it all the time, never draft a player at their ceiling, unless you’re prepared to be disappointed.
Jimmy Graham, TE – GB
Sure, it wasn’t long ago that Graham was considered one of the two or three best pass catching tight ends in the league. His time in New Orleans saw him secure no less than 85 catches over a four year period from 2010 to 2014, but the wheels came off in his first year with the Seahawks. While he was much better in 2016, the now 31 year old TE looked his age last year, performing admirably in the end zone but failing to record more than 65 receptions for the third straight year. In Green Bay, he’ll likely be asked to play a similar role, featuring mostly in the red zone, with less target share thanks to a deeper wide receiver corps. Expecting a return to the pre-Seahawks form is asinine, yet he’s being drafted 5th at the position, before Greg Olsen, Evan Engram, Kyle Rudolph, and Delanie Walker; all candidates I expect to finish ahead of Graham by seasons end.
Adam Theilen has seen his ADP drop a bit, so he’s no longer a focus on these bust lists, but he’s still being drafted a bit too high for me to like his value. Kenyan Drake was impressive in his limited time last year, but he doesn’t have the pedigree or track record to perform as a top 10 RB over a full season, and Miami’s offseason moves seem to say the same thing. DeShaun Watson has had plenty of time to recover from his major knee injury, but the obvious regression coming seems to be ignored when setting expectations. As the 4th QB off the board, I’m out on Watson.
While you may see the word “beginner” in the title and deem this beneath you, but the truth is that we should always be learning; honing our skills and getting better at the game. The PPR format has exploded in years past, and like any non-standard scoring format, it presents fantasy drafters an extra wrinkle in their quest for greatness.
Of course, it’s important to understand the fundamentals. If you’re a point per reception veteran, skip this section; we’ll see you down below when we highlight some PPR strategies for the 2018 season. For those of you who aren’t familiar, buckle up and we’ll take you on a crash course.
PPR leagues differ from standard leagues in one very easy to understand facet; they award points to any player who records a reception. Whether it’s one full point, or a half a point, a player who has a higher volume of receptions becomes far more valuable than his standard league counter parts.
The first thing one should do is adjust your rankings. If you’re using a fantasy football magazine, or printing them off the internet, make sure you’re using PPR rankings. We always suggest doing the research and ranking your own players, but if you neither have the time nor the desire, ensure you’re not using rankings that don’t address your format.
A great example would be Duke Johnson as he’s primarily an after thought in standard, non-PPR leagues; and for a good reason. His highest single season rushing attempts total was 104 in his rookie year. Last year his 83 carries was good for 55th in the NFL, which we shouldn’t have to tell you isn’t enough volume to warrant much excitement.
In PPR leagues however, his 74 receptions was the 26th highest total in the NFL, and 4th highest among running backs. When you consider that he finished as the 11th highest scoring running back despite his average draft position of 97th overall in PPR leagues last year (data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.com) then it’s painfully clear that recognizing these pass catching backs can be fantasy gold in the right format.
Of course, that’s not to discount how it affects the wide receiver position either. Most of the elite players (regardless of position) are elite in either format. Volume and opportunity trump much of what you can dredge up in an argument, but in those middle rounds there’s plenty of players who have higher floors thanks to a larger share of targets.
Last year, Jarvis Landry was being ranking as the WR27 and was selected with the 78th pick on average. The value there was undeniable, especially considering that his 260 PPR points finished for 5th most at the WR position and 12th overall among skill position players. While his situation may require re-evaluation of his opportunity, the example rings true nonetheless. These players, who many discount because they build their rankings based off of the wrong data, are the targets that will help you win your league.
Players to Target
As always, we’ll use the ADP data compiled over at Fantasy Football Calculator to make our analysis. Finding these PPR gems isn’t as easy as it seems, though. Simply targeting player A because he led the position in receptions last year doesn’t ensure success this year. There is far more subtly when highlighting players to target in the middle and late rounds.
In the early rounds, you’ll ignore PPR vs. Standard debates; Jordan Howard and Melvin Gordon are still elite fantasy commodities even if they don’t catch the ball a ton. It’s in the middle rounds we can start the shopping list.
- Kareem Hunt (ADP 11): Unlike the Gordon/Howard example, Hunt has legitimate regression concerns after a monster rookie season. With Spencer Ware returning and pass catching specialist Charcandarick West still on the roster, there’s going to be fewer opportunities for the game breaker. While he’ll still be valuable, I don’t expect him to factor into the passing game as much this season, damaging his ability to be the top 10 player he’s being projected as.
- Derrick Henry (ADP 36): While Henry has never been the most adept pass catcher, the signing of Dion Lewis pretty much relegates him to a 1st and 2nd down role. Without the benefit of the passing game, Henry’s 200 carries won’t do much to support a RB2 finish, and with his talent, drafters are still betting that he’ll break out. While Lewis certainly is an injury risk, he’s also good enough between the tackles to keep Henry from being elite.
- Jay Ajayi (ADP 45): I really like Ajayi’s talent, but I don’t like his situation in Philly. With Darren Sproles returning, and Corey Clement still on the roster, the idea that he’ll continue to the be the bell cow is a bit misleading. He will likely lead the team in rushes, but his involvement in the passing game will be minimal barring any major injuries.
- Kenyan Drake (ADP 47): There is a lot of buzz after Drake finished 2017 strong, but Frank Gore should eat into his carries, and rookie Kalen Ballage is a far superior pass catching back who should eat targets up early an often. While he’s a safe bet for him to finish at the top of the committee for rushes, like Ajayi, he’ll figure into the scoring far less than his ADP provides for.
- Duke Johnson (ADP 97): Mentioned above, Johnson still figures to make an impact in the passing game, but with Carlos Hyde also a capable pass catcher (88 targets last year were only 5 fewer than Johnson), there’s reason to be concerned that the volume could dip. His ADP is beginning to represent this, but don’t swing early on Johnson and expect 70+ catches again.
- Dion Lewis (ADP 61): I’m not predicting him to completely overtake Henry in the rushing game, but his floor his immensely high. In the 7th round, he’s the kind of back that can secure you 50 receptions and 1,000 total yards without impacting the incumbent start too much. His ceiling is far better than that, creating a wonderful target to return heavily on his investment.
- Chris Thompson (ADP 81): Not to discount the effect that Derrius Guice will have on the Washington Backfield, but Thompson was on pace for 1,200 total yards, 60+ receptions, and 9 TDs last year before missing the final 6 games due to a broken leg. Even given a reasonable amount of regression, he figures to be one of the most valuable 3rd down backs in fantasy.
- Ty Montgomery (ADP 111): He’s not going to impress anyone on the ground, but the converted wide receiver has the pass catching ability to provide plenty of value; especially in the 12th round. Prior to his injury, Montgomery was targeted heavily in the passing game, averaging nearly 8 targets and 6 receptions a game. Expect a return to the third down role for the sure handed Montgomery, and reap the rewards this late in the draft.
- James White (ADP 165): The forgotten man in New England, White continues to fly under the radar despite securing 90 targets and 56 receptions last year in an over crowded backfield. With Sony Michel still a rookie, and Dion Lewis leaving for greener pastures, Tom Brady’s safety blanket is in line for another big year in terms of PPR production. At 165, I’ll take the chance that the 26 year old continues to produce in the passing game for one of the best QB’s of all time.
- Kalen Ballage (ADP 213): I’ll continue beating my drum for Ballage who enters the season firmly behind Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore on the depth chart. But the speedy big man possesses the kind of silky smooth mitts that coaches game plan around, and while Drake was effective down the stretch in 2017, the moves made in the off season scream of available opportunity for the guys they brought in. If he carves out a portions of first and second downs, Ballage could be a monster for basically a waiver wire stab.
- Adam Thielen (ADP 29): With an upgrade at QB, you’d think Thielen is in line for the same kind of statline that saw him win leagues in 2017, but think again. History shows that Cousin’s is a bit of a gunslinger, and while Thielen will probably continue to be a contributor, he’s primed for regression yet being drafted as though he’s regression proof.
- Golden Tate (ADP 48): You may look at the bottom line and suggest that he’s a PPR gold mine; after all he’s recorded 90 receptions for 4 straight years. I’d implore you to dig a little deeper. Aside from the emergence of Marvin Jones, it’s important to note that Tate was wildly inconsistent last year. In 6 games last year, Tate failed to record more than 4 receptions, and in four of those games he had less than 6 PPR point. That amounts to nearly 40% of the season that Tate is a bust player.
- Brandin Cooks (ADP 53): Don’t get me wrong, Cooks is a nice little player. The issue is that with the Rams being a run first team, there’s about 10% or more opportunity lost in targets (550 pass attempts in LA to 600 in New England). Cooks is a deep threat that won’t command the kind of target share that other elite PPR receivers will. With Robert Woods returning as the slot man, Cooks is in line for major regression, especially in the PPR format.
- Jarvis Landry (ADP 59): This isn’t a knock on Landry the player, but expecting the kind of volume that he had in Miami is to ignore the fact that he’s not the most talented receiver on his current team. With Josh Gordon figuring to command the highest percentage of targets, Landry’s expectations should be limited, even if his ADP suggests otherwise.
- Julian Edelman (ADP 69): It pains me to include the New England slot receiver, but the reasons for his inclusion here are fairly straight forward. On top of missing 25% of the season due to suspension, he’s 32 years old and coming off a major knee injury that cost him the entirety of last season. With real competition for the slot position, it’ll be very difficult for Edelman to be more than a spot start, and at his current price, there’s a ton of other guys I’d rather have.
- Cooper Kupp (ADP 94): I was wrong about Kupp last year, and while I think Cooks and Woods eat up a lot of targets, it’s important to note that Kupp quietly led the Rams in targets last year with 94. With a floor around 60 catches and 800 yards (tack on around 5 TDs), and you’re looking at fantastic value in the 10th round.
- Marquise Goodwin (ADP 104): Goodwin looked great in the five games that Garoppolo started, averaging nearly 9 targets a game. With Jimmy G as the every day starter, I expect Goodwin to continue to elevate his game, and a WR2 ceiling (65 receptions, 1,000 yards, and 4 TDs) is well within reach.
- Kenny Stills (ADP 148): Many expect Danny Amendola to fill the role vacated by Jarvis Landry, but I find myself coming back to Stills as the perfect candidate to inherit those targets. Already one of the Dolphins most targeted receivers, his familiarity with the system and quarter back Ryan Tannehill are great catalysts for an increase in production. Perennially Stills has inhabited the 80-100 target mark, so bumping him to 130-150 feels right, and puts him firmly in the break out column on draft day.
- Keelan Cole (ADP 174): I don’t typically get excited about guys with as small a sample size as Cole has, but the 25 year old out of Louisville was impressive when called upon late in the season, and seems to continue to be overlooked with Marqise Lee and Donte Moncreif sitting above him in the depth chart. Neither of those players has done anything over their careers to keep Cole from taking their jobs, and with a solid rapport developing between he and Bortles, he’s a breakout candidate you can have for pennies on the dollar.
- Michael Gallup (ADP 212): I don’t expect Gallup to come out of the gate blazing, but with a mediocre group of receivers ahead of him, he’ll likely carve out a large share of the targets in Dallas. With much of the buzz surrounding him positive, I expect 100+ targets for the rookie, and a floor that most players in the 200’s don’t have.
25. Arizona Cardinals
Similar to Dallas, this top heavy roster has failed to produce beyond it’s run game and Larry Fitzgerald for years. Both Johnson and Fitzgerald are fairly safe bets, but who else on the roster can you trust. Newly signed QB Sam Bradford has never wowed me, but his efficiency may help support a 2nd QB if he can stay healthy. That, of course is the million dollar question… can he stay healthy?
Players worth Drafting: David Johnson (ADP 3), Larry Fitzgerald (ADP 33), Christian Kirk (ADP 182)
In ESPN mock drafts neither Bradford or Rosen are being selected with any regularity, further muddying the waters beyond the two players being selected early. Kirk is a buzzy rookie, but the rest of the roster seems to be off of the radar. Of course, if Bradford gets hurt, Rosen could be a sneaky waiver add; his profile certainly looks like that of an NFL starter.
Deep Sleeper: While Kirk was my first choice, the buzz surrounding him is loud enough now that Ricky-Seals Jones is currently being overlooked as a potential breakout candidate. A WR in college, Jones certainly profiles as a pass catching TE, and only his ability to pass block can keep him from seeing meaningful snaps in the passing game.
24. Washington Redskins
Like many of the teams in this range, turnover at the most important position in football, the quarter back position, could mean any number of things. Will Alex Smith continue to throw the ball down field after reinventing himself in Kansas City last year? Can the post hype potential of guys like Josh Doctson finally be realized?
Worth Drafting: Derrius Guice (ADP 40), Jordan Reed (ADP 85), Chris Thompson (ADP 99), Jamison Crowder (ADP 100), Alex Smith (ADP 129), Josh Doctson (ADP 137), Paul Richardson (ADP 174)
It was a strange season for Washington last year. Despite the heroic efforts of Kirk Cousins, the offense never really found a rhythm, and the ADP data suggests that no one really knows who will emerge as a top 25 WR. Alex Smith has made a career out of making the safe play, so expecting a return to last years gun slinging ways is a bit pre-mature, but Jordan Reed may be the biggest beneficiary if he can stay healthy. Odds are he won’t, but Smith tends to turn TE’s into elite fantasy options, and Reed has the talent to be a top 5 TE this season.
Deep Sleeper: While Alex Smith will have to gain some chemistry with his new team, 2nd string TE Vernon Davis is already intimately familiar with the former first overall pick. I expect Davis to have a healthy amount of snaps in this offense, and while he’s been mostly quiet since leaving San Fransisco, the TE is still a great athlete and he’s turned in his best seasons with Smith at the helm. For just about nothing, he has Top 15 potential (at the TE position).
23. San Fransisco 49ers
One of the busiest teams in the last year and a half, the 49ers went out and got what they consider a cornerstone pairing with Jerick McKinnon in the backfield to go with QB Jimmy Garoppolo. While the defense is expected to be better, this offense should continue to evolve into the high flying machine that Kyle Shanahan tends to put together.
Players Worth Drafting: Jerick McKinnon (ADP 28), Pierre Garcon (ADP 71), Jimmy Garoppolo (ADP 104), Marquise Goodwin (ADP 106), George Kittle (ADP 164), Matt Brieda (ADP 186)
Expecting the passing game to be any kind of consistent may be asking a bit too much. While Garoppolo figures to be a very good QB, the stable of receivers isn’t highlighted by any big names, and Jimmy G is just as likely to adopt the Tom Brady method of finding who’s open rather than forcing it to one or two guys. Garcon is a safe bet for consistent targets, but beyond him, there’s no guarantees for season long success.
Deep Sleeper: George Kittle seemed to fade a bit when Garoppolo came into the offense, but a few decent weeks at the end of the season rejuvenated the breakout rumors. With another season in this offense, the young TE is expected to see the bulk of the snaps at the position, and with a passing game orchestrated by Shanahan, we could see a big year at a relatively inexpensive price tag for the 2nd year TE.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
After turning in a dominant season, riding the strength of it’s rushing game and defense, the Jaguars return in 2018 featuring many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Beyond the obvious stud in Leonard Fournette, this is a team that could warrant it’s own article with all of the moving parts. As always, the Jags figure to surprise in a few more areas this year.
Players Worth Drafting: Leonard Fournette (ADP 11), Marqise Lee (ADP 118), Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (ADP 166)
The list of players being drafted, as noted above, may seem smaller than one would like, but part of the problem is that beyond Lee, the passing game features a handful of guys who have little on their resume. With the mercurial Blake Bortles set to start under center again, it’s always a question of who outside the top guy can he support? I’m a fan of Keelan Cole, if only because he helped me secure a championship, but there’s a lot of middling talent on this team that could be both fantastic or awful.
Deep Sleeper: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is one of my favorite picks to bounce back this year. After failing spectacularly to cash in on the hype, it was learned he was struggling with some kind of alcohol or drug abuse and he set about getting clean. Recently, he explained that, now sober, he’s in the best place he’s been in years and he’s ready to bring it full circle. I’m willing to give the guy a 2nd chance, as his talent excites me.
21. Tennessee Titans
When the season started last year, many fantasy pundits, myself included, had several Titans queued up as breakout candidates. Unfortunately, despite a playoff birth, most of this teams fantasy studs took a step back, hamstringing teams that relied heavily on players like the recently retired DeMarco Murray and 3rd year QB Marcus Mariota. With a new coaching staff looking to rejuvenate a team with plenty of talent, there’s optimism that this year could be the breakout last year should have ben
Players Worth Drafting: Derrick Henry (ADP 47), Delanie Walker (ADP 63), Dion Lewis (ADP 70), Corey Davis (ADP 77), Rishard Matthews (ADP 140), Marcus Mariotta (ADP 141)
Knowing how much talent Mariota has around him, it’d be a shock to see him continue the trend of regression. Corey Davis is no longer dinged up and Rishard Matthews continues to be an underrated workhorse. Throw in that the coaching staff is now better suited to pull the most out of him and the run game has a two headed monster that’s above average in all aspects of the game, and Mariota is one of the hottest break out commodities in Fantasy.
Deep Sleeper: This team has invested heavily in weapons for Mariota, and none were as successful out of college as 2017 first round pick Corey Davis. Unfortunately for him, the season started off poorly and injuries limited him to just 9 starts and 34 receptions. The talent is certainly there, and a full offseason should work wonders for the teams top receiving threat. While not a traditional “deep” sleeper, his value is a potential top 15 WR is something that can’t be overlooked.
20. Seattle Seahawks
A team in turmoil, the Seahawks had one real bright spot in 2017, and that would be Russell Wilson. There’s no doubting the former 2nd round pick any longer as he’s proven to be one of the leagues top QB’s, both in real life and in fantasy. Where the team lacked any continuity was in the run game. Porous offensive line play combined with a lackluster running back group (Chris Carson not withstanding) led to a season of “run for your life” stats that didn’t translate to success elsewhere. Improved O-line (even if just slightly) and a shiny new convertible in the backfield in Rashaad Penny, and one can be optimistic that there’s some new life in Seattle in 2018.
Players Worth Drafting: Doug Baldwin (ADP 34), Rashaad Penny (ADP 39), Russell wilson (ADP 50), Chris Carson (ADP 167), Tyler Lockett (ADP 170)
Whether you believe Penny is a true three down back or not, the truth is that his handling of 1st and 2nd down should provide some protection from Wilson, who no longer has Jimmy Graham to throw to. Doug Baldwin is the real deal in the slot, and Tyler Lockett has some upside, but this offense may have a handful of late round picks that turn into fantasy gold.
Deep Sleeper: The aforementioned Rashaad Penny is garnering much of the buzz in the backfield, but Chris Carson may offer the best value of any Seattle back. Prior to his injury, he was more effective than anyone else on the roster, and seems to have recovered well from the injury that ended his year. With Pete Carroll promising a return to smash mouth ground and pound football, Carson could be a fine sleeper if Penny isn’t all he’s been advertised (which is always a concern with rookie running backs).
While it sounds logical to protect your early investments by targeting their backups as handcuffs, I’d argue that it may impede your ability to draft the best team possible in the middle to late rounds.
Now, before you think I’m advocating the idea of skipping handcuffs all together, I’d like to qualify this by saying there’s a handful of backs every year where the situation dictates having a backup plan and often the best backup plan is the backup themselves.
Still, I’d argue that drafting a middling to poor NFL back because they sit 2nd in the depth chart is a bad strategy. If the backup makes sense, then sure, pull the trigger, but drafting the best available player depending on your needs is always the best plan.
DeAndre Washington – Oakland Raiders (ADP 202): Washington excelled in a limited role behind Latavius Murray and now finds himself playing second fiddle to the un-retired Beast Mode himself: Marshawn Lynch. At his age and after a full season off, Lynch owners are going to want to protect themselves and Washington offers starting caliber skills at the end of the draft. A very small risk, but would be relevant immediately following a Lynch injury (or re-retirement).
Joe Williams – San Fransisco 49ers (ADP 157): I don’t personally buy into the negative buzz surrounding Carlos Hyde and new coach Kyle Shanahan but it pays to be prepared. In Atlanta, Shanahan managed to feed both of his running backs, lending fantasy value to Tevin Coleman via 1,000 total yards. While Williams is doubtful to accomplish this much his rookie year, it’s possible he contributes even if Hyde doesn’t flounder. If he does? Then Williams could be a steal.
Jonathan Williams – Buffalo Bills (ADP 164): Drafting LeSean McCoy can be nerve wracking thanks to the poor offense in Buffalo and his age and usage. Identifying who will be his back up is one of my goals every off season. Williams is the clear cut #2 behind McCoy and if Mike Gillislee’s usage last year is any indication, he should touch the football a bit more than most #2’s do. If McCoy goes down, don’t expect the same level of production, but he’d be valuable regardless.
D’Onta Forman – Houston Texans (ADP 193): Lamar Miller is a fantastic fantasy running back when he’s healthy, but as last year taught us, he gets a bit dinged up with how often he’s asked to run the football. As it turns out, D’onta Forman looks to be a better backup than Alfred Blue, and he could find himself with a larger number of touches should Houston’s season look similar to last years.
Marlon Mack – Indianapolis Colts (ADP 182): For the record, I love Frank Gore the football player, but his time is nearly up and Mack offers the best value in the Indianapolis backfield when the inevitable happens. If you’re drafting Gore yourself, then Mack makes a lot of sense to stash if you have a deep enough bench, because it’s only a matter of time before Gore is on the shelf.
Latavius Murray – Minnesota Vikings (ADP 111): The consensus is that thanks to Murray’s injury this is now Dalvin Cook’s team; and I tend to agree. Still, Murray has freakish athletic ability and Minnesota gave him a pretty penny in the off season so I expect at least a time share with Murray having the inside track should Cook look like a rookie early on.
Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers (ADP 142): Williams is my pick to emerge as a one of the biggest late round steals as we enter draft weekends. I’m convinced the Ty Montgomery is poorly suited to be a starter in the league and his inability to pass block is going to see him on the sidelines on early downs. Williams is likely to grab those early downs and has the type of game to fit the scheme in Green Bay.
Jacquizz Rodgers – Tampa Bay Buccanneers (ADP 128): One could argue he belongs in the “best” category as he’ll start the year as the starter, but all signs point to Martin taking back the gig when he returns. The fact remains that predicting Martin’s performances when he returns is a difficult prospect, and should injury or inefficiency become an issue again, Rodgers, and not Sims, will be the guy to step in and run the backfield.
Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs (ADP 96): While I put him on this list because he has some fantasy upside in the KC offense, I’m not personally drafting him where he’s currently being drafted. Ware was very effective before his concussion and he should return to form this year as a RB1. Of course, there’s always a chance that he doesn’t in which case Hunt has the ability to match other backs in the 2nd and 3rd tiers.
Samaje Perine – Washington Redskins (ADP 109): It’s dangerous to draft a backup as early as Perine is going but unlike Hunt, I’m not sold on Robert Kelley as a starting RB. He was dreadful for long stretches last year and by all accounts Perine is looking like a lock to usurp the role. Of course, if he does win the job then his ADP would skyrocket and he’d come off lists like this, but for now he’s a no-brainer backup to target.
C.J. Prosise – Seattle Seahawks (ADP 128): The depth chart may disagree with me, but the crowded Seattle backfield has everyone doing mental back flips trying to figure out the pecking order. Everyone seems to be in love with Rawls, but should Lacy stumble (and it’s looking like it may already be happening) Prosise has far better skills in the backfield and would looks really nice leading this attack.
Darren McFadden – Dallas Cowboys (ADP 117): While it may feel like cheating as Zeke faces down a possible suspension, the fact remains that even suspended, Elliott is going to be drafted in the first 3-5 rounds and McFadden is a must have for those first 6 weeks as it appears he’ll get the first crack at starting duties. Even if Elliott’s suspension is reduced or rescinded, McFadden is one of the safest handcuffs due to the production he’s had in that offense previously.
Adrian Peterson – New Orleans Saints (ADP 70): The future hall-of-famer takes over the backup role from Tim Hightower and figures to play a prominent role in the high flying New Orleans offense. Even if Mark Ingram is healthy and retains the number one spot, it’s a real possibility that Peterson sees 150 touches as a backup with the very real potential to fill in when Ingram inevitably gets hurt. In truth, he may just steal the starting gig all together making for a potential RB1 in the 8-10 round range.
Duke Johnson – Cleveland Browns (ADP 131): While he’s not your prototypical lead back, Johnson has the goods to be effective should Crowell go down, but the news in Cleveland is that the backs are going to handle the ball a lot this year. Expect Johnson and Crowell both to have a bump in usage on the ground and for Johnson to continue to push the top of the league in terms of RB targets. In the 14th round he’s one of the safest picks in the draft.
Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans (ADP 86): I’m not convinced that DeMarco Murray is going to fall apart due to age and milage, but Henry’s ability as a three down back is undeniable and his timeshare should increase this year and eventually he’ll take over lead back duties. If you bet on him this year and it doesn’t happen, don’t be discouraged as he’ll likely touch the ball more than any other RB2 we’ve already named.
Tevin Coleman – Atlanta Falcons (ADP 61): While Coleman as a backup is a bit of a stretch, the bottom line is that he’ll contribute significantly even if Freeman plays in all 16 games. Last year Coleman managed about 1,000 combined yards and finished in the top 25 of all running backs despite being a 2nd stringer the entire season. He’s fantastic in his role but his potential as a top 10 RB is what plants him firmly at the head of this list.