One of the best parts of PPR fantasy scoring is it opens up the possibilities for additional running backs to become relevant for weekly lineups. In PPR scoring, one catch is worth the same number of points as 10 yards rushing. This scoring format boosts the overall production for many players, especially guys like Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Alvin Kamara who can challenge for 80+ receptions in a season. Austin Ekeler was the perfect example of PPR scoring working its magic last year as he finished as the #4 RB in PPR leagues despite only having 132 carries. This scoring format also allows running backs who aren’t necessarily the workhorse in their offense to become highly fantasy relevant. Last season, James White, Tarik Cohen, and Duke Johnson finished inside the top-30 running backs for PPR leagues despite none having more than 100 carries. I’m going to dive into some of the running backs who will see the biggest boost in PPR scoring this season.
James White, New England Patriots
James White may see his role decrease this season as Cam Newton replaces Tom Brady at quarterback for the Patriots. There are all sorts of advanced metrics that showcase the stark difference in running back targets from mobile vs immobile quarterbacks. There is a massive discrepancy between the scrambling ability of Cam Newton and that of Tom Brady, which should limit White’s usage in the passing game. Newton has also been a less accurate quarterback than Tom Brady throughout his playing career, which should limit the team’s offensive output. It’s worth noting that in 2018, Christian McCaffrey had 116 receptions from Cam Newton, but White just isn’t quite the route runner or pass-catcher that CMC is. The Patriots will likely still utilize short-field passing as they don’t have any elite downfield threats, but I’m concerned about the level of offensive productivity in New England overall. At the moment, I have White down for 50 receptions, and he’s currently my RB41. He could certainly see more work than that, but I can’t see him replicating his career-high 87 catches from 2018. Sony Michel will be the first and second-down back in the offense, but I’m not very excited about either player for fantasy production. Other guys will be involved as well in veteran Rex Burkhead and second-year pro Damien Harris. For a team whose offense should be pretty limited and a head coach who always relies on multiple running backs, I’m staying away from this backfield for fantasy purposes.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
Tarik Cohen has a strong chance to repeat as a top-30 running back in PPR leagues, especially if Nick Foles replaces Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback as he’s the more consistent passer. Foles also doesn’t have nearly the scrambling ability of Trubisky, which means he would utilize his pass-catching running back more frequently. I have Cohen down for 96 targets, the fourth-most at running back, and he ranks at #34 in my PPR RBs. He’s likely to see significant slot receiver targets as well, as the Bears didn’t do enough to replace Taylor Gabriel in their offense. Last season, Cohen only had 64 carries but his 79 receptions helped him finish as the RB27 in PPR scoring. Cohen’s 5.8 yards per reception was a career-low mark and he should be able to get that number back up towards his career 7.6 YPR mark. The presence of second-year running back David Montgomery means Cohen’s upside is limited in terms of the number of carries he receives, but the Bears should also be a more efficient offense than last year as they fell from the 9th-highest scoring team in 2018 to the 29th-highest scoring in 2019. If Montgomery were to miss any significant amount of time, Cohen would likely become a strong RB2 for PPR leagues. Even if Montgomery plays the whole season, Cohen will still have a major role in the offense and should be a valuable fantasy asset. I’m very interested at his current 8th-round ADP.
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
There may not be a player whose draft price I’m more enamored with than Kareem Hunt’s at the moment. This may come as a surprise, as Hunt is playing behind one of the best running backs in the NFL in Nick Chubb. However, new Browns‘ head coach Kevin Stefanski has a history of using two-running back sets and both guys should see their fair share of playing time. I also think the bulk of Hunt’s production is going to come through the receiving game, an area where Chubb is capable but not as advanced as Hunt. The Browns have minimal wideout depth behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and when the Browns go with 3-wide sets I actually can see Hunt being played as a slot receiver. With a career 9.6 yards-per-reception rate and 81.7%. completion, he’s been one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL over his three professional seasons. In 2019, Hunt saw 44 targets in just eight games with the team, and that 16-game pace of 88 targets could easily be improved upon this season. Hunt is currently being drafted as the 26th running back off the board in the 5th round in PPR leagues, and I see that as being much closer to his floor than his ceiling. In Stefanski’s offense which emphasizes running back touches, there’s a scenario in play where the most talented duo of backs in the NFL both finish in the top-15 of their position in PPR leagues. Hunt’s a highly talented player and this offense is perfectly set up to utilize his capabilities.
Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
Nyheim Hines is another pass-catching specialist who could have some significant PPR value this season, as the Colts’ running back should receive a boost from playing with Philip Rivers. The former Chargers’ quarterback has a long history of passing to his running backs, more recently with Austin Ekeler and dating back to Danny Woodhead. Ekeler had 92 receptions in 2019. Neither Marlon Mack nor Jonathan Taylor project as high-pass volume running backs – Mack’s career-high is 21 receptions and Taylor had just 42 receptions in three seasons at Wisconsin. Hines should see a bulk of the third-down snaps. After the Colts drafted Jonathan Taylor in the 2nd round, Frank Reich said this about Hines: “Everybody knows Nyheim is kind of our go-to scheme-up pass guy. We do some unique things with Nyheim.” People are bullish on Taylor this season, and for good reason with his talent behind this offensive line, but I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if Hines scores the most PPR points among the Colts’ trio of backs. I have Hines down for 66 receptions and he’s the RB35 in my PPR rankings, but he could end up with even more receptions depending on the play of the Colts’ receiving options outside of T.Y. Hilton – namely Zach Pascal, Michael Pittman, and Parris Campbell. If Mack or Taylor miss any time, Hines could see more rushing opportunities than expected, as well.
Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had the least rushing yards among all NFL teams last season, as the running back position was a glaring weakness on the roster. Miami made a clear commitment to fixing that issue this past offseason as they brought in both Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. Howard is likely going to be the early-down runner with the first shot at snaps on first and second down, but his catch total has decreased in every season since his rookie year. Howard only had 10 catches last year with the Eagles. Matt Breida has shown much more talent in the pass-catching regard, which is likely a major part of why he was also brought in. Breida has had an 86+% catch rate each of the past two seasons and has a career 8.4 yards-per-reception. He’s always been a part of complicated committees in San Francisco, but he has a clear-cut path to touches in Miami this season. I fully expect Howard to be the more utilized running back, especially in the red zone – I have Howard down for 219 carries to Breida’s 128 and 9 touchdowns to Breida’s 3. However, I’m anticipating Breida to be the clear leader in running back receptions on the team. I currently have Breida down for 60 catches for 503 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air, which powers him to a top-30 running back ranking in PPR. He’s being drafted a full round after Jordan Howard at the moment in PPR leagues, which is inconceivable to me, and he has top-20 upside if he takes more of the workload from Howard than most expect. It’s worth noting that the Dolphins had a dreadful offensive line last season, but I’m in on Breida having a career-best campaign.
Chris Thompson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Shortly after the Jaguars signed Jay Gruden to be their new offensive coordinator, the team brought in Chris Thompson who was previously a favorite player of Gruden’s when he was the head coach of the Redskins. In 2017, Thompson finished as the RB28 in PPR leagues despite only having 64 carries as he had 39 receptions for 510 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. Thompson could have some sneaky fantasy value in deeper PPR leagues after being signed by the Jaguars, a team that figures to be playing from behind often in 2020. Jacksonville’s starting running back, Leonard Fournette, had 100 targets in 2019 and 76 catches, but he’s not really built to fill the pass-catching role and more had that usage out of necessity. Thompson was likely brought in to take over a bulk of that passing-game work. I have him down for 51 receptions this season and he’s currently the RB49 in my PPR rankings. The other running backs on the Jaguars’ depth chart are Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo, and three rookies, none of whom should threaten for significant playing time. Jacksonville is very much a team in transition, and they should be playing from behind often in 2020. A player with Thompson’s versatile skillset coming out of the backfield could be vital to their offense as Gardner Minshew is not the most athletic or mobile quarterback. Fournette’s seems to always be sitting on the hot seat in Jacksonville and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the team trade him at some point as he’s a free agent after this season. Thompson has some sneaky fantasy value this season and can be had in the last round of most drafts.
Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles
On another NFC East team, you can find another deep-league sleeper at running back who could catch way more passes than anyone expects. The Eagles are set to make Miles Sanders their starting running back this season after a successful rookie season during which the former Penn State player had 1,327 yards from scrimmage and 6 total touchdowns. After Joran Howard’s departure from the team, Sanders is in line to be a workhorse back. However, since Doug Pederson became the head coach in Philadelphia in 2016, not a single player has seen 200+ carries as Pederson prefers to use a committee approach. I originally anticipated the Eagles signing another veteran running back in free agency to work into the rotation, but that hasn’t happened to this point. Boston Scott is likely to be the team’s backup, and he might have some deep-league PPR appeal as a player who caught 24 passes in the final four games of the 2019 season. If you extrapolate that to a 16-game slate, he would have been good for 96 receptions on the season, which would certainly give him strong fantasy appeal. He likely won’t get to that number as the Eagles’ wide receiver corps looks to be much-improved, but in deeper leagues, Scott is someone I wouldn’t let sit on the waiver wire early in the season.
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