Fantasy Football: Five RBs That Could Lose Targets in 2018

If you’ve been part of the #FootClan, you know that we highlight this series every year. The goal is to find 5 candidates at each position who could find themselves on the wrong side of target regression. This annual exercise is valuable because projecting target volume is what drives fantasy production.

According to Graham Barfield, last year a target was worth 2.75 times more than what a rush gave you in terms of fantasy production. A running back seeing 50+ targets in a PPR league is almost basically akin to a proto-typical early-down runner who gets 150+ carries in a season. This is 2018 and the NFL has changed and fantasy owners need to take notice.

Realize though, not every target is created equally. We also must take into account the average depth of target (aDOT) to fully analyze how much each RB target is worth. For instance, in 2016, David Johnson‘s 4.7 aDOT was incredibly different from a Devonta Freeman who was at a meager 1.1. DJ was being targeted in the slot and running the routes of a WR, hence the reason he was fantasy’s #1 player that year. We need to take notice of these types of trends and statistics to rightly assess and project the worth of targets for the RB position.

Here are 5 indicators of a player that could lose targets in the upcoming season:

  1. Emergence/Health of Teammate(s)– Some of the players listed have had teammates added through free agency, the draft, or the health of another significant target taker restored which will affect their target usage.
  2. Quarterback Situation– A young quarterback helps tight ends and scares the living daylights out of receivers coming across the middle of the field. Anyone will tell you that extremely talented, productive WRs with extremely bad QBs can turn into ineffective WRs. Ask Jacoby Brissett and T.Y. Hilton last year.
  3. Offensive Coordinator Mindset– The type of offense and number of pass attempts ultimately dictates the volume of targets. For example, an X receiver led by offensive gurus like Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco) or Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams) will receive a high volume of targets. So it’s more than rational to be bullish on the target opportunities for Pierre Garcon or Robert Woods this year.
  4. Unsustainable Target Rate– This is a pass catcher whose target rate was bolstered by a freak occurrence. Usually, this is due to injuries to other significant starters. For example, Odell Beckham Jr.’s early injury led to rookie Evan Engram seeing 115 targets. Is that going to happen again in 2018?
  5. The Downside of a Career– A running back on the wrong side of 30, a receiver without any type of separation speed, or a tight end overtaken in the depth chart are all signs things could get a bit hairy. People get older and slower guys. But Frank Gore is the exception of course. You can’t take out Frank Gore.
Let’s examine five RB candidates who could lose targets in 2018 as well as give a projection of their target totals.
Le’Veon Bell (2017 Targets: 106)

Arguably the best player in fantasy is the first candidate I lay before you. Bell was a machine ranking 2nd only to Christian McCaffrey for RB targets in 2017. Those 106 were the highest of his career which should give you a bit of pause. But what concerns me more is his splits when we take a look after the Steelers’ Week 9 bye.

Roethlisberger Attempts Per Game Le'Veon Bell Targets Per Game 16-game Pace Antonio Brown Targets Per Game 16-game Pace
Weeks 1-8 34.38 5.63 90.08 11.75 188
Weeks 10-16 40.86 8.71 139.36 9.71 155.36

It’s clear that Bell’s end of year total benefited from Brown basically missing Weeks 15 & 16. He was utilized in the passing game in a much different way in the 2nd half as Big Ben’s attempts went through the roof including another 58(!) in their playoff game against Jacksonville. Bell is still locked in for me as THE RB1 for 2018, although I might temper my expectations when it comes to repeating that type of target volume with Antonio Brown back, a more experienced Juju Smith-Schuster, rookie James Washington and possibly getting TE Vance McDonald more involved. Projected 2018 Targets: 91

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Duke Johnson (2017 Targets: 93)

I wrote about the Duke going into last year (All Hail Duke Johnson in 2017) and somehow correctly projected his EXACT receiving line before the year. I did a double-take because I threw out the possibility of him seeing 15% of the team’s target share ending with 74 receptions on 93 targets and 698 receiving yards through the air (only 5 receiving yards off). Regardless of my once-in-a-lifetime prophecy, Johnson was a valuable PPR play in 2017 mostly because of opportunity. Isaiah Crowell was worthless and the team was sooooo bad that negative game scripts called for Duke’s constant involvement. He enters 2018 with a much more crowded backfield with the newly inked Carlos Hyde and major draft capital spent on rookie Nick Chubb. There’s no way he sees the field at 54.4% snap rate again. Projected 2018 Targets: 73

Carlos Hyde (2017 Targets: 88)

Duke’s new backfield mate in Cleveland also finds himself in the same precarious, three-headed Hydra situation. The hometown Hyde was signed for $15 million in the off-season, no small price for a free-agent RB. But it’s his 88 targets in San Francisco that must be dealt with. That’s 55 (FIFTY-FIVE!) more than his previous career high as he was a by-product of Kyle Shanahan’s newly-implemented offense. There’s no way he’ll come even close to that mark even if he does manage to stay healthy, something Hyde has always struggled with. Personally, I think Hyde could turn out to be the most valuable fantasy RB in Cleveland in 2018 and someone who could easily best his current ADP of the 80th player off the board in the middle of the 7th round according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. However, his upside seems capped for PPR leagues. Projected 2018 Targets: 32

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James White (2017 Targets: 71)

Every year we shy away from the New England backfield throwing fits of frustration towards Uncle Bill’s direction as he just shrugs in his hoodie. Yet, every year for the last 3 years James White has not only exceeded his draft cost but also been a consistent pass-catching cog in this offense especially at playoff time for these perennial Super Bowl contenders. 2018 might be the year this ship sinks as they selected rookie RB Sony Michel towards the end of the first round, a shocking move for a franchise known for shedding RB labels. With Rex Burkhead also extended in the off-season, it’s hard imagining White solely continuing his role as the predominant 3rd down guy. Instead, it just further muddles his target share and fantasy owners are taking notice as White is basically free in drafts. Unless there’s an injury, he’s a dart throw at best this year. Projected 2018 Targets: 53

Kareem Hunt (2017 Targets: 63)

What?! Everything we’ve read thus far has said that Andy Reid wants to get Hunt more involved in the passing game. Yet, Hunt finds himself in a situation with more major mouths to feed (Sammy Watkins) and other RBs with viable skills to come in and backup. Last season, Charcandrick West was it but now Spencer Ware and Damien Williams are capable pass catchers who could make a small dent in his workload. 63 targets definitely are doable but I think it’s worth noting that it’s not a guarantee. Hunt is being drafted as a mid-1st rounder and as our own Cory Evans recently pointed out, Hunt is a major candidate to regress in 2018. I think his overall volume is safe but don’t be shocked if he doesn’t repeat his aerial success this year. Projected 2018 Targets: 51