One of the things I love most about fantasy football is the outliers. I think about them all the time. You can’t really see them coming (any more than you can guess the next number on a roulette wheel), but they emerge every year and lead people to championships. Maybe it’s the deep sleeper or the stud who puts together a magical season and crushes the competition. Figure out the players that will exceed expectations this year and avoid the players due for regression. It’s simple right?
One of the most valuable assets for fantasy production is targets, especially for RBs. Jared Smola pointed out on Twitter that a carry in PPR leagues was worth .63 fantasy points while a target was worth 1.56 fantasy points on average. We want RBs that are targeted frequently especially if they also get a significant number of carries. Let’s figure out, which RBs may be due for target regression by taking a look at which RBs led the league in targets last year.
There may be a couple of surprises in here, but most of the RBs on this list should look familiar. There’s a decent chance you won a championship if you had one of these RBs in any sort of league that awards reception bonuses. If you had two or more of them, you probably took down a #FootclanTitle. We’ve already looked at WRs and TEs that will be due for target regression… so which RBs may see their targets drop?
T.J. Yeldon (2018 Targets: 77)
This is low hanging fruit, but believe it or not Yeldon had three or more targets in every game leading up to Week 14. He actually had five or more targets in nine games leading into Week 14. He was signed by BUF in the offseason and now belongs to a backfield whose outlook is clear as mud. They still have LeSean McCoy on the roster, they drafted Devin Singletary, and they also signed free agent Frank Gore.
Even if Yeldon emerges from the pack, BUF only targeted their RBs a total of 101 times in 2018. Yeldon’s role in this offense is probably going too far below the radar, but there’s no way Yeldon is going to receive a significant share of targets in this backfield much less exceed last years’ 77 targets.
James White (2018 Targets: 123)
There were two schools of thought going into 2018 regarding the NE backfield. Some felt that Sony Michel and/or Rex Burkhead were worth mid-round draft picks. The other school of thought was to choose the cheapest NE RB with some sort of potential for snaps. Once again the cheap NE RB was the way to go.
I’m not sure Burkhead ever had a chance, but injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Burkhead, and Michel throughout the year gave White more opportunity than was expected. White ended the year with 1,176 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs. He did this on the back of 123 targets that resulted in 87 receptions, 751 yards, and seven TDs. Those 123 targets were the third-most RB targets over the past five seasons. I still think White is a decent play in PPR leagues with his fifth-Round ADP, but repeating 123 targets is unlikely with Michel and Burkhead relatively healthy and the arrival of Damien Harris through the 2019 draft.
Ezekiel Elliott (2018 Targets: 95)
Zeke was targeted consistently throughout the season in 2018 where he was targeted four or more times in all but one game. It was a special year for Elliott, but his targets went from 38 in 15 games his rookie year to 39 targets in ten games in 2017, to 95 targets in 15 games last year. As of July, Zeke appears committed to holding out pending a new contract which may press into regular-season games. Even if you look past potential missed games because of a holdout, DAL spent draft picks on rookie RBs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber. Pollard, in particular, is a pass-catching specialist who earned a 94th percentile target share in college. DAL also returns 2018 rookie Michael Gallup and trade asset Amari Cooper not to mention the un-retirement of Jason Witten. Zeke’s still a top-3 pick in redraft leagues, but he won’t exceed the 95 targets he saw last year.
Tarik Cohen (2018 Targets: 90)
90 targets is a lot for an RB, but 27 (30%) of those targets came in just two games. CHI traded away Jordan Howard (26 targets), but acquired Mike Davis (42 targets) from SEA in free agency and spent their first pick in the 2019 draft on David Montgomery (73rd overall) who had a 71st percentile college target share in college. While Cohen will perform a vital role, his role may become a big disappointment if he can’t repeat the targets he enjoyed in 2018 on a team full of receiving threats up-and-down the roster.
Christian McCaffrey (2018 Targets: 124)
Here’s the big outlier. Matt Forte and his 130 targets in 2014 were total to exceed McCaffrey’s 124 targets from the past five seasons. It was one of those seasons where a talented player took full advantage of an outrageous amount of opportunity.
McCaffrey was on the field for 966 out of 1058 offensive snaps (91.30%). To put that into perspective, Zeke was on the field for 82.71% of snaps and Saquon Barkley had a similar 82.96% snap share. We also know Cam Newton was dealing with a shoulder injury that seemed to have some sort of impact on his ability to push the ball downfield, which may have been the reason D.J. Moore, Devin Funchess, and Curtis Samuel only combined for 126 targets. Throw in the absence of Newton’s “Blankey”, Greg Olsen, who battled foot injuries and only totaled 38 targets in nine games, and you had a recipe for a special year. With Moore and Samuel seemingly poised for breakouts and a healthy Olsen in training camp, the 124 targets McCaffrey saw last year will certainly come down. He’ll still be one of the most targeted RBs in the league again this year (and is my choice for the #1 overall pick), but last year was the result of a confluence of factors that produced an outlier year for McCaffrey.
Bonus: Theo Riddick (2018 Targets: 75)
Riddick was recently released by DET. As of this writing, he hasn’t been signed, but he’s drawn interest from a few teams. His 75 targets will almost certainly come down regardless of which team signs him. Riddick has averaged 77.75 targets/yr over the past four seasons and 5.55 targets per game over that time. He would be really interesting on a high-volume passing offense, but the days of Riddick as a bye week flex play may be over.