Fantasy Football: Five RBs That Could Lose Targets in 2017

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In PPR leagues, the seemingly most valuable statistic is the target attrition of your pass-catchers, whether that be your RBs, WRs, or TEs. Simply put, targets mean opportunities and opportunities mean points on the board. You are hand-wrapped easy points for receptions and you need to gain an advantage over your opponent. If you have never looked at a chart comparing target leaders over the last couple of years, you might be shocked to know Pierre Garcon led the league in 2013 with 184 targets or that old man Frank Gore once had 86 targets for the 2006 49ers. Targets are your life-blood if you are in any type of PPR league.

While calculating expected targets for players is not an exact science, it seems like there are at least five factors that come into play when projecting which players are due for a regression this upcoming year.

  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 Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson 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– A receiver whose target rate was way above their career norm is due to regress towards their annual average. Usually, this is due to injuries to other significant starters. For example, Keenan Allen’s early injury led to Tyrell Williams seeing 119 targets. Is that going to happen again in 2017?
  5. 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.

Just to give you some context, I did this same exercise last year highlighting five RBs who could lose targets. Here were my selections and the success rate of my choices.  All of them regressed after being PPR assets in 2015 besides White, who was leaned on heavily as Dion Lewis returned slower than I had imagined.

[lptw_table id=”42315″ style=”default”]

Let’s examine five RB candidates who could lose targets in 2017 as well as give their projected target totals.

Running Back Candidates for Target Regression

David Johnson (2016 Targets: 120)

Whoa whoa whoa. David Johnson? THE David Johnson? Cue the music and sing along “David Johnson”? No, I’m not throwing shade on last year’s fantasy MVP but I do want to give you some perspective on his 120 targets from 2016. That is the 2nd highest total by a RB over the last 10 years. Matt Forte had a ridiculous 130 target campaign in 2014 that plummeted the following season. With a league-leading 21.9% target market share for the RB position, DJ was a beast in PPR leagues. However, I want to point out that this statistic seems to be unsustainable and impossible to project year-to-year. With the added health of teammate John Brown, I think DJ will have to “settle” for either leading RBs at a slightly lower total or bowing out to Le’Veon Bell. Not much number crunching here, simply banking on regression.

Projected 2017 Targets: 98

Getty Images Sport / Ralph Freso

Todd Gurley (2016 Targets: 58)

If you drafted Todd Gurley in 2016, then it’s clear (or perhaps degradingly muddy) that you soiled yourself all year long waiting for some type of breakout. Although he most likely buried your team in poo, Gurley did see 58 targets on the season, more than doubling his rookie season. That total was 12th best among RBs. I think Gurley will improve from a running efficiency sense yet miss out on a few opportunities in the passing with Lance Dunbar in town. Before going down to a severe injury in 2015, Dunbar averaged 5 catches per game in Dallas and will most likely be used in similar fashion to Redskins’ third down back Chris Thompson. I’m actually buying Gurley in lots of leagues just not expecting the same type of passing volume.

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Projected 2017 Targets: 46

James White (2016 Targets: 86)

Fool me once… Well, I’m going to take another stab at the Patriots backfield and the crowded. White was a godsend in the second half of the year and essentially a demigod in the playoffs. His Super Bowl performance was simply the G.O.A.T. as detailed in my aftermath article and White was rewarded with a contract extension. The most puzzling aspect was the fact that Patriots went ahead and signed a stable of other capable backs. Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee look to take on major roles after they were given guaranteed money. Dion Lewis could be the odd man out with White still being a dependable target out of the backfield. However, 86 targets are the most seen by a Patriots RB in the Tom Brady-era (which is since 2000 if you’re feeling old). I just don’t see the scenario within this crowded backfield for White to hit that number again and have a valuable role for fantasy squads outside being stashed on a deep bench in PPR leagues or a DFS contrarian dart throw.

Projected 2017 Targets: 67

Mark Ingram (2016 Targets: 58)

After a breakout receiving year in 2016, Mark Ingram continued his impressive passing down work placing 13th among RBs in targets. He obviously is not in the good graces of coach Sean Payton as the team signed future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson and drafted University of Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara. Early OTA reports suggest that Peterson and Ingram could split time on early downs as Kamara handles some of the 3rd down roles. Although it is tough for rookies to learn pass protection, nevertheless Ingram’s role and opportunity in the passing game might’ve seen its heyday. After finding the end zone 4 times through the air, expect a hard crash back to earth for the once formidable former Heisman Trophy winner.

Projected 2017 Targets: 41

Terrance West (2016 Targets: 45)

Terrance West somehow squirreled his way into a respectable fantasy season fighting off rookie Kenneth Dixon after an impressive preseason which won over the Baltimore staff. West finished the year with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage as the RB24 in standard and the RB23 in PPR leagues highlighted by 2 top 10 scoring weeks. All of this inevitably must change as THE pass-catching guru himself, Danny Woodhead, comes to town to siphon the majority of pass down work. West still will see a fair share on the early down workload especially with Dixon suspended for the first 4 games of the year. It’s fairly likely that 2016 was the best fantasy season we will see from West as his value will be trending downward in PPR formats.

Projected 2016 Targets: 28

For a look at other “Regress or Impress” candidates, check out Episode #378 highlighting players that could see major decline in their fantasy production in 2017.

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