Five RBs That Could Lose Targets in 2016

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In PPR leagues, the seemingly most valuable statistic is the target rate 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 and the Bills’ Stevie Johnson had back-to-back top 10 target seasons. Targets are your life-blood if you are in any type of PPR league.

While calculating expected targets for players is a bit of luck mixed in with observing annual numbers, 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 the band of misfits who tried to throw to Dez Bryant at the end of last year.
  3. Offensive Coordinator Mindset– The type of offense and number of pass attempts ultimately dictates the volume of targets. For example, an Adam Gase offense is known for screens and dumps to the running back (Jay Ajayi), deep shots to a big wideout (DeVante Parker), and consistently finding the tight end between the hashes (Is Jordan Cameron still alive?). You can tell I’m optimistic on a couple Miami forgotten players this year simply from a receiving end. Or an X receiver led by offensive coordinators like Kyle Shanahan (Atlanta), Norv Turner (Minnesota), or Sean McVay (Washington) will receive a high volume of targets.
  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, Jordy Nelson’s pre-season injury led to Randall Cobb’s career-high 127 targets which could lead towards some type of regression in 2016.
  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.

Just to give you some context, I did a piece last year highlighting five RBs due for regression. Here were my selections and the success rate of my choices.  All of them regressed after being PPR assets in 2014 besides Murray, who certainly frustrated any fantasy owner that drafted him.

[lptw_table id=”20624″ style=”default”]

We’ll begin this three-part series (WR and TE soon to follow) examining five RB candidates for regression in 2016 as well as their projected target totals.

Prime Running Back Candidates for Regression

Danny Woodhead (2015 Targets: 107)

The stars perfectly aligned last year for Woodhead to post a top-five PPR season. With Melvin Gordon slowed by an injury and struggling with a case of “fumbilitis” as well as No. 1 option Keenan Allen going down in Week 8, Woodhead became a mainstay in the Chargers passing attack as Philip Rivers was forced to dump the ball off in the flats. Woodhead finished with 81 catches, 756 yards receiving and six TDs, all career bests. What leads me towards marking “Woody” as a regression candidate is just the sheer number of targets as 107 is by far the highest total of his career. In fact, it’s the third highest total by a RB dating back to 2010, with a league-leading 16% target share percentage for the RB position. If the offensive line play improves even slightly from their horrific 2015 campaign, Gordon should take a bigger slice of the RB pie. A 16-game season from Allen, as well as the added presence of newly acquired Travis Benjamin, means targets are becoming more and more scarce for our 5’9 friend. He’s still perennially undervalued as he’s still being drafted at 55th overall in PPR leagues.
Projected 2016 Targets: 83

Devonta Freeman (2015 Targets: 97)

Freeman wasn’t even the starter on his own team going into Week 1 and perhaps only received his starring role due to the injury of rookie teammate Tevin Coleman. Most of you know that Freeman was a revelation and league winner for those who scooped him up. His four-week stretch from Weeks 3-6 is the stuff of fantasy legend as he totaled nine touchdowns during some monster performances. He ended up catching 73-of-93 targets for 578 yards and three TDs through the air as well as finishing as the No. 1 fantasy RB. As his stats come to a shock (even to this Falcons fan here), looking back, he was touted by some as a Zero-RB candidate in the fantasy community before the season. Moving into 2016, he is a prime candidate to regress as even the most optimistic projection models see him receiving no more than 85+ targets again this year. I’m going to err a little lower as Tevin Coleman should cut more into Freeman’s time. His price tag this year will be a mid-second round pick, something you might not be willing to gamble on. I’ll pass on Freeman and shoot for someone on the ascension at half the price like Duke Johnson Jr. or Giovani Bernard, both going 6.08 currently in PPR drafts.
Projected 2016 Targets: 76

James White(2015 Targets: 54)

White, a second-year back out of Wisconsin, caught 40-of-54 targets for 410 yards and four TDs as he was showcased in the passing game and rarely was given the opportunity to run the ball. But looking closer at the numbers, it seems his stat line was a tale of two halves. He benefitted solely from the Dion Lewis injury as he totaled just 11 targets through Week 10. However, between Weeks 11-17, White averaged over six targets a game, the fifth best among RBs during this span. He was a top ten PPR back over that last stretch and was heavily involved in the AFC Championship game gathering 5-of-16 targets for 45 yards. Yet his value seems to be coming to a screeching halt as 2016 approaches and Lewis heals from his injury. LeGarrette Blount was curiously resigned as the Patriots backfield saga continues yet again. If Lewis regains his 2015 form, White will be relegated to mop-up duties and a competing with Brandon Bolden as the change-of-pace back. Don’t worry about drafting him but be ready if Coach Belichick decides to mess with us again.
Projected 2016 Targets: 28

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Shane Vereen (2015 Targets: 81)

“Sugar Shane” is a bit of an enigma for me as he’s always made his due in PPR leagues yet disappointed me as nothing more than the second or third back on his team. He’s my college roommate’s favorite PPR asset as he routinely drafts him every year. Last year, after signing a contract with the Giants, he caught 59-of-81 targets for 494 yards and four TDs, the highest target total of his career. He finished as RB26, a player who could be useful week-to-week but not someone who you counted on in 2015. The Giants drafted bruising RB Paul Perkins to pair with starter Rashad Jennings. I expect Perkins to far outplay last year’s resident trash bag (Andre Williams) and even supplant Vereen as No. 2 on the depth chart. Vereen still presents a value as he’s being drafted late in the 13th round or basically as a last roster spot filler in PPR leagues. Just be prepared for a regression.
Projected 2016 Targets: 58

Javorius Allen (2015 Targets: 62)

Allen was another hot item last year as many experts tagged him as a candidate to steal touches from Justin Forsett. Dorsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro were injured as the Ravens handed over the keys to the rookie Allen for the second-half of the year. He averaged seven targets a game over the final seven weeks highlighted by Allen’s Week 13 contest against the Dolphins. He was a PPR owner’s dream as he caught 12-of-13 targets for 107 yards and a TD at Miami. His year-end totals were 45 catches on 62 targets for 353 yards and two receiving TDs. However, the Ravens spent a draft pick on highly touted Kenneth Dixon, who many seem to fancy as the heir apparent to the backfield jumble in Baltimore. FB Kyle Juszczyk was actually just as effective as he caught 41-of-56 targets for four TDs. With Forsett and Taliaferro coming back healthy, as well as the presence of the do-it-all Dixon, Allen could be the odd-man out in 2016. Currently, Allen is the 47th RB off the board and someone who should remain undrafted moving forward.
Projected 2016 Targets: 18

For a look at other “Regress or Impress” candidates, check out Episode #209 with special guest Jamey Eisenberg of CBS Sports.

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