Uncovering an Edge: By Deciphering RB Targets
Gaining an edge on your opponents whether season or daily contests is vital to success. When drafting running backs, specifically point-per-reception rules, we must analyze how individual NFL teams utilize their backs. Volume is key to any tailback, but emphasis here is strictly running back targets. Distinguishing teams that stress these targets is key to finding that added edge.
My first step in this process was charting all running back targets per team (over the last three seasons). Results of my research provide us with a solid starting point. I’ve ranked in order, top to bottom from the previous seasons total running back targets per team and have also included 2015 and 2014 statistics.
Looking over three seasons of data, we should remember the NFL is a revolving door. Each team is unique with their own coaching staff, player personnel, and scheme. With such quick turnarounds, highlighting major changes and utilizing our chart, aiming to provide even more clarity to which teams emphasize receiving backs.
Highlighting Personnel Changes:
Atlanta Falcons: Losing a mastermind in Kyle Shanahan, Atlanta will be tasked to supplement a league leading (scoring) offense. His replacement, Steve Sarkisian who favors power-blocking and more shotgun/pistol looks could be detrimental to their established running game. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman feast off play action, which will be impacted with Matt Ryan under center less.
Denver Broncos: There could be some sneaky goodness here, with Mike McCoy coming to town. Denver has ranked significantly lower than San Diego the last three seasons. With McCoy implementing a new system, favoring zone blocking and pass catching running backs there’s a clear path to improvement. This could certainly impact C.J. Anderson in a positive way.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett tandem, will have another chance of employing their offense here in Jacksonville. Last time this opportunity arose for them, was with Buffalo from 2013-2014. That season the Bills running backs had 122 total targets. Comparing the Jaguars past three seasons (averaging 100 targets) it’s a significant bump. Talk surrounding Jacksonville recently has pointed towards T.J. Yeldon being a roster cut. If the former happens, Leonard Fournette’s target total will explode. Making him an even better than imagined fantasy asset this season.
Green Bay Packers: It’s out with the old (losing Eddie Lacy, James Starks, Christine Michael) in with the new (drafting Jamal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays) for Green Bay. Resulting in Ty Montgomery (former wide receiver turned running back) the lone tailback with any NFL experience. The emphasis all off-season has been Montgomery’s pass protection. Truly the last road block for his transition to becoming an every down back.
Understanding what the chart clearly points out (like a giant red flag waving about), and grasping its significance. Our chart has identified dual-threat quarterbacks and their negative effect on pass catching running backs. This trend based on the bottom 12 teams including Seattle, Buffalo, Kansas City, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina, all teams with scrambling quarterbacks. We can make sense of this by looking at tendencies of an athletic QB, specifically broken plays. The more reliant on athleticism the easier it is to leave the pocket. Traveling outside the pocket lowers a number of check downs (targets) for their running backs. Hindsight quarterbacks who stay in the pocket, target their backs more frequently. Leading to an easy rule of thumb: target backs from teams utilizing quarterbacks who stay in the pocket and draw caution to those who don’t.
In conclusion, I’ve identified many reasons why teams utilize receiving backs more than others. Gaining an edge by doing what’s optimal and drafting running backs on teams funneling targets their way. Using my research, I’ll leave you with a solid list of backs to target for the upcoming fantasy season.
Running Backs to Target:
Alvin Kamara: Embracing passing downs role for New Orleans
Danny Woodhead: Flacco’s new check down weapon
David Johnson: His 120 targets speak for himself
James White: Got paid and had 86 targets last year
LeVeon Bell: Averaged 7.8 targets per game
Bilal Powell: Finally featured with 75 targets last season
Theo Riddick: Detroit targeted RB’s 173 and 165 times in years prior
Darren Sproles: 71 targets from Wentz’s rookie campaign
Leonard Fournette: Much higher ceiling than most will realize
Melvin Gordon: Averaged 4.4 targets per game
Ty Montgomery: Opportunity to be an every down back
C.J. Anderson: Has the most to gain in a new system