By JUSTIN DADE (@dade_justin)
Photo credit goes to nepatriotslife.com.
If you play in PPR formats, you know that targeting elite receivers who catch a lot of passes every game like Antonio Brown or Julio Jones is essential. If you do wind up being fortunate to snag good receivers early in the first few rounds, you may realize how slim the running back pickings may seem past the third round.\
Luckily for you, there are a few gems in the middle rounds who will provide a solid contribution at the running back position because of their pass catching ability.
Look for these players to be solid RB2/Flex plays in PPR formats:
(Average Draft Positions taken from ESPN)
Dion Lewis, RB, New England (Current ADP – 50.8)
The top PPR specialty player in the league this past season outside of the top 15 ADP running backs, Dion Lewis was one of the league’s most surprising players of the year before losing the rest of his season with an ACL injury in Week 9.
Lewis scored over 15 fantasy points in PPR formats in five out of the seven games in which he played, averaging just over five receptions a game. Lewis’ shiftiness and hands make him a nightmare for any linebacker who has to find him on third down.
With quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four games, look for the young Jimmy Garoppolo to check it down to Lewis often in the first few games of the year. Unlike other pass-catching backs, Lewis also contributes in the running game with the lack of competition in the Patriots’ backfield; he carried the ball an average of seven times per game in 2015.
As long as Lewis’ knee checks out in time before the season, he is a surefire RB2 in PPR formats.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee (Current ADP – 54.2)
It was a disappointing year for DeMarco Murray on the ground last season, but despite his struggles, he was able to haul in 44 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown. It may have been a down year for him, but he was still able to finish as the 16th-best fantasy running back in 2015 in PPR scoring.
Now in Tennessee, he is looking to add a much-needed balanced attack out of the backfield to a team very desperate for one after whiffing on Washington product Bishop Sankey. Newly-drafted Derrick Henry may very well steal short-yardage touches from Murray, but the veteran back has very little competition for receptions -- aside from Delanie Walker -- with a quarterback who doesn’t stretch the field very often in Marcus Mariota.
Dexter McCluster will also see some third-down touches, but Murray has a good chance of reaching 50 receptions in this new offense. Fifty receptions isn’t eye-opening compared to some other guys on this list, but he’s easily the best pure back on the ground, which rounds out his RB2 value rather nicely.
Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Cleveland (Current ADP – 81.9)
Despite rushing for just over 3.5 yards a carry last season, Duke Johnson Jr. quietly finished inside the top 25 for running backs in PPR formats in his rookie season because of his 74 targets in the passing game.
Johnson’s 61 receptions last year was good enough for fourth-best among running backs. Even though Isaiah Crowell will likely to take the majority of the touches on the ground this season, Johnson’s ability to catch passes is going to get him on the field often, especially with a team who likely won’t be playing with the lead very much.
With Robert Griffin III at quarterback and very little competition for targets after Gary Barnidge and maybe rookie Corey Coleman, the second-year product from Miami could be very busy this season. You could do a lot better at your RB2 position than Johnson, but you could also do a lot worse in PPR formats.
Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego (Current ADP – 88.2)
Believe it or not, Danny Woodhead finished as the third overall fantasy running back in PPR scoring a season ago, hauling in a ridiculous 81 passes for 756 yards and 6 touchdowns. Some expected Woodhead to have a down year with San Diego’s adding Melvin Gordon, but he got even more dominant.
With Keenan Allen returning and the addition of Travis Benjamin, don’t expect Woodhead to see 107 targets like he did last year, but he’s still going to be a very strong RB2 in PPR formats with his unmatchable hands and route running skills. Woodhead is the perfect example of a consistent PPR back who you can always count on to produce 10-15 points per game.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati (Current ADP – 90.5)
If you are looking for another very consistent contributor out of the backfield in PPR leagues, look no further than Giovani Bernard. He’s played behind Jeremy Hill for almost his entire career but stills scores fantasy points because of his receiving skills.
He is a solid contributor on the ground who will see around 150 carries, but his 49 catches for 472 yards last helped him sneak into the top-20 PPR running backs a year ago. The Bengals let Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu walk in free agency, which leaves a lot of receptions that need to be picked up by someone.
Look for Bernard to be involved in the passing game a lot, especially in the start of the season with a banged up Tyler Eifert and young Tyler Boyd. If you can snag Bernard as your RB3 to mix in every once in a while, you are in business.
Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit (Current ADP – 122.8)
As we climb down in average draft position, there is one more player you need to be aware of who can sneak into your starting lineup on occasion in PPR formats. Theo Riddick flourished in the Lions’ Reggie Bush role in 2015 behind rookie Ameer Abdullah.
Riddick was the second-most targeted back in the passing game last season with a whopping 99 looks, easily doubling his season carry total. Riddick turned those 99 targets into 80 receptions for 697 yards and three scores.
Riddick is one of the quickest backs around and has cemented himself as one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. Abdullah and Zach Zenner will likely do the damage on the ground, but expect Riddick to be on the field a lot especially with the departure of Calvin Johnson. Riddick is a very safe flex play this upcoming season in PPR scoring.