Positive Target Regression Candidates: Running Backs (2020 Fantasy Football)
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As someone who plays almost exclusively in full-PPR leagues, I spend a lot of time each offseason looking for running backs with untapped receiving potential. I tend to draft workhorse runners early, and once I’ve done that, I target receiving backs that can function as high-floor weekly Flex players in the sixth or seventh round.
In 2019, 10 running backs saw at least 70 targets, with six of those 10 finishing among the top-10 in PPR scoring at the position. Among the top-20 PPR running backs last year, only two (Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram) had fewer than 40 targets.
The correlation between targets and running back fantasy success is clear, so we’ve identified five guys who underwhelmed in the receiving game last season who could see positive target regression in 2020.
For a running tally of player targets, check out FantasyPros’ weekly target report throughout the football season.
Barkley ranked third among running backs with 121 targets in 2018, but his total fell to 73 in 2019, mostly due to his losing three games to a high ankle sprain. His 5.6 targets per game in 2019 stretched over 16 games would’ve put him at 90 targets, good for seventh at the position.
Still, there’s reason to wonder whether new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will install the ground-and-pound strategy of his early Cowboys days or embrace the air-it-out approach his offenses showcased in recent seasons.
Rookie head coach Joe Judge comes from a New England team that ranked among the league’s top-five in running back targets each of the past five seasons, and I expect there to be some carryover as sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones relies on Barkley as a check-down safety net in 2020.
Good luck stopping @saquon this year 😤
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– B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) June 25, 2020
Gordon saw 55 targets in the 2019 season, in which he only played 12 games because of a contract holdout. Throughout his career, Gordon has averaged about 71 targets per a 16-game schedule, with his most targeted season (83) coming in 2017.
New Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has historically targeted his running backs at a league-average rate. Still, given the right personnel, he’s been willing to involve his backs in the passing game (see Darren Sproles in Philadelphia).
Gordon is known as a well-rounded back, and he should get plenty of opportunities in a committee backfield with Phillip Lindsay in 2020, provided that Royce Freeman falls out of the rotation as many pundits have projected.
Before Jordan Howard’s injury in Week 9 last season, Sanders averaged three targets per game.
After the bye from Week 11 to Week 17, Sanders upped his target average to five per game. Over the full season, that would’ve put him at 80 targets, good for seventh among running backs.
With Howard in Miami, Sanders’ 2020 should look a lot like his second half of 2019, and I expect him to far exceed his rookie season total of 63 targets, especially with more experience heading into year two in Doug Pederson’s offense.
In his return from suspension in Week 10 last season, Hunt caught seven of nine targets for 44 yards and finished that game against the Bills with a respectable 14 PPR points.
His nine targets were a harbinger of the offense’s new look, as Hunt became the Browns’ primary receiving back over the second half of last season, outpacing Nick Chubb in targets from Week 10 to Week 17 by 44 to 34.
New Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski’s Vikings offense ranked eighth in running back targets last season, so even if he pounds the rock as he did in Minnesota, Hunt should have a strong receiving floor.
Hunt’s 5.5 targets per game from 2019 stretched over the course of last season would’ve given him 88 targets.
Thompson will reunite with his former head coach Jay Gruden in Jacksonville, where Leonard Fournette saw a vast majority of running back targets in 2019.
In the five weeks of Washington’s offense before Gruden’s firing last season, Thompson ranked third in running back targets, ahead of guys such as Fournette, Alvin Kamara, Le’Veon Bell, Tarik Cohen, Aaron Jones, and Dalvin Cook. Had Thompson stayed healthy and continued at that pace, he would’ve finished the season with 112 targets, good for the second-most among running backs.
But — there’s always a but — injuries have been, and will continue to be, the concern for Thompson. He’s missed 17 games over the past three seasons, including five in 2019 with a foot injury.
Any positive projection for Thompson will be directly tied to his health, which is a major question mark for a guy who’s averaged about nine games per season in his seven-year career.