Negative Target Regression: Running Backs (2021 Fantasy Football)
Earlier this month I highlighted some of the running backs I think should see their targets go up in 2021. Partially because I’m a fan of balance, and partially because I like telling a full story, here are some running back candidates that I think will see their targets decline from last year. Some of these are pretty obvious but it’s still worth looking into the numbers so we can avoid bad narratives as we see them come up as the season approaches.
JD McKissic (RB – WAS)
2020 targets: 110 – 6.9/game
J.D. McKissic was targeted more in 2020 than any other running back in the NFL. His 110 targets were 25th in the league, putting him alongside names like CeeDee Lamb (WR – DAL) and Tyler Boyd (WR – CIN). He even had three more targets than perennial stud running back Alvin Kamara (RB – NO). But sadly, a lot of that was with veteran quarterback Alex Smith (QB – WAS) calling the shots. In the eight games that Smith played last year, McKissic saw 8.1 targets per game with a team target share of almost 23%. Without Smith, McKissic only saw 5.6 targets per game. Now that the team has signed Ryan Fitzpatrick (QB – WAS) to lead the offense, I fully expect McKissic’s targets to go down.
That being said, all is not lost for McKissic managers. The team targeted McKissic 8.3 times in their nine losses versus a mere 5 times per game in their seven wins. Las Vegas is currently projecting the team to have a win/loss line of 8 wins for the year, meaning they expect them to be losing more games than they win. Even if the team and Head Coach Ron Rivera continue to call McKissic’s number out of the backfield when they are playing from behind, I just don’t see it being enough to put McKissic atop the RB target board again this year, making him an obvious choice for target regression.
Nyheim Hines (RB – IND)
2020 targets: 76 – 4.8/game
Third on that list of running back targets was none other than “guy I wish I had drafted” Nyheim Hines of the Indianapolis Colts. While everyone was watching Jonathan Taylor (RB – IND) dominate down the stretch, Hines quietly racked up a solid 2020 campaign for himself. He finished with 63 catches on his 76 targets for 482 yards and 4 receiving touchdowns in 16 games. He finished 15th at the position with 193.2 PPR points, a whopping 12.1 per game average. He was no joke! But can he do it again?
Last year was a wild one for the Colts. They drafted Taylor but expected to lean on Marlon Mack (RB – IND) until he tore his Achilles in Week 1 of the preseason. This left the team to resort to a running back by committee approach, largely leaning on Taylor for running plays and Hines for the passing ones. Now that Mack is back, the committee just got larger, and with how well Taylor played as the season went along, how much meat will be left on the bone for Hines to enjoy? My gut tells me that Hines will still see some work out of the backfield from time to time but it won’t be anywhere near what we got from him in 2020, making him a prime candidate for target regression this year.
David Montgomery (RB – CHI)
2020 targets: 68 – 4.5/game
In addition to Taylor, David Montgomery also had a great back half of the year last season. Montgomery finished 6th among running backs with his 68 targets and 4th among running backs in PPR scoring for the year with 264.8 PPR points. No matter how you crunch the numbers, Montgomery exceeded expectations in 2020, both on the ground and through the air. Now that team has moved on from Mitch Trubisky (QB – BUF) and drafted rookie Justin Fields (RB – CHI), things are looking up for the Bears in 2021.
Quarterback play aside, Montgomery’s fantasy success last year can be attributed to more than just his play on the field. Teammate Tarik Cohen (RB – CHI) had his season cut short after an ACL injury in Week 3, meaning Montgomery was asked to play more snaps than expected. On top of that, the team’s schedule wasn’t the hardest leading up to the playoffs, allowing Montgomery to rack up at least 20 PPR points each of the last six weeks of the year.
Las Vegas puts the win/loss total for the Bears at 7 games this year, meaning they are going to be playing from behind more than from ahead. Montgomery saw 5.4 targets per game in the team’s 5 losses that he played in versus only 4.1 targets per game in their 10 wins, but a lot of those targets will likely go to Cohen now that he’s healthy. I don’t hate Montgomery this year but I do expect him to see a significant drop off in terms of passing work barring another Cohen injury which therefore greatly limits his upside in PPR leagues.
James Robinson (RB – JAC)
2020 targets: 60 – 4.3/game
This last one is a somewhat obvious choice but I think it’s still worth discussing exactly how much the Jaguars plan to use second-year UDFA running back James Robinson this year. In 2020, Robinson finished 10th among running backs with his 60 targets on a team that only won a single game. Robinson was really the lone bright spot in Jacksonville in 2020, both for fans of the Jaguars and fantasy players alike who likely grabbed him off waivers for free after Week 1. But 2021 is going to be very different for both the Jaguars as a whole and Robinson himself.
The front office signed long-time college coach Urban Meyer to lead the team and drafted Trevor Lawrence (QB – JAC) and Travis Etienne (RB – JAC) with their two first-round picks. Given the amount of draft capital spent on the offensive skill positions, this was pretty bad news for Robinson’s outlook. Robinson is unlikely to see enough consistent work to get back to the same total targets that he had in 2020 but he might be worth starting in fantasy as Etienne gets up to speed in the early part of the season. Robinson is going late enough in drafts that he’s basically free and could still return some value early in the year, so draft him as a low-risk, high-reward option, and don’t feel too bad if he doesn’t pan out.
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