A Baker’s Dozen of Sly Receiving Running Backs

By Alan Satterlee, DFW Senior Writer and Co-Owner, @Speedkills_DFW


Sly as a FoxThere are many obvious top-flight running backs with elite receiving skills, like Le’Veon Bell (who had 83 receptions in 2014 — and Bell averaged 5.5 receptions in four complete games last year, a full-season pace for 88 receptions), or Devonta Freeman of course (73 receptions large last year) or David Johnson (who finished as RB7 last year despite only starting five games), or of course Danny Woodhead (who led all running backs with 81 receptions). Lamar Miller is another option with big PPR potential, and he no doubt is high on everyone’s lists (he should be). You also can ink Giovani Bernard in for his usual 49 receptions as well (Bernard’s career average). However, there are still many more backs that might not get the props they deserve and yet are EXTREMELY solid dynasty/fantasy prospects and undervalued perhaps. This article hits on 13 of them — some crafty like a fox moves. 

FFWIMAGE-Saints1. Mark Ingram (NOS): After years of being a liability really fantasy-wise in PPR leagues (24 receptions combined in his first three seasons in the NFL), Mark Ingram has suddenly turned PPR elite. You may look at his 50 receptions last year and not be highly moved, but you may not really have completely internalized without doing the math. Ingram was on track for 67 receptions last year — which would have put him just six receptions behind Devonta Freeman for 3rd in the NFL last year. Given his upside, and extremely high floor, Ingram at 2.12 according to fantasy football calculator ADP is fantasy gold. There is going to be a lot of points to go around in New Orleans this year.

FFWIMAGE-Redskins2. Matt Jones (WAS): This one is more of a gut call and not everyone has the same level of optimism I have on Matt Jones (or they really like rookie Keith Marshall as a sleeperMattjones who the Redskins selected in the 7th round). The reality is though is Jones has a ton of upside for 2016. First of all, he should be crazy busy. Marshall is a rookie and isn’t really going to vie for a key role as a rookie (in my opinion), not with Jones having a year of experience on him — especially in context too that Washington went into free agency and into the draft knowing Jones would be their number one running back for 2016 and didn’t really bother to add another back until the 7th round. Jones also plays on a team that certainly could push to have a Top 10 scoring offense. Jones caught a pass in each of his final eight games last year and has some big plays in there, including a 45-yard catch against the Giants in Week 12 and a 3-131-1 receiving line against the Saints. 

FFWIMAGE-Browns3. Duke Johnson (CLE): After finishing as RB24, I don’t believe Duke Johnson is getting the love he deserves. Why do I say that? Mainly as I own the Duke in a few dynasty leagues and I have received several offers now where they include Johnson like he is some sort of throw in. Johnson is a STUD in his own right. Based on my projections, Johnson could be a low-end RB1 this year — that’s how prolific of a receiver he is. Johnson’s 61 receptions last year shouldn’t be taken lightly and he has the potential to catch 75 receptions this year. Johnson should be a tremendous PPR asset for years to come, with elite stud running back upside potential.

FFWIMAGE-Bears4. Jeremy Langford (CHI): Jeremy Langford can be a bit of a polarizing player but to me he offers a fair bit of upside. Obviously, it’s a new day in Chicago as Matt Forte leaves after having led the team in rushing in each of the past three eight seasons, and a Top 10 fantasy running back in most of those. Rookie Jordan Howard is certainly a threat for touches and the Bears could employ a bit of an RBBC. However, and regardless, Howard offers zero in the receiving department. No matter what happens, that will be all Langford who excels in this area and Chicago throws a lot to its running back. In Weeks 9-12 where Matt Forte was out or just coming back from injury, Langford picked right where Forte left off averaging 3.5 receptions and 50.3 receiving yards per game over that month (a full-season pace for Langford of 56 receptions and 804 receiving yards).

FFWIMAGE-Patriots5. Dion Lewis (NEP): Dion Lewis likely won’t come cheap on draft day – he actually has a 4.11 ADP price tag. That’s pricey, but I get it. In the seven games he played in last year, Lewis averaged a staggering 5.1 receptions and 55.4 receiving yards per game. I think the 4th round price is a tad high (after all, New England could throw more to Martellus Bennett in two-tight end sets), but if you can collect a true RB1 and get three strong receivers to start a draft, Lewis in the 5th could be sweet as a sneaky-strong RB2. In Weeks 1-9 last year, which includes a bye week and a missed game for Lewis, he was RB7 in PPR scoring.

FFWIMAGE-Jags6. T.J. Yeldon (JAX): Lost in the bummer that T.J. Yeldon dynasty owners felt when the Jaguars signed Chris Ivory in free agency, and a silver lining is that Yeldon could still hold yeldonmore fantasy value than he is being given credit for if he can take over as the pass-catching back for the Jags (which is pretty likely). Somewhat quietly, Yeldon collected 36 receptions as a rookie — he had a reception in every game played last year and Yeldon averaged 4 receptions per game over his final four games. Yeldon has also proven to be solid blocking block as well. Ivory or not, Yeldon’s value as a RB2 will still be intact.

FFWIMAGE-Bucs7. Charles Sims (TBB): We’ve actually received a few emails on our ask the experts on trading Charles Sims, and generally not for much in return. No, no, no! After totaling 51 receptions last year, Sims’ place in the offense is secure and he’s a handy guy to have on your team. Even as the #2 back on the Bucs and as a passing-situation specialist, Sims has plenty of value. Sims had a reception in every game last year helping him to finish as RB16 on the season — in other words, you can start Sims in the RB2 slot on your team or flex him. Additionally, while contributing now, Sims also has a ton of speculative value were Doug Martin to get hurt and miss time. Don’t give Sims away to Martin owners — sit on him — and Sims in the 10th round of re-drafts is a fair but good draft price.

FFWIMAGE-Seahawks8. CJ Prosise (SEA): It’s a tad pure speculation as no one really knows how the Seattle backfield will shake out just yet but CJ Prosise offers healthy upside as a receiving option in the Seahawks’ offense. Plus while we don’t know the running back split, one thing that shouldn’t be up for question is Prosise’s role in the passing game. Prosise is a former wide receiver with tremendous pass-catching skills, while Thomas Rawls had just 9 receptions last season. Additionally, the Seahawks’ passing offense could be prolific. After averaging a respectable, but slightly disappointing, 235 yards passing and 1.1 passing TDs per game in the first nine games of the season, Russell Wilson then ignited over the final seven games — averaging 272 yards and 3.4 passing TDs per game. That’s a mighty big potential pie to slice around. In ADP data on FantasyFootballCalculator, Prosise isn’t even on the radar with 15 rounds of players posted.

FFWIMAGE-Vikings9. Jerick McKinnon (MIN): If you’re looking for a cheap running back play for 2016, Jerick McKinnon could be your man. Over the final five weeks of the season last year, Adrian Peterson was RB21 with 61.0 PPR points, but McKinnon was right behind him as RB22 with 57.3. The point isn’t that AP is done by any means, but Minnesota seems to finally realize what they have in McKinnon plus he needed time to develop coming from Georgia Southern where he was a pistol/running quarterback. If you extrapolate McKinnon’s final five games of the regular season to a full 16 games, that is good for 42 receptions and 419 receiving yards. McKinnon has some PPR value for sure for this season, plus could really explode if the great AP were to ever miss time.

FFWIMAGE-Lions10. Theo Riddick (DET): He won’t go high in fantasy drafts, and won’t likely draw many groans from your fantasy competitors when selected, but Theo Riddick has turned intortheo a quite usable fantasy asset — and despite having just 43 rushing attempts all last season! Riddick though was surprisingly involved in the passing game last year with a whopping 80 receptions. I do expect Ameer Abdullah to cut some into Riddick’s targets, but with Calvin Johnson having retired, Riddick will very much remain a core part of the equation of the Detroit Lions’ passing game this season. Again, if you go elite wide receiver heavy in your draft, you can roll with Riddick as well as a sneaky RB2.

FFWIMAGE-Dolphins11. Kenyan Drake (MIA): Like CJ Prosise in Seattle, it is still some conjecture to understand what roles these rookies will play, but Kenyan Drake should instantly be a big weapon in the passing game. Unlike the first nine of this list, I don’t view Drake a RB2 fantasy starter right out of the gate this season, but he could be and Drake is another sneaky add later in your draft. Drake totaled 29 receptions last year in a run-heavy Alabama offense and averaged a stealth-like 12.4 yards per reception (and an impressive 6.4 yards per carry as well).

FFWIMAGE-Jets12. Bilal Powell  (NYJ): No doubt Matt Forte will be the main man for the Jets, but Bilal Powell should continue to be heavily involved. I bet no one would really believe this — but over a six-week stretch in Weeks 11-16 last year, Powell was actually the 3rd-best fantasy running back in PPR scoring with 32 receptions over those games (5.3 receptions per game). Matt Forte received a 3-year, $12M deal from the Jets — and then the same day — surprisingly — they gave nearly the exact same amount to Powell with a 3-year, $11.25M deal. Powell has some sneaky PPR value for the 2016 season. 

FFWIMAGE-Colts13. Josh Ferguson (IND): Last up, and we will go a bit deeper in sleeper list, but undrafted free agent Josh Ferguson also could carry some sneaky-good PPR value. For JoshFergusonstarters, Ferguson is a really good receiving back. Ferguson had 168 receptions in his Illinois career — a ton — plus he finished 2015 as the only active FBS player with at least 2,500 career rushing and 1,500 receiving yards. Ferguson will draw some immediate Darren Sproles comparisons, and for some more fun speculation, new Colts’ offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski made the same Sproles’ parallels when signing Ferguson, and Chud knows all about the impact a Sproles-type player can have on the offense (Chudzinski was an assistant coach on the Sproles’ teams in San Diego). Also, Andrew Luck has shown how he can use a pass-catching back in the red zone (e.g., Ahmad Bradshaw’s six touchdown streak in seven games in 2014).