Anyone can draft Adrian Peterson or Arian Foster and roll with those guys to fantasy supremacy. What’s tougher is to find value in the margins, knowing your league rules and scoring system and being able to exploit value that other owners don’t even know is there.
In PPR leagues, obviously wide receivers become more valuable. But while it’s easy to leave your running back rankings unchanged, it would be a foolish move. There are some running backs whose pass catching abilities make them significantly more valuable in PPR leagues, even more so than established, “name” players. Here are five such guys.
Sproles has made a name for himself over the years as a PPR-league specialist. Last year, he caught 75 passes, which would be equivalent to 750 rushing yards in a one-point-per-reception league. That’s extremely valuable, and it’s a big reason why he shoots up from 25th in our non-PPR running back rankings to 16th when accounting for receptions.
Although New Orleans likes to go with a running back by committee, Sproles is the primary target out of the backfield and will occasionally line up in the slot as well. In a PPR league, he has value as a second starting RB.
Now that perennial fantasy temptation Felix Jones is gone, Murray will assume the full-time job and see a bump in his stats. He caught 35 passes last year, but we have him projected for 46 this season. We have him ranked 10th in our RB rankings counting PPR, ahead of bigger names like Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, and Steven Jackson.
Jackson is getting a little long in the tooth, which is a big reason why St. Louis let him go this offseason and why he might slip farther than he should in your fantasy draft. But he still rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year (more than Trent Richardson, who is flying up RB rankings) and landed in an ideal situation in Atlanta.
The Falcons were one of only four teams in the league last year to complete more than 100 passes to their backs. They completed 103 such passes in fact, and that was with Michael Turner and his stone hands on the roster. Jacquizz Rodgers will still be around to bogart some catches, but there's still plenty to go around. Jackson has always been a capable receiver out of the backfield, and he should see his receiving numbers increase dramatically in Atlanta’s system.
Like Jackson, Bush should be the beneficiary of a new offense. Detroit was fifth in the league in completions to its backs, with 96. Bush was a very talented receiver early on in his career, before seeing his stats in that department dwindle. Playing with Matt Stafford and operating as a safety valve when Calvin Johnson gets quintuple-teamed should bring in more catches.
Plus, here’s a fun stat: although Bush had just 35 catches last year, he was targeted 52 times. Ah, the joys of playing with Ryan Tannehill. Stafford should be able to complete more of those simple passes to his running back, which will result in sweet PPR points for fantasy owners.
This is a spec play for only the deepest PPR leagues. Here’s the logic: San Diego lead the league with 123 completions to its backs last year. Woodhead demonstrated his capabilities as a receiver in New England (40 catches last year), and signed with San Diego specifically to replicate those skills. He goes into the season as San Diego’s RB2 behind the perennially injured Ryan Matthews.
Ronnie Brown racked up 49 catches last year, and Woodhead is much better suited for that role. If you’re playing in like a 16-team PPR league, Woodhead might be worth a late-round flyer.