Running backs who can catch out of the backfield are a hot commodity. Here I touch on who the top receiving backs to target in your drafts are.
The top receiving backs in the NFL are mostly noticeable but there are some sleepers. Running backs who can catch are becoming much more desirable in today’s pass happy NFL. Last year alone there were six different running backs with 90 or more receptions. There were also nine different backs with at least 497 receiving yards. Here I will break down by tiers who the top receiving backs are.
Christian Mccaffrey- Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey comes up with a nice one-handed catch. 😄🤚pic.twitter.com/wrI1kKgDKN
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) October 22, 2017
2018 Receiving Stats: 124 targets, 107 receptions, 867 receiving yards, six touchdowns, 7.75 targets per game
Christian Mccaffrey is one of the top receiving backs, most likely the top, in the NFL. He is a top four draft pick in all draft formats as well. During his two seasons with the Panthers he has 237 targets, 187 receptions, 1,518 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns. He has averaged 7.4 targets per game for his career. His PPR possibilities are endless and this does not even include his running ability.
The Panthers added former Georgia running back as an undrafted free agent post draft. It is absolutely criminal that Holyfield was not drafted even though he tested poorly at the combine and pro day. His tape tells a completely different story. The addition of Holyfield may bump Mccaffrey’s target share even higher tough.
Having another adequate running back on the team could allow the Panthers to run some split back sets. This would allow Mccaffrey to be put in motion out of the backfield and create mismatches on linebackers. With Holyfield also in the backfield teams need to still be focused on the possibility of a running play. Mccaffrey should have another incredible year.
Saquon Barkley- New York Giants
Saquon Barkley just broke the record for the most receptions by a Rookie Running Back after this catch from Eli Manning. Unbelievable.
— Cameron Grant (@coolcam101) December 30, 2018
2018 Receiving Stats: 121 Targets, 91 receptions, 721 receiving yards, four touchdowns, at 7.56 targets per game
Saquon Barkley was last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and rightfully so. His selection by the Giants was critIcized by many as there were some who thought the Giants should have addressed different needs. It is incredibly hard not to select somebody of Barkley’s caliber though.
The Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr. during this offseason and have not provided a replacement for him. With either Eli Manning at the helm or rookie Daniel Jones, Barkley may see an uptick in his target share.
Alvin Kamara- New Orleans Saints
— Sports Notes🎙 (@TheSportsNotes) November 19, 2017
2018 Receiving Stats: 105 Targets, 81 receptions, 709 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns, and 6.56 targets per game.
Alvin Kamara has proven himself to be a top four option at running back. He has had at least 100 targets in both of his NFL seasons and has total 1,535 yards in that time. Kamara is a part of a high octane offense and may have an opportunity for an uptick in snaps. His ability after the catch is what makes him one of the top receiving backs in the NFL.
The Saints lost Mark Ingram via free agency this offseason and replaced him with Latavius Murray. Murray is a solid runner in his own right but is a significant downgrade to Ingram. Kamara should get the bulk of snaps for the team at running back.
James White- New England Patriots
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 13, 2019
2018 Receiving Stats:123 Targets, 87 receptions, 751 receiving yards, seven touchdowns, and 7.69 targets per game.
If 2018 is any reflection of how White will be used than his fantasy value is great. He had a career year in 2018 with 1,176 scrimmage yards and 12 total touchdowns. Prior to 2018 White was primarily used as a receiver but even with an emerging Sony Michel White still had 94 rush attempts.
White’s receiving stats alone would have him in the top 25 in wide receiver categories. For comparison, the incredibly hyped Chris Godwin was the WR25 last season and finished with 60 receptions, 842 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. there is no doubt that White is one of the top receiving backs in the business. The Patriots lost Gronkowski to retirement and White could be the main receiving beneficiary.
Ezekiel Elliott- Dallas Cowboys
Catch me if you can starring Ezekiel Elliott. pic.twitter.com/didFSVGThB
— The Fake ESPN (@TheFakeESPN) November 13, 2016
2018 Receiving Stats: 95 Targets, 77 receptions, 567 receiving yards, three touchdowns, and 5.94 targets per game.
Ezekiel Elliott is the other top four running back and only for receiving purposes does he fall in the second tier. I wan to make sure that is clear. He has high target volume and reception totals but his yards and touchdowns are much lower than the top guys. With that said the Cowboys did not do much to revamp the teams receiving corps.
They are hoping that Michael Gallup takes a leap and signed Randall Cobb to man the slot but I do not see either being big target hogs. Elliott is a huge part of the offense and it should remain that way for the 2019 season.
Tarik Cohen- Chicago Bears
Double catch. Newly Drafted Chicago Bears WR, Tarik Cohen
He's got skillz pic.twitter.com/A0w5nPQ9ZJ
— Internet Palace (@InternetPalace) May 7, 2017
2018 Receiving Stats: 91 Targets, 71 receptions, 725 receiving yards, five touchdowns, and 5.69 targets per game.
The clip above is all you need to know about Cohen’s athleticism and receiving ability. Cohen’s 2018 output was virtually identical to James White. The only reason I have Cohen down to the second tier is because of offensive additions for the Bears. Last year Cohen benefited from Jordan Howard’s inept ability to catch out of the backfield which led to more snaps for Cohen.
Howard was traded and will be replaced by 3rd Round rookie David Montgomery and journeyman Mike Davis. Both of these guys have shown good receiving ability. In addition to that the Bears drafted Riley Ridley out of Georgia in the 4th round who has shown great ability and hands as a possession receiver. All these additions may lead to less snaps for Cohen but he should remain one of the focal points for the offense and be one of the top receiving backs.
Melvin Gordon- Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon turns this catch into 66-yards to the end zone ⚡️⚡️pic.twitter.com/0wFgbei0TT
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) November 11, 2018
2018 Receiving Stats: 66 Targets, 50 receptions, 490 receiving yards, four touchdowns, and 5.5 targets per game.
Gordon’s stats may look a little low in comparison to the other guys on this list but that is because he played in only 12 games. He lands in the second tier because of his 5.5 targets per game. Gordon is heavily involved in the offense and Rivers and Gordon run the screen game to perfection.
You can see above that Gordon can take a little dump off and churn out some serious yards after the catch. In the last three seasons Gordon has averaged 9.4 yards per reception, if the target rate remains the same, that is over 50 receiving yards a game which would label him as one of the top receiving backs to target.
Todd Gurley- Los Angeles Rams
Incredible catch by Todd Gurley! pic.twitter.com/3eWPsZlKkJ
— DraftKings (@DraftKings) October 28, 2018
2018 Receiving Stats:81 Targets, 59 receptions, 580 receiving yards, four touchdowns, 5.4 targets per game.
Todd Gurley is an absolute animal but knee arthritis limited him towards the end of last season. I still see him seeing the bulk of snaps for the Rams but he may lose some third down work to preserve the knee. The Rams drafted Darrell Henderson 70th overall to spell Gurley this season.
During 2018 he had an 82% catch rate which could get him on the field more and take some of the stress off Gurley. With that said Gurley is still the focal point of the Rams offense and even though he may see a dip in production, he is still a top level back.
James Conner- Pittsburgh Steelers
#Steelers RB James Conner with a superhuman ONE-HANDED catch.
— Snack Time Fantasy (@Snack_TimeFS) September 16, 2018
2018 Receiving Stats:71 Targets, 55 receptions, 497 receiving yards, one touchdown, 5.46 targets per game.
James Conner is right on the cusp of Tier 2 for receiving backs but his lone touchdown is what drops him down. Conner is heavily involved in the offense and held a 77% catch rate last season. Outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief, the Steelers do not have any proven wideouts. Vance McDonald could see an uptick in targets but this team may rely more on the run game this season. Conner is a great back and should still provide solid receiving numbers but belongs in the third tier.
David Johnson- Arizona Cardinals
— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) August 21, 2016
2018 Receiving Stats: 76 Targets, 50 receptions, 446 receiving yards, three touchdowns, 4.75 targets per game.
For now Johnson is in the third tier based off recent production. Last year was more or less a let down for Cardinals fans and fantasy fans. With Kliff Kingsbury at the helm the sky is the limit for all pass catcher as Kyler Murray is projected to let it rip.
Luckily for Johnson owners outside of Larry Fitzgerald, Johnson is the most proven pass catcher on the team. With a rookie quarterback at the helm Johnson could easily become the favorite target on the team. I expect Johnson to move up a tier and maybe two as the season moves on but until I see the new offense I will temper my expectations.
Nyheim Hines- Indianapolis Colts
Belichick on Nyheim Hines, who made this crazy catch over the Honey Badger.
“He's very good with the ball in his hands and has good quickness to get open and separate in the passing game.”
— Ian Steele (@ISteeleABC6) October 2, 2018
2018 Receiving Stats: 81 Targets, 63 receptions, 425 receiving yards, two touchdowns, 5.06 targets per game.
Nyheim Hines proved to be a integral part of the Colts offense. He proved to be a real receiving threat and even lined up in the slot at times. Unfortunately for Hines his role may shrink this year. During free agency the Colts signed Devin Funchess to man the outside opposite of T.Y. Hilton and drafted Parris Campell to man the slot.
Hines will most likely become a third down guy and chain mover for the team. He is still highly talented and it would be smart for the Colts to try to keep him involved but there may be too many cooks in the kitchen.
Kenyan Drake- Miami Dolphins
2018 Receiving Stats: 73 Targets, 53 receptions, 477 receiving yards, five touchdowns, 4.56 targets per game.
That run after the catch is nice, but let’s talk about Kenyan Drake killing a man on his pass pro. pic.twitter.com/MD5QPMRdVx
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) October 7, 2018
Kenyan Drake was criminally underutilized last season. Adam Gase has left the running back situation in Miami cloudy at best. Drake fell backseat to Frank Gore last season and lost carries to Kallen Ballage as well. This does not take away from the fact that the last third of the 2017 season he was one of the top rushers in the NFL. The talent is there for Drake, now the usage just needs to follow. He has a new coaching staff now and is the most proven back on the squad so increased reps should be in his future.
Flier Receiving Backs To Target in Late Rounds
- Chris Thompson- Washington Redskins 2018 Stats: 55 Targets, 41 receptions, 268 receiving yards, one touchdown, and 6.88 targets per game.
- Jalen Richard- Oakland Raiders 2018 Stats: 81 Targets, 68 receptions, 607 receiving yards, and 5.06 targets per game.
- T.J. Yeldon- Buffalo Bills 2018 Stats: 78 Targets, 55 receptions, 487 receiving yards, four touchdowns, and 5.2 targets per game.
- Theo Riddick- Detroit Lions 2018 Stats: 74 Targets, 61 receptions, 384 receiving yards, and 5.29 targets per game.
The NFL is gearing more towards pass heavy offensive schemes. There are some running backs in the NFL that hold value based purely off of their pass catching prowess. In tier one you have Christian Mccaffrey, Saquon Barkely, Alvin Kamara, and James White. White jumps out there but his 123 targets shows he belongs.
In tier two you have Ezekiel Elliott, Tarik Cohen, Melvin Gordon, and Todd Gurley. Cohen stays is in this tier because of his pass catching and the possibility his role grows in the offense. Tier three includes James Conner, David Johnson, Kenyan Drake, and Nyheim Hines. Hines looked to be one of Luck’s favorite targets last year and they should finds ways to get him out in space.