Running Backs to Target in 2024 Fantasy Football PPR Leagues

PPR running backs in 2024 fantasy football
These three running backs are weapons in PPR.

One of the cardinal rules of fantasy football is understanding your league settings. More specifically, it is important to know how points are accumulated. One of the most popular scoring settings in 2024 fantasy football leagues is PPR (point per reception). This concept is fairly straightforward—players earn a point for each reception.

This scoring setting can make an enormous difference for players who see a high volume of targets. This doesn’t exclusively apply to wide receivers, either. There are a handful of running backs whose usage as receivers makes them “PPR merchants” who can provide reasonable production in fantasy with limited rushing work.

Identifying and drafting these running backs can pay off big time in 2024 fantasy football PPR leagues.

THE IMPORTANCE OF RUNNING BACK TARGETS

Fantasy analysts often mention that targets are “worth more” than rushing attempts. But what does this mean? After reviewing 10 years of data, we understand that the average target results in over 2.5x the fantasy points of an average carry.

Targets are the juiciest opportunity that a running back can see. Pass catchers out of the backfield have long proven to be a fantasy cheat code. In 2024, running backs involved in the passing game are available throughout drafts.

There are the blue-chip, Hero RBs in Rounds 1 and 2 who everyone will be drafting, like Christian McCaffrey, Breece Hall, and Bijan Robinson. The true edge can be found by identifying the correct RBs in the middle and late-rounds. Scooping up one of these guys will be one of the best decisions you can make in this year’s drafts.

ALVIN KAMARA, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Alvin Kamara is one of fantasy’s most contentious players heading into the season. In 2023, he finished as the per-game RB3. However, he was among the league’s worst running backs in several noteworthy efficiency metrics, including explosive run rate, yards after contact per attempt, and missed tackles forced per attempt.

Despite declining rushing efficiency, there is reason to believe that Kamara can be a mid-round draft steal.

We can hold out hope with Kamara, thanks to his top-tier usage as a receiver. Among RBs, he ranked first in targets per game and second in target share. He was also efficient with these looks, ranking fourth in yards per route run.

Drafters currently anticipate second-year RB Kendre Miller to play a more significant role in the Saints’ offense than he did as a rookie. Even if this is the case, there’s reason to believe that Kamara can return value in fantasy while splitting work with Miller. Why should we believe this? Because Kamara did this just last year.

Kamara handled just 49.6 percent of New Orleans’s rush attempts last season, 23rd among RBs. He leveraged his 6.6 targets per game to achieve RB3 status in PPG. It will be difficult for Kamara to reproduce this level of weekly receiving volume, but 5-6 targets per game is a reasonable expectation.

Kamara was in a timeshare last season, splitting rushing work with multiple backs. Yet, he still delivered a top-tier fantasy season thanks to his receiving capabilities. With Captain Checkdown, Derek Carr, still at quarterback and limited threats to Kamara’s receiving work, he should have the opportunity to return value in PPR leagues as the RB18 in ADP.

TYJAE SPEARS, TENNESSEE TITANS

Tyjae Spears emerged as a skilled pass-catcher in his rookie season while playing a complementary role to Derrick Henry. Last season, he garnered 68 targets (ninth among RBs) on a 13.8 percent target share (7th). This receiving usage as a rookie should be enough to drum up some hype in PPR leagues. But the fantasy community isn’t sure what to make of Spears.

Given the dramatic changes in Tennessee, projecting Spears’ role and fantasy production is difficult. First, a new regime is in place. Brian Callahan’s offense should allow players to benefit from a revamped passing attack. However, a new coaching staff also means that nobody in the building has a true allegiance to Spears. Callahan and his new staff were also responsible for bringing in new competition in the form of Tony Pollard.

It all comes down to who this coaching staff prefers and who will receive the more valuable work. Spears appears to be the more intriguing bet. In 2022 with the Cowboys, Pollard was among the league’s most efficient backs and regularly ripped off plays for chunks of yardage. This facet of his game was gone in 2023 and he saw a steep decline in his overall efficiency. This could have been a symptom of his recovery from tightrope surgery last offseason. Regardless, Spears proved to be the more efficient back of the two.

Spears also features a cheaper price than Pollard (RB34 vs. RB29).

All things considered, the younger, cheaper RB who flashed true talent as a rusher and receiver is the more appealing option in drafts.

JALEEL MCLAUGHLIN, DENVER BRONCOS

Jaleel McLaughlin is poised to be one of the fantasy community’s favorite late-round RBs heading into 2024. It comes with good reason.

McLaughlin is dirt cheap in drafts. The reasoning behind this is twofold. He saw limited usage in his rookie season, and his role is unclear as Denver has an incredibly ambiguous backfield. These factors work in tandem to place McLaughlin at an ADP of RB48.

But why should McLaughlin be circled on all draft cheat sheets? If he can cement himself as the go-to receiving back for Sean Payton, his value will be enormous in PPR leagues. Before discussing the value of this pass-catching position, it’s important to understand what McLaughlin offers as a playmaker.

McLaughlin didn’t see the field consistently last season. But when he was out there, he was making a significant impact. McLaughlin will be a bargain if he can carve out a role where he mixes in as a rusher and is the preferred receiving option.

The “preferred receiving option” could very well become the most valuable component of this backfield. Sean Payton loves to pepper his RBs with targets.

It’s unlikely that McLaughlin is the second coming of Alvin Kamara. But Payton has unquestionably created an environment where RBs can be “PPR merchants.” Per JJ Zachariason, of the top-20 seasons in terms of RB target share, Sean Payton-led offenses account for eight of these seasons. Denver’s running back target share last season wasn’t a fluke. We can expect them to be heavily utilized through the air once again.

We must pay attention to training camp reports to see how the battle in the RB room develops. But if McLaughlin continues to receive positive buzz, it’s wheels up.

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