Pass-catching running backs provide a cushion for their fantasy owners – even when running lanes are closed for business or their team is on the wrong side of a second-half blowout, these backs rarely leave the stat sheet empty and drenched with your Sunday night tears.
This principle applies to standard fantasy football leagues, of course, though it’s far more pronounced in point per reception formats. Your pass-catching running back has been held to 30 yards on 13 carries in the first half? His team is down by 24?
So what? A reliable target out of the backfield can rack up eight points in a single drive, without scoring a touchdown. These backs’ opportunities are not entirely dictated by game circumstances.
Your two-down runners, however, could be done for the day in this same predicament. These fantasy options have no cushion. If they don’t produce on the ground, they’re done. These backs are far more vulnerable to the whims of the game, and in PPR, their shortcomings are exacerbated.
There are three running backs — two of whom are almost entirely exiled from their teams’ passing games — who are especially vulnerable in PPR leagues this year. Every one of these backs are still valuable commodities in PPR, as they’ll be very much involved in the old-fashioned quarterback-to-running back exchange on first and second downs.
They certainly deserve more scrutiny in PPR formats, along with slight downgrades on your draft board.
Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: I can’t overemphasize how important it is to be conservative in your downgrading of Morris in PPR leagues, though I think his current standard league average draft position of 1.11 is a bit high for PPR.
Morris eclipsed 1,600 yards in 2012, proving to be one of the best draft day values in recent memory. He averaged 4.8 yards a tote, barreling into the end zone an unsustainable 13 times on his way to becoming a top-5 standard league runner. The story was different in PPR: Morris finished as the seventh highest scoring back in that format, a ranking buoyed by his ridiculous 13 touchdowns – a number that’s begging for regression in 2013.
Morris caught just 11 passes for 77 yards all season, as he usually found himself firmly planted on the Washington bench on third downs. Any reasonable 2013 projection should incorporate similar passing-game production for Morris. Even in PPR, however, it would be a crime if Morris weren’t one of the first 12 running backs off the draft board.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots: Ridley, I think, should become the patron saint of PPR downgrades over the next few months. The Patriots’ early-down runner – full of fantasy potential most weeks – caught a grand total of six passes in 2012, as Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen almost always took Ridley’s spot in the backfield on third downs.
Ridley’s standard-to-PPR value gap was more noticeable than any other elite runner, dropping from the 10th highest scoring back in standard to 15th in PPR formats. Woodhead maintained some modicum of value, finishing the year with 40 receptions for 446 yards, while Vereen shined in the passing-down role during the Patriots’ two playoff games. New England beat writers expect Vereen’s snaps to “spike” in 2013 after Woodhead’s escape to San Diego, so there’s no valid reason we should believe Ridley will suddenly take on a pass-catching role.
Ridley is going off the board at 2.07 – an ADP that should remain steady barring injury or over-the-top training camp reports about Vereen’s expected usage. He’s the 16th running back taken today. I wouldn’t value him as any more than a borderline top-20 option in PPR.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans: I know questioning Foster’s value in any format is tantamount to fantasy football sacrilege and punishable by death on the Twitter Machine. You’re doing yourself a disservice, however, if you’re ignoring the marked dip in Foster’s pass game production.
Part of Foster’s fantasy godliness in 2010 was the 66 passes he caught out of the Houston backfield for 604 yards and two scores. Probably that many catches in an ultra-conservative offense was unsustainable, so Foster’s 53 grabs in 2011 didn’t represent a shocking, unforeseen dip in PPR status. Last year’s catch total – 40, for a career low 5.4 yards per reception – should serve as something of a red flag going into 2013. Foster had two or fewer catches in 10 of his 16 games in 2012. He had five games without a single catch.
Foster’s goal line opportunities will still be plentiful, he’s still entrenched as an every-down back in a zone blocking scheme that fits his running style perfectly, and the Texans aren’t going to be mistaken for the Detroit Lions’ pass-addicted offense any time soon, so Foster should be a top-5 runner in PPR formats. His shrinking role in Houston’s passing game should give you pause before you snag him at 1.02 – his current ADP.
Including Foster on this list of PPR downgraded runners is admittedly nitpicky; ending up with Foster on your squad is something less than a bad thing. I think it’s important to take into consideration the passing-game role of other backs available in the first round before you lock in on Foster as your guy.