Which Receiving Running Backs Should You Target?

Sep 27, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 27, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

More than ever before, fantasy football players need to be aware of which running backs can catch, and which ones can't.

With timeshares becoming more prevalent, receiving skills out of the backfield have become a must for most backs in the league. In PPR, sometimes it's more beneficial to own the third down back.

Last year's numbers back that up.

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San Diego Chargers third-down specialist Danny Woodhead finished as RB11 in fox fantasy leagues last year. He had just 98 carries on the season.

Woodhead is the shining example, but he's not the only "third-down back" to crack the top spots. Tampa Bay Bucs RB Charles Sims was RB22 last season, despite only getting 107 carries and not scoring a single time on the ground.

The value on those kind of players is incredible. Woodhead was a late sixth round pick last year, while Sims didn't go until round 13. Of course we all know about Devonta Freeman, who led all RB's in fantasy points, thanks in large part to his 80 receptions.

So who are the receiving backs to own this season? Let's take a look at who to target:

Duke Johnson Jr., CLE

Duke wasn't much of a factor running the ball in his rookie year for the Browns. He played second fiddle to Isaiah Crowell, and ran just 104 times for 379 yards.

That would be enough to scare some away, but Johnson flashed elite receiving ability in his rookie season. With how much the Browns should be down, those garbage time receptions are slated to come once again. Johnson caught 61 passes for 534 yards and two scores last year, so we have a baseline of what to expect.

Crowell may be the early down back, but he scored only 15 more fantasy points despite getting goalline touches and 80 more carries on the year. Johnson is clearly the guy to own, but it will cost you an early sixth round pick. That sounds awfully familiar to Woodhead's situation last year...

Danny Woodhead, SD

Speaking of Woodhead, you can still get him at a fairly affordable price. He's going off the board in the early 5th round of PPR drafts right now, despite being a clear RB1 statistically last season.

While you'd expect some regression in the touchdown department (9 total last year), Woodhead should still be used quite a bit. The Chargers want Melvin Gordon to be the man, but it's clear they trusted Woodhead more to hang on to the ball and make plays in the red zone and in passing situations.

Be careful, though. Gordon can catch (33 receptions) and should be a bigger factor in the offense in his second season. Just don't let Woodhead fall too far, even at age 31 coming off an ankle injury. In his last two fully healthy seasons in San Diego, Woodhead has averaged 78 receptions and 6 receiving touchdowns.

Dion Lewis, NE

If he's healthy, Lewis can be a big time factor out of the backfield. Lewis caught 36 passes in seven games last year, and being the receiving back in a Tom Brady offense can help quite a bit. We'll see if he still has enough wiggle to get by, but it would be a surprise to see anyone else in the pass-catching role in New England's offense.

While the Patriots can be frustrating with their RBBC, Lewis should be able to hold off James White and take back his starting role. Fantasy players appear to agree, as Lewis is currently a fourth round selection.

David Johnson, ARI

One of the reasons so many people are excited about David Johnson is his receiving ability. While Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington may still get their carries, Johnson is expected to carry the load and should get most -- if not all -- of the third down work.

Johnson flashed a lot of big play ability catching passes out of the backfield last year, as he finished with 36 receptions and a whopping 457 yards. His YPC looked more like a receiver than a running back, and if you're looking for a reason to draft him over Todd Gurley, that would be it.

I'm not completely sold on Johnson being a 20-carry a game sort of player like Gurley, but his impact in Arizona's elite passing game should solidify his first-round stock, particularly in PPR leagues.

Devonta Freeman, ATL

Was it a little fluky that Freeman led all running backs in fantasy points? Of course, but that doesn't mean we should write him off to be successful again. Even when the rushing yards and touchdowns started to slow down as the season progressed, Freeman remained a serious threat out of the backfield.

Tevin Coleman shouldn't steal away any of those receptions, and Freeman earned a pretty long leash last year with his performance. While the hesitation to draft him in the first round is understandable, he's up a tier from Doug Martin, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte. Things will get a little rough at the running back position after Freeman goes off your draft board.

Theo Riddick, DET

If you're looking for a late-round flier, Riddick was a garbage time king for Detroit last year, tying Woodhead for most receptions out of the backfield with 80.

The fact that he only got 43 carries last year is going to scare most owners away, but with Joique Bell gone and Ameer Abdullah having some issues with fumbles, Riddick could sneak in a bunch of playing time once again. It's just going to be hard to predict when those receptions are going to come.

Mark Ingram, NO

When Ingram first came into the league, he wasn't a receiving threat out of the backfield. Like, at all. In his first three seasons, Ingram combined to catch just 23 passes. In three years.

Those days are long gone now, though. Ingram was one of eight backs to catch over 50 passes last year, and there's a chance he does even better this year, especially considering he didn't have a single touchdown reception. That should change, but we know New Orleans won't offensively. With Drew Brees and Sean Payton still running the show, the Saints are going to pass a ton, and Ingram is going to be the biggest beneficiary.

Last year's concerns of C.J. Spiller syphoning his passing game work never came to fruition, and they won't again this year. Ingram is currently going off the board at 3.1, but expect him to climb to the middle of the second round once it's all said and done.

Charles Sims, TB

Sims is one of my favorite sleeper backs, in part because I don't trust Doug Martin in the slightest. Sims is going in the 8th round of PPR drafts right now, despite averaging 4.9 YPC last year in addition to all the passing game work.

The Bucs should be playing from behind quite a bit once again, so the floor for Sims is relatively high. Martin would likely need to suffer an injury or fall flat on his face, but we've seen that from him before. If Tampa Bay wants their investment to last, Sims will be involved plenty and should see nearly all of the work on third down and when the Bucs are playing from behind. That's a good spot to be in.

If I had to pick one player to be this year's Devonta Freeman, it would be Sims.

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