For this week, we'll take a look at some players whose values are highly dependent on the amount of targets and receptions they receive. The PPR format has slowly been getting more recognition in the fantasy industry and is becoming the norm in the daily game as well. Our sponsor DraftKings is one of numerous daily sites that use the PPR scoring format. Knowing which players are more highly valued in this type of scoring is key to success on DraftKings.
It's nice to have that guy who got 150 yards on three catches, but it’s just not the same in a PPR league. Those 150 yards on three catches are the same as nine catches for 90 yards; it’s just not as pretty. My motto in a PPR format is quantity over quality and efficiency over everything.
One of the more overlooked stats in fantasy is also one that should be used extensively for PPR formats: targets. By evaluating targets and receptions from past seasons, we can get a better grasp of who exactly will be the biggest target for their respective quarterbacks this season. Players like Antonio Brown
, Pierre Garcon
, Wes Welker
, LeSean McCoy
, Jamaal Charles
, and Matt Forte
are some of the high-end obvious players that come to mind, but we'll take a look at some deeper names to grab some extra value in your fantasy drafts and on DraftKings
This young New England back hasn't quite broken out yet, but this just may be the season that this fourth-year back out of Cal becomes one of the top options in fantasy. Vereen missed the first half of last season with a broken hand, but he came on in the second half of the season, grabbing 47 catches in just eight games. He may be slightly overlooked after accumulating only 208 yards rushing last year, but Vereen doesn't need to run the ball. In just eight games, Vereen was the 15th ranked running back in receptions, and if we projected his eight-game averages over a full season, he would have led all running backs in receptions by 17 total catches. Brady loved using Vereen as his safety blanket, and now that trust has been established between the two, there’s no telling how often Brady will use this versatile back. In Vereen's first five games last season, he recorded 40 receptions for over 370 yards, grabbing at least five receptions in each of those games. On a point-per-game average, Vereen finished as the eighth best running back and the 38th best player in all of fantasy last season. With the uncertainty surrounding Stevan Ridley
, Rob Gronkowski
, and the suspect-receiving core, Vereen could be set for the biggest season of his young career.
I spoke a bit about how Sproles was drastically underrated in my New Faces in New Places
running backs article, and my love for Sproles doesn’t end there. Sproles might be the most overlooked player in fantasy this year, and it’s not because he stands at a compact 5-6. On DraftKings
, Sproles is ranked as the 30th best running back, and in most expert rankings, he is outside the top-40 in running backs. These rankings are criminal. Sproles can be one of the most dynamic players in the league and will be an asset to fantasy owners this upcoming season. 86, 75, and 71. Can you guess what those numbers are? Those are the number of receptions Sproles has collected the past three seasons. Even though he doesn’t play with Drew Brees
anymore, Sproles may have found someone even better for his fantasy value, coach Chip Kelly. Kelly is an offensive master who loves putting players in space and using the screen game to open up the field. There’s no better player catching the ball out of the backfield and playing the screen game then Sproles. Not only that, the Eagles would love to take a little bit of the load of the most used back last season in LeSean McCoy
. If Sproles can even muster up the low-end of his career numbers, it would surely put him in the top-30 at the running back position. Opportunity, playmaking, and consistency should make Sproles one of the greatest buys in fantasy for the 2014-15 campaign.
It may surprise you, but Thomas led all running backs in receptions last year with an outlandish 77 receptions. Thomas is proving to be one of the most versatile backs in the league, recording over 500 yards both on the ground and through the air. The departure of Sproles only leaves more receptions for Thomas as well. On DraftKings
, Thomas is ranked as the 25th best running back and is outside the top-30 in most expert rankings. The upside for Thomas is something that can’t be passed up. That 77-catch mark was not only a career high for him, but he also set a career high with 147 carries. With those 147 carries, Thomas had a career-low 3.7 yards per carry, but that seems more of an outlier then anything. Thomas has averaged 4.6 yards per carry over his career, even with last season’s numbers. If he can bring his yards-per-carry average back to a respectable 4.5 yards with 150 carries and approach the 80-catch mark as he did last season, you’ve found a stud at a fantastic value. Missing only one game in the past three seasons makes Thomas very reliable as well. Along with that, the efficiency of the Saints’ passing game should be noted too. Thomas caught those 77 receptions on only 84 targets, a number that could increase this upcoming season. While this Illinois alum may be teetering as a solid middle of the road back, he has everything it takes to have a true breakout season and potentially move into the top-10 of running backs in PPR if things fall his way.
When you look at Edelman, it’s hard to imagine he's the best wide receiver on one of the best teams in the NFL, but it is what it is. With Wes Welker
joining the Broncos last season, Edelman had the opportunity to grab that elusive slot receiver spot in New England and ran away with it. Edelman had only 69 career receptions in his four-year career coming into last season and found himself with 174 career receptions after the conclusion of 2013 season. That put him at 105 catches last year, good for fourth in the NFL. On DraftKings
, Edelman is ranked as the 28th best receiver and is right around that mark in most expert rankings for standard drafts. So, why is he ranked so low? The main problem with Edelman is that he only averages about 10 yards per catch and doesn’t see many red zone targets (six touchdowns last year). As a WR2 or WR3, it’s impossible not to be satisfied with those reception numbers in a PPR format though. With that said, his value is severely reduced in non-PPR leagues. Much like Welker, Edelman should see targets for days with the Patriots’ dink-and-dunk offense that they have made famous. The only thing that scares me about Edelman is that he’s a little guy and has missed significant time to injury in the past. Outside of last season, when he played in all 16 games, Edelman missed 16 games in his first four years. If he can stay healthy for the majority of this season, Edelman is primed to catch 100 passes again in 2014. Coach Bill Belichick understands the idea of getting the ball out quickly to his best playmakers, and you’d expect them to do that this season with Edelman and Vereen as the key cogs.
This guy is an absolute beast and it was very sad to see him get so severely injured last season. Wayne has been as reliable as anyone year after year and has never let me down when healthy. Before his injury, he was well on his way to another fine season in his 14th year of what’s sure to be a Hall-of-Fame career. Yes, taking an old guy coming off a serious injury is a recipe for disaster, but this is not just some old geezer. If we take out his rookie season and last season, he would have an average of 86 receptions, 1,150+ yards, and over seven touchdowns per season. Those averages would easily put him in the top-10 for wide receivers every single year. DraftKings
has Wayne as their 30th best receiver for Week 1, and in most drafts, he’s going outside the top-30 wide receivers. The only reservation I have for Wayne is that he’s coming off a severe knee injury, and there’s no telling how his 35-year-old body is going to react to that. On the other hand, Wayne’s value is criminally low. From 2005-2012, Wayne had at least 130 targets in every season. That put him in the top-15 in that category every single year, and he was in the top-10 in receptions for five of those seven years. The model of consistency from Wayne is not only something to be admired but something I want on my fantasy team. With weapons all over the field for the Colts, Wayne is a prime candidate to approach his career averages and reward fantasy owners.
The salsa man is the highest drafted player on this list, but his upside can’t be overlooked in a PPR format. I still remember the preseason game Cruz broke out against the Jets, wearing that silly No.3 jersey that was surely handed to him assuming he'd be cut. After his 145-yard, three-touchdown performance, he started opening eyes of the Giants faithful and, more importantly, coach Tom Coughlin. Since then, he has never looked back, recording consistent, respectable numbers in his still young three-year career. With the addition of a new offensive coordinator (Ben McAdoo), the Giants have switched to an up-tempo West Coast Offense. The idea of the West Coast Offense is to get the ball out of Manning’s hands quickly and into the playmakers’ hands even quicker. This opens the door for more screens, quick out routes, and quick slants. Not only are those all routes that Cruz thrives running, they also open the door for more receptions for him. With the departure of Hakeem Nicks
, the Giants should lean on Cruz to be the primary wide receiver with Rueben Randle
getting an expanded role. As the 14th ranked wide receiver on DraftKings
, Cruz is a must-use wide receiver in the Giants’ Week 1 matchup against a very poor Detroit secondary. While it may seem bold, 100 catches is expected from Cruz in what’s sure to be a bounce-back season.
Witten is the only tight end on this list and is arguably the fourth most valuable tight end in PPR formats, trailing only the top three studs of Jimmy Graham
, Gronkowski, and Vernon Davis
). While Witten may seem like a boring pick, no one else has been as consistent as he has been over the past 10 seasons. Since his rookie year, he’s averaged 86 catches per year, with well over 120 targets per season. Not only that, but he’s also averaged almost 1,000 yards receiving and about five touchdowns per year as well. The most amazing thing about Witten is that he has only missed one game in his 12-year career, which came in his rookie season. On DraftKings
, Witten is ranked as the eighth best tight end, with a tough matchup against San Francisco in Week 1. If he struggles there, he will be a fantastic buy in weeks to come, simply due to his consistency. With new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Tony Romo
will be asked to chuck the ball all over the field. Linehan was the offensive coordinator for Detroit last season, a team that is always top-5 in passing attempts. With the addition of Linehan and Witten being Romo’s security blanket, Witten is one of the safer picks at the tight end spot in fantasy.