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Not All Touches Are Equal

By Steve Schwarz | 7/7/23

Not all touches are created equal.

Some have more value than others. It’s why Christian McCaffrey saw 329 touches last season and averaged 20.6 FPts/G, while Nick Chubb’s 329 touches were worth only 16.6 FPts/G in full PPR leagues.

It’s because when we analyzed the top 100 fantasy backs, we found that one reception for a running back was valued at exactly three times one rushing attempt last season. Every reception was worth almost two fantasy points (1.96) while an average rushing attempt was worth .656 points. (See chart below)

So, the easy answer is fantasy owners should want their running backs going out for passes as much as possible. Only four of the top-20 fantasy running backs (based on FPts/G) saw less than three targets per game (Derrick Henry, Chubb, Kenneth Walker and Jamaal Williams). No. 1 Austin Ekeler averaged 7.47 targets per game and No. 2, McCaffrey averaged 6.35 targets. Be part of the 80%.

But what of the four “dinosaurs”? The holdovers from another era of “ground and pound”?

Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry – Tennessee

Of the four “dinosaurs,” Henry has been the most successful. He’s finished fifth, first and fourth, respectively, in fantasy points per game from 2020-2022. But at what cost? He missed half the season in 2021, playing just eight regular season games. He’s cracked 20 fantasy points in 20 of 40 games, but through volume usage. In those 20 very successful games he’s averaged 27.8 touches of which 92.3% were rushing attempts (512-of-555). That’s doing it old school style. That’s also overuse.

For 2023 the questions are many. Can he stay healthy for 17 games after carrying the ball 1,464 over the past five seasons? Can the Titans score enough to stay in games and allow them to run the ball this much? Is Ryan Tannehill still the starter or does rookie Will Levis take over at some point this season? Can a subpar OL (ranked dead last in run blocking by our own Doug Orth) open up enough holes?

I believe, Henry falls out of the top-five for the first time since 2018, though unlike that year when he finished 22nd, Henry should remain at the bottom portion of the top-10. That might not be enough to reach “fair market value” given he’s currently the sixth running back off the board (ADP 11.7).

Nick Chubb – Cleveland

For five consecutive years, Chubb has averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry. He finished in the top-12 for fantasy points per game the last four seasons including eighth last year. But he has yet to crack the top-7 because he just isn’t part of the Browns’ passing game. In 41 games over the past three seasons, he’s rushed the ball 720 times for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns, but added just 63 catches for 563 yards and two scores. On the other hand, he’s had to share the ball with Kareem Hunt during that time, who was a much better receiver out of the backfield (166 targets). Hunt is currently a free agent and rumored to be on a short list for the Cowboys. With only Jerome Ford and Demetric Felton behind him, Chubb could see an increase in his passing stats unless they bring in a receiving back. The Browns have an excellent run-blocking OL, therefore Chubb should continue to be successful on the ground, but I still have doubts about his hands.

Chubb should again show up in the bottom half of the top-10. His current ADP of 12 and as the seventh running back selected is right about where he should land.

Kenneth Walker – Seattle

After a very slow start, Walker came on to be a consistent scorer in his rookie season. He totaled just 13.2 fantasy points through Week 4, but then averaged 15.8 FPts/G thereafter. However, his participation in the passing game was almost non-existent (27 receptions for 165 yards and no scores). And it wasn’t like opening day starter Rashaad Penny was taking opportunities away from him. Penny saw just five targets and backups DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer saw a combined 37 targets. Seattle just doesn’t use their backs that way. Walker doesn’t figure to increase his pass-receiving workload in 2023 after the team spent a second-round pick in the 2023 draft on UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet (61 receptions over two seasons).

Therefore, almost all of Walker’s fantasy value will be as a pure runner. The Seahawks’ OL is middle-of-the-road at opening holes, which should concern fantasy owners here. I’m also concerned that Charbonnet will take a bigger share of the running attempts than Walker would like after two productive seasons for the Bruins seeing almost 200 carries and averaging 6.3 ypc. Both players were second-round picks in their drafts, so management isn’t likely to show much favoritism to one or the other.

Walker is going in the third round (ADP 28.8) and as the 16th back off the board may be a little too high for me.

Jamaal Williams – New Orleans

The Saints offense should look completely different in 2023. Derek Carr will be under center and Williams will likely be the starting running back given Alvin Kamara’s off-the-field issues. Williams is coming off the best season of his career when he rushed for 1,066 yards and 17 touchdowns in Detroit. He took advantage of D’Andre Swift’s inability to stay healthy. The Saints also added third-round pick Kendre Miller (TCU) in the draft. Miller put up good numbers as a rusher, but saw just 29 catches in three seasons. We know from his days in Green Bay that Williams can catch the ball.

If Kamara is suspended for a significant length of time, Williams should thrive in New Orleans with a large portion of both the running game workload and making up for Kamara’s average 92 targets and 71.8 receptions.

Ultimately, Williams’ value will be determined by Kamara’s availability. If Kamara misses the season, Williams would be a fantastic value at his current 89.2 ADP and 37th RB selected. If Kamara misses minimal time, then his current fantasy value will depend on his touchdown-making ability which might be hampered by both Kamara and TE/QB Taysom Hill’s usage near the goal line.

 2022 Top 100 RBs, TEs, WRs
Touches Value per touch
RB rush 0.66
RB target 1.51
RB rec 1.96

TE targets 1.77
TE rec 2.55

WR target 1.80
WR rec 2.78

RB catch% 76.9%
TE catch% 69.4%
WR catch% 64.8%

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