To PPR or not to PPR: Running back edition

Sunday, Jul 16, 2023 at 11:22 am ET

Points-per-reception leagues (PPR) have grown in popularity over the last decade, coming close to matching the number of standard scoring leagues. Surveys have shown that players who consider themselves more 'serious' see PPR as the better way to play, leaving standard to more novice players.  Arguments can be made over which style is better, but some players must be viewed differently depending on which style your league uses.

I used the standard PPR rankings on, along with the projected player stats for the 2023 season, to identify running backs who are ranked significantly higher or lower depending on the format and investigate where they should be valued.  Rankings and projections will change, especially when injuries start adding up in the preseason, but these are accurate as of 7/11/2023.

Top 10

These are the top running backs who will be drafted in the first or second round of fantasy drafts. Four backs stand out as being rated more or less valuable, and, while their rankings are still close between the two formats, it could inform your choice as to which player to choose first if you have the option. (Because receiving touchdown numbers are generally low for backs, I am going to use halves, such as a player being projected for 1.5 touchdowns, as you'll see with the first two players.)

Nick CHubbNick Chubb, Cleveland Browns: Standard rank 4, PPR rank 7. Projected: 28 catches-250 yards-1.5 touchdowns

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans: Std 5, PPR 8. Projected: 29-263-1.5

Chubb and Henry have been two of the top running backs in the league the past half-decade, but their involvement in the passing game lacks behind most others in the top 10. Backs in that group are projected to average 46.63 catches, 375.72 yards, and 2.2 touchdowns; Chubb and Henry are projected to have about 40% less catches, 30% less receiving yards, and 30% less receiving touchdowns than the average back in the top 10.

Henry has long been projected to slow down or break down, but he keeps pumping out productive seasons. He has been incredibly durable, and even when he played only eight games in 2021 he still had over 900 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Last season was his first with over 20 receptions (33 for 398 yards, his first over 206 yards) though, and I would imagine his catch total dropping rather than rising.

Rookie Tyjae Spears is in as the number two back in Tennessee, and his calling card is projected to be catching the ball out of the backfield while Henry handles the ground game. Passing on Henry brings risk, but I don't see him catching 30 passes again, and docking him slightly in PPR leagues makes sense.

Chubb has also been durable, and he has caught at least 20 passes every year of his career except for 2021 when he caught 16 in only 12 games. Chubb should see an increase in reception chances as opposed to Henry's likely drop because Kareem Hunt is gone, removing his biggest obstacle to chances out of the backfield. Hunt averaged 37 catches per 16 games played with the Browns, and while plays were surely set up just for him, Chubb is likely to see a good portion of those snaps and opportunities.

No second option seems to be waiting to take opportunities away, so Chubb should be a rock-solid option as long as he stays healthy. I wouldn't rate Chubb any lower in PPR than standard leagues, and he looks like one of the safest options in fantasy drafts.

Saquon BarkleySaquon Barkley, New York Giants: Std 6, PPR 3. Projected: 53-384-2

Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons: Std 7, PPR 5. Projected: 43-339-2

Where two backs suffer in PPR rankings, two others benefit and rise. Barkley is a veteran, and we know what to expect when he's healthy. That last part is the caveat, as Barkley played every game in his rookie season and last year (minus a meaningless Week 18 game) but missed 21 games in the three seasons between. There are also rumors that he could consider missing practice and/or games if he stays on the franchise tag, though I doubt that happens.

Barkley has averaged over four receptions per game played and scored eight receiving touchdowns in his career, so he will contribute and produce numbers when he plays. His production puts him in the top five among running backs, and his ranking as the third-best back in PPR makes sense. The question you must answer in your draft is if you think he will play all/most of the games. He's not the safest option, but I see his high ranking as a risk worth taking, especially in PPR formats.

Robinson is tough to peg because we haven't seen him in the NFL yet and don't know how he will be utilized, especially with Cordarrelle Patterson still around as a gadget player and second year back Tyler Allgeier coming off a rookie season with over 1,000 yards rushing and 16 receptions on 17 targets. Still, the Falcons probably didn't select Robinson eighth overall in this year's Draft to keep him in bubble wrap; he is going to get the rock, and his college production points to a player who can both run and catch the ball at high levels.

I see Robinson's projected 43 catches as a low mark, and I would expect that number well over 50 if he is healthy the whole season. Second year quarterback Desmond Ridder is still learning the position, and last year's small sample shows that he threw to backs at a higher rate than Marcus Mariota, who started the season as QB1: Patterson and Allgeier caught 21 passes on 26 targets in 21 total games played combined before Ridder took over, then 16 passes on 22 targets in the four games Ridder played (eight combined for the two backs).

Former first round picks Kyle Pitts and Drake London are there to soak up targets, but the young quarterback will likely look for a safe outlet at times, and Robinson will be there to catch passes and use his skills after the catch. Again, it's hard to know how Atlanta will use Robinson, but I see him clearly in the top five in PPR, and maybe in standard leagues too.

The Next Tiers

These players are rank among the top 30 backs in both formats, which would fit in as your RB2 or flex option in a normal week.

Ken WalkerKenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks: Std 14, PPR 18. Projected: 27-187-1

Walker put up numbers close to his projections as a receiver last season, but there is a major reason to think he won't get as many opportunities: rookie Zach Charbonnet was drafted in the second round, and he showed receiving skills in college that make analysts think he will dominate the catches out of the backfield in Seattle. Walker will still get plenty of rushing opportunities, but docking him in PPR leagues makes sense.

JK DObbinsJ.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens: Std 15, PPR 20. Projected: 29-219-1.5

Dobbins missed all of 2021 and played only eight games last season, so projecting his output is hard. He will benefit from running next to Lamar Jackson, but his receiving output is almost non-existent, averaging close to one catch per game played. Still, Gus Edwards, his backup, has an even lower receiving output, meaning Dobbins will probably see at least a share of the receiving work. I rate Dobbins close to 20th overall in both standard and PPR formats without much of a drop in the latter.

Joe MixonJoe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals: Std 19, PPR 15. Projected: 48-348-2

In 32 games over the last two years, Samaje Perine caught 65 passes on 82 targets, racking up 483 yards and six touchdowns. He is now in Denver, and no back on Cincinnati's roster looks ready to take that role. Even with that production behind him, Mixon still had 102 catches on 123 targets, producing 755 yards and five touchdowns in 30 games. I see Mixon taking a step forward, especially after restructuring his contract to guarantee his spot in Cincinnati. I am targeting him near the top 10 running backs and see his receiving production growing.

Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions: Std 22, PPR 16. Projected: 54-443-2.5

Another rookie who is hard to pin down, Gibbs was taken 12th overall in this year's Draft by the Lions and is expected to be used in a myriad of ways, even catching the ball out of the slot. He is listed at the top of the team's depth chart, and I don't expect David Montgomery to stand in his way if Gibbs performs. Gibbs ranked first and third the last two seasons in receiving yards among FBS running backs, and he should see the ball a lot. I am targeting Gibbs as a top 15 back in standard leagues close to the top 10 in PPR.

Rachaad WhiteRachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Std 27, PPR 23. Projected: 44-316-2

White had a good rookie year, working his way to the top of Tampa Bay's depth chart and catching 50 passes on the season. He enters 2023 as the lead back, and Chase Edmonds looks to be his only competition for touches. Edmonds caught 53 passes in 2020 and 43 in 2021, but he hasn't topped 20 in any other season and has been a middling back overall. White will have the inside track to most of the touches. Tampa might not score a lot, but White's workload should make him at least a flex option most weeks with upside in PPR formats.


These players' rankings reflect each other, as they share a backfield with one running back standing out more for their receiving skills.

Isiah PachecoIsiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs: Std 23, PPR 28. Projected: 26-229-1

Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs: Std 47, PPR 41. Projected: 44-366-3

McKinnon came out of nowhere last season to swing fantasy playoffs and championships, scoring eight touchdowns through the air from Weeks 13-18 and catching 27 passes during that time. Counting on that production over a whole season is a fool's game, but McKinnon showed he is capable of being an impact player, especially in PPR leagues.

Don't let that sway you too much on Pacheco, though, as he is going to be the lead back for one of the best teams in football. He went from 7th round pick to starting and scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and Pacheco's role should be safe as top dog. Target him high, but PPR leagues will see him take a hit, as Pacheco only caught 13 passes on 14 targets. His role will likely increase as he becomes more comfortable, but McKinnon's presence will limit Pacheco's upside in PPR as long as he's healthy.

D'Andre SwiftD'Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles: Std 28, PPR 25. Projected: 41-330-2

Rashaad Penny, Philadelphia Eagles: Std 33, PPR 37. Projected: 11-77-0.5

The Eagles threw to their running backs at the lowest rate in the league last season. Swift is the better pass-catcher between these two backs, but that advantage is mitigated with less opportunities. Health may be the bigger factor between these two, as whoever is on the field will likely get touches with a chance to do damage next to Jalen Hurts. Swift has missed 10 games over his three seasons, while Penny has only played 42 games in his five seasons. Either player could blow up on a stacked Eagles team, but I wouldn't put much stock into whether you're playing a standard or PPR format. Take a shot and hope your guy is the one that works out (I like Swift a little more, as do the rankings).

Free Agent Quick Hits

These three veterans have name recognition, but they currently sit without a team:

Leonard Fournette: Std 63, PPR 51. Projected: 18-129-1

Kareem Hunt: Std 61, PPR 53. Projected: 20-155-1

Ezekiel Elliott: Std 58, PPR 54. Projected: 14-99-1

Each player here is rated higher in PPR, probably because they are being seen as potential second options right now. That makes sense, but Hunt is the only one I would target higher in PPR leagues until they find a team. Fournette (somewhat surprisingly) caught 73 passes last year, so he has shown value in the passing game, but I want to see where he ends up before spending a pick on him. Elliott has had the best career of this group, but his best days are probably behind him. Targeting him as a short-distance touchdown hawk is a more likely scenario than seeing increased value in PPR, but, again, I would wait on all three of these guys until they have a home.

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