On this episode of the Fantasy Football Helpers Podcast, George goes over an NFL trend regarding running backs and how you can use it to increase your fantasy score. This is especially effective in PPR leagues.
So, the NFL has always been going towards more of a passing-based game. But now that's becoming even more true on first down. Teams used to consider first down a run play. But now teams are noticing that passing on first down is leading to a better success rate (gains of at least 4 yards) which is leading to more second and short situations.
Second and short situations are key when it comes to moving the ball consistently down the field. The teams that face a lot of second and long and third and longs typically end up punting more than the other teams. So being able to get those first four yards on first down is vital to any offense.
Teams are now realizing that passing the ball on first down actually increases their odds of getting more second and short situations.
Not only that, receiving running backs are becoming more and more utilized on first down. The days of the bruiser running back getting the first and second down carries only for the receiving back to come in on third and long are going by the wayside. Teams are now using the pass catching back as a receiver on first down and not just third down.
Teams that use this in practice include the Carolina Panthers (Christian McCaffrey is the perfect back for this type of style) and Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints.
The New England Patriots have been ahead of the curve on this for years as well. They've opted to go with more of a committee approach with backs like James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel.
The NFL is a trendy league, and other coaches will start taking notice of this and start targeting running backs out of the backfield on first down more.
So how do you use this to your advantage in fantasy?
Well, if you're in a PPR league, you're going to want to study the news and see which running backs on other teams are coaches looking to target in the passing game. For example, Taylor Jenkins of the PewterReport.com recently said that Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber could see 45 targets in 2019. That's quite an increase from his 29 last season. That's somebody you could maybe keep an eye on in the later rounds of your draft.
Obviously, this strategy won't work for every team. There are still some teams that won't target running backs on first down nearly as much as they should. Not everybody adapts to the new norm. Some teams will even try and go counter to the norm in hopes of gaining an advantage.
Still, I'll be looking to target running backs used in the passing game a lot more because of this trend.