• Pat Opperman

Fantasy Football: Reception Lines

(This article was written for Five-Fifteen.net and can also be viewed at http://five-fifteen.net/2019/10/17/fantasy-football-week-5-reception-lines/ )

Malcolm Brown was supposed to save fantasy football managers around the world Sunday by rattling off a Todd Gurley-type performance while the Rams’ starting running back nursed a damaged quad.

Things started off well enough. Brown already gained 40 yards on 8 opening drive carries when Jared Goff took the next snap from San Francisco’s 16-yard line.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the end zone. Wide receiver Robert Woods came around from the end, took the ball from Goff, and scored the Rams’ touchdown.

Brown ended the day with those 40 yards and nothing more. The 8.6 PPR points Woods stole would become a bitter coffin nail for Brown’s fantasy football managers.

Carolina’s Curtis Samuel also took an end-around in for a score Sunday before Woods became the seventh wide receiver to rush for a touchdown through six weeks.

Not Exactly Evening Things Out

Usually, it is running backs who steal the thunder from their receiving teammates.

In Week 6, 48 running backs gathered in 140 catches for 1185 yards. Prorated over the course of a season, that’s over 20,000 yards taken away from tight ends and wide receivers.

While Brown and Samuel were running in touchdowns Sunday, there were 9 receiving touchdowns racked up by 8 different running backs.  

Nine receiving touchdowns are higher than average. However, the running backs are on a pace to net over 100 receiving scores by season’s end.

Not Exactly a Big Deal?

Damien Williams had a single reception that happened to be a 14-yard touchdown. It saved his fantasy football owners from total disaster on a bad day for most Kansas City players.

Tyreek Hill got his, coming back from injury to score 25 fantasy football points. But how much did DeMarcus Robinson (0), Byron Pringle (2-24-0), and Mecole Hardman (4/45/0) owners need the 8.4 PPR points lost to Williams’ reception?

How much easier would it be to select our second wide receiver each week if we knew every passing touchdown would be thrown in their direction?

Odds are, we’d feel more confident perusing the pool of wide-outs consistently offering us 8-11 points each week.

Not Exactly Nothing, Either

Austin Ekeler leads all running backs with 42 catches for 370 yards. He has three receiving touchdowns so far. The Chargers make good use of their rushers in the receiving game.

In fact, Ekeler would rank fourth in receptions among wide receivers. His 97 PPR receiving points would make him the WR-11, just ahead of Julian Edelman and just behind Tyler Lockett.

The impact might not look so obvious when you realize Ekeler’s teammate, Keenan Allen, also has 40 catches and is the WR-6 in PPR formats. But how many other wide receivers can you name from the Chargers?

Mike Williams gets into some conversations about fantasy football playing time largely on the hope of a prolific passer and how banged up the tight end might be.

I would guess Williams gets less starting roster consideration than Jamison Crowder of the 1-4 Jets and much less than Jarvis Landry, the Browns’ second wide receiver. Early in the season, James Washington versus Donte Moncrief got more podcast time.

Christian McCaffrey has the second-most receptions for a running back. Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore still see their share of receptions. Both are ranked at the tail end of the top-24 wide receivers.

But, if they each had just one-third of McCaffrey’s receiving points, they would rank as the WR-6 and WR-15 in PPR.

Not Exactly Helping Quarterbacks Run, But…

Running backs who regularly sneak out for a pass reception offer quarterbacks a distraction. But how do they use it?

My first thought was passers would have a perpetual option in play, resulting in greater rushing numbers. However, the top five pass-catching running backs play alongside decidedly non-running quarterbacks.

Philip Rivers has just 24 rushing yards on the season despite Ekeler and Melvin Gordon lining up behind him. James White and Alvin Kamara haven’t turned Tom Brady or Drew Brees into dual threats, either.

Christian McCaffrey, the second-most prolific pass catcher, is probably not the reason, but Cam Newton is no longer the runner he was. While youth is on his side, Sam Darnold is not lighting up scoreboards with his rushing prowess, either.

On the other hand, the best pass-catching running backs help their quarterbacks’ passing statistics. This is partially due to the additional receiving option grabbing shorter and safer passes.

Arguably, the threat of a runner taking a short pass forces the defense to adjust and should help the deep game by allowing the wide receivers more one-on-one opportunities. That could provide more yards-per-catch to offset their lost targets.

For example, Ekeler has 2 more receptions than teammate Keenan Allen, but Allen has 200 more receiving yards. Sam Darnold took advantage of the attention Le’Veon Bell garnered to throw for over 300 yards to other receivers in his Week 6 return against Dallas.

Not Exactly New, Is It?

Passing to running backs isn’t a radical concept on its own. Screen passes and coming off blocks as a quarterback’s escape option have been effective offensive tools for decades.

Alvin Kamara streaking past cornerbacks and safeties to take a 50-yard pass in stride is a little different.

Le’Veon Bell taking the corner fade pass is a little different.

Ekeler and McCaffrey as the first option for many plays is a little different.

Top corners lining up opposite running backs is a little different.

Running backs who can’t (or didn’t) catch passes in college are likely to drop down the draft board. Catching passes is as important as juke moves, power, and speed to some coaches.

Adrian Peterson had a successful return to NFL significance this week. But even with a pair of catches, his 118 rushing yards barely made him a top-12 fantasy football running back.

How many people realize Carlos Hyde rushed for 116 yards against Kansas City? Not many, because even in real-life football, running is becoming something teams do in between passing the ball.

How Fantasy Football Might React

Fantasy Football adapted over the years to changing trends and anomalies. We made quarterbacks less dominant with 4-point touchdowns. More recently, we’ve seen extra value given to tight end catches.

There are leagues without kickers and others without defenses to take some of the “luck” factors out.

As we watch running backs evolve into wide receivers who run more than others, perhaps the roster mix will change. There are already leagues experimenting with more wide receivers, no tight ends, one running back, etc.

Maybe rosters with a passer and six assorted skill players will become a thing? Could passing become so prevalent that points-per-reception leagues give way to point-per-carry leagues?

That is a bit extreme, but maybe there is a reason to revert to standard scoring leagues. We could also limit points for receptions to those over 10 yards, so we don’t win or lose games because of 10/15/35/0 lines.

We are not quite at the adjustment trigger yet, but if running backs keep dominating offenses the way they are trending now, we should at least see a quick, merciful end to the “no-running-back” draft model.


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