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Jan 02

Touches and Targets: A comprehensive review of the 2013 regular season

Throughout the season, we’ve been updating our readers on how touches and targets were distributed over the previous weekend. Now, on January 2, 2014 we’ll review the data from the entire 2013 campaign in an effort to make sense of the year that was, and think about what the information may mean.

This a long post. It’s detailed, and I don’t know how to say anything briefly, so… grab a coffee and a spot on the sofa, bookmark it and return, or simply ctrl+f the players of interest. There are useful nuggets in here, I promise, and it’s hard to review a season in 500 words.

Rather watch? Locker Room staff break down the season on our year end podcast. (You’ll note a few minor technical lapses with our wireless connection, otherwise it’s an hour of gold).

Touches and Targets: 2014 Highlights

Patriots WR Julian Edelman tops our 2013 touches and targets review. As the season moved on, the team found a way to replace Wes Welker's production, it just came from someone in house, rather than FA addition Danny Amendola (Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

Patriots WR Julian Edelman tops our 2013 touches and targets review. As the season moved on, the team found a way to replace Wes Welker’s production, it just came from someone in house, rather than FA addition Danny Amendola (Photo: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports).

  • Julian Edelman finished inside the top 10 in WR targets, with a whopping 146 – almost three times his previous career high of 58 and nearly five times more than last year’s 31. He made it to that number despite a three game stretch starting in Week 8 in which he posted just 10 total targets. Edelman’s 71.9% catch rate on those 146 receptions give him 105 on the year, and ranks as the 4th highest rate for any WR who played more than 25% of his team’s snaps. The 105 receptions are also fourth most league wide. In short, Edelman was consistently strong and essentially filled the role that we all projected Danny Amendola to. The 146 passes thrown his direction were 20 fewer than those that were delivered to Wes Welker last year, but Edelman did a nice job replacing his production, in fact, it is hard to blame any of New England’s struggles this year on Welker’s departure – more belongs to the obvious loss with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at the TE position, along with the lack of a consistent secondary option. In his defense, Amendola had a strong 65.9% catch rate on 82 targets. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins produced similar lines, with 71 and 69 targets resulting in 37 and 32 catches apiece, with each producing four touchdowns. Dobson topped Thompkins by 53 yards (519-466), and the two would have produced a fantasy super-rookie line jointly (69-985-8) but served largely to render each other irrelevant.
  • By Pro Football Focus’ grades Brandon Marshall finished the season as the league’s best receiver and the measure wasn’t even close: he wound up with a +37.8 mark, with just Jordy Nelson next (24.7) and three others topping 20. The top 10 was full of the usual suspects, largely though the final three are noteworthy. Alshon Jeffery at eight because it gives the Bears two receivers who not just performed at a high level, but played the position well according to unbiased rankers, Anquan Boldin at nine deserves credit for producing despite being his team’s only option, and Keenan Allen at 10 was the top rated rookie by far, with Cordarrelle Patterson the next highest at #35, with most of his + grade coming from his work as a rusher.
    • Allen also led all rookies in touchdowns (8) and was the only first year player to top 1000 yards, finishing at 1046. It was an impressive campaign from the Cal product. He should build on his 101 targets next year, though Malcom Floyd‘s impending return could impact the workload of both Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown – 66 and 65 targets respectively.
  • Three receivers topped 170 targets this season, the same number as last year but none of them came close to Calvin Johnson‘s 199 (down 50 to 148 this year, though he played in just 14 games). Speaking of Marshall, he finished second last year with 181 and was still the 5th most targeted receiver in the league in 2013 but was down to 158, as Alshon Jeffery finished with 140 (11th). Last year, playing just 10 games, Jeffery was again the second highest targeted Bears WR but he had just 48 looks.
  • Josh Gordon, the league’s leader in receiving yards, drew just the 14th most targets in the league and gained his yardage largely by producing on a yards per reception basis – with his 18.9 being the highest of any player who made more than 32 receptions.
  • 63 Wide Receivers saw more than the 72 targets bestowed upon Cordarrelle Patterson, though he did draw seven more than fellow touted rookie Tavon Austin. The Vikings figured it out a bit in the second half mind you, with Patterson playing more than 50% of the snaps in all but one (the first) of the season’s last eight games and 49 of his 72 targets coming during that span. The two finished with nearly identical 62.5 and 61.5% catch rates, which are not altogether bad numbers for rookies and present a solid base to build on in 2014 (Keenan Allen again led all rookies in this category with a 70.5% rate, 10th best in the league. They finished 2/3 in WR rush attempts as well (behind Jeffery) with Patterson’s three TDs equaling the amount that any other receiver scored on the ground this year.
  • Kenny Stills wasn’t far behind Allen as the top rookie, making good on 69.6% of his 42 targets. Stills led the league in WR Rating – Drew Brees had a 139.3 passer rating when throwing balls in his direction. Both are amazing facts given that 30.4% of Stills’ targets came on throws greater than 20 yards. Of those 14 targets, six were deemed ‘catchable’ and all were caught by the rookie with five of them going for touchdowns.
  • Golden Tate didn’t really ‘wow’ this season, despite the fact that Percy Harvin missed the entire year but with 64 receptions on 93 targets for 898 yards he topped last year’s numbers in all categories. His 68.8% catch rate was down a few notches from 71.4% last year, but was still a top 20 mark and he led the league with 7.9 yards after catch, per catch for anyone over 14 receptions. DeMaryius Thomas led the league in yards after the catch, with 697 of them, which was more than all but 43 other receivers had all season. Doug Baldwin meanwhile, had the 9th best WR rating in the league at 115 and topped Tate (14.0) with 15.6 yards per reception.
  • Wes Welker missed three games to close the season, and during that span Andre Caldwell picked up 19 targets in his stead. Otherwise, no one else in Denver touched the ball at the receiver position. The distribution among Welker, Thomas and Eric Decker was incredibly even as well with 109, 138 and 135 targets apiece and each receiver catching between 64 and 67% of their targets. Decker scored double digit TDs for the second straight year and has 32 over the last three seasons.
  • We’ll give Aaron Dobson a bit of a break as a) he was in his first season and b) the drop problem got better as the season went on, but the other four members of the top five (Davone Bess, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Santonio Holmes and Kris Durham shouldn’t get a free pass). All four players will either be looking for a new team next year, or playing a much lesser role. Meanwhile, Greg Little finished 6th meaning that Browns QBs had two of the six receivers who most frequently dropped catchable passes, and that he has finished in the top seven for two years running. On the flip side, Larry Fitzgerald finished with the lowest drop rate in the league (1.2) and that won’t shock you, but credit is due to DeAndre Hopkins who had just one drop on 53 catchable targets in his rookie season.
  • The top 10 in targets over 20 yards won’t shock you (Torrey Smith, AJ Green, Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, DeMaryius Thomas and Vincent Jackson) but credit goes to Green and Jackson who turned in eight touchdowns on passes of more than 20 yards while demerit points belong to the Torrey Smith/Joe Flacco connection. I didn’t watch enough Ravens games to say whether this was a result of issues on the part of Smith or his QB, but with 41 deep targets he made just 10 receptions while dropping three of 13 catchable balls and managing no touchdowns.
  • 63 of Kendall Wright‘s 7th best 94 receptions came while operating out of the slot, the most of any receiver in the league. Both of his touchdowns we’re scored when lined up as a slot receiver. It felt like Wright was getting peppered with targets every week, and while there is nothing wrong with his 134 targets they are just 33 more than teammate Nate Washington‘s. Wright’s 70.1% catch rate easily trumped Washington’s 57.4 but both were productive wideouts and should factor in to the team’s 2014 plans in a similar fashion, though Justin Hunter‘s development could mean a few more than his 41 2013 chances.
  • You haven’t thought about Julio Jones in a while unless you are a Falcons fan who is lamenting a lost season, but he led the league in yards per route run this year, at 2.74 (just ahead of Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon). In fourth, another player who fell off the radar for different reasons: Justin Blackmon. Josh Gordon ran 615 snaps in route, just 11th most in the league, and led the league in receiving. Had Jones been able to put in a full year (and thus equaled Gordon’s 615 snaps) the numbers tell us that he would have led the NFL with 1683 yards while Blackmon would have finished with 1585. Each player is highly draftable next season, though Jones deserves higher consideration (back in the conversation for top 1-5 WR) but Blackmon’s issues with suspensions and QB situation (assuming a return to Jacksonville) make him a much riskier selection.
  • Six tight ends drew more than 100 targets this season: Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Jordan Cameron, Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen. Of them, only Gates surprises me. I thought that the departure of Norv Turner would see his use limited, and was convinced that injuries would once again become an issue for the 33 year old. Instead, he played every game and was on the field for 996 snaps – nearly all of San Diego’s offensive plays. His 71.3% catch rate was 24th among tight ends and he managed just four touchdowns, but Gates was productive again this season. It will be interesting, as he ages another year, to see if teammate Ladarius Green becomes an issue for Gates’ playing time next year: he led all TEs with 22.1 yards per catch and graded as a much better blocker than Gates this year.
  • Drew Brees threw six interceptions on passes intended for Jimmy Graham, who led TEs in that category while also posting the most yards, receptions, touchdowns and targets. The Saints, of course, will take the good with the bad here. Tom Brady meanwhile, threw four picks and four TDs in Rob Gronkowski’s direction but the same story applies. Gronkowski led Graham by half a yard as the top two TEs in terms of yards per pass route run (2.75-2.26), and his 592 yards were 15th in the league at the position despite playing just seven games. If I’m convinced that Gronkowski is healthy – and the word is that he is expected to be ready for camp – I could convince myself to go Gronk > Graham at the draft table, but the risk is considerably higher.
Many fantasy experts won't argue that Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is a top 10 fantasy back but with Chip Kelly and his new offense that puts McCoy inside my top 5. Howard Smith/US Presswire

A mix of production and volume helped land LeSean McCoy as the #2 overall fantasy scorer this year (Photo: Howard Smith/US Presswire).

  • Just two backs topped 300 carries this season: Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy, while five topped the number last year and two (Arian Foster at 351 and Adrian Peterson at 348) did so by a wide margin. McCoy did lead the league in carries but his rushing title came as much on efficiency as volume. His 5.1 YPC average was 4th best among backs who had more than 100 carries trailing just Andre Ellington, Donald Brown and DeMarco Murray. The other three names are interesting because at various points this season, all players found themselves in discussions about limited use, though Murray dominated the Cowboys backfield workload when he was in the game. Moving into 2014, Ellington likely won’t find himself with much more work next year as coach Bruce Arians has advocated for a similar snap count and Brown may not either, given that the team still hopes to turn Trent Richardson into a franchise running back. Credit Brown though, for picking up 3.3 yards after contact per attempt, the most of any back with more than 36 carries.
    • All told, Rashard Mendenhall wound up with 235 touches to Andre Ellington’s 157. As the season moved along, the per game numbers wound up closer together, but the veteran had more touches than the rookie in every game which they were on the field together. While you may see the end of season numbers a little closer together in 2014, I’d expect to see the split hold – the Cardinals weren’t among the league’s best rushing teams (in fact, they finished 23rd with 96.2 yards per game on the ground) but the run game proved to be an effective pace to the offense and, as indicated in the above bullet, coach Bruce Arians doesn’t view Ellington as anything more than a 30-35 snap per game back, a fact that he openly told us and then backed up throughout the year.
  • Marshawn Lynch led the league with 75 missed tackles as a rusher, and a total of 86. The most interesting missed tackle stat to me is Trent Richardson’s 47 though, good for a top 10 finish. He actually finished with the 7th highest ‘elusive rating’ in the league, which is a measure that PFF uses to determine a rusher’s success regardless of the efforts of their offensive line. Clearly, Richardson has talent but I’m convinced he’ll ever be anything than a player who plods for three yards per carry. Chris Ivory was second on the list. He was underused early in the season, but developed into a productive back late in the year – still, the fact that he had the fewest touches (184, two receptions) of anyone inside the top 20 speaks to the fact that a more productive season could be in store. He had fewer opportunities than Bilal Powell as well, with just six more carries and 36 fewer receptions. If the backfield depth chart remains the same next year, I’d expect Ivory to take a bigger chunk of the rushes but the total touch distribution to remain fairly even.
  • After all the talk of an 80 catch season, Reggie Bush wound up with 54 on 76 targets. His 71.1% catch rate was the lowest of any back who made more than 22 receptions and fumbling was an issue. Bush was productive for Detroit – particularly early – but with Joique Bell proving effective (he finished as PFF’s 9th rated running back) I wouldn’t project any more than the 275 touches that Bush picked up this season for 2014 (though the new coaching staff will play a role in determining their use). Surprisingly, Bell caught 53 balls on 60 targets, which is where some of the 80 balls intended for Bush seem to have gone.
  • Speaking of new staffs, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte led the league in RB targets with Charles picking up a whopping 90. With 70 and 74 receptions respectively, Forte finished just behind McCoy in terms of overall touches. Shady had 366, while Forte finished with 363. Forte and Charles each had career years under their new coaching staffs and nothing is expected to change for either of them in 2014. Charles’ 19 TDs were 11 more than he’d scored in any other season, and while his 260 carries were 25 fewer than last year he finished with 330 touches, 10 more. Forte’s 12 scores matched a career high as well.
    • Briefly, on the note of McCoy, Bryce Brown was involved as a change of pace only but credit him for not fumbling on 83 touches after doing so four times last year. He’s one of the top handcuffs in the game next year, but that is it.
  • Danny Woodhead and Pierre Thomas were PPR wonders, catching 76 and 77 balls respectively while adding just 106 and 146 carries, respectively. Thomas’ 223 touches will play – he was the 23rd highest scorer in standard leagues – but moving forward into next season it would be a surprise if some of his targets didn’t go back to Darren Sproles (it wasn’t as if he wasn’t used in the pass game either though, with 71 receptions on 84 targets which compares fairly evenly to last year, but is down from 105/130 in 2011). Otherwise for New Orleans, Mark Ingram had half as many carries this year (78) as last, despite running for a 4.9 YPC average. He showed flashes in 2013, but didn’t find the endzone and doesn’t have the workload to justify entry into the redraft conversation.
    • On the note of Woodhead, his 76 catches were part of a 182 touch season which is easily a career high – as are his 1034 total yards. Speaking of career high’s in San Diego: Ryan Mathews set a bunch of them, including games played (16), attempts (284) and touches (310). All bode well for his value next year, as do his 1438 total yards. Mathews picked up 107 of his carries over the final four games of the season, and while there is no guarantee that that will carry over to next year, and while 284 carries is an extremely healthy workload, I wouldn’t expect Woodhead to have over 100 carries again.
  • 408 of C.J. Spiller‘s 930 yards came on 11 carries that went for more than 15 yards and that number makes up the highest percentage of anyone in the league. Spiller should see more work next season assuming good health and a reduced role for Fred Jackson. Jackson ran incredibly well this year, but will be 33 before he plays his next snap. The big three (McCoy, Charles and Forte) led the league with 26, 20 and 20 carries over 15 yards respectively. Again, Chris Ivory was second in ‘breakaway percentage’ with 12 carries over 15 yards on just 182 attempts.
    • As for Spiller and Jackson, the touch distribution finished fairly close with FredEx netting 253 for 1277 total yards and Spiller picking up 211 with 982 yards. The big gap came in scoring, as Jackson posted 10 total touchdowns to Spiler’s two. Moving forward, expect Spiller to take control of the touch distribution in 2013 (shockingly, Jackson had 19 more receptions on 26 more targets than Spiller who operates best when given the ball in space). The TDs may continue to belong to Jackson next year, but the workload should tild the other direction. The problem with Spiller this year is that we paid an expectant price for his services, bumping him up our rankings above the production level we’d seen before because of promises made by a new coaching staff. Next year, you shouldn’t have to overpay (as much) at the draft table.
  • Michael Floyd added 28 targets to his rookie season totals, finishing with 107 and increased his catch rate to 60.7%, yielding 65 catches and 1041 yards, 87 more than teammate Larry Fitzgerald despite making 17 fewer receptions.
  • Roddy White finished the season with just 94 targets, considerably fewer than Harry Douglas but 59 of them came over the last five weeks. He’ll go into 2014 farther behind Julio Jones in terms of his overall value than he did in 2013 but the five week binge in both workload and production to close the season suggest a return to good healthy and a still bright 2014 outlook.
  • Only three Wide Receivers drew more than two targets from Bears QB Jay Cutler, with Earl Bennett‘s 42 finishing a full 98 fewer than Alshon Jeffery. The fact that two receivers drew more than 140 targets apiece on the same team is absurd, but it may not change next year. Jeffery developed into one of the top threats in the game this season, and while Chicago may look to upgrade the depth behind him this season I’d expect each player to continue to be fed the ball as much as they can handle it.
  • All told, Terrence Williams drew 72 targets from Tony Romo this season and caught 61.1% of him, the second best mark on the team and was the second most frequently targeted receiver (also behind Jason Witten). There is no guarantee that he’ll be ahead of Miles Austin on the depth chart next year, but he was more efficient than the veteran and should be in for a similar workload next year.
  • DeAndre Hopkins drew 91 targets this year, just about half of Andre Johnson‘s 176. With stronger QB play, and a year to grow into his role his catch percentage should come up from 57.1 and you should see him eat into some of Johnson’s numbers next season as the team has an eye on eventually moving away from the veteran.
  • Cecil Shorts received 117 targets this year, up a handful from 2012 but his catch rate remained fairly low (56.4%, following 54.5). Naturally, some of that has to do with the QB situation but you’d like a guy in his role to be posting 70-75 catches. Ace Sanders wound up with 79 looks, including 51 of them since Week 11, catching 64.6% of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if (after Justin Blackmon) the 2013 4th rounder is the second most targeted Jaguar next year.
  • Dwayne Bowe hasn’t caught more than 60% of the balls thrown his way, or seen more than 110 targets since 2011. I’ll have a hard time ranking him as anything other than a low WR3 next season given that Kansas City should be expected to continue to ride Jamaal Charles in both the run and pass games – this year, I assumed that the advent of a pass heavy system under Andy Reid (who was notably tilted toward the pass in Philadelphia) would mean more volume for Bowe but he was down six targets year over year.
  • Ryan Tannehill threw nine interceptions on passes intended for Mike Wallace this year, the third most in the league with just Vincent Jackson (10) and AJ Green (12) having more passes in their direction picked off. The two showed better chemistry in the second half of the season, but with 137 targets you’d have hoped for more than 73 catches and five scores from Wallace but his catch rate was fairly consistent with his numbers in Pittsburgh, it was just the big plays for scores that were lacking. Brian Hartline saw ten fewer looks but caught more balls – for more yards.
  • Drew Brees threw 52 fewer passes this year to his Wide Receivers than he did last. Marques Colston was among the more impacted, as he turned in a poor fantasy season (WR27) despite posting solid peripheral numbers. He caught 70.1% of his passes for 12.6 yards per reception this year, with the catch rate up 5 points over the year prior. With an extra 20-30 targets Colston would have met his draft day expectations. Still, I wouldn’t expect the number to miraculously go up next season – Brees passes to his backs (we mentioned above that two of them had more than 70 receptions this year!) and to Jimmy Graham more than most QBs so the WRs don’t have a lot to go around.
  • Despite not seeing any legitimate playing time until Week 15 Jerrel Jernigan finished the season as New York’s highest rated WR per PFF. His 42 targets were eight times as many as he saw last season and the 29 catches he made on them were just 12 fewer than Rueben Randle despite Randle seeing almost double (76) his looks. The two are likely to be competing for Hakeem Nicks‘ 2013 share of the pie (98 looks), with the assumption that the pending free agent will be employed elsewhere next year. If so, I’m giving Jernigan the edge right now on what should be a resurgent Giants offense next year.
  • I’m not sure who they’ll be catching passes from next year, but it’s worth noting that Andre Holmes, Rod Streater and Denarius Moore all posted yards per reception numbers over 14.8. Streater caught 63.8% of his 94 targets, both of them the highest on the team and he is my bet for the most valuable WR to come out of this group in 2014 but we’ll have to see who is able to establish the best rapport with their starting QB. Personally, I like Andre Holmes and think he has a shot to put up nice numbers if he can move his 52 2013 targets closer to 80 or 90 in 2014.
  • DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant saw 271 targets between them (you’ll be surprised to note that Avant finished just 10 looks behind Cooper at 71/81. Cooper’s 58.0% catch rate is the highest of his four year career, and was higher than Jeremy Maclin‘s 2012 number but I’m expecting Maclin to re-sign with Philadelphia and step back into the #2 role. If we think the 271 target number holds, I’d expect to see Cooper back down around the 50-65 target range significantly limiting his upside.
  • Jerricho Cotchery caught two touchdowns on 53 targets over the previous two seasons in Pittsburgh. This year, he caught one every 7.6 targets to wind up with 10. While some of that has to do with his elevation up the receiving ladder in Pittsburgh after Wallace’s departure and while Emmanuel Sanders may be moving on this season, you can’t count on that TD rate returning for 2014.
  • You’re right, Tavon Austin’s rookie season was a disappointment relative to his real-world and fantasy hype coming into the year but the team started to figure out how to use him before injury knocked him out of the team’s final three games and his 61.5% catch rate allowed him to lead the Rams in catches (40) despite having just 65 targets. All those numbers should increase next year, and you’re likely to get Austin cheaper.
  • Pierre Garcon was the 2nd most targeted WR, drawing 174 of them from Robert Griffin/Kirk Cousins. With a TD on one out of 23 receptions there is room for growth in that category but his 113 receptions and 1346 yards are fantastic totals. No other Washington WR saw more than 77 looks, meaning that Garcon won the category by nearly 100. Moss’s targets should be expected to go down next season as he draws nearer to the end of his career, and Garcon should again be far and above the most targeted WR in Washington depending on how the new coaching staff looks at things.
  • Steven Jackson was a draft day disappointment, particularly if you followed my rankings as I had him pegged as a top 12 back, but injuries cost him a significant chunk of his season and hindered him for a game or two in his return. All told, he finished with seven combined touchdowns on 190 touches. He rushed for a 3.5 yards per carry average, the lowest total of his career, but the seven scores project to 11 on a 300 touch season. If nothing changes in Atlanta and he is able to stay healthy, Jackson should approach that number in 2013 as part of an offense that should find itself more productive as a whole.
  • At the outset of the season, we issued warning that Bernard Pierce would cut into Ray Rice‘s carries to a certain degree, and indeed he did as the second year back picked up an additional 44 carries relative to last season and Rice lost almost exactly that number (43). Rice had another productive season as a receiver, mind you, but was still down nearly 50 touches on the year. What we didn’t warn you about is that neither back would be effective, rushing for 2.9 and 3.1 yards per carry respectively. In 2014, Rice’s 214 carries and 58 receptions play just fine for volume, and he should be a more effective back if the Ravens can run block better, but you won’t be drafting him as anything more than an RB2.
  • When the dust settled, Giovani Bernard – buoyed by 56 receptions – wound up with 226 touches to BenJarvus Green-Ellis‘ 224, despite he veteran back posting 50 more carries. Bernard was more effective on a TDs and yards per carry basis, and his work as a receiver really helped to keep the Cincinnati offense moving. He wore down to close the season though, with a 3.6 YPC average in five December games despite being at 4.3 or above in every other month. We don’t talk about it as much as we used to, but it is conceivable that Bernard hit a bit of a rookie wall – he had roughly this many touches in ten games at North Carolina last year, though. Either way, expect Cincinnati to work on his conditioning a bit through the offseason and the gap in touches to grow a bit next year, but BJGE played well enough to remain a factor.
  • DeMarco Murray had four times as many carries as any other player on the Dallas Cowboys and most of Joseph Randle‘s 54 totes came with Murray sidelined due to injury. He controls the Dallas backfield when he’s in the game. Murray ran for an average of 5.2 YPC and forced 37 missed tackles on just 217 rush attempts. His (near) 1600 total yard, 10 touchdown season was underappreciated in fantasy circles and while he characteristically missed two games, it was a steady season from one of my favorite rushers to watch. His upright style avails his legs to the types of injuries he has suffered in his short career, but he makes good use of it to glide between tacklers more often than not. This season’s 270 touches are a career high by far, so I don’t want to project any more work for next year but if you ever get a 16 game season out of Murray, you’ll be over the moon with the result.
  • Knowshon Moreno had the best season of his young career, and his 241 carries are by far a career high. Moreno added 60 receptions to give us one of only a handful of 300 touch seasons observed around the league. He was pacing for considerably more too, until Montee Ball was asked to step in and ease some of the load. Ball finished with 140 touches of his own, and was efficient with the ball in his hands; notching a 4.7 YPC average in his rookie season. He had three combined fumbles on his attempts, and that is a concern but has demonstrated good ball security down the stretch. Ball is a more elusive runner than Moreno (19 missed tackles on 120 attempts, compared to 21 for Moreno on twice as many) and I expect him to at least even out this split next season, if not reverse it, provided he’s able to hang onto the ball. Every time I say that, I feel like I’m slighting Moreno who posted 1586 total yards and scored 13 times but the Elway regime didn’t draft Ball for nothing.
  • It took him a couple of games to take control of the backfield, and an early injury slowed things further, but Eddie Lacy wound up with the fourth most rushing attempts in the league with 284, adding 35 receptions. When healthy, James Starks factored into the mix but finished with just 89 totes. He is a change of pace back only, moving forward (and may be replaced in that role by Johnathan Franklin next year if he can get it together). Lacy’s 1435 total yards are a fine start to a bright career, and he’s already shown an ability to fight through injuries and produce regardless.
  • Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman each ran for 3.4 yards per carry this year, an underwhelming number. However, when considering that they did it behind the worst run blocking offensive line in football (according to Pro Football Focus’ grades), the context suggests that each was fairly productive given the circumstances. With 276 touches Jones-Drew’s veteran body held up fairly well through the course of a season, and he should find himself a team that is willing to give him that type of work for at least another year or two. That leaves the Jacksonville backfield open for Todman and Denard Robinson if Jacksonville doesn’t add anyone else. Todman managed four scores on his 90 touches this season and is a reasonable bet for mid-RB2 numbers if Jacksonville doesn’t add anyone else to the mix, and if the offense improves around him.
    • Speaking of the Jacksonville depth chart, heading into next year presumably sans-MJD, you’d have to believe they are disappointed that Rashad Jennings walked to Oakland. Darren McFadden is virtually guaranteed to be leaving town this year after a woeful 2013 (114 carries for a 3.3 YPC average, 17 receptions) and the show appears to belong to Jennings who had 199 touches this year (thanks to catching all but three of his 39 pass targets) and finished with 1025 total yards on them. Oakland will be seeking more consistent QB play next year, and if they get it Jennings looks like a good bet for 250+ touches and the production that typically accompanies them.
  • Lamar Miller‘s 203 touches were 50-60 more than most who gave him an RB2 rank to start the season projected, and with Daniel Thomas a) staying in the mix to the tune of 124 touches and b) doing more work around the goal line with six scores, Miller underwhelmed. He should remain in the mix next season, after better production than most expected.
  • Adrian Peterson played 102 fewer snaps this season and understandably picked up 69 fewer carries and 80 fewer touches overall. Still, he remains a focal point of the Vikings offense and if it weren’t for an incredibly high bar set last year, we’d all be excited about a 1500 total yard, double digit touchdown season. With that said, there is now a conversation to have about which back is worth the number one pick this year, and right now I’m leaning Shady over Peterson and Charles.
  • If you’re looking for a measurement of just what fumbling issues cost Stevan Ridley this season, the number comes in around 219 snaps and 112 carries, though Ridley missed two games this season as well. He’s still the best runner on New England’s roster (though credit LeGarrette Blount for posting a 5.0 YPC average in 153 carries which was at least 50 more than anyone projected this season), and if they don’t add anyone else I would expect him to get his shot as their lead rusher next year. Ridley scored seven times on 178 carries this season. Shane Vereen‘s 91 touches were 21 clear of last season’s, despite the fact that he spent most of 2013 on injured reserve. New England doesn’t view him as much of a between the tackles rusher (just 44 carries despite Ridley’s struggles), but he’ll continue to be a PPR threat. His 47 receptions were the 14th most in the league despite playing in just eight games.
  • David Wilson‘s season  was short and underwhelming, but Andre Brown didn’t do enough after returning from injured reserve (139 carries for 494 yards with three scores) to suggest that he is guaranteed to be the man next year. Wilson will get his shot in camp, unless New York adds someone to the mix via the draft.
  • Le’Veon Bell missed the first three games of his rookie season, and still finished with 244 carries while no other Steelers back had more than 49. The rookie rusher added 45 receptions for 405 yards. His 1250+ total yard campaign was driven largely by this work as a receiver and volume as a rusher, as he ran for just a 3.5 YPC average. Note that exactly 60% of his rushing yards came after first contact, so the issues had a lot to do with blocking as much as anything else. With 289 touches in 13 games, by volume alone he could be one of the top producing backs next season.
  • Speaking of rookie rushers with a lot of work, Zac Stacy finished with 276 touches of his own (250 carries), despite playing just nine snaps until Week 5. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead turned their preseason hype into 76 combined carries, with Richardson seeing just 14 of his 69 after Week 5. At the close of the season, this is Stacy’s backfield to share with Benny Cunningam next year. The team has a lot of draft picks, but they’ve also got a lot of areas of need outside of RB so the job should be safe.
  • Both Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter increased their carries this year over 2012, with Gore finishing 16 touches ahead of his 2012 numbers. Bear in mind though, the back turns 31 this year and has logged a lot of miles through his career. After adding another handful of carries in the playoffs, you’d have to wonder what portion of the workload Gore takes next year as no other back topped 100 carries. With Marcus Lattimore in the mix for 2014, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his carries come down considerably. At 4.1 yards apiece, he posted the lowest per carry average of his nine year career.
  • Mike James did enough in his 60 carry cameo as starter to warrant additional playing time next year. Assuming that both he and Doug Martin are healthy though, this is Martin’s backfield. He had 127 carries (and 12 receptions based on a disappointing 50% catch rate on his 24 targets) in just six outings, and while I don’t think he’ll come near his 368 touches from 2012 I do think he’ll top 300 if healthy next year.
  • Chris Johnson owned the Tennessee backfield with 321 touches this season, and while his production doesn’t necessarily warrant his contract he was one of the more useful fantasy backs in the league (finishing as the 9th overall back, his highest since 2010) with over 1400 yards and double digit scores. There is no guarantee he’ll be back in Tennessee next season, so we’ll have to monitor his team situation if that should change but if he plays with the Titans, he’s a lock for another 300 touch campaign.
  • Alfred Morris had 60 fewer carries, a slightly lower per carry average, and six fewer rushing touchdowns (seven) than he did in his breakout rookie campaign. There was nothing wrong with his overall production, but owners paid an RB1 price tag for him. Depending on how things shake out with a new coaching staff (that may move away from the zone blocking scheme that Morris excels in) I’m unlikely to invest in him, even though this year’s output amidst overall offensive struggles was a solid ‘high floor’ output.

5 comments

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  1. Todd Latzke

    Where can I see the list with all the Targets, Catches, Carries, etc…. all on 1 document?

    1. Jon Collins

      But Todd… everything you need is right here in this one document!

      Hah. Thanks for reading. I don’t know of a site that lays it out exactly that way with cumulative totals, etc. I’ve been tracking game by game for most players on my own, if you’d like that excel sheet I’m happy to send it to you.

      Alternatively, fantasy pros tracks all targets across positions, but they don’t include RB carries: http://www.fantasypros.com/nfl/reports/targets/

      1. Todd Latzke

        Jon,

        I would like that spreadsheat very much!!

        1. Jon Collins

          On it’s way.

          1. Todd Latzke

            Thanks.

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