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Fantasy Football: Who is this year's running back who will thrive in PPR leagues?

Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84) returns the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

• Every season there are several running backs who are great in full-PPR scoring but drop off quite a bit in standard leagues.

Detroit Lions RB D’Andre Swift, Atlanta Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson, Kansas City Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Buffalo Bills RB James Cook project as the position’s biggest PPR-to-standard league differentiators inside the top-36 backs.

• Patterson presents the most PPR-specific value based on his more-than-affordable average draft position (ADP).

Full point-per-reception (PPR) fantasy football is a mad game: The mere act of catching a pass is treated the same as racking up 10 yards as a rusher or receiver. This has helped result in check-down-heavy running backs absolutely dominating fantasy football over the years.

Not to disparage the player’s talent, but Austin Ekeler would have been the overall PPR RB24 in 2021 without a single rush attempt for crying out loud. Players with multiple means of production — such as rushing quarterbacks, receiving running backs and even the rare rushing wide receiver — are the closest thing that fantasy football has to cheat codes.

Of course, it’s the game we play. There’s nothing wrong with taking the path of least resistance. If we don’t capitalize on this scoring oddity, somebody else will.

There have been nine instances of a running back scoring five-plus additional PPR fantasy points than standard over the past three seasons:

Last season D’Andre Swift worked as the PPR RB10 on a per-game basis and the RB20 in standard. In 2020, Ekeler was the PPR RB13 and standard RB25 while 2019 featured James White scoring a PPR RB23 finish despite also working as the standard RB37.

There are a handful of running backs every year that go from friendly and non-assuming Spongebob in standard to jacked and ready to brawl Spongebob in PPR. PFF’s fantasy projections reflect this reality and have multiple running backs separated by rather large chunks depending on the scoring format even inside of the top-36 players:

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Detroit Lions RB D’Andre Swift: PPR RB9, standard RB12

Swift’s path to fantasy greatness is simple: He catches a lot of passes. Specifically, only Christian McCaffrey (5.3) and Leonard Fournette (4.9) caught more passes per game than Swift (4.8) last season, helping Swift tie Joe Mixon for the 10th-most expected PPR points per game among all running backs.

Of course, it’s a good thing that fantasy points count the same regardless of whether or not they occur in a meaningful moment because nobody caught a higher percentage of their passes in the fourth quarter while trailing by seven-plus points than Swift (32%) in 2021.

Either way, it’s clear that it benefits the Lions to throw the ball in Swift’s direction, as the man is electric in the open field.

The only problem with crowning Swift as the next fantasy superstar is the reality that imminent Hard Knocks superstar Jamaal Williams isn’t going anywhere. Nor should he. The ex-Packers talent was objectively a better rusher of the football than Swift by just about any metric last season:

  • PFF rushing grade: Williams (68.4); Swift (61.3)
  • Yards per carry: Williams (3.9); Swift (4.1)
  • Yards after contact per carry: Williams (2.8); Swift (2.4)
  • Missed tackles forced per carry: Williams (0.16); Swift (0.11)

Luckily for Swift, Williams' presence didn’t do anything to hinder Swift’s fantasy-friendly opportunity. In 10 games with both backs fully healthy, Swift led the way in snap rate (66% vs. 35%), rush attempts (103 vs. 102) and targets (62 vs. 22) alike. Furthermore, Swift averaged a hefty 18 PPR points per game and 17 expected PPR points per game, both marks would have ranked inside the position’s top-10 back when extrapolated over the course of an entire season.

Swift is one of just six running backs PFF projects for more than 70 targets in 2022. His projected RB9 rank demonstrates the fantasy-friendly nature of this role. Overall, I’m riding with Swift as a top-10 running back in full-PPR scoring only behind guys with true three-down roles (Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley and Leonard Fournette) as well as Aaron Jones, who has a chance to see a similar target share in a likely much better offense. I’d draft Swift ahead of Joe Mixon and Javonte Williams in full-PPR scoring to take advantage of these sweet, sweet targets, but would bump those two bell-cow backs ahead of Swift in 0.5-point PPR or in standard formats.


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