Pass-catching running backs are becoming increasingly en vogue in the NFL, so it might be good to take a look at some of the running back leaders in terms of receptions over the last three years. Some of these guys are going to be clear-cut first round picks in fantasy drafts that you are going to want to build your team around, while others will offer low-key potential to be weekly point-per-reception (PPR) league producers that you can probably find at bargain-bin prices. Let’s dive in…
Running Back Reception Leaders 2015-2017*
Min. 85 Catches, Active Players
1. Duke Johnson – Much has been made about Johnson’s lead leading 188 receptions at the position over the last three years, as well as his impressive 2017 campaign that saw Johnson accumulate 1,041 total yards and 7 touchdowns, which was good enough for an RB11 PPR finish. There are several reasons to approach Johnson with caution going into 2018, however, starting with the fact his numbers from a season ago were likely inflated out of necessity. The state of the Browns’ 2017 receiving corps was so dire that Johnson was actually being used at slot receiver. With Josh Gordon reinstated and seemingly on the straight-and-narrow, slot-maven Jarvis Landry signed to a hefty free agent contract, and former 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman healthy, it’s hard to see Johnson cracking the 90 target barrier for a second season in a row. Secondly, the team’s other big offensive free agent acquisition Carlos Hyde, is no slouch when it comes to catching the football himself, appearing further down this list at #22. Johnson’s carries don’t figure to see much of an uptick either, given that in addition to snagging Hyde in free agency, the Browns also spent the 35th pick in last April’s draft on bruising RB Nick Chubb.
2. Theo Riddick – Nipping at Johnson’s heels is Riddick, who has been a steady safety valve out of the Lions’ backfield since breaking out with an 80-catch season in 2015. With new head coach Matt Patricia at the helm, it appears one of his goals for 2018 is to fix the Lions’ bottom-of-the-barrel rushing attack, as they are dead last in team rushing yards since 2015. Detroit brought in LeGarrette Blount via free agency, and drafted Auburn alum Kerryon Johnson in the second-round of last April’s draft to form a bruising backfield tandem, which will be a departure from last season’s scatback combo of Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah. Riddick still figures to monopolize passing downs and should retain that role when the Lions run their hurry-up offense. Even so, with the Lions at least showing a desire to run a balanced offense, another 50+ catch season may not be in the cards for Riddick.
3. Le’Veon Bell – This guy won’t be sneaking up on anyone, as Bell is expected to be a consensus top-two pick in 2018 fantasy drafts. In fact, it’s a foregone conclusion Bell would be sitting well atop the above list had his 2015 season not been cut short due to suspension and injury (Bell only played six games). Over Bell’s last three complete seasons (12 games played or more), he’s averaged 81 receptions and 708.3 receiving yard per campaign. Drafting in the top-two this Summer is a great place to be if you want a weekly advantage at the RB position.
4. Devonta Freeman – Nearly half of Freeman’s 163 catches over the past three years during his breakout 2015 sophomore campaign, a season in which fellow Falcons’ RB Tevin Coleman did not see much pass game usage. Freeman’s reception totals have dipped in each successive season since 2015, a span in which Coleman’s 12.2 yards-per reception dwarfs Freeman’s 8.3. Reading into this, it would appear Coleman’s presence is a noticeable drain on Freeman’s PPR upside, which is a pattern that could be broken if (when) Coleman signs a big money free agent contract to play elsewhere next Spring.
5. James White – One of the few constants in the New England backfield the past few years, James White has the benefit of being part of QB Tom Brady‘s circle of trust. Unfortunately, anyone banking on a 2017 breakout last season after White’s heroic 139-total yard/three touchdown performance in Super Bowl LI was left disappointed, as he ended up with fewer catches and receiving yards than the year prior. Additionally, White’s playing time dwindled over the second half of last season (though he did re-emerge in the playoffs) as he battled an ankle injury while the Patriots opted to lean on Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, Even though Lewis is gone, the Pats still have a gaggle of other RBs on their roster (namely Burkhead and 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel) so White’s playing time will likely continue to be consistently unpredictable, thus making him a better target for best-ball leagues than redraft.