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5 PPR RB Sleepers

By Jared Smola | Updated on Tue, 01 Aug 2023 . 1:16 PM EDT

A RB target has, on average, been worth 2.45 more PPR points than a RB carry over the past 3 seasons.

So finding RBs that project for a bunch of targets – even if they don’t get many carries – can be a cheat code in PPR drafts.

You know the RBs near the top of fantasy drafts who will pile up targets. (And if you don’t, you can always check out our award-winning projections.)

But here are 5 guys going later in drafts that have a chance to rack up receptions and return big value in PPR leagues.

Cordarrelle Patterson, Falcons

DS Rank: RB26
ADP: RB33

Patterson is listed as a RB in fantasy leagues, but he was more all-around offensive weapon in his breakout 2021 season. He played 62% of his snaps in the backfield, 21% out wide and 17% in the slot.

Patterson smashed his previous personal bests with 153 carries, 618 rushing yards and 6 rushing scores. But he really shined in the passing game.

Patterson ranked 6th among RBs in catches (52), 2nd in receiving yards (548) and 3rd in receiving TDs (5). He drew 69 targets – 5th at his position. And he was super effective, ranking 2nd among RBs in both Pro Football Focus receiving grade and yards per route run.

Perhaps Patterson’s rushing volume is scaled back this year. But he might play an even bigger role in the passing game with WR Calvin Ridley suspended and WR Russell Gage and RB Mike Davis gone. Those 3 combined for 204 targets last season.

Patterson finished 10th among RBs in PPR points last year but is currently being drafted outside the top 30 at the position.

James Cook, Bills

DS Rank: RB35
ADP: RB38

Devin Singletary was effective as a runner last year. As a receiver? Not so much. Among 35 RBs with 40+ targets, Singletary ranked 35th in yards per route run and 34th in Pro Football Focus receiving grade.

The Bills spent the offseason trying to upgrade. They initially had a deal with J.D. McKissic, but he reneged and returned to Washington. The Bills then turned their attention to Cook, eventually taking him with the 63rd overall pick of this spring’s draft.

Cook is a bit undersized at 190 pounds and never topped 113 carries in 4 seasons at Georgia. But he tallied 67 catches for 730 yards (10.9 YPC) and 6 TDs. That included a 27-284-4 receiving line last year, when Cook ranked 8th among 120 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grades. He played 19% of his snaps in the slot or out wide last season. And 10% of his targets came 20+ yards downfield. He’s more than just a checkdown option.

"He's got really good hands," GM Brandon Beane said shortly after drafting Cook. "Very instinctive in the pass game ... Some guys just have the feel like a slot receiver. It's the feel of what you're getting -- whether to sit down in zone or run by your man. He's got speed ... You can feel his speed with the ball in his hands."

Cook has a good chance to immediately step in as the pass-catching back for a Bills team that ranked 5th in pass attempts last season and lost 184 targets with the departures of WRs Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders.

J.D. McKissic, Commanders

DS Rank: RB38
ADP: RB46

McKissic would have been a more intriguing fantasy pick had he signed with the pass-happy Bills. But he should still be a PPR asset in Washington.

Prior to missing the final 6 games of last season with a neck injury, McKissic racked up 53 targets, 43 catches and 397 yards. All 3 marks ranked top 6 among RBs. McKissic sat 22nd at the position in PPR points through Week 12 (despite carrying just 48 times for 212 yards and 2 TDs).

Back with the Commanders on a 2-year, $7 million deal, McKissic should be in for a similar role in 2022. Washington has been hesitant to expand RB Antonio Gibson’s involvement in the passing game. And rookie RB Brian Robinson looks more like an early-down hammer than a threat to McKissic’s passing-down role. McKissic deserves that role anyways after ranking 6th in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grades and 5th in yards per route run among 49 qualifying RBs last year.

Kenneth Gainwell, Eagles

DS Rank: RB41
ADP: RB47

Gainwell looked like a strong pass-catching prospect coming into the league last year. He caught 51 balls for 610 yards (12.0 YPC) and 3 TDs in his 2019 redshirt freshman season at Memphis. (Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns.) He played 25% of his snaps in the slot or out wide in 2019, flashing WR-quality route-running chops on tape. Gainwell ranked 4th among 108 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grades.

Then came a promising rookie season as a receiver: 33 catches on 50 targets for 253 yards and 1 TD. All 4 marks led Eagles RBs. And the targets, catches and yards ranked top 34 among RBs league-wide.

Gainwell did it despite the Eagles turning into 1 of the league’s run-heaviest offenses over the final 11 weeks of the season. Gainwell averaged just 2.7 targets and 1.8 catches per game over that stretch. But when Philly was more pass leaning over the first 6 weeks, he averaged 3.8 targets and 2.5 catches per game.

We’ll see which version of the Eagles offense we get in 2022, but we’re expecting at least a bit more passing after the big trade for WR A.J. Brown. That’d be good news for Gainwell, who looks like Philly’s best pass-catching RB. He earned a 73.6 Pro Football Focus receiving grade last year (12th among 49 qualifying RBs), compared to Miles Sanders’ 65.7 and Boston Scott’s 62.3.

Nyheim Hines, Colts

DS Rank: RB46
ADP: RB44

Hines set career lows in route rate (37%) and target share (10.9%) last year. That was partly due to Jonathan Taylor’s continued development in the passing game. That problem isn’t going away. But it was also due to QB Carson Wentz’s tendency to chuck it deep rather than checking down. Wentz’s teams have consistently finished below league average in RB target share.

HC Frank Reich expects that to change under new QB Matt Ryan. In fact, Reich said from the NFL owners’ meetings back in March that he expects a “much bigger role” for Hines this year. Reich kept the hype train rolling in May, saying, “If I was a fantasy owner, I'd consider drafting Nyheim.”

Reich probably isn’t a fantasy owner, but we’re still taking note. Hines beat Taylor in both Pro Football Focus receiving grade and yards per route run last year, ranking 9th and 12th in those categories among 49 RBs league-wide with 30+ targets. And the Colts are unproven in the pass-catching corps behind Michael Pittman with the offseason departures of veterans T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal and Jack Doyle.

It’s possible that Hines re-emerges as 1 of the top 3 or 4 targets in this Colts passing game this year.

Jared Smola Author Image
Jared Smola, Lead Analyst
Jared has been with Draft Sharks since 2007. He’s now Lead Analyst, heading up the preseason and weekly projections that fuel your Draft War Room and My Team tools. He currently ranks 1st among 133 analysts in draft rankings accuracy.
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