With NFL preseason games underway, here are the top 20 running backs to target in upcoming fantasy football drafts.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
For the first time since 2013, Brown didn’t lead the league in catches. He finished one behind Larry Fitzgerald with 106 — his fourth straight season with at least 100 catches. Brown also has eclipsed 1,200 yards in each of the last four seasons and scored double-digit touchdowns in three of the last four years, putting him in the top five in the three major receiving categories.
The Steelers are getting Martavis Bryant back after his season-long suspension, which gives defenses someone else to worry about in their deep receiving corps. That shouldn’t take too many looks away from Brown, who has been targeted at least 155 times each of the last four seasons.
Brown could become the first NFL receiver with five straight 100-catch seasons. He’s a top-five overall pick in non-PPR leagues and should arguably be the top overall pick in PPR leagues.
2. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
Beckham has had arguably the best start to a career of any receiver of all time. He’s had at least 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons and turned in his first 100-catch year in 2016. The Giants added Brandon Marshall this offseason, but much like the Steelers’ situation, that should lessen the number of double and triple teams Beckham faces. Beckham has been Eli Manning’s top target since his debut season in 2014, and that should continue.
3. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons had the No. 1 scoring offense last season. In what was a down year for him, Jones still put up his third straight season with at least 1,400 yards and six touchdowns, even after seeing a significant dip in targets. Jones was targeted a career-high 204 times in 2015 but just 129 times in 14 games last season. His receptions dropped from a career-high 136 in 2015 to 83 in 2016. With as many weapons as the Falcons have, those numbers are probably closer to where the 28-year-old will live going forward. He has missed at least one game in three of the last four seasons.
4. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a huge dip in touchdowns in 2015, Evans put in a career year in 2016. He played in all 16 games for the first time, leading to career highs in catches (96) and yards (1,321) while matching a career-best 12 touchdowns. Evans’ targets have increased in each of his three seasons, up to 175 last season, but after the Buccaneers added tight end O.J. Howard through the draft and DeSean Jackson in free agency, those numbers could take a hit. At the same time, the new weapons could distract defenses and leave Evans in more single coverage, which should increase his efficiency. Evans, 24, is a surefire WR1.
5. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
Just a year after missing the entire season with a torn ACL, Nelson bounced back with a league-leading 14 touchdowns. He also had 97 catches on a career-high 152 targets and 1,257 yards, marking his fourth 1,200-yard season. With the lack of a run game, Aaron Rodgers attempted more than 600 passes for the first time in his career and the Packers had a 62-38 pass-run ratio. The Packers’ run game has improved, with Ty Montgomery, a converted wide receiver, entering his second year in the backfield. The Packers also drafted three running backs in the later rounds this year. The Packers’ receiving corps got stronger with tight end Martellus Bennett joining Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
The Packers will continue to rely on their gunslinger, but with that depth, Nelson, 32, could be in for fewer targets. Excluding 2015, Nelson has played in all 16 games in the last three seasons.
6. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Green missed the last six games of the season with a right hamstring injury, but he was on pace for a career high in both catches and yards. He finished with 66 catches for 964 yards and four touchdowns, just shy of a sixth straight 1,000-yard season. Even with Tyler Eifert ready for the start of the season and the addition of first-round pick John Ross, Green will be Andy Dalton’s go-to guy. Green finished second on the team in targets last season with 100 behind only Brandon LaFell, who played in all 16 games.
7. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
For a second straight season, Bryant was hampered by injuries. He’s missed 10 games in the last two seasons with a mix of foot, ankle, back and knee injuries. He finished with 50 catches for 796 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games and averaged a career-best 15.9 yards per catch with rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Bryant’s best game of the year came in the divisional round game against the Packers. He went for 132 yards on 12 catches and two touchdowns in the 34-31 loss. If he comes back looking like that, Bryant could be in for a career year in his second year teamed with Prescott.
8. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
In his rookie season, Thomas went off for 1,137 yards on 92 catches and nine touchdowns. With such a brilliant rookie year, the Saints traded top receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots, so Thomas officially becomes the No. 1 guy after leading the team in targets, catches and touchdowns.
The 6-3, 212-pound wideout is a solid red-zone target for Drew Brees. Thomas led the Saints with seven touchdowns in the red zone on 19 targets. It’s become a no-brainer that Brees will attempt at least 600 passes in a season — he’s done so the past seven seasons — so with Cooks gone, Thomas’ targets could increase.
9. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
After turning in a career year in 2015, Hopkins took a step back last season. He still led the team in receptions (78), targets (150) and yards (954) and tied for a team-high four touchdowns, but it was far from the 111/1,521/11 from two seasons ago. He was dealing with poor quarterback play from Brock Osweiler, but Hopkins had the likes of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden throwing him the ball the previous season.
The Texans still haven’t declared a starting quarterback, but if Deshaun Watson continues to play like he did in his preseason debut, he could jump ahead of Tom Savage, giving Hopkins more opportunities. Hopkins is a bit of a risk after a down year and with the questions at quarterback, but he has the upside to be a WR1.
10. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
While Cooper has eclipsed 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, consistency has been an issue.
Cooper had 52 catches for 787 yards and two touchdowns in the first eight games of the season — and 31 catches for 366 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. Cooper also had four 100-yard games in the first half and none in the second half.
Similarly, Cooper dealt with a foot injury in 2015 that limited him to 219 yards and two touchdowns in the last five games compared with 851 yards and four touchdowns in his first 11 games.
He’s currently battling a leg injury that’s kept him out of practice, but it’s unclear how serious it is. The team likely is just being cautious with such a valuable commodity. Quarterback Derek Carr also is rebounding from a broken leg, but he seems to be healthy and they have become one of the more dynamic quarterback-wideout tandems.
11. Brandin Cooks, New England Patriots
Cooks was overshadowed by rookie Michael Thomas last season in New Orleans, but he still managed to turn in a career-best 1,173 yards, his second straight 1,000-yard season, on 79 catches and eight touchdowns. Now the 23-year-old moves from one top-tier offense to another. With Julian Edelman out for the season after suffering a torn ACL, Cooks should be in for a big number of targets, even with the way Tom Brady spreads the ball. Cooks gives Brady a deep threat who had seven games with at least one reception for more than 35 yards last season.
12. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Thomas’ numbers have started to dip in each of the past three seasons, but that’s largely because he lost Peyton Manning in that stretch. Still, Thomas, 29, managed to reach at least 90 catches and 1,000 yards for a fifth straight season, even with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch throwing to him. Thomas’ biggets dropoff has been in scoring, though. He had double-digit touchdowns from 2012-14 but just five last season.
The Broncos still have a quarterback battle going on. If Thomas can find the end zone more frequently, he can regain his status as a WR1.
13. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Hilton is coming off a career year after leading the NFL with 1,448 yards last season. His career-high 156 targets were a big part of that and led to his career-best 91 catches. The Colts played in nine games where at least one team scored 30 or more points, leading to their 584 pass attempts.
The Colts’ defense, ranked 29th in yards and 22nd in points allowed per game, hasn’t improved, so they’ll likely be playing in a lot of high-scoring games again. With Andrew if Luck out for at least Week 1 after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Hilton's value takes a slight hit. But assuming Luck doesn’t miss a big chunk of time, Hilton should be in for another strong year.
14. Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles
After five seasons with the Bears, Jeffery joins the Eagles, who in a tough NFC East, will compete for a playoff spot.
Jeffery’s coming off a season where he missed four games for a PED suspension, and he’s had injury troubles in the past. In 2015, he missed seven games with hamstring, groin and shoulder injuries and also has battled knee and calf injuries.
Jeffery had 52 catches for 821 yards and two touchdowns last season but he did average 15.8 yards per catch, his best since 2013. The Eagles’ offense is far superior to that of the Bears’ a year ago, with Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles as other weapons for second-year QB Carson Wentz. If he can stay healthy, Jeffery should be in for a resurgence.
15. Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Allen returns to the Chargers after suffering a torn ACL in the 2016 season opener. He’s yet to play in a full season, missing at least a game in each of his first four seasons. In 2015, Allen had 67 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns in the first eight games before getting sidelined with a lacerated kidney. Injuries have kept him from reaching his potential, but Allen is the No. 1 receiver in an offense that relies heavily on the pass. Even with a crowded receiving corps of Antonio Gates, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Innman, Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry, Allen should be Philip Rivers’ primary target.
16. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks
Baldwin has been one of the most underrated wide receivers the past few seasons. He turned in his second straight 1,000-yard season and had a career best 94 catches on 126 targets. His touchdowns did fall off from 14 in 2015 to seven in 2016. Baldwin will need to score more consistently. as Russell Wilson’s top target and with a suspect Seattle run game, he should have the opportunities.
17. Terrelle Pryor Sr., Washington Redskins
There was a time when it seemed Pryor wouldn’t make it in the NFL. But a position change from quarterback to wide receiver gave him new life. Pryor had 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns with the Browns in his first full season since the Raiders selected him in the 2011 supplemental draft, and that was with five different quarterbacks throwing to him.
Now, Pryor joins a more stable situation with Kirk Cousins emerging as a top-10 quarterback. Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are gone, so Pryor will step in as Cousins’ No. 1 option.
18. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Adams, 24, had his best season to date last year with career highs across the board. He had 75 catches for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns, ranking second on the team behind star receiver Jordy Nelson in each. With Aaron Rodgers leading the way, the Packers heavily favor the pass (62-38 pass-run ratio last season). The 6-1, 215 pound receiver gives Rodgers a strong red-zone target. Adams had 16 end-zone targets last season, which helped him get to 12 TDs. He's likely to regress in those numbers, but after dealing with injury issues in 2015, Adams seems to be at full health.
19. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders
Amari Cooper has gotten most of the praise for the Raiders after a strong first two seasons, but Crabtree actually outpaced him in fantasy points. Crabtree led the team in catches (89) and receiving touchdowns (eight), and for the first time since 2012, he eclipsed 1,000 yards. The Raiders have one of the best offenses in the league, and Crabtree seems to have found a home with Derek Carr and opposite Cooper. He’s a high-end WR2.
20. Brandon Marshall, New York Giants
Marshall’s two seasons with the Jets were polar opposites:
— 109 catches for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015
— 59 catches for 788 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016.
Now, without even leaving the building, Marshall’s in a much better spot with steady quarterback play. He joins an elite receiving corps of Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram and will be teamed with arguably the best quarterback of his career in Eli Manning. The 6-5, 232-pound Marshall should be a legitimate red-zone threat for Manning. It’s hard to expect him to get back to the numbers he had in 2015, and he’s the clear No. 2 behind Beckham.