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Week 16 Fantasy Football Sleepers: 4 PPR Running Backs That Are Must-Grabs

Zach WarrenFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

Week 16 Fantasy Football Sleepers: 4 PPR Running Backs That Are Must-Grabs

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    The big names in PPR leagues are easy: Darren Sproles, Joique Bell, Marcel Reece, Danny Woodhead. These guys have probably been owned in your league since at least the third week, and if not, may I suggest playing fantasy football with people who know how to use the Internet.

    For the rest of you, though, there might not seem like much value out there. At the very least, the running back waiver wire this week has nothing, right?

    Wrong.

    Even in Week 16, there should be plenty of value available for those looking for a little extra edge in their fantasy football playoffs. Although most of these guys I'm writing about were probably owned at some point during the season, they add much more value to their teams now than they have at any other point during the year.

    It's worth the look to see if they're available, because they could be the key to winning your league.

    We like to help. I'm the editor of numberFire.com, a sports analytics website that crunches out some of the most accurate fantasy projections on the web. Our projections beat the projections given in your fantasy league's lineup page 93 percent of the time, all through the help of a little math.

    Want to find out who we like in PPR leagues? Read on, my friend.

Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Projected Stats: 3.22 rush attempts, 15.28 rush yards, 0.12 rush TDs, 3.26 receptions, 29.86 receiving yards, 0.11 receiving touchdowns

    PPR League Fantasy Points: 9.32 FP

    NumberFire Rank: No. 28 RB (No. 95 overall)

    Week 16 Opponent: vs. Indianapolis Colts

     

    So maybe I'm cheating a little bit. I'm sorry that I'm not sorry. But really, it's not cheating if your fantasy site has Kansas City's new No. 1 target available at both running back and wide receiver: He could be the key to winning your matchup Week 16. 

    Of all players owned in less than half of ESPN leagues in Week 15, McCluster was the only one with over eight receiving targets. And that wasn't by virtue of Brady Quinn throwing the ball an extreme amount: McCluster's 10 looks represented 31 percent of Quinn's total throws on the game.

    His 7-for-10 catch rate is likely to inspire enough confidence in Quinn to keep those looks coming his way. The other two receivers with at least four targets, Jamar Newsome and Jon Baldwin, combined for exactly one catch and a 13 percent catch rate on Sunday. It's clear who the No. 1 in KC is. And that should spell success for McCluster, especially in a PPR League.

    Adding additional value to what was already a must-start is Kansas City's opponent this week. The Colts' secondary isn't just bad—it's bottom-of-the-barrel awful.

    So far this year, Indy has allowed 129.77 points over expectation allowed to opposing passing games, the absolutely worst in the league. That means opponents have scored an average of over nine points per game more against Indy just through passing than they would have scored against a league-average defense given the same situations.

Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers

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    Projected Stats: 2.91 rush attempts, 13.38 rush yards, 0.09 rush TDs, 1.53 receptions, 9.74 receiving yards, 0.10 receiving touchdowns

    PPR League Fantasy Points: 5.22 FP

    NumberFire Rank: No. 46 RB (No. 170 overall)

    Week 16 Opponent: vs. Oakland Raiders

     

    Vultures are unsavory creatures. They prey on dead animals. They have unfeathered necks and heads, making them the last ones to get a date for the Bird Ball each year. And they steal two touchdowns from DeAngelo Williams when you least expect it, causing you to lose a playoff matchup. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

    Normally, the general rule of thumb is: stay away from vultures like Mike Tolbert. But when you have a vulture who doubles as the third-down back on a team that passes to backs a good amount...

    With Jonathan Stewart likely out at least one more week with a high ankle sprain, Tolbert suddenly becomes a solid option in PPR leagues with his goal-line skills and his pass-catching ability.

    In the past three weeks, Tolbert has collected at least three Cam Newton targets a game; his 11 targets total represent just under 10 percent of Cam's total throws.

    And he's been able to put those looks to good use, catching nine of those passes to keep his 76.5 percent catch rate on the season in line. Those nine receptions are the third-most of any Panther over the last three weeks, only trailing tight end Greg Olsen by two.

    The Oakland Raiders, who have allowed 117.50 points above expectation for the average NFL defense this season, should provide another opportunity for Tolbert to shine. Maybe the vulture will get a date to the dance after all.

Ronnie Brown, San Diego Chargers

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    Projected Stats: 7.98 rush attempts, 38.88 rush yards, 0.21 rush TDs, 2.23 receptions, 17.18 receiving yards, 0.07 receiving touchdowns

    PPR League Fantasy Points: 9.22 FP

    NumberFire Rank: No. 31 RB (No. 108 overall)

    Week 16 Opponent: at New York Jets

     

    In my waiver-wire piece on the main numberFire site, I touted Jackie Battle as the San Diego running back with the highest upside now that Ryan Mathews is out of the picture. And for standard leagues, that's true.

    But Ronnie Brown's pass-catching ability vaults him slightly ahead. He's currently listed as questionable for this Sunday's game, but if he's healthy, he's certainly a starting-worthy back this weekend.

    Even more than the starter Mathews, Brown has been the main pass-catching option out of the backfield this season. He's outpaced Mathews by one target (58 vs. 57) and has him absolutely smoked in catch rate. (Brown's at an incredible 79.3 percent).

    It's not only his fellow backs that he's beating out, though; Brown's 46 receptions places him second on the entire Chargers team. Only Malcom Floyd's 56 is more. Yes, that means even more than Antonio Gates. Ronnie Brown has the future Hall of Fame tight end by one reception. Would have gotten that trivia question wrong, wouldn't you?

    The Jets aren't the best matchup—their defense is surprisingly No. 12 in our power rankings and the only thing that has kept them in games with Sanchez under center—but that shouldn't matter for Brown. With Mathews out, a healthy Brown would get his receptions. Now to watch that injury report...

Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints

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    Projected Stats: 7.71 rush attempts, 29.67 rush yards, 0.25 rush TDs, 1.98 receptions, 13.14 receiving yards, 0.07 receiving touchdowns

    PPR League Fantasy Points: 7.88 FP

    NumberFire Rank: No. 32 RB (No. 120 overall)

    Week 16 Opponent: at Dallas Cowboys

     

    Everybody's got a job in the Saints' backfield, it seems. Darren Sproles is the pass-catcher. Mark Ingram is the runner. Chris Ivory is the change of pace that can explode if needed. And Pierre Thomas is the... what exactly?

    Well, the Saints have been using that lack of identity to their advantage over the past couple weeks, using Thomas in dual running and pass-catching modes. And it's worked: Thomas has at least four rushes and four targets in each of his past two games.

    Especially in a PPR league, Thomas can offer the best of both worlds. His seven receptions on eight targets in Week 14 ranked first on the team; the week directly before, Thomas led the team with 14 rushing attempts.

    You never quite know where his stats are going to come from, only that he's going to get them. And that's especially true receiving: Thomas's 32 receptions on the season are fifth on a high-volume passing team. His 44 targets represent eight percent of Brees's total throws on the season.

    If you're going to trust a New Orleans back in a PPR league, the answer far and away is Darren Sproles. But there's value elsewhere in that backfield as well, especially with numberFire's No. 22 defense on the schedule this week.

     

    For full rankings, refer to numberFire's Full Projection List for Week 16. You can follow numberFire on Twitter @numberFire. The author takes no responsibility for any Dexter McCluster playing-in-front-of-empty-stadium sadness that may change the order of our projections.

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