Ryan McDowell (@RyanMc23): We’ve seen the league trending in this direction for a couple of years now, but early this season, running backs are catching more passes than ever before. There are currently six RBs on pace to break Matt Forte’s single-season reception record for running backs. Among them are Christian McCaffrey, Chris Thompson, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon and Theo Riddick. This is obviously a boom for fantasy players in PPR leagues as we’ve seen these players rack up points even when they aren’t effectively running the ball.
Call your shot…do any of these break Forte’s record? If so, how many and who?
Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): I’m not sure if he’ll hit the century mark—that’s what it will take to improve on Forte’s record—but if anyone is going to make a run at it, I’d put my money on McCaffrey. We know the volume will be there for C-Mac, who tied for the team-lead with 113 targets last year. That number led all NFL running backs and it’s fair to expect an even greater output this season with Greg Olsen on the shelf. In the 10 games Olsen has missed over the last two seasons, McCaffrey has averaged an absurd 8.7 targets including 15 in last week’s loss to Atlanta. I don’t know how else to put it—the man’s going to eat.
I think you could also make a pretty good case for Thompson. I was iffy on Thompson when drafts were going on this summer—I wasn’t sure how he’d hold up coming off a serious leg injury in 2017. But after watching him play the past two weeks, I’m all-in on the guy. He seems to be an ideal fit for Alex Smith, who has always relied heavily on check-downs and screens rather than taking deep shots downfield (though he threw his fair share of those last year with Tyreek Hill at his disposal). Also working in Thompson’s favor is that his backfield-mate Adrian Peterson isn’t much of a pass-catcher. So whenever the Redskins are playing from behind, we can expect a heavy dose of Thompson. With Aaron Rodgers and the Packers coming to town this week, I think we could see Thompson go off, just as he did last week against the Colts (13 catches for 92 yards).
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): It will be the chalk answer, but I'll take McCaffrey to do it. In the games without Olsen active, he's averaged 6.7 receptions, which would put him at 107 for a full season. He led all running backs in targets and target share as a rookie and is playing a ton more snaps already this season, playing 85 percent and 94 percent of the snaps the first two weeks. You'd like to see more explosive plays come from his targets, but he's going to keep stacking that volume.
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): McCaffrey is the answer, but Barkley also could be in the conversation if Eli Manning continues to play the way he has through two weeks. Settling for what the defense gives him under the coverage instead of attacking, Eli’s approach sets up perfectly for Saquon to rack up catches all season like he did against the Cowboys. It certainly will not be on that level every week, but his PPR ceiling is sky high.
Ryan McDowell (@RyanMc23): As with any question or prediction like this, it all depends on the player staying healthy, but assuming that for each of these, I do expect multiple backs to exceed Forte's 102 catches. The popular choice has been McCaffrey and for good reason. He needs to average six receptions in each game to hit this number after totaling 20 through two weeks. As Rich pointed out, the injury to Olsen only makes this even more likely.
I also think Thompson could get there. He was on pace for 64 catches a year ago before his season-ending leg injury and the QB change from Kirk Cousins to Alex Smith seems to have greatly benefitted Thompson.