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Touch Regression Candidates the good, the bad and the ugly
Year-to-year changes in touches are expected with most players. Between team staff and scheme changes, free agent departures and arrivals, and newly drafted rookies, offenses are constantly in flux.
There are some obvious players that will see increases in touches as they move into lead roles within their offense - such as Alexander Mattison, Tony Pollard and Rachaad White. Recently cut players like Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Kareem Hunt are clear negative regression candidates. They'll eventually find homes within split backfields and see reduced touches.
But, which players in more defined roles have potential for increased touches and which players' touches are at risk?
Negative Touch Regression Candidates
Joe Mixon (RB - CIN)
Joe Mixon's risk for touch regression is two-fold. The first issue is obvious - Mixon's touches will be significantly reduced if he's cut. The Bengals reportedly want Mixon to take a pay cut or he'll be released from the team. If released, Mixon would fall into the same situation as Cook and Fournette - a guaranteed reduction in touches.
But, that's not the only scenario where Mixon sees touch regression. Even if Mixon remains with the Bengals, he's still a candidate for negative touch regression. Mixon saw a total of 270 touches in 2022. There are five additional running backs that saw touches in the 270-280 range - Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Miles Sanders, Rhamondre Stevenson and Alvin Kamara. Take a look at some key stats.
Player Touches Rush Yards Per Game Yards Per Attempt
|Player||Touches||Rush Yards Per Game||Yards Per Attempt|
Mixon had the worst efficiency of all the backs. What's most concerning is that, outside of Alvin Kamara, the remaining backs were operating in committees. Additionally, Mixon is the only back on this list to have a huge outlier game. In Week 9 versus Carolina, Mixon had 22 carries for 153 yards, four rushing touchdowns, and four receptions for 58 yards and one receiving touchdown. Excluding that game, Mixon was a lead back with a total of three rushing touchdowns over the course of 14 games. If another back - such as Chase Brown - shows any upside, Mixon could see reduced touches. Even if he remains with the Bengals, Mixon is an extremely risky pick.
Travis Etienne Jr. (RB - JAX)
Occasionally, the fantasy community gets overzealous and thinks a newly drafted rookie is going to tank the incumbent back's value. We saw it last year with Isaiah Spiller and Zamir White. Fantasy managers downgraded Austin Ekeler and Josh Ekeler, missing out on the overall RB1 and RB3 in PPR. This year's theory is rookie Tank Bigsby will cut into Travis Etienne's workload. While we shouldn't fade Etienne completely, there's reason to be concerned. Etienne's production within the redzone was already questionable but Bigsby profiles as a strong goal line back. If Bigsby competes for goal line work and Etienne doesn't see an increase in receiving work, Etienne is at risk for reduced production.
Etienne could be an interesting situation where his touches don't see a dramatic drop but the value of those touches is decreased. Etienne had a total of 255 touches in 2022, with a notable increase after the James Robinson trade. The overall number isn't extreme - Etienne sits right outside the top 15 of total touches for running backs. But, if that number takes a slight dip, the affect would be dramatic for his production.
Additional candidates - Kenneth Walker, Tyler Lockett, Deebo Samuel, Mike Evans
Positive Touch Regression Candidates
Cam Akers (RB - LAR)
One of the more shocking stories from 2022 was the end of season bounce back for Cam Akers. The relationship between Akers and the Rams appeared irreparable after Akers was completely removed from the Rams offense in Week 6. Akers managed to regain the starting role and finished the season as the team's clear RB1. In Weeks 13 through 18, where he averaged 17.7 fantasy points per game in PPR. Akers was RB5 over that time period. The Rams have verbalized commitment to Akers and their only offseason additions have been sixth round draft pick Zach Evans and free agent returnee Sony Michel. Both are likely depth pieces and Akers should serve as the RB1. Akers had a total of 201 touches in 2022 and should shatter that number, if he remains healthy.
Expectations should be tempered. Over that final stretch, the Rams played Seattle twice, the Chargers and Green Bay - three of the worst run defenses in the league - and a Denver team that had essential quit. So, top-five running back would be unrealistic. But the positive touch regression is key and at his current ADP, he's an excellent value pick.
James Cook (RB - BUF)
James Cook is one of my favorite candidates for positive touch regression. Although the Bills didn't place him in a lead back position, he should still see a solid increase in touches in a committee with Damien Harris. Although Cook's size leans more toward a third-down back, Cook was still very effective on the ground, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt in 2022. The sample size is extremely low but Cook is an explosive back that makes the most of his touches and any increase could yield big results.
Cook had just 110 touches in 2022 but there are 215 touches vacated by Devin Singletary. While it's possible Harris would gain a significant portion of that work, there's one specific portion Cook would likely get - the receiving work. Singletary had a total of 38 receptions on 52 targets for 280 yards and 1 touchdown. If you combine those 52 targets with Cook's 32 targets, you get a top-five workload for receptions at running back. Realistically, those targets wouldn't all go to Cook. But, he could truly be within the 55-65 range, which is a range that could yield RB2 upside if he maintains his efficiency on the ground.
Additional candidates - Isiah Pacheco, D'Andre Swift, Brandin Cooks, Christian Watson, Treylon Burks, Chigoziem Okonkwo