Feeding At The Trough Of Targets: Part 2
July 3, 2017 | C.D. Carter
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What do we know? We know the sun’s ten million convection cells are so loud that if sound existed in space, it would prove borderline deafening for humans on this big, blue rock.
We know that Buzz Aldrin took a piss on the moon.
We know Keith Richards snorted a mixture of cocaine and his father’s ashes.
We know that the loneliest creature on the planet is not me after my wife left, but a whale who has cried out for a mate for 20 years with no luck.
We also know that opportunity matters in fantasy football — a lot, like a lot, a lot — and there is a slowly but steadily rising number of NFL wide receivers eclipsing the arbitrary 100-target mark as the league becomes increasingly pass heavy. We know there is an overall passing increase that has altered the fantasy football landscape. We know that there are more and more NFL offenses throwing the ball more than 35 times a game.
And we know that three in four wide receivers who break that 100-target mark finish inside the position’s top-24. Maybe that’s mind numblingly obvious. I found it helpful. Perhaps my brain is numb. It’s hard to say. This is not a cry for help. I’m laughing.
I told you I’d be back to follow up on my call to feed at the trough of targets, like good little piglets ready to do anything to gobble up a few extra fantasy points — to find that minuscule edge. So here I am, going round by round to see how we might maximize targets — opportunity — in 2017 drafts.
There are a lot of ways one can approach a fantasy draft, as it largely depends on the amount of volatility you’re willing to throw into the blender — your willingness to let it rip. A receiver-heavy draft comes with that volatility, creating squads that might be middling, but might put up spine-tingling weekly totals if things break right. Your running back-centric teams likely have a nice, sturdy floor while lacking the ceiling of a typical championship team (note: no strategy wins titles every year, a painfully obvious statement I feel obliged to make).
Let’s get started in building a fantasy receiver group with a shit-ton of opportunity. These target projections are my own. I don’t think any player’s target share is radically different from fantasy industry projections, but feel free to push back if you think I’m way off on any one receiver.
1.04: Antonio Brown (160.3 targets)
1.05: Julio Jones (143 targets)
1.06: Odell Beckham, Jr. (161.1 targets)
1.08: Mike Evans (155 targets)
1.10: A.J. Green (157.3 targets)
1.12: Jordy Nelson (136.7 targets)
One can make an easy argument that most of these top-tier guys could see upwards of 180 targets in any given season, except for maybe Jordy. OBJ wins out if we’re focused strictly on opportunity, if just barely. He was second in wideout targets in 2016, trailing only Evans. He was sixth in 2015 despite missing a game. And it doesn’t really matter how good or bad the Giants are in 2017, as Beckham averages 11.1 targets in Big Blue losses and 10.2 in wins. Beckham is our guy in the first round.
2.02: Michael Thomas (128.5 targets)
2.04: T.Y. Hilton (148 targets)
2.06: Dez Bryant (126.9 targets)
2.07: Amari Cooper (134.4 targets)
2.12: Brandin Cooks (112.6 targets)
You might ask why Michael Thomas is only getting 9.5 more targets than he did in his rookie campaign, with Brandin Cooks departed to New England. Well, Thomas’ 18 percent target share wasn’t out of line with Drew Brees’ distribution to his No. 1 wideout over his centuries in New Orleans. Cooks led Saints’ receivers in 2015 with a 19.1 percent target share, for example. I guess Thomas could eclipse that 20 percent target share mark, but I don’t see it as likely. Jimmy Graham was able to pull 21.7 percent of Brees’ targets in 2013. Thomas is not going to magically leap to the 23-25 percent target share range.
Hilton pops off the page in round two with 148 targets, which would only be five more than he saw in 2016. Hilton, like Beckham, sees almost identical opportunity in wins and losses. He was the recipient of double digit targets in a whopping ten 2016 contests. The only question is whether a healthy Andrew Luck will be throwing the pigskin his way for all of 2017, or just some of it. Or none of it. Hilton it is for the second round.
3.01: DeAndre Hopkins (150.8 targets)
3.02: Doug Baldwin (116.1 targets)
3.06: Keenan Allen (121 targets)
3.09: Allen Robinson (138.7 targets)
3.10: Alshon Jeffery (131 targets)
3.10: Demaryius Thomas (145.6 targets)
3.12: Terrelle Pryor (131.2 targets)
I’m not sure if we’ve ever seen a guy projected for 150 targets going as late as the third round. But here we are with DeAndre Hopkins, whose ADP has dipped from the mid-second to the early-third round. He’s the obvious choice for the volume hogs among us. Hopkins’ fantasy equity scores remain on the frightening side and he posted a not-so-shocking total of six top-24 performances in 2016. He saw 138 targets last season and failed to finish as a WR2. So beware.
There’s certainly a scenario in which Alshon Jeffery far exceeds 131 targets. Carson Wentz in 2016 losses averaged 41.67 attempts, or 8.6 more than in Philadelphia wins. The Eagles are pegged by Vegas to win eight games this season, but if things go haywire, Alshon could end up well over the 150-target mark if he manages to play 16 games.
4.03: Jarvis Landry (124 targets)
4.04: Davante Adams (114.2 targets)
4.05: Tyreek Hill (112.4 targets)
4.07: Sammy Watkins (118.2 targets)
4.11: Julian Edelman (125.5 targets)
4.11: Michael Crabtree (133.5 targets)
The Chiefs and Packers are prime candidates to see pass volume decrease — maybe by a ton — booting Adams and Hill from the target volume conversation.
Landry’s days as a volume monster are likely over if Adam Gase has his way and runs the Miami offense like he did for the final 10 weeks of 2016. One hundred and twenty-four targets in the fourth round is hard to turn down though, especially in PPR formats, where Landry was a WR1 in 2015 and just outside WR1 range in 2016. I suppose Landry is the volume play, though I’d lean Watkins here for a variety of reasons.
A sudden and stark change in target distribution would leave Crabtree with a lot fewer targets than Amari Cooper. I think that’s presumptuous. Crabtree out-targeted Cooper by 20 in 2015 and 15 in 2016. I have Cooper taking the target lead this season — by one. There’s no real reason to fear touchdown regression coming off Crabtree’s eight-score 2016 campaign, as the receiver’s career 8.3 percent touchdown rate isn’t far off from his 8.9 percent rate last year.
5.02: Martavis Bryant (111.4 targets)
5.04: Golden Tate (133.3 targets)
5.06: Larry Fitzgerald (129 targets)
5.07: Brandon Marshall (120.2 targets)
I enjoy Martavis Bryant. He’s fun to watch and a potentially epic fantasy producer. I also exist in a computer simulation in which Bryant will never be a target hog with Antonio Brown in the Pittsburgh lineup. He’ll never be the volume pick in the fifth round.
Golden Tate, who was quite productive after being benched last October, has never seen less than 128 targets as a Lion. He was last year’s WR17 despite the horrendous start. Tate is easy PPR cash money in a Detroit offense predicated on never using Matthew Stafford’s incredible arm strength, but instead checking down and moving the chains. Tate tallied eight double-digit target games in 2016. He’s the pick in the fifth.
6.03: Kelvin Benjamin (123.7 targets)
6.04: Jamison Crowder (106.6 targets)
6.07: Willie Snead (110.8 targets)
6.10: Donte Moncrief (115.7 targets)
The fat jokes are hot on the Twitter Machine, but here sits Kelvin Benjamin and his 123.7 targets way down in the sixth round, alongside a few WR2s. Snead is the sexier upside plays. That’s fine; I wouldn’t deny that. But unless the Saints’ always pass-happy offense goes even more pass happy in 2017 (or if Michael Thomas goes down to injury), Snead isn’t going to pile up 120-130 looks from Drew Brees. If you’re a Cam Newton positive regression truther — a reasonable position considering the quarterback’s tremendous 2016 falloff — then why not pick the Panthers’ WR1?
7.03: Stefon Diggs (122.4 targets)
7.06: Emmanuel Sanders (134.9 targets)
The reasons to like Stefon Diggs at his suppressed ADP are plentiful. Do I want the Vikings to be bad in 2017? I do. It could be (really) good for their No. 1 receiver. He’s not going to out-target Emmanuel Sanders unless Denver has a marked change in target distribution, which makes Sanders the pure volume pick in round seven. Game script isn’t a major concern as Sanders over the past couple seasons has almost the exact same fantasy production and opportunity in Broncos wins and losses. Sanders has gotten cheaper in re-draft as the summer has worn on, going from the middle of the sixth to the top of the seventh.
Let’s stop for a moment. If you’ve gone Zero RB or something close to it, you might have six wide receivers after seven rounds. If you took a running back in the sixth — the round with the lowest per-wideout volume — you’re looking at an average of 143.6 targets for your pass catchers. That’s a religious experience for the opportunity glutton.
8.01: Devante Parker (95 targets)
8.01: DeSean Jackson (102.7 targets)
8.03: Pierre Garcon (124 targets)
8.05: Randall Cobb (95.2 targets)
8.06: Corey Davis (85.5 targets)
8.11: Jeremy Maclin (120.4 targets)
There’s a pretty good reason to think 120-ish targets is Pierre Garcon’s floor for 2017, as the Niners project to be miserable and he has almost no competition in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He has a high equity score that would put him just inside the top-20 receivers, to go along with a solid median score. Jeremy Maclin comes close to matching Garcon’s volume, while the rest of the eighth round receivers are not in the proverbial conversation. Garcon it is.
9.03: Cameron Meredith (104.5 targets)
9.06: Eric Decker (91.3 targets)
9.07: John Brown (103.2 targets)
9.08: Corey Coleman (117.8 targets)
Equity score analysis really likes it some Cameron Meredith in 2017. And Meredith has some impressive comps for the upcoming season. But there’s Corey Coleman, hanging out near the end of the ninth round, sporting almost 118 targets for a Browns team that should once again be terrible and passing quite a bit. Coleman is all sorts of banged up and coaches are mildly disappointed in his progress, as they were last summer. I’m not bullish.
10.04: Mike Williams (66 targets)
10.05: Rishard Matthews (73.2 targets)
10.07: Marvin Jones (106.3 targets)
10.12: Mike Wallace (110.1 targets)
This one is close, as we have two teams — Baltimore and Detroit — that are projected to once again pass and pass and pass. Marvin Jones just barely cracked 100 targets in 2016, but was well short of Golden Tate’s team-leading 131 targets, while Mike Wallace led all Ravens with 109 targets. I have Wallace trailing Jeremy Maclin by about ten targets this season, though it may even out fantasy wise since Wallace is two rounds cheaper. An injury to the oft-hurt Maclin would vault Wallace to Baltimore’s WR1, where he’d likely blow away the target share of any receiver going in the tenth round.
11.02: Qunicy Enunwa (122 targets)
11.04: Adam Thielan (103.1 targets)
11.05: Jordan Matthews (106.1 targets)
11.09: Tyrell Williams (72 targets)
It’s not close here. Quincy Enunwa, assuming health and another Jets’ wideout emerging as a threat to his No. 1 status, is going to out-target all of these pass catchers by a good margin. But are we interested in 122 targets from the unholy triumvirate of Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty? Probably the correct answer is a big, fat no. This is an exercise based strictly on volume though, and I can’t remember a season in which a 120-target guy was sunk down into the 11th round.
12.01: John Ross (73.5 targets)
12.03: Breshard Perriman (86.3 targets)
12.06: Josh Doctson (84 targets)
12.06: Cole Beasley (93.2 targets)
12.10: Kevin White (101.8 targets)
Another Chicago receiver leaps off the online page in the 12th. White in four games last season piled on 36 targets, or nine per contest. He had sideways game script to thank for much of that workload, but who would argue that the Bears will be any less abominable in 2017? I, for one, would not. I understand that White is only nine days younger than Jerry Rice and hasn’t been healthy since the first Obama administration, but a guy who notched almost ten yards per catch last year and saw six red zone looks in four games has way more upside than the other guys in this stage of the draft.
13.03: Kenny Britt (114 targets)
13.07: Sterling Shepard (95.2 targets)
13.12: Taylor Gabriel (79.7 targets)
13.12: Robert Woods (99.9 targets)
13.12: Tavon Austin (104.2 targets)
No one can say with any confidence that Kenny Britt won’t be the Browns’ No. 1 receiver in 2017. Corey Coleman is already struggling through a handful of injuries and there’s no real competition to targets if Coleman spends part (or most) of 2017 on the sideline. I have Britt seeing 19.7 percent of Cleveland’s targets. That could quite easily jump to 22 percent (or thereabouts) if Coleman is hurt or struggles and the Browns are as bad as Vegas thinks they’ll be. That puts Britt around 126 targets on the year. You’re not getting that volume from anyone else in the waning rounds of your typical re-draft league. A quick note: Tavon Austin in 2016 was among the worst 100-target receivers of all time.
14.03: J.J. Nelson (83.5 targets)
14.03: Tedd Ginn, Jr. (96.8 targets)
14.03: Zay Jones (89.5 targets)
14.03: Cooper Kupp (77.2 targets)
14.04: Allen Hurns (92.5 targets)
14.05: Chris Hogan (39.9 targets)
14.05: Tyler Lockett (77.1 targets)
14.06: Chris Samuel (68 targets)
14.06: Mohamed Sanu (84.2 targets)
14.10: Kenny Stills (86.9 targets)
14.10: Will Fuller (101 targets)
Fuller, who piled up 18 targets, 212 yards, and a touchdown in his first two games of 2016, cooled off considerably and still fell into 92 targets on the year. This 101-target projection is based on Fuller seeing 18 percent of Houston’s targets in 2017. Does that make Fuller an every-week starter in a 12-team league? Well, no, but who among these 14th rounders could emerge as a reliable every-week option? Sanu? Maybe. If it’s opportunity we’re after, then Fuller has to be the pick.
Here’s how your volume-based wide receiver group might look after 14 rounds if you’ve used four of those picks on running backs, one on quarterback, and one on tight end.
Odell Beckham, Jr. (161.1 targets)
T.Y. Hilton (148 targets)
DeAndre Hopkins (150.8 targets)
Golden Tate (133.3 targets)
Emmanuel Sanders (134.9 targets)
Pierre Garcon (124 targets)
Mike Wallace (110.1 targets)
Kenny Britt (114 targets)
That comes out to 134.5 targets per receiver. Not bad opportunity if you can get it.