Howard Bender breaks down the NFL’s target leaders through 3 weeks. He also shares his picks for players that could see an upcoming rise (and decrease) in production. This article is part of our series that highlights quality content from premium subscription sites. For additional insight, you can visit RotoWire.com.
Even with just a cursory glance at NFL rushing numbers, it’s ridiculously easy to see that it’s a passing man’s game out there. Only one running back, LeSean McCoy, has averaged 100 or more yards per game while there are five wide receivers and one tight end who have accomplished the same feat. In fact, only 11 running backs have averaged 70 or more yards per game this season in comparison to 21 wide receivers and three tight ends. As a result, fantasy football owners need to forget about what was and focus their teams now on what is. In the past, if you had a third running back, he was the no-brainer choice for your flex position. Nowadays, that extra running back is probably being outscored by at least a dozen receivers, which means that he’s nothing more than a bye week fill-in and your flex choice comes down to which receiver, not only has the numbers, but also has the right matchup. What you go through having to make that final choice can be ridiculously aggravating, so hopefully today’s Target Watch helps.
Week 3 Target Leaders
|PLAYER||POS||YARDS||TD||PASS ATT||TARGETS||REC||RZ TRGT||RZ TRG%||CATCH%||TARGET%|
|Josh Gordon, CLE||WR||146||1||55||19||10||1||11.1||52.6||34.5|
|Cecil Shorts, JAC||WR||143||0||38||15||8||5||30.0||53.3||39.5|
|Jimmy Graham, NO||TE||134||2||46||15||9||7||62.5||60.0||32.6|
|Antonio Brown, PIT||WR||196||2||41||13||9||2||50.0||69.2||31.7|
|Calvin Johnson, DET||WR||115||1||42||13||7||6||71.4||53.8||31.0|
|Steve Johnson, BUF||WR||86||0||42||13||6||2||50.0||46.2||31.0|
|Pierre Garcon, WAS||WR||73||0||50||13||8||7||50.0||61.5||26.0|
|Julio Jones, ATL||WR||115||0||38||12||9||1||12.5||75.0||31.6|
|Denarius Moore, OAK||WR||124||1||32||11||6||6||50.0||54.5||34.4|
|Demaryius Thomas, DEN||WR||94||0||37||11||10||1||20.0||90.9||29.7|
|Randall Cobb, GB||WR||54||0||43||11||5||1||16.7||45.5||25.6|
|Jordan Cameron, CLE||TE||66||3||55||11||6||7||55.6||54.5||20.0|
|Santonio Holmes, NYJ||WR||154||1||29||10||5||0||0.0||50.0||34.5|
|Aaron Dobson, NE||WR||52||0||36||10||7||4||25.0||70.0||27.8|
|Nate Washington, TEN||WR||131||0||37||10||8||0||0.0||80.0||27.0|
|Robert Woods, BUF||WR||35||0||42||10||2||1||50.0||20.0||23.8|
|Davone Bess, CLE||WR||67||0||55||10||7||1||11.1||70.0||18.2|
|Torrey Smith, BAL||WR||92||0||24||9||5||1||50.0||55.6||37.5|
|Owen Daniels, HOU||TE||29||0||35||9||5||2||33.3||55.6||25.7|
|Stephen Burton, JAC||WR||42||0||38||9||5||2||20.0||55.6||23.7|
|Mike Williams, TB||WR||65||0||41||9||5||2||66.7||55.6||22.0|
|Nate Burleson, DET||WR||116||0||42||9||6||0||0.0||66.7||21.4|
|Jordy Nelson, GB||WR||93||0||43||9||8||1||16.7||88.9||20.9|
|Santana Moss, WAS||WR||77||0||50||9||7||0||0.0||77.8||18.0|
Josh Gordon, WR CLE – Welcome to the party, Mr. Gordon. Your table is right this way. No one in his right mind could have predicted 19 targets for Gordon on Sunday, let alone that Brian Hoyer would have even thrown the ball 19 times. I’d be surprised if many of you started him this week, but those who stashed him have to be ecstatic over this performance. Just be careful, though. It is possible that Minnesota was already looking past Cleveland and their pass defense got caught off guard. I have serious doubts that the Bengals secondary will be as porous this week.
Jimmy Graham, TE NO – Yes, I know that I said we wouldn’t discuss the no-brainer starters in this piece, but I just have to acknowledge that with this performance, the top tight end in the game has the second most targets in the league and has more receiving yards than all but two wide receivers. No wonder Lance Moore has been non-existent and it took Marques Colston three weeks to break onto the Targets Leaderboard below. Oh yeah, and how about those red-zone targets in Week 3 alone?
Antonio Brown, WR PIT - There doesn’t seem to be any question as to who Ben Roethlisberger‘s favorite target is this season. Brown was a solid possession guy for the Steelers last season but didn’t see his first red-zone target until after Week 12, so the red-zone looks now, on top of the yards he’s accumulating, have been a huge bonus. He’s a must start in PPR play and probably a safe bet in standard leagues as well.
Denarius Moore, WR OAK – While Moore had himself a big night Monday, his numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt. The 11 targets can be expected, especially when the Raiders are in catch-up mode and the six red-zone targets give him an added appeal, for sure. But the yardage total should have a footnote as 73 of his 124 yards came on one play in the second quarter, and if you were watching, it was amazing that he almost got caught at the end by a safety coming from all the way across the field. I’m not saying that Moore is incapable of having another big game, but the lack of speed is sure going to make it difficult.
Aaron Dobson, WR NE – Watching Dobson collect seven catches on 10 targets was great, especially if you have him stashed in a deep league. But the limited yards accumulated gives me pause. While the four red-zone targets are nice, the fact that he only had 52 yards makes me wonder if Tom Brady is shortening up the passing game for his rookies rather than stretching the field. If that’s the case, then Dobson’s best value earned is coming in PPR leagues. No guarantee, but certainly food for thought.
Robert Woods, WR BUF – Woods’ yards are low in total, not because of short passes, but because of just two catches on 10 targets. Now, I’m sure not all of those misses were entirely his fault, but with a catch rate like that low, EJ Manuel is likely to start looking elsewhere. Woods needs to step up his game if he wants to make an impact in in his rookie season.
Stephen Burton, WR JAC – Who?
Nate Burleson, WR DET – Tough break for the Lions No. 2 wideout … literally. Burleson put together a fantastic day for himself as we all knew he could considering how awful the Washington pass defense was, but a single-car accident Tuesday morning left him with two broken bones in his arm and, after surgery, will be out at least eight weeks, possibly more. Time to get yourself some Ryan Broyles action.
And now for a look at the Overall Targets Leaderboard:
Overall Target Leaders
|PLAYER||POS||YARDS||TD||PASS ATT||TARGETS||REC||RZ TRGT||RZ TRG%||CATCH%||TARGET%|
|Cecil Shorts, JAC||WR||276||0||117||40||19||5||18.8||47.5||34.2|
|Jimmy Graham, NO||TE||358||4||127||38||23||10||43.8||60.5||29.9|
|Pierre Garcon, WAS||WR||280||1||139||37||23||10||31.3||62.2||26.6|
|A.J. Green, CIN||WR||249||3||106||35||19||11||62.5||54.3||33.0|
|Julio Jones, ATL||WR||373||2||119||35||27||6||15.0||77.1||29.4|
|Andre Johnson, HOU||WR||258||0||128||35||25||3||12.5||71.4||27.3|
|Julian Edelman, NE||WR||201||2||127||34||27||9||30.0||79.4||26.8|
|Randall Cobb, GB||WR||290||2||122||33||21||13||38.1||63.6||27.0|
|DeSean Jackson, PHI||WR||359||2||92||31||19||2||20.0||61.3||33.7|
|Jordan Cameron, CLE||TE||269||4||145||31||20||12||52.9||64.5||21.4|
|Vincent Jackson, TB||WR||265||0||94||30||15||0||0.0||50.0||31.9|
|Emmanuel Sanders, PIT||WR||174||0||112||30||16||4||33.3||53.3||26.8|
|Torrey Smith, BAL||WR||269||0||119||30||16||2||15.4||53.3||25.2|
|Calvin Johnson, DET||WR||268||3||121||30||17||12||52.9||56.7||24.8|
|Greg Little, CLE||WR||78||0||145||30||11||6||23.5||36.7||20.7|
|Anquan Boldin, SF||WR||282||1||94||29||19||3||33.3||65.5||30.9|
|Steve Johnson, BUF||WR||236||2||108||29||17||10||45.5||58.6||26.9|
|Antonio Brown, PIT||WR||324||2||112||29||20||2||11.1||69.0||25.9|
|Brandon Marshall, CHI||WR||269||2||102||28||20||4||13.3||71.4||27.5|
|Brian Hartline, MIA||WR||238||2||107||28||18||2||33.3||64.3||26.2|
|Eric Decker, DEN||WR||252||1||122||28||19||9||26.7||67.9||23.0|
|Demaryius Thomas, DEN||WR||307||2||122||28||20||3||20.0||71.4||23.0|
|Kenbrell Thompkins, NE||WR||130||2||127||28||9||12||30.0||32.1||22.0|
|Davone Bess, CLE||WR||152||0||145||28||17||5||17.6||60.7||19.3|
|Dez Bryant, DAL||WR||201||2||115||27||17||9||22.2||63.0||23.5|
|Victor Cruz, NYG||WR||261||3||118||27||16||5||25.0||59.3||22.9|
|Wes Welker, DEN||WR||190||4||127||27||19||13||40.0||70.4||21.3|
|Steve Smith, CAR||WR||143||1||88||26||14||8||33.3||53.8||29.5|
|Greg Olsen, CAR||TE||194||1||88||26||16||5||33.3||61.5||29.5|
|DeAndre Hopkins, HOU||WR||243||1||128||26||18||8||25.0||69.2||20.3|
|Tavon Austin, STL||WR||118||2||142||26||18||8||22.7||69.2||18.3|
|Larry Fitzgerald, ARI||WR||177||2||115||25||15||7||33.3||60.0||21.7|
|Brandon Myers, NYG||TE||173||1||118||25||16||9||25.0||64.0||21.2|
|Jamaal Charles, KC||RB||151||1||105||24||18||7||30.0||75.0||22.9|
|Reggie Wayne, IND||WR||205||1||93||23||18||2||16.7||78.3||24.7|
|Mike Williams, TB||WR||126||1||94||23||11||5||66.7||47.8||24.5|
|Jason Witten, DAL||TE||149||2||115||23||16||6||22.2||69.6||20.0|
|Nate Burleson, DET||WR||239||0||121||23||19||3||17.6||82.6||19.0|
|Jordy Nelson, GB||WR||289||3||122||23||18||5||19.0||78.3||18.9|
|Santana Moss, WAS||WR||172||1||139||23||15||2||6.3||65.2||16.5|
|Jared Cook, STL||TE||195||2||142||23||13||5||13.6||56.5||16.2|
|Nate Washington, TEN||WR||227||0||87||22||15||0||0.0||68.2||25.3|
|Stephen Hill, NYJ||WR||233||1||103||22||13||2||25.0||59.1||21.4|
|James Jones, GB||WR||212||1||122||22||15||6||23.8||68.2||18.0|
|Austin Pettis, STL||WR||114||2||142||22||13||9||18.2||59.1||15.5|
|Kendall Wright, TEN||WR||136||1||87||21||15||4||37.5||71.4||24.1|
|T.Y. Hilton, IND||WR||157||0||93||21||11||1||8.3||52.4||22.6|
|Alshon Jeffery, CHI||WR||104||0||102||21||13||4||13.3||61.9||20.6|
|Mike Wallace, MIA||WR||152||1||107||21||12||1||16.7||57.1||19.6|
|Andre Roberts, ARI||WR||139||0||115||21||12||3||11.1||57.1||18.3|
|Miles Austin, DAL||WR||125||0||115||21||15||1||5.6||71.4||18.3|
|Antonio Gates, SD||TE||228||1||124||21||15||4||15.0||71.4||16.9|
|Marques Colston, NO||WR||202||1||127||21||14||2||12.5||66.7||16.5|
|Owen Daniels, HOU||TE||120||3||128||21||12||8||25.0||57.1||16.4|
|Jerome Simpson, MIN||WR||218||0||142||21||12||0||0.0||57.1||14.8|
Target Percentage Leaders
Cecil Shorts, JAC (34.2%) – We’ve got a new overall leader, both in targets and target percentage. But as we said about Shorts last week, this likely will be short-lived. He won’t drop off the leaderboard, but once Justin Blackmon returns, he is going to steal a significant number of targets from Shorts, which will steadily pull his target percentage down. He could maintain the top percentage on his team, but it’s hard to imagine him holding more than 30 percent over the course of the season.
DeSean Jackson, PHI (33.7%) - DJax stays in the top three for target percentage for the second week in a row and likely will stay in this range given the lack of a supporting cast in Philadelphia. But it is worth noting that his target percentage did go down a bit while Jason Avant and Riley Cooper saw a few extra passes thrown their way. It should be interesting to see how this plays out as you’ll want to continue using him so long as he sees the majority of looks each week, but if you have someone with a higher target percentage on your roster, it may be worth using that guy instead if he’s in a quality offense.
A.J. Green, CIN (33.0%) - Similarly to Jackson, Green is here for the second consecutive week but with a slightly lower percentage. The double team will do that to you every time. He’s still a no-brainer each week.
Red-Zone Target Leaders
Randall Cobb, GB (13) – While Cobb stays atop the leaderboard for red-zone targets, it must be noted that he only saw one in Week 3. This is why we’ll be using RZ Target Percentage soon enough, because while his number of targets remains solid overall, his percentage actually took an 8.6-percent drop this week. He’s still a beast in PPR play, but might not be as enticing in standard leagues without red-zone work.
Wes Welker, DEN (13) - With another four targets inside the red zone, Welker jumps up the leaderboard while maintaining his 40-percent RZ target rate. He had strong red-zone numbers during his time in New England, and while that won’t change with the move to Denver, it should be interesting to see if Peyton Manning can keep spreading it around to all four of his main passing targets or if one is going to be more of a favorite than the others inside the 20.
Kenbrell Thompkins, NE (12) – While he was tied with Calvin Johnson and Jordan Cameron, we’ll give him the mini write-up over the other two. Megatron is a no-brainer and Cameron is as well among the tight ends. But Thompkins probably rode the bench in most leagues in Week 3 due to his disconcerting first two weeks, and his two touchdowns were likely wasted by many. But there’s no need to worry as there will be plenty more to come. As I mentioned last week, I see a game like this as a stepping stone for Thompkins and Tom Brady as they recapture the chemistry they had during the preseason.
Others Worth Noting
Austin Pettis, WR STL - The 114 total yards aren’t anything even remotely special nor is the 15.5-percent target rate, but nine red-zone targets speaks volumes. It looks like Chris Givens and Tavon Austin are going to do most of the heavy lifting, but inside the 20, Pettis seems to be a huge favorite for Sam Bradford. I had him as a potential faller last week, but the red-zone work keeps him hanging around. His value in PPR leagues is minimal, a little better in standard leagues but if you’re playing in a TD-only league, those nine red-zone targets shine bright.
Alshon Jeffery, WR CHI - It looks like the double-teams on Brandon Marshall are finally turning Jay Cutler‘s head toward some other targets finally. We’ve seen the emergence of tight end Martellus Bennett, and now, with eight targets Sunday, Jeffery is starting to claim a little bit of the limelight. The 61.9-pecent catch rate is right about league average, but if he can increase that on a more regular basis, his overall value should spike as Cutler sees him as a reliable target.
Week 4 Match-Up to Watch
Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos – Two incredibly talented offenses who have the ability to put up some serious points even against the tough defenses face off with each other this week. And what makes it most enticing is that Philadelphia’s pass defense ranks 29th while Denver’s is 30th. Both teams give up a ton of yardage through the air – Denver: 327 YPG; Philadelphia: 323 YPG – and each one has allowed five passing touchdowns. All your big names should be started, obviously, with a couple of sleepers in Brent Celek and possibly even Ronnie Hillman, again.
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