TE Target Regression for 2016 (Fantasy Football)
From year to year, we see various players emerge from the shadows to post big fantasy seasons. Last year for TEs was no exception. We saw several TEs bust out and have career years.
Career seasons happen well, once in a career, hence the name. The likelihood of a repeat performance is slim-to-none.
To draft them again with the expectation of similar production is a risky proposition. The following TEs are in line to see a regression in targets this season.
Delanie Walker (TEN) – TE5, OVR No. 72
Walker saw more targets than any other TE last season and became one of only nine TEs in NFL history to catch at least 90 passes in a season. He set team records in both catches (94) and receiving yards (1,088) along with six TDs. That is the definition of a career year! After increasing his targets each of his first three seasons in Tennessee, expect some regression this season, a season in which he will be 32 years old.
The Titans made a concerted effort to bolster their running game with the additions of DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry. Murray adds the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, as does incumbent pass-catching specialist Dexter McCluster.
The focus on the running game will impact the amount of targets Walker sees. When game script forces the Titans to put the ball in the air, he will have more competition for targets this season as the receiving corps looks to improve on an abysmal 2015 season.
The Titans’ WRs look to be a group that will perform better this year, led by Wright playing out of the slot, where he has proven to be a decent possession receiver when healthy. Second-year WR Dorial Green-Beckham has been challenged to step up and be more consistent this year after showing glimpses of game-changing ability in his rookie campaign, which should result in more targets. The Titans also signed Rishard Matthews and drafted Tajae Sharpe in this year’s draft to deepen the talent pool in the WR group.
The re-tooled WR group appears ready to see more targets for them resulting in less for Walker. Walker will continue to have a solid role and will likely remain a low-end TE1 in fantasy this season. Just don’t expect a duplicate of last season’s output.
Gary Barnidge (CLE) – TE8, OVR No. 88
Last season Barnidge was targeted 123 times, good for second among all NFL TEs. In his prior seven seasons, he had a combined total of 70. He caught nearly 80 passes for over 1,000 yards after being a career afterthought in the passing game.
To put any stock in a repeat performance of last season would be a big risk. The Browns’ offense appears to be headed in a slower, more deliberate direction this season, which should result in the soon-to-be 31-year-old Barnidge being featured less this season.
New head coach Hue Jackson wants to pound the ball and Cleveland has a solid backfield to get the job done. RBs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will be featured in the offense, with Johnson carving out a big role in the passing game as well, signs of a decrease in targets for the late blooming TE.
The QB battle may also determine the target rate of Barnidge, as last season Barnidge saw a big production spike when Josh McCown was under center. If the Browns give the nod to Robert Griffin III over McCown, Barnidge may see his targets drop even more than anticipated.
The WR corps now looks more competent than last season, another factor in the prediction of a target regression for Barnidge. The news of Josh Gordon being reinstated (after first serving a four-game suspension to start the season) should improve the Browns’ offensive attack, but could alter the role for Barnidge. The Browns will also have a healthy Andrew Hawkins, a possession receiver who should see a decent amount of targets.
They also drafted Corey Coleman to step right in and take on a big role as well. All of these factors amount to a decreased role for Barnidge this season, although he should still have fantasy relevance and a spot among the top 10 fantasy TEs this season.
Ben Watson (BAL) – TE26, OVR No. 195
After going from the comforts of the Saints’ offensive attack where he saw 110 targets, Watson is now crammed into a deep group of TEs in Baltimore. His playing time has yet to be established, though he is currently projected as the starter.
Crockett Gilmore is returning from shoulder surgery, Maxx Williams is trying to rebound from a quiet rookie season and Dennis Pitta looks to finally be healthy again. All are fighting along with Watson for a place in the offense.
The Ravens have a similar conundrum in the backfield and at WR, making it difficult to predict the fantasy value of any player in this offense. The running backs have been effective in the passing game, which takes away some “safety valve” targets sometimes relegated to TEs.
The WR group is solid, with a combination of home-run threats and possession receivers that may limit the fantasy ceiling of the TE position. If Watson were to emerge from the TE group he would be in line to see some decent production, particularly in the red zone, but a repeat of anywhere near last year’s targets is unlikely.
Richard Rodgers (GB) – TE28, OVR No. 28
Rodgers had a nice season last year, with 85 passes thrown in his direction. Shockingly his 58 catches were the second-most by a TE in Green Bay Packers’ history. It’s hard to see him approaching that amount of targets this year with the addition of Jared Cook. Though a constant disappointment throughout most of his career, Cook brings a level of athleticism that Rodgers can’t match.
Rodgers has slimmed down during the offseason and has the early lead as the starting TE. Cook has been placed on the PUP list to start training camp which will give Rodgers the opportunity to further cement his role. While Rodgers will see his fair share of time in the offense, Cook was brought in for a reason.
Rodgers can get what’s there, where Cook brings a flair and a style that has Packer fans hoping for a Jermichael Finley-esque type of playmaking ability. The duo should emerge as a nice one-two punch for the Packers’ offense, but for fantasy purposes, the divided production will make it hard to trust either on a week-to-week basis.
The Packers also get stud WR Jordy Nelson back from injury, and he should return to pace the Packers in targets. The Packers are also hoping that RB Eddie Lacy will return to form and be able to handle more of a load this season, which would also limit the targets aimed at Rodgers.
Last year Rodgers saw an increased role in the passing game as the Packers’ offense struggled and QB Aaron Rodgers had limited options to throw the ball to. While Richard Rodgers may still be the starting TE in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense, the potential return of a strong offensive attack will likely keep Rodgers from a lead role in this year’s team.