Target Share Risers (2019 Fantasy Football)
Last week, I tackled the target share fallers. This week, I turned my attention to those who should see an uptick in looks in 2019. The featured players in this piece are all rather young with a 28-year-old tight end serving as the oldest player included. Everyone featured is also on the same team in 2019 as they were in 2018.
In theory, young players getting acclimated to the NFL and becoming more familiar with their team’s offense should be among the players most likely to see a surge in usage and production. Some of the players included are generating buzz, and that’s reflected in their ADP and position rank. A couple of wideouts included, though, make for sneaky dart throws at the end of drafts.
*ADP in the player headlines below is correct as of June 10 and is pulled directly from the site for half-PPR scoring formats. It’s then followed by a player’s ADP ranking within their position group. Targets mentioned below are from Pro-Football-Reference, and target share is calculated using those targets divided by the player’s team’s target totals.
Courtland Sutton (WR – DEN): 101.3, WR39
Sutton received valuable experience in his rookie season, playing 76% of Denver’s offensive snaps. He finished second on the team in targets (84), receptions (42), and receiving yards (704) while tying for the team lead with four touchdown receptions. Denver’s team leader in targets, receptions, and receiving yards while tying with Sutton for tops in touchdown grabs was Emmanuel Sanders.
The veteran receiver’s 2018 campaign was cut short due to a torn Achilles suffered in early December, and it’s reasonable to wonder how he’ll bounce back from such a severe injury in his age-32 season. Demaryius Thomas was third on the team in targets (56), but he was dealt last year after eight games. Sutton won’t be alone in picking up the slack for a likely slowed Sanders and D.T.’s vacated production, but his skill set meshes nicely with incoming quarterback Joe Flacco.
Flacco’s 8.4 intended average air yards (IAY) was tied for the 13th highest mark last year, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, putting him in the upper half of quarterbacks in that category. Sutton’s 14.4 average targeted air yards (TAY) was 13th highest among qualified pass catchers. A couple spots higher than him on the list was one of Flacco’s favorite targets in his final season in Baltimore, John Brown. I’ve previously noted Flacco’s love of tight ends while touting rookie tight end Noah Fant in DRAFT best ball leagues, but he’s also not shy about taking shots to downfield threats at receiver. Sutton’s ADP is fair and doesn’t require him reaching his ceiling in order to provide a positive return at that cost.
Mike Williams (WR – LAC): 63.3, WR24
Williams was used sparingly in 10 games as a rookie in 2017, but healthier in year two, he showcased why the Chargers spent the seventh pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on him by using his size advantage to haul in 10 touchdowns. Touchdowns can be volatile, but standing six-foot-four gives Williams a height advantage to pose red-zone problems for the opposition consistently. He tied with Melvin Gordon for second on the Chargers in targets with 66, one ahead of former teammate Tyrell Williams‘ 65 targets.
Hunter Henry will return this season after missing last year with a torn ACL. The 24-year-old tight end was targeted 62 times in his second season in the NFL back in 2017, and he’ll likely soak up some of Tyrell Williams’ vacated targets. However, Antonio Gates and Virgil Green accounted for 72 targets as well, leaving a decent chunk of the pie for Henry while also leaving some of Tyrell Williams’ targets to be absorbed by Mike Williams. Having said that, Keenan Allen remains the top pass-catching option in the offense, and Gordon could remain second in the pass-catching pecking order — and this is saying nothing of Austin Ekeler’s receiving chops and 53 targets last year.
With plenty of competition for targets, I’m not in love with Williams’ price tag. He finished 23rd at wide receiver in half-PPR leagues last year, so in order to break even as WR24 (where he’s currently being drafted on average), he’ll either need to duplicate last year’s touchdown-heavy contributions or take a step forward in receptions and receiving yards without suffering too much of a dip in touchdowns. As his inclusion in this piece indicates, I’m expecting more looks in the passing game to go his way.
However, repeating the touchdowns will be difficult. According to Pro-Football-Reference’s Play Index tool, only 16 receivers have multiple seasons of 10 touchdown receptions or more since 2009. There’s more downside than upside at Williams’ cost even when factoring in the expectation of a larger target share this season.
Vance McDonald (TE – PIT): 106.7, TE10
James Washington (WR – PIT): 137.0, WR48
Antonio Brown’s 168 targets last season were the third most in the NFL. He’s now a member of the Raiders. JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 166 targets were the fourth most, so while his targets could go up a bit, there’s not a ton of room for his target share to grow. Furthermore, Brown only had four seasons with target totals higher than Smith-Schuster’s 166 last season, and Pittsburgh’s NFL-high 689 pass attempts are almost certainly due for regression (they were sixth in pass attempts with 590 in 2017). Brown isn’t the only member of last year’s team on a new club, tight end Jesse James — who had 39 targets in 2018 — signed a lucrative deal with the Lions. That’s more than 200 targets from last year’s team up for grabs.
McDonald played only 54% of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps last year while sharing playing time with the departed James. He has tons of growth potential this year after an exciting 2018. Out of 19 tight ends who were targeted a minimum of 50 times last year, McDonald’s 8.47 yards per target were eighth best. He’s one of my favorite tight end options to select in re-draft leagues this season.
Washington’s entering his second season after the Steelers grabbed him in the second round (60th pick overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was fairly quiet last year with elite talent entrenched ahead of him, but he’ll have an opportunity to make a sophomore leap. He won’t be given the No. 2 receiver job, however, with Donte Moncrief providing competition outside and Smith-Schuster capable of sliding outside and freeing up slot playing time to Ryan Switzer as well.
Tyler Lockett (WR – SEA): 58.7, WR23
David Moore (WR – SEA): 290.0 (Only drafted at Fantrax), WR112
Seattle ranked dead last in pass attempts last year with 427, so this is literally the furthest thing from a pass-happy offense in the NFL. Although, Doug Baldwin’s surprising retirement frees up 73 targets (a 17.1% target share despite missing three games). Lockett, like the aforementioned Mike Williams, scored 10 receiving touchdowns last season. Unlike Williams, however, Lockett’s the top pass-catching option in Seattle’s run-heavy offense.
Lockett’s a better bet to top 100 targets than Williams due to his perch atop the pass-catching pecking order, so he’s better positioned to stave off regression to his touchdown total with an increase in receptions and receiving yards. Additionally, Lockett’s coming off of the more productive season and finished as last year’s WR14 in half-PPR leagues. I’d gladly select Lockett at his ADP.
Moore finished third on the Seahawks in targets (53) last year, and he was WR69 in half-PPR leagues. The Seahawks used a second-round pick (pick 64) to draft NFL Draft Combine darling D.K. Metcalf, and gamers are reaching for the rookie as WR45 with an ADP of 125.3. I’ll be fading Metcalf, but Moore’s familiarity with the offense, rapport with Russell Wilson, and ability to stretch the field (he ranked tied with Kenny Stills for fourth with 16.4 TAY) make him a viable standard scoring last-round pick in 12-team leagues or larger or a dollar option in auction formats.
Trey Quinn (WR – WAS): 247.0 (Only drafted at Fantrax), WR93
Quinn’s one of my favorite late targets in half-PPR and full-PPR formats this year. He’s a no risk, medium-reward option at any ADP outside the top-200 picks. Jamison Crowder signed with the Jets as a free agent, and Quinn’s positioned to step into the open slot role in Washington’s offense. Quinn was healthy for only three games in his rookie season and caught nine of his 10 targets for 75 yards and a touchdown. Crowder battled injuries last year and played in just nine games, but the slot gig yielded fruit for him in 2016 (67-847-7 on 99 targets) and 2017 (66-789-3 on 103 targets).
Alex Smith (10 starts) started most of the year for the Redskins before suffering a gruesome broken leg that paints an unclear picture of his future. Three other quarterbacks started games for Washington last year. This offseason, they’ve traded for Case Keenum and drafted Dwayne Haskins in the first round. All of Washington’s playmakers on offense will have to develop a rapport with the new signal-callers who’ll battle for the starting job.
Keenum peppered slot receivers Adam Thielen in 2017 with the Vikings and Sanders last year on the Broncos with targets, making Quinn a potential favorite of the journeyman quarterback if he wins the starting job. He could also be a helpful safety blanket for a rookie if Haskins wins the job.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, Quinn has a legitimate shot at topping the Redskins in targets and receiving production this year. Washington’s receivers are an unexciting group, and oft-injured receiving back Chris Thompson and fragile tight end Jordan Reed both have problems staying on the field. As for Quinn, he’s winning over receivers coach Ike Hilliard as you can see here. Crowder’s 2016 and 2017 numbers are an attainable outcome for Quinn and would be a steal at his ADP.