Expected Target Increase for WRs (2019 Fantasy Football)
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When it comes to wide receivers, targets are their opportunity. If you can understand how many opportunities they’ll have to make catches and score touchdowns, you can start to project what kind of statistics they’ll have at the end of the season. Not all targets are created equally, but in general, the receivers we crave come draft time, are the ones who command a high percentage of their team’s target distribution in an offense that throws the ball a lot. The more targets a guy gets, the more opportunity he has for fantasy production. In this article, I want to take a look at receivers who I believe are due for a target increase in 2019.
There are many reasons for an expected increase in targets. First and foremost is player movement. When a wide receiver leaves in free agency, retires, or is traded, the targets he commanded the previous year are now vacated and up for grabs. If no other major receivers are added in free agency or the draft, the rest of the team’s receiving corps will benefit, albeit some more than others.
Another reason is coaching or other personnel changes. A previously “run-first” team could hire a new coach or offensive coordinator to come in and implement a new pass-heavy, receiver-friendly system which would mean more targets for everyone, or there could be an upgrade at the quarterback position through the draft or free agency. In 2011, the Denver Broncos had Tim Tebow as their primary quarterback. He threw the ball 271 times in 11 starts and only completed 126 of those passes. In total, the Broncos completed 217 passes on 429 attempts and ranked 23rd in offensive yards and 25th in offensive points.
In 2012, Peyton Manning came to town and threw the ball 583 times. Right off the bat, that’s 154 more targets (or opportunities) to go around for the Broncos’ receiving corps. They were also second in offensive points and fourth in offensive yards in Manning’s first year. The opportunity increased for that entire offense.
A final reason for the expected target increase is player development. Usually, receivers don’t enter the league as the best versions of themselves. They take a couple years to learn the ropes, develop their technical skills, and gain chemistry with their quarterback. If players can show signs of maturity and development towards the end of one season, he could earn himself a bigger role in the offense the following season, and we label him as a “breakout candidate.”
Here are the wide receivers I think will see their target volume increase in 2019.
Chris Godwin (WR – TB)
There may not be a player with more hype and expectations surrounding him this offseason than Chris Godwin. His ADP has skyrocketed two full rounds since the end of last season according to Fantasy Football Calculator (top of the seventh round in February, top of the fifth round today) and everyone seems to be buying him left and right.
While I think his price might be slightly high at the moment, it’s certainly justified. Godwin checks all three boxes for an expected increase in targets. Two of the four top targeted receivers in Tampa Bay are gone. DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries vacated a whopping 179 targets that are now available, and seeing as the Bucs didn’t add any significant pass catchers in the offseason, Godwin should be able to snatch up a nice chunk of those.
Last year, the Bucs were fourth in the league in pass attempts, and this is not going to change under new head coach Bruce Arians. Arians loves to let the ball fly. In his last two seasons as the Cardinals head coach, the Cardinals were third and fifth in the league in pass attempts. The Bucs did little to improve their run game, and will likely continue to air the ball out with the weapons they have in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard.
Finally, Godwin is entering his third season in the league and his breakout is palpable. He’s flashed some incredible ability in his first two seasons and took a big step (34/525/1 to 59/842/7 catches/yards/touchdowns) from year one to year two. He’s lived in a crowded offense so far in his NFL career, but in year three he’s a cemented starter alongside Mike Evans, and for all of these reasons he should see a significant spike in his targets.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR – PIT)
This one seems fairly straightforward, but I’m going to spell it out anyway. Since 2013, Antonio Brown has 128 more targets than anyone in the NFL, and he’s been inside the top-four targeted players in all six of those seasons. Needless to say, when you play on Brown’s team, he’s the first priority, and all the other pass catchers have to fight over whatever targets are left.
Brown is now in Oakland, and he left his 168 2018 targets in Pittsburgh. Though Smith-Schuster had an impressive 166 targets playing with Brown last year, this year he could see even more, and more importantly, Brown’s 25% red zone target share is also gone. Smith-Schuster already outplayed Brown in the red zone last year, commanding a 30% target share in that area of the field, so without Brown now, he might be given more opportunity to score than any receiver in the league, and build on his spectacular 2018 campaign.
Between Donte Moncrief, Eli Rogers, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, etc., there is not a single other proven receiver on the Steelers. In all likelihood, one of them will separate from the pack, but until then, this is Smith-Schuster’s show.
Tyler Lockett (WR – SEA)
The Seahawks have an interesting offense. They were the only team in the league last year to run the ball more than they threw it. Russell Wilson had a league-low 427 pass attempts, they were second in the league in rushing attempts, and they were dead last in passing attempts. Doug Baldwin’s 73 targets were the highest total on the team, and now he’s retired. Lockett has had between 66 and 71 targets in all four years as a Seahawk, but this will be his first season playing without Baldwin, and someone is going to need to step up.
I don’t expect Lockett to all of the sudden jump from 70 to 120+ targets. The Seahawks will still be a team predicated on their rushing dominance, and Wilson should be able to utilize the extreme athleticism of rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf. Wilson has never been a volume passer, but last year was the first season since he was a rookie where his leading receiver had less than 98 targets. With Baldwin no longer in the picture, I think we can conservatively expect a 25 target increase for Lockett, putting him right around 100, with the potential for much more.
Tyrell Williams (WR – OAK)
Jamison Crowder (WR – NYJ)
While not quite as prominent as the players listed above, these two are sneaky pickups in later rounds that are due for a target increase. After Tyrell Williams’ “breakout” season in 2016 when he was the only healthy receiver on the team and was targeted 119 times, his targets were barely more than half of that in 2017 and ’18 with a healthy Keenan Allen and a developing Mike Williams. While Antonio Brown will get the lion’s share of Raider targets this season, he attracts a ton of attention and opens the game up for his teammates. In the six years of Brown’s dominance in Pittsburgh, only once did a second Steeler wide receiver fail to record at least 84 targets. 84 targets would be a 19-target boost for Williams.
In 2016 and ’17, Jamison Crowder recorded 99 and 103 targets for the Washington Redskins, respectively. In 2018, he fell off the map due to injury and a general lack of production. Now in New York, he has a chance to bounce back as the slot receiver for the Jets with an up and coming quarterback in Sam Darnold and new head coach Adam Gase.
You can say many things about Gase, but one thing for sure is that he likes his slot receivers. When he became the head coach of the Dolphins, Jarvis Landry was his guy and led the team in targets both in 2016 and ’17. When Landry left though, his slot love continued, and Danny Amendola led the team in targets. So in his three years as a head coach, his slot receiver has led the team in targets. Look for Crowder to be a safety net option for Darnold and to rack up a ton of underneath production.