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Expected Target Regression for WRs (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Sam Schlesinger | @avishai41 | Featured Writer
Jul 22, 2019

Adam Thielen’s slow end to 2018 coincided with Dalvin Cook returning to a featured role.

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Recently, I wrote an article analyzing wide receivers who should see a target increase in 2019. In this piece, I want to look at the opposite. Who are some receivers expected to see a decrease in targets this year?

The main reasons I listed for expected target increase were: player movement (a player winds up on a new team with more targets to go around or a target hog leaves, opening up more volume for everyone else); coaching and personnel changes (a new coach brings a new system or an upgrade at quarterback); and player development. Player movement and coaching/personnel changes work in both directions. 

When a receiver leaves a team, he opens up targets for everyone else. He also, obviously, takes up targets on his new club. In 2016, Mike Evans drew a career-high 173 targets. Since DeSean Jackson arrived, Evans has “only” hit target totals of 136 and 138 over the past two seasons. The player moving could also be affected. There’s no guarantee he’ll get the same amount of work on his new team that he had on his former squad.

Coaching and personnel swaps work the same way. A new coach could exhibit a “let it fly” approach, or he could be much more committed to the run game. You could get an upgrade from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning, or you could get a downgrade from Manning to Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky, and Kerry Collins. In 2010, the Colts were first in passing attempts, first in passing yards, and second in passing touchdowns. In 2011, when Manning sat out with a neck injury, the Colts were 21st, 27th, and 29th in those categories. Reggie Wayne got 175 targets in 2010 and 132 in 2011.

Here are wide receivers due for a target decrease in 2019.

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Jarvis Landry (CLE)
I would have listed Landry in this article last year as well. Last season, he moved from the Dolphins — where he was basically the entire show — coming off of a career-high 161 targets to the Browns, who had a bunch of talent at the receiver position. Midway through the season, though, Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon were gone, and Landry fell only 12 targets short of his 2017 total. This year is a different story.

The Browns traded for arguably the best receiver in the game in Odell Beckham Jr. He isn’t going to play second fiddle to anyone. Since he entered the league, only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones have more targets per game than Beckham. If he gets 150 targets, which would be 19 less than his career 16-game average, there isn’t room for Landry to receive near that volume as well. The Browns have plenty of other mouths to feed in Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, and eventually Kareem Hunt. They also have a stout defense and will be able to lean on the run game more than in years’ past. Landry is great for Browns fans but takes a big hit in potential fantasy production.

Adam Thielen (MIN)
Thielen started out last season on an electrifying pace. He had at least 100 receiving yards in each of his first eight games and double-digit targets in his first seven. Looking at his end-of-season stats, however, does not tell the full story. In the first seven games, Thielen had 89 targets. In his last nine games, he had just 64.

A large contributing factor to Thielen’s second-half decline was a healthy Dalvin Cook stabilizing the offense. In weeks 1-9 when Cook was in and out of the offense (either injured or returning from injury), Kirk Cousins threw the ball 40.3 times a game. From Week 10 on, though, that number dropped to 34.7 with Cook firmly cemented back into the lineup. The Vikings were a top-10 defense in both yards and points against last year. If Cook and Stefon Diggs both remain healthy in 2019, there’s no way Thielen will get back to 153 targets. 

Adam Humphries (TEN)
Humphries enjoyed a bit of a breakout in 2018 with career highs in targets (105), receptions (76), receiving yards (816), and touchdowns (5), but the outlook on his first season in Tennessee is a lot bleaker. Going from an offense that ranked 12th and third in offensive scoring and yards, respectively, to one that ranked 27th and 25th is not what any receiver wants. The Bucs had the sixth-highest pass percentage in the league last year; the Titans had the second-lowest. Jameis Winston averages 34.3 passes per game on his career. Marcus Mariota has only 28.7.

This was a terrible landing spot for Humphries from a fantasy perspective. Making matters worse, The Titans drafted A.J. Brown in the second round. Humphries lined up in the slot on 83.2% of his snaps last season, but the Titans selected one of the best receivers in the class who also operates primarily in the slot. 

Mohamed Sanu (ATL)
Taylor Gabriel (CHI)
Sanu and Gabriel each drew 91 targets last year and finished as top-40 fantasy receivers. They find themselves in similar situations on their respective teams. Both play in high-powered offenses alongside a definite X receiver (Julio Jones and Allen Robinson) and a developing sophomore with the potential to break out (Calvin Ridley and Anthony Miller).

Ridley and Miller flashed in their rookie seasons, combining for 17 touchdowns, and they are both going to establish themselves as a clear number two option this season. That development would push Sanu and Gabriel further into irrelevance. Ridley and Miller were drafted in the first and second round in 2018, respectively, and started their careers on a positive note as immediate contributors. Their career paths are escalating in the right direction, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue to outshine their competition for targets.

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Sam Schlesinger is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Sam, check out his archive and follow him @avishai41.

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