Week 1 Target Analysis (Fantasy Football)
The one temptation that we must avoid as fantasy owners is putting too much stock into just one game. I usually like to see at least three games before I start making judgments for the rest of the season because we need to be able to evaluate trends against multiple opponents. Some of the Week 1 winners had very easy opponents at home, while some of the Week 1 losers had very difficult opponents on the road. Some of the teams just played bad games. Some teams fell behind early, and that impacted the pass versus run ratio. It is important to sort out what was an anomaly and what was a trend, and that is impossible to do in one game.
Keep in mind what would have been true for the season if Week 1 determined how the season would play out. The New York Jets would have averaged 48 points per game, not finished the season as the 23rd ranked scoring offense with a 4-12 record. The Cincinnati Bengals would have been a playoff team after beating the Indianapolis Colts 34-23. The same goes for the Denver Broncos, who beat the Seattle Seahawks 27-24. Instead, Indianapolis and Seattle made the playoffs, and the Bengals and Broncos fired their head coaches after missing the playoffs.
It is hard to have a feel for how targets will be distributed based on one game plan against one opponent, but here is my reaction for all 32 teams after Week 1.
Arizona Cardinals: It is hard to read too much into an offense that was down 24-6 after three quarters and scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game and send it to overtime. The big takeaway that I had in this game is that Murray trusts WR Larry Fitzgerald. During the Cardinals’ comeback, he was looking for him a lot, and Fitzgerald had eight receptions for 113 yards on a team-high 13 targets. WR Christian Kirk also had 12 targets, but he was not nearly as efficient as Fitzgerald, finishing with four receptions for 32 yards. WR KeeSean Johnson was also in double digits with 10 targets, but he is still a question mark given the 54 passing attempts and the Cardinals being behind most of the game. The Cardinals are probably not going to target three receivers ten times per game on the season.
Atlanta Falcons: It is dangerous to read into trends because the Falcons were down 28-0 in this game and their two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. The offense was largely ineffective in Week 1 on the road against a very good defense, so they should have more success against weaker defenses this season. I think what is clear is that TE Austin Hooper is going to have a big role in this tight end friendly offense. He had nine targets in this game, and only WR Julio Jones had more with 11 targets.
Baltimore Ravens: I would not read too much into Baltimore’s performance for future weeks, as they scored a franchise-record 59 points against a Miami team that is tanking for high draft picks in 2020. Miami has a real chance to go 0-16 this year. What was encouraging is that QB Lamar Jackson had only three rushing attempts and 20 pass attempts for 324 yards and five touchdowns. If they have a downfield passing game, that puts WR Marquise Brown in the fantasy picture, as he had four receptions for 147 yards and two long touchdowns on five targets. TE Mark Andrews also had a 100-yard game and score on a team-high eight targets. Both are players to watch in this offense going forward that looks to be more pass-oriented than the 2018 season.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills ended up throwing the ball 37 times, due to being down 16-0 in this game. They were probably a little more pass-happy than they will be in games where they have the lead, or the score is closer. WR John Brown and WR Cole Beasley dominated the action with 19 of the 37 targets, but Brown was the only one that put up fantasy viable numbers with 123 yards and one touchdown. Beasley was second on the team with 40 yards receiving, as he continues to show that he is a PPR hero and little else in fantasy.
Carolina Panthers: We kept hearing about how Panthers WR Curtis Samuel had the chance to break out this year. If that is the case, he is going to need more than four targets in the passing game. RB Christian McCaffrey had 11 targets, and TE Greg Olsen had nine targets. Those are the players Samuel is going to be competing for targets within the short passing game. It is too early to cut Samuel, but if Olsen is going to have nine targets and McCaffrey is going to have 30 touches, there probably are not enough footballs to go around to make Samuel fantasy viable most weeks.
Chicago Bears: The Bears were ninth in points scored last year with 421, so they will probably do better than three points per game this year. I was encouraged to see that WR Allen Robinson finished with 13 targets, but I was not encouraged to see that WR Anthony Miller finished with one target. The Bears did not use Miller in the short passing game and instead targeted RB Tarik Cohen 1o times. Chicago called such an awful game that I want to see another game before I buy completely into Robinson or sell Miller completely, but Robinson and Cohen dominating the targets is definitely a trend to monitor.
Cincinnati Bengals: QB Andy Dalton threw the ball a ridiculous 51 times, which will probably not happen most weeks. The takeaway in this game is that WR John Ross finished the game with seven receptions on 12 targets, 158 yards, and two touchdowns. WR A.J. Green should miss a few more games, so Ross is a player that could continue to dominate targets in that offense. He has been largely a disappointment his first two years in the league, but he blew up in the opening week of his third season.
Cleveland Browns: The problem when there are finally expectations after two decades of indifference is the Browns now have a target on their back, and they did not respond. QB Baker Mayfield had 285 yards passing on 38 pass attempts, but the Browns lost 43-13, and they were outscored 31-7 in the second half. That said, this game went how I thought it would from a target standpoint. WR Odell Beckham Jr., WR Jarvis Landry and TE David Njoku led the team with 24 of the 38 targets. No other wide receiver had more than three targets, which is probably going to be typical most weeks this season. There were no surprises in this game from a target standpoint, just a blowout score that is probably an outlier.
Dallas Cowboys: I think the surprise to me was that WR Michael Gallup was the second-most targeted wide receiver with seven targets. He turned those into seven receptions and 158 yards. My only issue was that QB Dak Prescott had 405 yards passing, four passing touchdowns, no picks, and a perfect QB rating of 158.3. We need another game where Prescott has more normal production to judge fantasy value, as this game was an outlier. Gallup could be a player to add on the waiver wire though, he had a big week for this offense, and that could continue in future games this season.
Denver Broncos: Oakland was one of the worst defenses in the NFL last year, and QB Joe Flacco managed only 268 yards passing and one passing touchdown. WR Courtland Sutton and WR Emmanuel Sanders combined for 15 targets, 206 yards, and one touchdown. The rest of the team combined for nine receptions on 16 targets, 62 yards, and no touchdowns. I think in an anemic passing offense, players like WR DaeSean Hamilton are going to struggle to gain traction. If only two receivers were viable against the Oakland Raiders, it does not bode well for the rest of the schedule.
Detroit Lions: There was some debate whether veteran TE Jesse James would be the starter and rookie TE T.J. Hockenson would not be that involved in the passing game. Hockenson had nine targets, six receptions, 131 yards receiving, and one touchdown. James had one target, one reception, and 15 yards. Hockenson will have tougher matchups, but he was a star in Week 1. He needs to be added in all formats. Also, Marvin Jones was third among receivers in targets with four, behind WR Danny Amendola (13) and Kenny Golladay (9). That could have been matchup specific, but Amendola is someone to consider on the waiver wire, and Jones is someone to consider waiving if that target share keeps up.
Green Bay Packers: I do not know how much to take out of a game where QB Aaron Rodgers threw the ball only 30 times against the best defense in the NFL, but the player that emerged opposite of WR Davante Adams was WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Those two combined for 14 targets and TE Jimmy Graham had another six targets. The rest of the team had only eight targets. I would like to see another game, but Valdes-Scantling is the early favorite to be the second receiver, not WR Geronimo Allison. He was not targeted once in this game.
Houston Texans: This continues to be the DeAndre Hopkins show, as the All-Pro WR had 13 of the targets and the rest of the team had 15 targets. Other than RB Duke Johnson, nobody else on the team had more than three targets. It is only one game, but the only other player that will have fantasy value if the target distribution stays that way is WR Will Fuller. Since he has the ability to take a pass the length of the field for a touchdown, he can be fantasy-viable with limited targets.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Devin Funchess and his five targets are headed to IR, so there is room for another receiver to step up, but nobody really showed to be a viable fantasy option other than WR T.Y. Hilton. The wideout had nine targets, eight receptions, 87 yards, and two touchdowns. One troubling development in this game was that TE Eric Ebron and TE Jack Doyle combined for five targets, two receptions, and 28 yards. It is only one game, but the tight ends were not involved in this game plan.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Gardner Minshew is going to be the man behind center for the foreseeable future with QB Nick Foles out with a broken left clavicle. It is hard to tell what the fantasy value for WR D.J. Chark, WR Chris Conley, and WR Dede Westbrook will be going forward based on one game, especially when Minshew went an unsustainable 22 for 25 with 275 yards and two touchdowns in relief. That performance was encouraging, but we definitely need a larger body of work where the defense can game plan for Minshew.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Tyreek Hill is going to miss a few weeks, so that opens the door for WR Sammy Watkins to build on his staggering nine receptions on 11 targets for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Nobody else had enough targets to make a Week 2 projection, but I think WR Mecole Hardman is a player to watch. He was a second-round pick this year, and he is going to have to step up with Hill out of action for the next few weeks.
Los Angeles Chargers: People were hoping this could be a breakout year for WR Mike Williams, but he was targeted only three times. He finished the game with two receptions for 29 yards. WR Keenan Allen continues to dominate the targets with 10 out of 33 and Williams was forced to share the remaining looks with a number of other targets. It is one game, but three targets are not enough for Williams to be a consistent fantasy performer.
Los Angeles Rams: I did not see anything too surprising in the passing game. WR Robert Woods led the team with 13 targets, WR Cooper Kupp was second with 10 targets, and WR Brandin Cooks was third with six targets. That makes sense, seeing Cooks is the deep-threat in the offense. The more concerning thing to me is that RB Todd Gurley had only one target after having 87 and 81 targets the last two years. He is only a low-upside RB2 if he is going to have only one target in the passing game.
Miami Dolphins: Miami had only 21 yards rushing in this game, but they also had only 190 yards passing, and the only two viable fantasy receivers were DeVante Parker, who had 75 yards receiving on seven targets and WR Preston Williams, who had five targets, 24 yards and a touchdown. This team is going to win two or fewer games this year and be behind a lot, but we need to see more to find out who the garbage time fantasy point producers will be in this offense. Parker appears to be the early favorite in that department.
Minnesota Vikings: Here is where I talk about it being dangerous to make snap judgments based on one week. The Vikings threw the ball only 10 times in this game. The last time they did that was 1969, so to expect that run to pass ratio to carry over to Week 2 would be absurd. They had a very early 14-0 lead, and Atlanta never led in the game, and Minnesota never had a reason to pass the ball in the second half. That will change later this season, and we will look at their target spread when they have a normal passing week.
New England Patriots: The Patriots are one of the hardest offenses to project when everyone is playing. Their offense can look so different from matchup to matchup because they play situational football better than anyone else in the league. WR Julian Edelman led the team with 11 targets, but it remains to be seen how WR Antonio Brown changes the targets in this offense. Edelman should still have a big role from the slot. My guess is that WR Phillip Dorsett does not repeat his four targets, four receptions, 95 yards and two touchdowns.
New Orleans Saints: It was no surprise that WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara led the team in targets, but coming in third with seven targets was WR Ted Ginn. He had seven targets to TE Jared Cook’s three targets and WR Tre’Quan Smith’s two targets. That is something to watch because Ginn had seven receptions for 101 yards in this game. It remains to be seen if that was an outlier or if Ginn is going to have a bigger role in this offense at the expense of Smith and Cook.
New York Giants: I do not think the Giants want QB Eli Manning to throw the ball 44 times and RB Saquon Barkley to run it only 11 times, so time will tell if they can turn that ratio around. Their defense will keep them behind a lot this year, so running the ball a lot could be difficult. TE Evan Engram dominated the offense with 14 targets, but the surprise was that WR Cody Latimer had eight targets and WR Sterling Shepard had only seven targets. That is a storyline to watch, but it is hard to know what is going to hold up during the season when the Giants were down 35-10 in this game. That led to a lot of targets that will not be there in a more competitive game that features Barkley on the ground.
New York Jets: The number that jumped off the page to me is that WR Jamison Crowder had a staggering 17 targets to WR Robby Anderson‘s seven targets. The result is that Crowder had 14 receptions for 99 yards and no touchdowns and Anderson was held to three receptions for 23 yards. That seems like that will be an outlier, as the Jets were probably a little too conservative up 16-0 in this game. Still, Crowder is going to have a huge role in this offense if he is targeted that much in the short passing game.
Oakland Raiders: There were few surprises in this game, as most people thought that with WR Antonio Brown gone, WR Tyrell Williams and TE Darren Waller would dominate the targets. They did, and they accounted for 15 of the 26 targets. The Raiders were a very run-oriented offense as they passed the ball 26 times and ran it 28 times. Williams and Waller are the only consistent fantasy options if the target distribution remains this way the rest of the season.
Philadelphia Eagles: This was a strange game because WR DeSean Jackson ended up leading the team in targets (10), receptions (8), receiving yards (154), and touchdowns (2). It did not help the Eagles that they were down 17-0 in the second quarter and needed to throw the ball and score quickly to catch up in this game. We need to see more than one game, but Jackson had a huge role in this offense in Week 1. If he is available on the waiver wire, you need to add him in all formats.
Pittsburgh Steelers: I was shocked that WR Donte Moncrief led this team with 10 targets and he turned that into just three receptions for seven yards. My takeaway in this game is that WR James Washington will emerge as the second receiver in this offense sooner rather than later and Moncrief is going to be buried on the bench or released sooner rather than later. Other than that, the Steelers offense was so awful that it’s hard to make any judgments about them based on one horrendous showing.
San Francisco 49ers: We knew that TE George Kittle was going to dominate the passing game, but he hogged 10 of the 27 targets, and no other player had more than three. We need another game to see what is going on, but it was troubling that WR Dante Pettis had only one target, one reception, and seven yards in this game in what should have been a favorable matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.
Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks continued to feature their run-oriented attack in 2019, as they passed the ball only 20 times and they ran it 25 times. What stood out to me is that rookie D.K. Metcalf had six targets, four receptions, 89 yards, and no touchdowns. WR Tyler Lockett had only one reception, 44 yards, and one touchdown on two targets. RB Chris Carson dominated the offense with 15 rushing attempts and a team-leading seven targets. Their passing game is going to be a nightmare if they target the wide receivers and tight ends only 12 times per game. This is a conservative offense, but I think this was also an outlier. Even if they are not the Greatest Show on Turf, they will throw the ball more than 12 times to their tight ends and wide receivers in most games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I think what is clear is that QB Jameis Winston is the same quarterback in 2019 that he was in 2015 when he entered the league. He makes too many mistakes and his three interceptions and three sacks crippled this offense that threw the ball only 36 times despite losing 31-17. WR Chris Godwin led the way with six targets, which is not much for a starting wide receiver. Winston is an up-and-down player, and we need more than one game to figure out how the targets will work when he plays well. I am still convinced after this game that Godwin will have more fantasy points than WR Mike Evans, who finished the game with just two receptions for 28 yards on five targets.
Tennessee Titans: QB Marcus Mariota had only 14 completions on 24 attempts, so this remained one of the more run-oriented offenses in the NFL. One thing that stood out to me is that WR A.J. Brown had four targets, three receptions, and 100 yards. Meanwhile, WR Corey Davis, the “best” receiver in this offense, had no receptions on three targets. I think that speaks more to Davis being someone that may turn out to be nonviable in fantasy rather than Brown being a player to own in this anemic passing offense. We need to see more games to know how this passing game will work or not work in 2019.
Washington Redskins: Ohio State WR Terry McLaurin was a third-round pick who most people were probably not paying attention to this offseason, yet he finished Week 1 with seven targets, five receptions, 125 yards and one touchdown. My problem is that QB Case Keenum had an unusually good game with 380 yards passing and three passing touchdowns with no picks, so I do not know how those targets translate in a game where he does not throw 44 times and post a QB rating of 117.6. I would monitor McLaurin, but I am selling him repeating that game in future weeks.