2020 NFL Target Projections (Fantasy Football)
Targets are an interesting statistic when it comes to fantasy football because targets themselves do not result in fantasy points. A player can have three targets, three receptions, 163 yards, and three touchdowns and have a monster day on those three targets. Conversely, a player can have 12 targets, five receptions, 36 yards, and no touchdowns, which is a high-target game that results in little fantasy points.
Targets are still important because the more times a team tries to give the player the football, the more that player has a chance to put up fantasy-relevant statistics. When you try to project targets for the 2020 season, here are some tidbits I would keep in mind that should help make your projections and expectations more accurate. If you want to do your own research on targets, make sure you check out these links, FantasyPros’ Most Targeted Players and NFL Targets by Team.
1) Wide Receivers Dominate Targets
I consider 100 targets for the season to be a healthy amount for a featured player in a passing offense. A 100-target season translates to 6.25 targets per game if a player plays 16 regular-season games. That is enough targets per game to be a consistently dangerous player on offense.
There were only four tight ends and four running backs that surpassed 100 targets in 2019. Conversely, there were 30 NFL wide receivers that had over 100 targets in 2019. NFL teams throw to the wide receiver more than any other position, even teams that run more conservative offenses. The Philadelphia Eagles (42.9%) ranked 32nd in percentage of targets to wide receivers and they were one of only four teams that did not hit the 50-percent threshold. That is the big reason why wide receivers dominate the targets and have greater value than other positions in PPR leagues.
2) No NFL Team had Three Wide Receivers with 100 Targets
The Detroit Lions had three players with 90 targets. Kenny Golladay led the way with 112 targets, Danny Amendola had 93 targets, and Marvin Jones had 91 targets. That was the closest any team came to having three wide receivers with 100 targets. One NFL team had three players with 100 targets. Running back Christian McCaffrey and his 142 targets led the Carolina Panthers, wide receiver D.J. Moore was close behind with 135 targets, and wideout Curtis Samuel had 101 targets.
When you are projecting targets, you really should be projecting only one or two per team to hit 100 targets. There were only six teams that had two receivers hit 100 targets, which were the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Los Angeles Chargers had a wide receiver and running back with 100 targets. The other 24 teams had only one player with 100 or more targets.
3) Look at Run to Pass Ratio, Not Offensive System
I think you can make yourself dizzy trying to use an offensive system as a means to predict targets. You may think of the West Coast Offense as an offense that would be ripe for lots of targets with a shorter passing game, but keep in mind that both the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Rams run a West Coast offense. Lamar Jackson led all quarterbacks with 176 rushing attempts for 1,206 yards and he passed the ball only 401 times. That version of the West Coast Offense looks nothing like the Los Angeles Rams’ version, which saw Jared Goff throw the ball 626 times and run the ball only 33 times.
There were only three teams that ran the ball more than they passed the ball in 2019 (Baltimore, San Francisco, and Minnesota) and only eight teams that ran the ball 45 percent or more of the time (Tennessee, Seattle, Indianapolis, Buffalo, and Oakland). Buffalo’s John Brown (115) and Cole Beasley (106) and Seattle’s Tyler Lockett (103) and D.K. Metcalf (100) were the only receivers on those teams to top 100 targets for the season.
Think of offenses like languages. West Coast, Air Coryell, and Erhardt-Perkins are the three languages of the NFL. All West Coast Offense means is someone that worked for Bill Walsh or worked for a Bill Walsh disciple is in charge of calling the plays in that language. After that, every head coach utilizes plays that maximize the talents of the players they have, which is why the Rams and the Ravens can both run West Coast Offenses and have such different target distribution. Simplifying things to run-to-pass ratio is a much better way to project targets on a team.
4) Do Not Go Too Old at Wide Receiver
Going old at any position is not a good idea, but seeing as how receivers dominate the targets, I will focus mostly on wide receivers. There are always exceptions to the trends. Jerry Rice had 150 targets in his age-40 season with the Oakland Raiders back in 2002. That is not a normal occurrence. You really have to start watching wide receivers over 32 years old. If you want to read more about that, check out Mike Tagliere’s great article, “Fantasy Football: At What Age Does A Wide Receiver Decline? (2019).”
The only wide receivers 30 years or older to surpass 100 targets last year were Larry Fitzgerald (age 36), Julian Edelman (33), Julio Jones (30), and Cole Beasley (30). The other 26 wide receivers that surpassed 100 targets were all 29 years old or younger. Washington Redskins receiver Terry McLaurin (93) and Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson (92) came close to 100 targets playing on bad passing offenses.
There is no way to perfectly predict the fantasy football future. Statistical trends tell us what will probably happen, not what will definitely happen. When projecting targets, if you follow the rule of only one or two players per team on offenses that throw the ball 55 percent of the time or more and try to find mostly wide receivers under 30 years old, you have an excellent chance of finding a target monster that can help you field a dominant team in fantasy football.