Players That Will See An Increase In Targets (2020 Fantasy Football)
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Player target volume is one of the more predictable metrics in fantasy football. Luckily for us, targets correlate positively to fantasy success and will be a deciding factor when you are on the clock in your draft.
With an off-season full of coaching changes and player movement, we could see a lot of players who didn’t garner many targets a season ago accumulate greater volume in 2020. For this exercise, I will attempt to avoid players who were injured for a decent portion of last season, as it would be pretty easy to surmise that someone will garner more targets by playing more games. I’m also not going to pick backups who became starters this off-season (Hayden Hurst, Blake Jarwin), as you don’t need analysis to tell you they will experience more volume in the starting lineup rather than on the bench.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at three players from each position whom I believe will see a rise in targets next season.
Todd Gurley (ATL)
There is a great deal of anchoring bias regarding Todd Gurley given his abysmal, injury-riddled end to the 2018 season. Despite a solid 2019 campaign where he finished as the PPR RB14, many still consider Gurley to be washed up. Yet, I think Atlanta presents the perfect opportunity for Gurley to thrive and boost his reception volume.
Atlanta ranks first in the NFL in vacated targets, with 258 targets left behind by players like Devonta Freeman, Austin Hooper, and Mohammad Sanu. Gurley will step right in as the lead runner in this offense and have a great shot at replacing Freeman’s 70 vacated targets. Aside from Hurst and Gurley, the Falcons did not make any notable additions to their receiving core, so I like Gurley’s chances to see a career revival in Atlanta.
Let’s also not forget that Gurley is an incredible pass-catcher. From 2017-2018, Gurley averaged 84 targets, 62 receptions, and 684 receiving yards per season. Last season’s 49 targets and 31 receptions were an outlier, as Sean McVay went to extreme lengths to limit Gurley’s workload in order to preserve his health. I expect Gurley to get back to his 80-target average and experience fantasy relevance in a pass-heavy Falcons offense.
Kenyan Drake (ARI)
Kenyan Drake had the unfortunate displeasure of working with the Miami Dolphins for most of his career. In Miami, Drake was never properly utilized and disappointed many fantasy football owners. However, once he got traded to Arizona, Drake finally flashed his potential.
Under Kliff Kingsbury’s spread system, Drake saw greater efficiency as a pass-catcher and had more space to maneuver in the offense, as he averaged over four targets per game. Still, I contend Drake never had the time to properly adjust to the complicated scheme and reach his ceiling, which is why his reception totals were kept low. When David Johnson was the starter for the first six weeks of the season, he averaged nearly seven targets per game. This offense thrives on allowing the running back to catch passes in space, and Drake has the capability of doing so.
Even though DeAndre Hopkins will command a large target share, I believe his presence as a vertical threat and outside weapon will open up opportunity for Drake on screens and checkdowns. After only garnering 68 targets last season, I can easily see Drake jumping into the 90-target range due to the lack of depth behind him and the high passing volume of Arizona’s offense.
Miles Sanders (PHI)
Miles Sanders didn’t take over the lead role in the Eagles’ backfield until Week 11, but he sure helped a lot of fantasy owners in the playoffs with his increased volume. His biggest contribution was his inflated reception upside, as Sanders averaged over five targets a game following Jordan Howard‘s Week 10 injury, compared to three targets a game beforehand.
With another year in Doug Peterson’s system and no significant competition in the backfield, I expect Sanders to see increased utilization, especially on the receiving end. Boston Scott‘s presence does limit some upside for Sanders, but it’s doubtful he’ll see enough playing time to truly eat into Sanders’ touches.
While there have been rumors that the Eagles could sign another running back like Devonta Freeman, I would still expect Sanders to be the primary option in this backfield and see a greater snap share than last season. Sanders could easily jump into the 80-target range next season, even if he is stuck in a backfield committee once again.
Mecole Hardman (KC)
If you have read any article I have written or tweet I have posted, there is a 50-50 chance I said something positive about Mecole Hardman. This article is no exception, as I believe Hardman has a great chance to see an exponential increase in targets in the 2020 season.
Hardman showed flashes of greatness last season, averaging over 20 yards per reception and looking like a carbon copy of Tyreek Hill given his incredible speed and acceleration. After a rookie year of growing pains in which he only saw 41 targets, I expect Hardman to be more involved in the offense in his sophomore season.
Hill should be fully healthy and take on double coverage, while Travis Kelce will require extensive coverage over the middle of the field. Hardman will have to battle with Sammy Watkins for playing time, but I think the coaching staff will opt for their 2018 second-round pick to develop more rapport with Patrick Mahomes than an oft-injured, inconsistent veteran on the last year of his deal. Hardman’s ceiling is tremendous, and he should see a solid spike in volume this season.
Terry McLaurin (WAS)
Terry McLaurin was really the only bright spot on this Washington roster last year, as he led his team in targets, receptions, and yardage. His 93 targets ranked first among rookie wideouts and 35th among all NFL wide receivers. So why should he see an increase? Well, there’s not much other talent around him to siphon away targets.
The Redskins failed to add much offensively this off-season, with their key additions being rookie running back Antonio Gibson and rookie wide receiver Antonio Goldy-Golden. Yet, they lost much more in terms of targets, with 134 total vacated targets left by the likes of Chris Thompson, Paul Richardson, and Vernon Davis. With little depth around him, McLaurin will likely see more looks in the passing game by necessity.
I also believe that consistent quarterback play will allow McLaurin to see more volume. Although Dwayne Haskins seemed to target McLaurin less often than Case Keenum, having one quarterback under center should provide stability for the offense overall. McLaurin should easily surpass 100 targets this year and could be a draft-day steal.
Deebo Samuel (SF)
Can you see the trend with sophomore wideouts getting a target boost? Deebo Samuel was targeted 81 times in 2019, with a majority of his touches coming towards the back-half of the season. In his first six games, Samuel only averaged 4.2 targets per game compared to 5.6 targets per game in his last ten regular season contests.
Not only was Samuel getting targets, but it was clear the 49ers wanted the ball in his hands. Samuel received 14 carries last season, with nine of them coming in the final month of the season. With Emmanuel Sanders‘ departure to New Orleans, Deebo Samuel will now be the de facto No. 1 wideout over rookie Brandon Aiyuk and 2019 third-round pick Jalen Hurd.
This offense is still expected to be a run-first unit, but I expect Jimmy Garoppolo to throw a bit more as he enters his second full year in Kyle Shanahan’s system. George Kittle will once again be the predominant target in this offense, but it would not shock me to see Samuel cross the triple-digit target threshold next season.
Tyler Higbee (LAR)
The career renaissance Tyler Higbee experienced in the month of December was incredible. Through the first three months of the season, Higbee was an afterthought in the Rams offense, averaging 3.3 targets per game, including three contests with one or fewer targets. In December, however, Higbee averaged 11.2 targets per game and never had a game with fewer than eight targets.
The inciting incident for Higbee’s sudden fantasy relevance was the Rams’ change in personnel grouping, as they switched from their patented 11 personnel to more two-tight end sets. The switch to 12 personnel allowed Higbee to run more routes and see a greater snap percentage. Gerald Everett‘s injury also played a factor.
While I can’t fully commit that Higbee will average over 10 targets per game or the Rams make a permanent switch to 12 personnel in 2020, I am confident Higbee sees more than his 89 targets from 2019. In the final five weeks of the season, the Rams averaged 29 points per game and went 3-2 in that stretch. I highly doubt they will completely abandon what had worked so well to end the season, meaning Higbee’s increased involvement is unlikely to dissipate.
Jack Doyle (IND)
Jack Doyle seems to be the forgotten man in Indianapolis. After a season marred by inefficient quarterback play and the fall of Eric Ebron, Doyle stands as the TE1 in a Philip Rivers-led offense. Rivers targeted the running back position last year more than anything else, but that may have been due to Hunter Henry‘s lingering injury. When Henry was in the lineup, Rivers targeted him 6.3 times per game.
Doyle may not be as youthful and talented as Henry, but he’s been a reliable safety blanket for multiple years. He is only two seasons removed from a year in which he saw over 100 targets and finished as the PPR TE8. The remainder of the Colts’ starting pass-catchers will either be returning from injury or playing their first NFL snap, so Doyle may have the inside track to being the favorite target early on.
It’s doubtful that Doyle will become a top-eight tight end again, but I believe he has a great deal of streaming viability under Frank Reich and Philip Rivers. Reich has a pedigree for effectively utilizing multiple tight end sets since his days in Philadelphia, so I think he will incorporate Doyle heavily in the game plan. I expect the veteran Colt to improve from his 72-target campaign in 2019 and see over 90 targets in 2020.
Irv Smith Jr. (MIN)
While many were disappointed that the former Alabama tight end could not overtake Kyle Rudolph for the starting job in 2019, he performed rather well in Kevin Stefanski’s system. Smith saw 47 targets last year, only one less than Rudolph, and became an important piece of the offense down the stretch.
With Rudolph another year older and an even greater shift to a tight end-centric offense expected under Gary Kubiak, I believe Smith will develop a more featured role in the passing game. Kubiak has historically schemed his offense to flow through the tight end, where he allows them to get in space via the play action passing game. Rudolph and Smith should both benefit as Dalvin Cook draws multiple defenders into the box to defend the run.
There is also the matter of Stefon Diggs‘ departure, which opens up 94 targets for this offense. While most of this is expected to be filled by a healthy Adam Thielen and rookie Justin Jefferson, I believe Diggs’ exodus necessitates a heavier reliance on the tight end. I doubt Kubiak will expect Jefferson to jump in right where Diggs left off, so some of those vacated targets could end up going more to the second-year tight end than the former LSU slot receiver. I don’t expect Smith to become a starting fantasy tight end, but a season with 70+ targets is not out of the question.