Wide Receiver Target Share Risers (2020 Fantasy Football)
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Volume is king in fantasy football. You can’t score points if you don’t get the ball. At the wide receiver position, we want talented players, of course. But most of all, we want receivers whose quarterbacks throw them the ball.
Total targets are obviously important, but in evaluating a wide receiver’s expected usage going forward, it is essential to look at target share. When a team calls a pass play, how frequently can we expect the ball to go to a particular receiver? That is what the target share tells us.
Circumstances can change quickly and drastically in the NFL. There are a number of players we can expect to see different target shares whether because of the addition or departure of target competition, a coaching change, a quarterback change, etc. Today, the focus is on those receivers that should see a higher percentage of their team’s total targets.
Calvin Ridley (ATL)
Perhaps the most obvious name on this list, Calvin Ridley, now entering his third year in the league, is poised to see a significant increase in target share. This increase will be even more pronounced for Ridley than most other players because of how frequently the Falcons call pass plays.
Matt Ryan attempted over 600 passes each of the last two seasons and has eclipsed the 600 attempt plateau in six of his past eight seasons. In 2019, Ridley saw a 17.7% target share. This low percentage was to be expected as Ridley was the clear WR3 behind Mohamed Sanu and Julio Jones. Well, a funny thing happened last season. Sanu was traded to the Patriots. In 2019, Ridley averaged 6.29 targets per game with Sanu and 8.17 targets per game without Sanu. Based on that fact alone, we can presume an increase in target share as Ridley enters 2019 as the clear WR2 behind Julio Jones.
As if that wasn’t enough, Julio is 31 years old. Even if we assume no decline in his usage, there’s also the matter of Austin Hooper’s departure. Yes, Hooper was replaced by Hayden Hurst and Hurst is going to be utilized. However, he won’t see the 18.5% target share Hooper saw in just 13 games.
It is safe to pencil in Ridley for at least a 20% target share with a reasonable chance at hitting 22-23%. If something were to happen to Julio, Ridley’s target share would easily surpass 25%. Any way you slice it, Ridley’s target share is going up in 2020.
Adam Thielen (MIN)
This one doesn’t really require much in the way of complex analysis. In both 2017 and 2018, Adam Thielen saw a 26% target share. In 2019, his full-season extrapolated target share would have been 16.5% (it was 17.8% based on total numbers). I could end the discussion right now and the point would be made.
But there’s more. In addition to the obvious positive regression coming for the Vikings’ passing game, there is such a massive target funnel in Minnesota with the departure of Stefon Diggs. For the first time in his career, Thielen is the undisputed WR1 and top option on his team. Diggs leaves behind 94 targets and while he was replaced by Justin Jefferson, a rookie is not coming in to be anything more than a second option. Jefferson is good and he may very well lead all rookie wide receivers in targets, but he is not a threat to Thielen.
Behind Thielen, we have the aforementioned Jefferson, Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith, and the running backs. There is no other wide receiver of consequence. Thielen is not only a lock to get back to at least a 22% target share, he’s a real threat to set a career-high in target share at a percentage greater than even his 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Brandin Cooks (HOU)
While the first two names on this list benefited from teammates leaving, Brandin Cooks’ target share increase will come from his own travels. Cooks had a dreadful 2019 season and is now largely an afterthought in the fantasy world. Why? Cooks is just 27 years old. He’s now playing with Deshaun Watson, stepping into a void created by the trade of DeAndre Hopkins.
History suggests that wide receivers changing teams struggle to get going in year one and it’s something we’ve seen rear its ugly head recently with guys like Allen Robinson and Odell Beckham. With that being said, Cooks had a 22.6% target share in 2018. That number plummeted all the way down to 12.9% in 2019. There are injury concerns with Cooks, particularly in the concussion department, but for the games he plays, it is a certainty that he will see a target share greater than 12.9%.
With Hopkins gone, Cooks should be Watson’s top option as he is the most talented receiver on the team. Will Fuller can’t stay healthy. Randall Cobb is also new to the Texans and is 30 years old. Kenny Stills is what he is at this point. While all four of these guys should see relevant targeting, there’s no clear alpha that would push Cooks down. Even a relatively level distribution of targets will result in Cooks’ target share rising. He is going to bounce back this season. The only question is to what degree.
Allen Lazard (GB)
I don’t love this one, but I just can’t figure out how Allen Lazard doesn’t improve upon his 13.7% target share from last season. The Packers, despite a dearth of offensive weapons behind Davante Adams, did not draft a single wide receiver this season. Sure, they signed Devin Funchess, but to put it as bluntly as I can – Devin Funchess is terrible at football.
Aaron Rodgers likes Lazard and Lazard is the only receiver Rodgers has a real rapport with other than Adams. Fantasy analysts like to joke about Adams seeing 200 targets, but that’s just not feasible. Adams may very well hit a 30% target share again, but Rodgers still has another 70% of his passes to throw. The Packers don’t have a tight end of consequence. It won’t be Funchess. Lazard is going to start in two-receiver sets. His target share should, at a minimum, be 15% with the upside for 18-20%.