Expected Target Share Fallers (2021 Fantasy Football)
Every year, some fantasy football managers choose to use last year’s numbers as a method for ranking players this year, and it’s a bad idea every season. Looking back at last year’s numbers isn’t inherently bad, but you need to contextualize them to determine if anything has changed.
One key counting stat, targets, can help fantasy managers identify value picks come draft day. A player’s target share for their team is an even more useful metric — if a player is getting a lot of target volume, I want him on my team. With that in mind, let’s look at some target share monsters from 2020 who won’t be so lucky this year.
2020 targets: 96 / 17.3% (12 games)
The first player on my list of expected target share fallers shouldn’t really be a surprise. Sure, San Francisco receiver Brandon Aiyuk had a great rookie-year breakout. He caught 60 of his 96 targets for 748 yards and five touchdowns, which led the team in all four categories. He finished the year as WR35 with PPR 184.5 fantasy points but was WR18 in PPG with 15.4. When Aiyuk was on the field, he was a target monster, which definitely boosted his fantasy value.
However, things should go back to “normal” for Aiyuk and San Francisco’s offense this year. Both George Kittle and Deebo Samuel are coming back to the lineup after missing substantial time due to injury. This should relegate Aiyuk back to his WR2 role. In fact, only three of San Francisco’s skill-position players played in all 16 games last season: running back Jerick McKinnon (who is now in Kansas City), fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and backup tight end Ross Dwelley. Barring another injury-riddled season, Aiyuk will be hard-pressed to get 17% of the targets again this year, so draft accordingly.
2020 targets: 110 / 19.4% (15 games)
Next up is Cincinnati receiver Tyler Boyd, who led the team in targets with 110, a 19.4% share. He caught 79 of them for 841 yards and four touchdowns, which likely delighted fantasy managers who drafted him in the later rounds. He finished the year at WR29 with 192.64 PPR points but finished as the WR37 in PPG with 12.8. Boyd was consistently flex-worthy, both with Burrow and after he left due to injury. He likely saw fantasy starting lineups throughout 2020, but the Cincinnati Bengals added a major weapon this year that could limit Boyd’s upside.
The Bengals selected LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth overall pick, reuniting him with quarterback Joe Burrow. I previously wrote about Chase and how he could be a problem for dynasty managers that draft him too early in startup drafts. However, when you look at 2021 alone, I worry more about Boyd than I do about Chase. Boyd’s 110 targets were the best on the team last year, but both Tee Higgins and A.J. Green saw over 100 targets of their own. He wasn’t exactly Burrow’s favorite option, and now that they’ve added Chase to the team and Higgins is no longer a rookie, I’m worried that Boyd could see his target share fall a bit this year. I’m still a fan, but I’m not expecting him to be the team leader this time around.
2020 Targets: 89 / 19.2% (12 games)
Yet another team leader in targets, Crowder saw a whopping 89 looks in 2020, catching 59 of them for 699 yards and six touchdowns. He led the team in all of those categories by a fair margin, and fantasy managers who drafted him were loving it. Crowder finished as WR25 in PPG with 14.3 PPR points and WR39 for the season with 172.02 PPR points. Sadly, this may have been his swan song for fantasy purposes, as the Jets reloaded their entire offense this offseason.
Since the end of 2020, the Jets signed free agent receiver Corey Davis and drafted quarterback Zach Wilson, wide receiver Elijah Moore, and running back Michael Carter. Clearly, the new coaching staff decided to overhaul everything on offense, potentially leaving Crowder as a cut candidate. If Crowder stays on the team, it’s hard to see him leading the team in anything this year. Davis should be the clear WR1, and second-year wideout Denzel Mims is on track to become the WR2. Crowder could survive in the slot, but the team could just opt to move on toss Crowder off to the waiver wire, which would obviously hurt his chances for fantasy relevance. Either way, Crowder had a great 2020, but I don’t see anything close to that happening again this year.
2020 Targets: 113 / 21.2% (16 games)
Denver receiver Jerry Jeudy saw a massive workload in his rookie season, but he only caught 52 of his whopping 113 targets for 856 yards and three touchdowns. His 46% catch rate was embarrassingly low, but his 21.2% target share was insanely high. Not only that, he was being asked to catch balls from quarterback Drew Lock, who with accuracy all year. Jeudy finished 2020 as WR45 with a paltry 157.6 total PPR points in fantasy, and he did even worse on a points per game basis, finishing with 9.8 PPG as the WR59. That’s not what you want to see from your “stud” rookie wide receiver.
Next year looks to be very different. Teammate and fellow wideout Courtland Sutton will return to the lineup after missing almost the entire 2020 season due to injury. Other options like Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler are both returning, as is third-year tight end Noah Fant.
The biggest question is at quarterback and whether or not the Broncos will start Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater, whom they received in a trade with Carolina. Whoever it is, Jeudy probably won’t get the same target share if everyone stays healthy. And if those targets aren’t good targets, does it even matter? All of this points to Jeudy as someone I’m avoiding in fantasy, but if he falls far enough, he could be worth a bench stash.
2020 Targets: 145 / 27.7% (16 games)
Waller saw an eye-popping 145 targets in 2020, almost double what his teammate Nelson Agholor saw with 82 of his own. Waller caught 107 of those targets for 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which led. Last year, Waller was a beast both on the field and for fantasy managers. He finished the season as TE2 in PPR points with 278.6, an insane 100 points more than TE3 Logan Thomas. Waller’s 17.4 PPG was second as well, making him a massive difference-maker at a tough position for fantasy.
While the Raiders didn’t make any massive changes to the offense in the offseason, you just can’t expect that kind of production to repeat itself. The team did sign free agent John Brown, who should help them downfield. and second-year receivers Bryan Edwards and Henry Ruggs III should both step into more target this year. Waller is still a great option at tight end, even if his target share drops to 20%, so don’t take this as a sign that he’s going to fail in 2021 or anything. It’s just something I think fantasy managers should be aware of as they head into their drafts. Expecting last year’s numbers can be dangerous, even when teams don’t make a lot of changes.
2020 Targets: 110 / 19.2% (16 games)
Last on this list of expected target share fallers is the only running back that I think is worth mentioning. McKissic caught an insane 80 passes on 110 targets last year, racking up 589 yards and two scores in the process. This is insane for a running back in today’s game and isn’t something we see every day. On the season, McKissic finished with a very healthy 191.4 PPR points, which helped him finish as the RB17 on the year. In terms of PPG, his numbers weren’t quite as stellar, as he finished as the RB31 due to his low yardage and touchdown numbers.
Last season was a wild one for the Football Team. They had three different quarterbacks make a start for them: Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, and Kyle Allen. Only Allen remains on the team. McKissic saw the biggest increase when he was working with Smith, who used him often as an outlet when the play broke down. Now that Washington brought in journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, I fully expect their entire offense to look different this year. The team also signed gadget receiver Curtis Samuel, who should see looks at almost every position on the offense. All of this points to fewer looks for McKissic. I wouldn’t recommend drafting him at all, but, based purely on his numbers from last year, I’m sure someone else in your league will be foolish enough to risk it.
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