Expected Target Share Risers (2021 Fantasy Football)
From time to time, players disappoint us for fantasy, and all we can remember is the negative. It’s much harder to remember when a player does what we expected them to do, and instead, we only remember the time they let us down. A few of the players on this list were drafted with high hopes, only to see the waiver wire at some point during the season. But that was last year, and this year is a whole new chance for them to breakout.
As I mentioned last week, looking at target numbers can help fantasy managers identify value picks come draft day. With that in mind, players that did poorly or missed time due to injury last season might not be front of mind when you’re on the clock this year. Here are some players that I think you should take a deeper look at who will likely see their target shares increase from last year, potentially making them more fantasy relevant in the process.
Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – IND)
2020 Targets: 61 / 11.4% season target share (13 games)
First on my list of expected target share risers for 2021 is none other than Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr. He played in 13 games as a rookie last season and caught 40 of his 61 targets for 503 yards and 1 touchdown. Pittman finished with a meager 98.9 PPR points for the year, 7.6 PPG with aging veteran QB Philip Rivers at the helm. This WR78 overall finish was definitely not what fantasy managers had in mind when they drafted him last year, but rookie wide receivers rarely produce right out of the gate.
This year the offense got an upgrade when they traded for QB Carson Wentz. Yes, you read that right. The offense should be better with Wentz under center. Add to that the fact that stud RB Jonathan Taylor found his stride as the season went along, and it’s not hard to imagine that the Colts should be a much better team overall this year. Teammate T.Y. Hilton should still see targets of his own, but I fully expect Pittman to take that sophomore jump and finish with around 20% of the targets this year. That kind of increase should boost his fantasy performance, making him a great sleeper option in PPR leagues.
Mecole Hardman (WR – KC)
2020 Targets: 62 / 10.1% season target share (16 games)
Next on this list is another AFC WR that I think should see his opportunity rise to meet his talents: Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman. Hardman caught 41 of his 62 targets for 560 yards and 4 touchdowns, making him the solid third choice behind teammates WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. He finished with 122.1 PPR points for the year and 7.6 PPR points per game. His WR62 finish in fantasy wasn’t pretty, but given the volume and opportunity coming his way, I think Hardman can do a lot better this year.
In 2020 Hardman played behind disappointing fantasy cockroach Sammy Watkins who saw 55 targets of his own. The Chiefs and their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, love to throw the ball, and with Watkins out of the way, I fully expect Hardman to absorb most if not all of those targets resulting from his talent making it happen. Hardman should be on the field more than last year, and even if the team still focuses on sending the ball to Hill and Kelce for 45% of the team’s targets again, I think Hardman is in line for the biggest boost among the rest of the offensive skill positions. A top 40 finish among WRs is easily in the realm of possibility for Hardman this year, so draft accordingly.
Van Jefferson (WR – LAR)
2020 Targets: 31 / 5.5% season target share (16 games)
My deep sleeper darling this season is second-year wideout Van Jefferson. He only saw 5.5% of the total targets last season, catching 19 of the 31 balls thrown his way, but he went for a solid 220 yards and a touchdown with those few targets. He scored a minuscule 46.9 PPR points on the year, good enough for WR120 overall in fantasy. His 2.9 points per game ranked him at WR143. For fantasy, he was practically irrelevant, but that was last season, and 2021 is looking very different for Van and the Rams.
The team lost two offensive skill weapons ahead of Jefferson on the pecking order in WR Josh Reynolds, who went to the Titans, and TE Gerald Everett, who went to the Seahawks. Jefferson should see the field significantly more in 2021 due to him showing how efficient he can be with the ball and by being the 3rd WR behind veteran studs in fantasy in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The team didn’t add anyone to the offense outside of 2nd round draft pick Tutu Atwell who many think isn’t ready to play at the NFL level right away. This leaves Jefferson as the clearcut winner on the offense and someone I am grabbing everywhere I can in dynasty and plan on drafting in the late rounds of my redraft leagues as well.
Jalen Reagor (WR – PHI)
2020 Target: 54 / 9.6% season target share (11 games)
2020 for the Philadelphia Eagles was a trainwreck, no matter how you slice it. The team had a ton of injuries on offense, to the point that only Greg Ward and Boston Scott played in all 16 games last year. Rookie WR Jalen Reagor was behind the eight-ball and asked to do too much before he was ready. He caught 31 of his 54 targets for 396 yards and a single touchdown for the year, which wasn’t terrible considering how the year went in general. In fantasy, he finished as WR95 overall with 81.2 PPR points, 7.4 per game. He was a far cry from being start-worthy and was likely dropped at some point in the year by a frustrated manager.
This is a new year, though, and the Eagles are a new team. They moved to QB Jalen Hurts near the end of last season and got rid of Carson Wentz to the aforementioned Colts. They also drafted Heisman winner DeVonta Smith to shore up their aging and often injured wide receiver group in the first round. If Smith hits the ground running, which is not guaranteed, and Reagor takes that expected sophomore step up that a lot of people expect, Hurts and the entire Eagles offense should succeed where they couldn’t last year. Reagor saw just under 10% of targets in 2020, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him only trailing Smith this season, getting closer to 20% of the passes this time around. He’s another terrific sleeper option that many may be overlooking for the shiny new toy in Smith.
TJ Hockenson (TE – DET)
2020 Targets : 101 / 17.9% season target share (16 games)
I’m not gonna lie, I would’ve sworn that TE TJ Hockenson was the target leader for the Lions last year, but he was not. Veteran WR Marvin Jones took that title with his 115 targets, making Hockenson’s 101 targets second place. Hock did well enough, though, catching 67 of those 101 targets for 723 yards and 6 touchdowns. Hockenson didn’t disappoint for fantasy either, finishing with a stellar 175.3 PPR points and 11 PPG. In both the NFL and in fantasy, Hockenson had a terrific 2020, no question about it.
But that was last year. Jones is gone, as is clear WR1 on the team: Kenny Golladay, who signed with the New York Giants in the offseason. Hockenson effectively stands alone at the top of a depth chart that has players like Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Quintex Cephus, and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown below him. I have nothing against these receivers, they’re better at football than I will ever be, but they don’t exactly elicit a lot of excitement for us in terms of fantasy. Swift should catch passes out of the backfield, but overall everyone is looking at Hockenson to carry even more of the load this year. It’s hard to go much higher than a 17.9% target share, but if anyone can do it on this team, it will be Hockenson. Draft with confidence in the middle rounds of most formats.
Antonio Gibson (RB – WAS)
2020 Targets : 44 / 7.7% season target share (14 games)
Last but not least, we have my lone RB for the target share risers group in Washington RB Antonio Gibson. Gibson ended the year with 36 catches for 247 yards and 0 receiving touchdowns. He also ran a team-leading 170 times for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, so he was no slouch. Overall in fantasy, he finished as RB13 with 202.2 PPR points, an average of 14.4 per game. His fantasy output relied heavily on his ability to break the goal line and the team’s inability to stay consistent.
The Football Team had four starting quarterbacks last year, making it tough for any one of them to truly find a rhythm. By far, the best QB was Alex Smith, who leaned heavily on J.D. Mckissic out of the backfield, someone I mentioned in my last piece on expected target share fallers. With the addition of DGAF QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, I fully expect this team to go back to basics and actually execute designed passing plays instead of just find dump off after dump off as Smith preferred. To me, this bodes well for someone like Gibson, who will be in his second season in the NFL and is primed to take that next step talent-wise. I wouldn’t be shocked if Gibson’s target share rises and his receiving stats get better, but his rushing touchdown numbers fall to be more in line with the league average. This could mean that even though Gibson sees an uptick in PPR leagues, his value in non-PPR might actually go down in 2021. Something to think about as you head into your drafts later this summer.
Let me know what you think about these players on Twitter, @AndrewHallFF, and stick with FantasyPros through the rest of the offseason leading up to Week 1. There is plenty of analysis, rankings, and ADP data to check out, and it’s always updated with the latest to help you win your title and dominate your own league!
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