NFC Target Analysis (2021 Fantasy Football)
The offseason is filled with numerous changes, player movement, retirements, draft picks, all that have the ability to change how we perceive an offense to operate for fantasy football purposes. 2021 is certainly no different, as there’s been a ton of movement for fantasy-relevant players.
Look no further than two of last year’s most prominent examples: Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins, who both changed teams and transformed their offenses and allowed for other players that replaced them to thrive as well. There is so much push and pull, give and take with each player move that one move can affect a cascade of other personnel decisions.
Today, I’ll be going through each NFC team and discussing each positional situation with departed targets and new additions to see how this shapes up for target distribution in fantasy football in 2021. I went through the AFC in a previous article, which you can find here.
Larry Fitzgerald (WR – FA) – 72 targets
Dan Arnold (TE – CAR) – 45 targets
Kenyan Drake (RB – LV) – 31 targets
Trent Sherfield (WR – SF) – 7 targets
Jordan Thomas (TE – IND) – 1 target
D.J. Foster (RB – FA) – 1 target
Seth DeValve (TE – FA) – 1 target
Total: 158 targets available
With Larry Fitzgerald still undecided about whether or not he wants to retire or come back for another season, the Cardinals brought in a dusty wide receiver in A.J. Green. I’m being nice, I promise. Last season, every other receiver put up at least a WR44 season except Green, who now gets to compete for targets with DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, and the newly drafted Rondale Moore. It’s going to be an uphill climb for fantasy relevancy for Green, but he can probably find 70-75 targets. The thing is, Kirk and Moore probably all fall within the same target range after Hopkins, who will undoubtedly be the target hog in this offense.
The running backs here probably combined for 100 targets here, give or take a dozen. Chase Edmonds accounted for 67 last season, and even if he’s not the primary rusher in the offense, he should be able to hit that exact total. If James Conner finds some health on his way from Pittsburgh to the desert, he could be a dark horse in the target game. That’s going to take upside off of the secondary wide receivers and Edmonds. The one position you won’t have to worry about with targets?
That’s right here among the tight ends. Dan Arnold has headed east to Carolina, so remaining is Maxx Williams and Darrell Daniels, who won’t be targeted enough combined to matter in fantasy, much less as individuals.
Julio Jones (WR – TEN) – 68 targets
Todd Gurley (WR – FA) – 35 targets
Brian Hill (WR – TEN) – 30 targets
Brandon Powell (WR – BUF) – 18 targets
Luke Stocker (TE – FA) – 11 targets
Laquon Treadwell (WR – FA) – 7 targets
Total: 169 targets available
So, the elephant in the room, well, Julio Jones is now in Tennessee, so maybe he’s not IN the room, but it’s a massive shakeup that puts a lot of opportunity on Kyle Pitts in particular with some spillover to Russell Gage in the passing game. This looks like Pitts will probably tether to the line and play at split end and not the lanky Calvin Ridley, 5’8″ Olamide Zaccheaus, or Gage.
For the tight ends, this could open up a previously unforeseen opportunity for Hayden Hurst to remain in a fringe fantasy role just like last season. He won’t be an every-week starter but is a player that will likely be added and dropped repeatedly in leagues.
Mike Davis is coming off a season where he amassed 70 targets as the de facto replacement for Christian McCaffrey. Davis (and his large quads) are now in Atlanta with seemingly little competition behind him, so it looks as though Davis will get every opportunity to show that his 2020 campaign can be replicated with a new NFC South team. A 60-65 target projection is not out of the realm of possibility for Davis this season.
Curtis Samuel (WR – WAS) – 97 targets
Mike Davis (RB – ATL) – 70 targets
Alex Armah (FB – NO) – 9 targets
Chris Manhertz (TE – JAC) – 8 targets
Pharoh Cooper (WR – JAC) – 8 targets
Seth Roberts (WR – FA) – 6 targets
Total: 198 targets available
For all the faults that 2020’s starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had, he made two receivers VERY relevant in fantasy, both of whom still call North Carolina their home for 2021 in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.
This one will be easy: if the duo of Moore and Anderson and the returning Christian McCaffrey are fully healthy, they will each command a large chunk of the targets and leave scraps for everybody else. McCaffrey commands one of the most significant snap shares in the NFL when healthy, so he rarely ever cedes time to other running backs.
The tight end position was added to by the Panthers, both with a veteran (Dan Arnold) and a rookie (Tommy Tremble). Unfortunately, both aren’t relevant in fantasy for 2021.
Aside from those three pass-catchers mentioned above, it’s going to be difficult for newcomer David Moore or rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. to work their way into sizeable targets for 2021. However, if injuries strike, Moore and/or Marshall could be relevant with a new quarterback in Sam Darnold, who is more willing to take deep shots in this Joe Brady offense.
Cordarrelle Patterson (WR – ATL) – 25 targets
Demetrius Harris (WR – FA) – 14 targets
Ted Ginn Jr. (WR – FA) – 6 targets
Lamar Miller (RB – WAS) – 2 targets
Total: 47 targets available
The targets could shift mid-season as the Bears either transition from Andy Dalton to Justin Fields at quarterback or the Bears just outright start Fields. Either way, Allen Robinson leading this team in targets is a mortal lock for 2021. Darnell Mooney looks to continue his ascension and has a stranglehold on the WR2 job, but maybe not the second target in the offense.
Could it be David Montgomery or Tarik Cohen out of the backfield? Cohen was lost for the season early on, so Montgomery handled heavy volume on both the ground and through the air for the Bears, leading to an RB4 finish in half-PPR. Unfortunately, there’s probably not enough passing volume for either to slip into that second target spot.
It could be Cole Kmet, though, who out-snapped Jimmy Graham through the second half of 2020. Still, Graham remains on the roster and will be a thorn in Kmet’s side as long as he is still on the roster for Chicago. If Fields comes in and looks to Kmet as a weapon, especially in the red zone, then Kmet could be looking at a second-year breakout. As it stands, we’re probably looking at 70-75 targets for Kmet with an uptick if things go as good as possible with head coach Matt Nagy handing the car keys over to Fields.
Blake Bell (TE – KC) – 15 targets
Total: 15 targets available
Jeremy Sprinkle (TE – DAL)
Dallas returns everybody from last season’s injury-riddled campaign, and they are ready to run it back for 2021. CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper should pace the team in targets yet again, with Michael Gallup not too far behind. Easy peasy. All three Cowboys receivers maintain excellent value in fantasy, but Gallup should straddle the line of 100 targets, which puts his value behind Lamb and Cooper.
Ezekiel Elliott was on RB3 pace before the Dak Prescott injury and was pacing toward career highs in receptions. He still ended up with 71, an admirable number, but what could’ve been? With the number of dropbacks the Cowboys will have this season, a healthy offensive line and healthy Prescott means healthy target totals for Elliott, who seems to have slipped down to the end of the first round of drafts for whatever reason.
The real question lies in the tight end room, as starter Blake Jarwin went down for the season in Week 1, with Dalton Schultz filling in capably all season. Jarwin should be the starter come Week 1 of 2021, but Schultz has earned the right to be involved in the offense, so the upside may be a bit capped on Jarwin for a breakout.
Marvin Jones (WR – JAC) – 115 targets
Danny Amendola (WR – FA) – 69 targets
Kenny Golladay (WR – NYG) – 32 targets
Marvin Hall (WR – NE) – 30 targets
Kerryon Johnson (RB – PHI) – 26 targets
Mohamed Sanu (WR – SF) – 23 targets
Jesse James (TE – FA) – 22 targets
Jamal Agnew (WR – JAC) – 20 targets
Adrian Peterson (RB – FA) – 18 targets
Jonathan Williams (WR – WAS) – 4 targets
Isaac Nauta (TE – GB) – 2 targets
Ty Johnson (RB – NYJ) – 1 target
Total: 362 targets available
With so much change and turnover (trust me, there will be many of these in Detroit in 2021), it’s hard not to peg T.J. Hockenson as the target king of the Motor City for 2021.
When your competition is a skeleton crew looking to lose games and get a high draft pick, it’s easy to fill in the pieces with replaceable veterans like Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Amon-Ra St. Brown was brought in as a fourth-rounder and could pace the receivers in targets, but he’s going to have to show that from Week 1 on. There are many targets available for the Lions, and they will be doing plenty of losing and passing.
The running backs room in Detroit, namely D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, should be heavily involved in the passing game as the Lions will be down in most games, so look for Williams to be a clear value at his average draft position (ADP) to return the most value and return on investment. On the other hand, Swift’s high draft capital in fantasy football may be something more challenging to profit on, considering the Lions’ offense’s touchdown equity is one of the lowest projected in the entire league. Still, Swift could easily capture 75-80 targets in this offense and at least buoy his value in the long run.
Green Bay Packers
Amari Rodgers (WR – GB)
A LOT can change between the day this article publishes and Week 1 with the Packers, and it all revolves around the quarterback situation.
With Aaron Rodgers in tow, the Packers should be, as we all think, an efficient offense based on Rodgers funneling the ball to Davante Adams and then spreading the ball elsewhere. What if Jordan Love is the quarterback? Well, we saw Davante Adams still provide WR14 value in half-PPR with Brett Hundley at quarterback in 2017, so at the very worst, you can expect that kind of baseline. Is Love better than Hundley? Probably. Love being would downgrade everybody else in the offense not named Aaron Jones.
Jones should see an uptick in passing game targets, and in tandem with AJ Dillon, the duo should be leaned on heavily to take pressure off of Love if he’s the quarterback. With Rodgers, Jones is the stud we’ve seen the last several years, and his touches likely remain controlled and doled out to prevent injury and overwork. 75-80 targets at the high end seem like the ceiling projection here, with 60 targets as the floor.
Last season’s half-PPR TE3 Robert Tonyan will experience some (to use a comfortable buzzword here) regression to the mean with his touchdowns, so if he’s to repeat that massive fantasy season, he’s going to need to see a much-increased target share, which isn’t possible no matter who is at quarterback. Tonyan caught 88% of the 59 targets thrown to him and 11 touchdowns, which isn’t sustainable or projectile in this or any economy. So while it’s likely Tonyan sees upwards of 70-80 targets, it may not be enough for Tonyan to repeat as a high-end TE1 unless he has more help in the touchdown department, which aren’t sticky year to year.
Los Angeles Rams
We know that Matthew Stafford will be a significant quarterback upgrade over Jared Goff which bodes well for Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp at wide receiver. In addition, it could bode well for a third wide receiver, whether it’s Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson, or a host of others. We know the Rams want to run the ball, but they sometimes just can’t resist passing with the weapons they have at their disposal.
Tyler Higbee could be a benefactor of the departure of Gerald Everett to Seattle but looming is Brycen Hopkins, who could be a thorn in the side of Higbee, standing between him and TE1 value in fantasy in 2021. Still, Higbee is just a touchdown-dependent piece that tends to be over-drafted. So don’t make that mistake chasing 70 targets.
With Malcolm Brown taking his talents to South Beach, the backfield looks like a two-person operation with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson. Akers is being drafted at the end of the first round into the second round, but he could be a top-8 running back as soon as this season with some increased pass-catching opportunity. As 45-50 catches to his rushing totals, and that’s easily attainable. Henderson will hang around but isn’t likely to gobble up anything more than a complementary role, and with that, not many targets.
Consolidated target share is the name of the game here in Minnesota, and it revolves around Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. Not much changes here from 2020 to this season, where it should be Jefferson and Thielen, both with over 100 targets, in that order, provided they have good health.
Can Irv Smith Jr. or Dalvin Cook find their way into more targets? I mean, sure, but as Smith thought he got the one thorn in his side off of him when Kyle Rudolph departed to the New York Giants, Tyler Conklin is at the ready to be the new thorn. It seems the Vikings’ brass is still uncommitted to giving Smith a larger share of the offense per reports, so if that holds, you can’t expect too much out of him besides 70 targets and a lot of unrealized potential.
As for Cook, his target share is the cherry on top of his rushing prowess, of which the Vikings will continue to hammer him in the running game to the tune of right around 300 carries. Adding 60 or so targets on top of that keeps him right where he is as a top-two or three running back in fantasy.
New Orleans Saints
Emmanuel Sanders (WR – BUF) – 82 targets
Jared Cook (TE – LAC) – 60 targets
Josh Hill (TE – DET) – 10 targets
Bennie Fowler (WR – SF) – 6 targets
Michael Burton (FB – KC) – 4 targets
Austin Carr (WR – FA) – 4 targets
Tommylee Lewis (WR – FA) – 3 targets
Total: 169 targets available
Alex Armah (FB – NO)
Nick Vannett (TE – NO)
With the Saints, we have yet another quarterback situation here with significant ramifications on the target hierarchy. New Orleans’ Michael Thomas is seemingly undervalued in fantasy drafts as somebody who has been the elite of the elite before and stands to produce no matter who is at quarterback between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. Could Tre’Quan Smith find his way to some targets? Maybe Deonte Harris? It’s more likely Thomas has more targets, and then some than Smith and Harris combined.
As for the second target in this offense, Alvin Kamara‘s fate hangs in the balance between Winston and Hill. Per LWOS’ Mike Randle, Kamara’s 3.9 targets per game with Hill were dramatically lower than without (8.3 targets). Kamara should be a stud, but it’s something to monitor heading deeper into the summer. Still, Kamara is a top-5 pick in all fantasy formats and should still be the easy second target in the offense with a ceiling of 100+ targets.
We saw brief glimpses of Adam Trautman, but in fantasy, he’s nothing more than a flier, primarily due to the ambiguity of the quarterback situation at the moment. With Jared Cook gone to Los Angeles, Trautman should have a sizable role for the Saints, which if you’re going to get targets, you need to be on the field. Who knew?
New York Giants
Golden Tate (WR – FA) – 52 targets
Dion Lewis (RB – FA) – 30 targets
Wayne Gallman (RB – SF) – 27 targets
Damion Ratley (WR – DET) – 10 targets
Devonta Freeman (RB – FA) – 10 targets
Alfred Morris (RB – FA) – 4 targets
Total: 139 targets available
The Giants have put together some talent for Daniel Jones in what could be a make-or-break season for him as the Giants have to decide whether they stick with Jones as a long-term option or not.
It helps to get all-world running back Saquon Barkley back, who tore his ACL, but it remains to be seen how involved he will be at the beginning of the season as he continues to recover. As the likely second passing game target in this offense, it’s getting more and more difficult to draft him as the 1.02 in fantasy drafts knowing he likely won’t be 100% heading into Week 1. 80 targets for Barkley is attainable with more on the horizon as long as his recovery goes smoothly.
Between drops and bad quarterback play, Evan Engram had a tough go of it in 2020, but he should be in line for 75-85 targets in this offense.
New free-agent signee Kenny Golladay is a significant bump in talent to the wide receiver room for the Giants, but it doesn’t change much of his fortunes for fantasy. He’s a solid fantasy WR2, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Between Sterling Shepard and rookie Kadarius Toney, they’ll be fighting it out for targets. Still, with healthy pieces around them, they won’t be much for fantasy purposes as we’re looking at about 70-80 targets apiece.
DeVonta Smith (WR – PHI)
Kenny Gainwell (RB – PHI)
Kerryon Johnson (RB – PHI)
There are still many moving parts regarding the target hierarchy in Philadelphia and a quarterback that will be given a chance to show what he can do with his legs and his arm.
Jalen Hurts should be a problem for opposing defenses. Still, he can’t keep said defenses honest without weapons, which is why the Eagles went out to get plenty of weapons for Hurts, including last season’s Heisman winner DeVonta Smith and Kenny Gainwell in the NFL Draft. Smith and Jalen Reagor should be a solid one-two punch, and if Reagor can put aside that miserable rookie season he had and move on, he could be a sneaky fantasy contributor with close to 100 targets.
Miles Sanders could be looking over his shoulders at the committee of running backs behind him, ready to slot in at a moment’s notice. But will that hamper his upside? I mean, sure. Sanders is still ticketed for most rushing work and 55-60 targets, but if we’re talking targets, the one to look out for is the rookie Gainwell. New head coach Nick Sirianni could use Gainwell in the same way he used Nyheim Hines in Indianapolis as Gainwell was the most prolific pass-catching back among the draftees this past April. He could be a dark horse to nab 50-60 targets in this offense and be the Boston Scott replacement in the Eagles’ offense.
Will the Eagles trade or cut Zach Ertz? There have been overtures regarding that all offseason, and Ertz is the crux of Dallas Goedert receiving true fantasy TE1 work in 2021 and beyond. Goedert likely gets the nod over Ertz in target share, but the upside is nowhere close to where it would be unless Ertz is shipped out.
San Francisco 49ers
Kendrick Bourne (WR – NE) – 74 targets
Jerick McKinnon (RB – KC) – 46 targets
Jordan Reed (TE – FA) – 46 targets
Trent Taylor (WR – CIN) – 21 targets
Tevin Coleman (RB – NYJ) – 5 targets
Total: 192 targets available
Trey Sermon (RB – SF)
Wayne Gallman (RB – SF)
Mohamed Sanu (WR – SF)
Trent Sherfield (WR – SF)
The San Francisco 49ers are my bet to have THE most concentrated passing targets in the entire NFL, with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk all projected for at least 110 targets. Sure, this will all hinge on the quarterback, whether it’s Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance, but the receiving targets in this offense, regardless of position, are very top-heavy, but the roles amongst the three are vastly different.
Kittle should return a 1000 yard season with good health and provide those that drafted him in the early rounds with the positional advantage they were looking for when they drafted him. Samuel’s low aDOT (average depth of target) should provide him with a ton of yards after catch (YAC) opportunities as he will have touches schemed for him as a sort of alternate “running game” for the 49ers. Aiyuk will be the field stretcher, but he has been much better than that going back to last season. Aiyuk’s touches are the ones more conducive to fantasy success and sustainability versus Samuels.
The point being all three of those receivers will be very relevant in fantasy.
D’Wayne Eskridge (WR – SEA)
Another consolidated target share with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf accounting for almost 50% of the targets in Seattle last season, and not much should change on that front. D’Wayne Eskridge provides a quality deep target, but his game isn’t predicated on volume, so he’s hard to trust in fantasy unless the team cannot keep him off the field.
Gerald Everett, the tight end brought over from the division rival Rams, could be the sneaky third target in this offense, with Jacob Hollister and Greg Olsen now departed from the Pacific Northwest. He’s undoubtedly the most athletic tight end quarterback Russell Wilson has had at his disposal.
Chris Carson seems to find his way into targets in this offense. Carson was on pace for a career-high in receptions and targets but, in the end, essentially repeated his 2019 receiving output in four fewer games. Nevertheless, as a running back who seems to be overshadowed by the shiny new toys in fantasy football, Carson is somebody who will be a rock-solid RB2 and give you 50-55 targets and 1000 yards with no problem.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is running it back with virtually the same cast and crew from the Super Bowl championship run last season with one addition: Giovani Bernard, which muddies up the running back room just a bit.
Bernard’s addition likely cuts into the receiving upside of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones and makes it a three-headed backfield, which helps nobody in fantasy. Fournette and Jones will provide solid enough yardage totals, but with a 35-40 target ceiling for each, you can rule out feeling good about any decision to start them in fantasy.
As for the receivers, we know Evans and Godwin will be the one-two punch, but Antonio Brown has a reasonable path to 100 targets himself this season, provided he plays all 17 games.
Washington Football Team
The second that the Ryan Fitzpatrick signing made it across my Twitter feed (@ktompkinsii, by the way), I knew it was time to bump up Terry McLaurin in my rankings and eventual projections. We saw him as a high-end WR3 in 2019, to a mid-range WR2, and now, could he finish as a WR1 in his third season? Considering Fitzpatrick’s history with targeting his top outside receiver, I think it’s a solid bet to make, considering the talent and the talent now around him to take pressure off. Curtis Samuel was brought in from free agency with familiarity all around, from offensive coordinator Scott Turner and head coach Ron Rivera from Samuel’s time in Carolina to former college teammate McLaurin. There are enough targets to go around in this offense for Samuel to be a playable WR3 with upside each week.
On to the running backs, where both Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic will see targets, McKissic will not see the 110 targets he saw last season. Gibson should close the gap on McKissic in targets and snap share from last season to 2021, making him a valuable second-round pick in drafts.
Also, not seeing the 110 targets he received in 2020? Logan Thomas. Thomas’ gaudy target total from 2020 was basically because, well, the Football Team didn’t have much else in the way of targets in the passing game. Thomas should be solid for fantasy, but it will be because Washington is a better football team and will score more, not because of the sheer volume that Thomas gets.
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