Like a good news channel, I try to remain fair and balanced. (OK,
probably not a good time for political humor from someone who doesn't
follow politics anymore.) Seriously though, after two weeks of focusing
on running backs, I felt it was time to give receivers and tight
ends some respect after focusing on running backs over the last
two weeks. And so I shall …
Tracking real and fantasy efficiency is one of the best methods
to not only see what is sustainable, but it is also a great way
to find what players are potentially in line to break out (or
identify candidates unable to continue producing at their current
rate). This week, we'll utilize data from a number of sources
to see how efficient receivers and tight ends have been a quarter
of the way through the season.
Rts/Tar - The number of pass routes a player
runs for every target (lower the number, the better)
Rts/Rec - The number of pass routes a player
runs for every reception (lower the better)
FP/Rt - How many fantasy points a player averages
for each route he runs (higher the better)
FP/Tar - How many fantasy points a player averages
for each target he sees (higher the better)
Note: To qualify for each table below, a
receiver must average at least four targets, while a tight end
needed at least three. In the receiver table, I included Doug
Baldwin and Jamison Crowder because I believe they are notable.
Baldwin has played about six quarters of football this season,
while Crowder is someone I expect to become very relevant if/when
Chris Thompson and/or Jordan Reed are forced to miss time. Both
players' averages are italicized for the aforementioned reasons
and not included in the "league average" marks at the
bottom of the table.
The first unexpected finding (of many) with this research is
how heavily targeted the Titans' starting receiver duo of Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor has been so far. It is one thing for a
team to have one receiver (Davis) get targeted once every 3.21
routes (the best mark among all receivers in the table above).
It's an entirely another thing for the second receiver on that
list to be his teammate (Taylor). Taylor's role was already beginning
to expand prior to Rishard Matthews' departure, but his 34 routes
run in Week 4 were more than the total of his first three weeks
combined. He rewarded Tennessee with seven catches and 77 yards
on nine targets. His fantasy points per target and fantasy points
per route are both below average (which is a good thing in this
case), so owners would be wise to start investing in him if they
haven't already done so. Since moving into a more prominent role
in Week 3, Taylor has seen 22.2 percent of the Titans' targets,
especially notable since one of those games came against Jacksonville.
(He led the team with five targets in that game.)
In case anyone wants to hate on Julio Jones for his "inability"
to find the end zone, chew on this. He's on pace for over 2,000
yards receiving. Yet, some still think he's been a disappointment.
He ranks third on the routes per target list behind the aforementioned
Tennessee duo above. He's going to be fine, folks. And don't think
for a second the emergence of Calvin Ridley doesn't help him.
Either Ridley is going to join Randy Moss has the only rookie
receiver to catch more than 15 touchdown passes or there is going
to be some serious market correction working in Jones' favor in
the near future.
If four games are any indication, we might have our answer in
regards to how close to the end Eli Manning is. Odell Beckham Jr. (31) and Sterling Shepard (24) are on pace for 124 and 96
catches, respectively, but somehow neither receiver is averaging
more than 10.6 yards per reception. Beckham's 1.51 fantasy points
per target are in the same neighborhood as (or worse than) Cole Beasley (1.64), Brandon Marshall (1.43), Nelson Agholor (1.41)
and Larry Fitzgerald (1.21). The only reason Shepard (2.10) isn't
right there with OBJ is because he's scored the last two weeks,
but it's still damning for Manning and shows the lack of faith
the team has in its rebuilt offensive line that two dynamic weapons
such as Beckham (10.6) and Shepard (9.5) have essentially been
turned into possession receivers.
How good are the Rams? All three of their top receivers are inside
the top 15 in fantasy points per target. It should come as no
surprise Ridley (3.75) sits atop the list with six TD catches
and DeSean Jackson (3.52) ranks right behind him, but Cooper Kupp
(3.00), Brandin Cooks (2.54) and Robert Woods (2.38) are all hanging
around the same neighborhood as big-play threats such as Mike Williams (2.96), Tyreek Hill (2.53) and John Brown (2.40). History
tells us such efficiency isn't sustainable for the long haul -
all three players are catching at least 75 percent of their targets
- since none of them are inside the top 20 receivers in total
targets, but don't treat this as a sell-high recommendation. HC
Sean McVay's offenses have a history of being efficient - he led
a Washington offense in 2016 that saw four players catch 66 passes
despite the fact none of them saw more than 114 targets - so enjoy
the ride. Regression is coming (as it typically does), but this
has the feel of being one of those offenses that comes around
about every five years - the 2013 Denver Broncos comes to mind
- as a unit that can not only support three fantasy receivers,
but all of them can finish inside the top 20 at their position
Any article talking about receivers is not complete unless it
mentions how absurd Michael Thomas' 42 catches on 44 targets is.
For context, Adam Thielen has 11 more targets and four fewer receptions.
Two others (Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster) also have more
targets than Thomas, but neither has been anywhere close to as
efficient as Thomas. His 3.88 routes per reception is more than
one route per reception better than the next full-time qualified
receiver on the list (Mike Evans; 4.97). What it means is obvious:
despite how much owners think Alvin Kamara is getting the ball
(his 47 targets are three more than Thomas and his 91 total touches
trails only Todd Gurley's 94), Thomas is going to see the ball
more than 25 percent of the time he runs a route - as evidenced
by his 27.3 percent target share.
I would be remiss if I didn't include a few words about one of
this week's hottest waiver-wire pickups in Keke Coutee. Perhaps
there are more than a handful of owners who believe his 15 targets
were a product of Will Fuller's departure and the fact that the
Texans' Week 4 game went into overtime. They would be right, but
only to a point. First of all, 15 targets for any player is a
massive total regardless of the circumstances and a pretty clear
indication the quarterback and coaching staff have a ton of trust
in the player. Second of all, Houston was manufacturing touches
specifically to get him the ball, even before Fuller left. Yes,
most of his production came after Fuller's final target of the
game (nine of his 11 catches, 92 of his 109 yards), but it needs
to be noted that he saw four targets in the roughly 18 or so minutes
Fuller was still playing. The Texans gave him two running plays
in addition to his 15 targets, meaning over 22 percent of the
offensive touches for the game ended up in his hands or were intended
to go to him. He was targeted on 28.6 percent of his 49 routes.
Think about that for a second: a player making his NFL debut following
a extended absence due to injury (he didn't play in the preseason
either) is thrust into that kind of workload? That's not an accident.
And yes, we've
never seen this seen this kind of debut before.
Owners should put a high priority on acquiring Coutee's services
for multiple reasons, but here's three of the better ones: 1)
Fuller has been unable to stay healthy for any length of time
during his two-plus year NFL career and Coutee is the next in
line, 2) the Texans don't use their tight ends or running backs
very often in the passing game and 3) Houston has desperately
wanted someone to emerge in the slot for a number of years. I
wouldn't go so far as to say Fuller's starting job is in jeopardy
because he brings something very unique to the offense. It's also
obvious he has an undeniable bond with Deshaun Watson, seeing
as how he's scored at least one touchdown in every game he and
Watson have started together. But if his durability continues
to be an issue, it would not be surprising if HC Bill O'Brien
makes the decision to cut back his snaps to increase his odds
of staying healthy. Just to be clear, Coutee is not someone I'm
endorsing to start right away (assuming Fuller plays), but he
is someone I want to stash and start the moment Fuller is forced
to miss time. And let's say Fuller makes it through the rest of
the season healthy. Coutee played 69.4 percent of his snaps in
Week 4 in the slot. As we have learned in recent years, heavy
slot usage for a receiver is typically a good thing.
Although Case Keenum's overthrow late in the Monday night game
against the Chiefs could have changed the outcome of the contest
(and possibly the narrative of Demaryius Thomas' season), it is
definitely time to start worrying about Thomas continuing his
six-year streak of finishing among the top 16 fantasy receivers.
Keenum has not been particularly good since the opener (and even
then, he threw three interceptions), but Thomas' 8.4 yards per
catch is about what owners expect from running backs. His 1.29
yards per route run per Pro Football Focus is tied with Danny Amendola and Donte Moncrief for 78th in the league among receivers.
His 3.94 routes per target (12th-best among receivers who qualified
for this list) suggests there is hope, but the quarterback play
has to pick up if Denver is going to support more than one weekly
starter at receiver.
It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: if owners
are holding out hope for a receiver to either breakout or do more
than they've been doing lately, make sure they are seeing a target
at least once every six routes on average. Some of the players
at the top of this list are to be expected - Laquon Treadwell,
Paul Richardson and Torrey Smith, to name a few - but owners are
flirting with danger if they are counting on Keelan Cole (6.86),
Mike Williams (6.41) or Tyler Lockett (6.38) to play meaningful
roles moving forward. This also means receivers such as Marvin Jones (6.21), Amari Cooper (5.96) and Kenny Stills (5.94) are
going to be highly volatile. All hope should not be lost, however.
Take Cooper for example. His two slow games came against a healthy
Rams' secondary and shadow coverage against Miami's Xavien Howard,
who is quickly emerging as one of the league's best corners. Another
slow week could be on tap against Casey Heyward, but it appears
as though we can begin trusting Cooper again in "winnable"
matchups - which was obviously not the case in 2017. Cole is someone
else I like, but the Jaguars are going to need to drop the committee
approach at receiver. That doesn't look like it's happening anytime
One notable omission from this list - due to a lack of targets
per game - is Chris Hogan. If readers believe this is a fluke,
there is evidence to suggest otherwise. No Patriot has run more
routes than Hogan (137), yet he is being targeted once every 10.5
routes, which would be the worst mark on this list if he qualified.
The general assumption might have been that the addition of Josh Gordon and return of Julian Edelman was going to free up Hogan
to do damage downfield like he has in previous years, but Phillip Dorsett's work thus far (27 targets to Hogan's 13) and routes/target
metrics (4.7 to Hogan's 10.5) suggest Hogan may struggle for fantasy
relevancy if/when Gordon and Edelman get comfortable in the offense.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.