Targets are often a good indication of how
important a pass-catcher is to his offense, but it doesn't tell
the whole story, as with many of the free tools the majority of
fantasy owners have at their fingertips. Worse yet, it is far from
the most predictive stat when it comes to projecting a potential
breakout. Snaps tell us how many plays a particular pass-catcher
is on the field, but owners are going to be hard-pressed to find
a site that splits running-game and passing-game snaps. Because
no skill-position player - outside of a quarterback - plays 100
percent of the snaps, there's not an easy way for most owners to
discern just how often a pass-catcher is available to be targeted.
Most people would acknowledge that a player can't be targeted
unless he is actually running a route, and that is the topic of
discussion for this week. Even the most inexperienced fantasy
owner has a good idea which players are considered "full-timers,"
but those are not usually the players typically available on the
waiver wire. Several analytics sites track how many routes a player
runs. When that knowledge is combined with his targets, it gives
owners a better understanding as to how important that player
is to the passing game. For example, a tight end that can't block
isn't going to be a full-time player, but if he is getting looks
25 percent of the time he is running a pattern, then we may have
something to work with moving forward in fantasy.
For the sake of time and space, I'm going to keep the analysis
limited to mostly unheralded players and let readers digest the
table below as they see fit. Players who are no longer with their
team, have played two or fewer games or are averaging fewer than
12 routes per game have been eliminated, except in special cases.
Some players, such as the 49ers receiving corps, were included
in their entirety to display just how much of a jumbled mess HC
Kyle Shanahan has on his hands at the moment.
Cardinals WR Damiere
Byrd - Prior to sitting out Week 4 with a hamstring
injury, it's at least somewhat notable that Byrd was running more
routes than Christian
Kirk and Larry
Fitzgerald. One of the biggest factors working against him
is he is an outside receiver in a slot-heavy offense that doesn't
afford the quarterback much time to work from the pocket. Fortunately
for him, Kyler
Murray has the ability to buy time. As will be the case with
most of the players on this list, his is a name to monitor should
he be able to return in Week 6 and/or Kirk's ankle injury becomes
a nagging issue.
Falcons WR Mohamed
Sanu - How many times will owners find a team's leading
receiver (in terms of receptions) on the waiver wire four weeks
into the season? Sanu has one more catch than Julio
Jones (24-23), although it should be acknowledged Sanu is
coming off a season high in targets (12) and receptions (nine).
Predictably, he hasn't found the end zone, but it's hard to ignore
he also leads the Falcons in routes run (169). With this kind
of opportunity and Matt
Ryan averaging well over 40 passing attempts per game to make
up for an ineffective ground game, there is a chance for four
Falcons (Jones, Calvin
Ridley and Austin
Hooper being the other three) to be viable in fantasy.
Bills WR Cole
Beasley - The northeast version of Sanu in a much
less pass-happy offense, Beasley is likely to start flying off
waiver wires after attracting 13 targets against the Patriots.
Like Sanu, Beasley isn't going to score touchdowns very often,
but it's hard to ignore he's produced at a low-level WR3 range
in PPR leagues for three straight weeks and has 23 targets over
his last two contests. The headliner here, however, is that 24.6
percent targeted route rate. It's not asking the world for a slot
receiver to run roughly 35 routes in a normal game - his current
average - so this is one situation in which owners can expect
similar production moving forward, even if he doesn't maintain
his current 96-catch pace.
Bears WR Javon
Wims - Filling in for an injured Taylor
Gabriel in Week 4, Wims ran more routes last week than Gabriel
did in either of the previous two games. Does it mean anything?
Probably not, especially considering HC Matt Nagy did his best
to scheme Gabriel open during his three-TD effort against Washington
in Week 3. But if it does, Wims becomes an interesting consideration.
The former seventh-round pick had a strong preseason and someone
who has proven himself capable of coming down with the 50-50 ball.
Gabriel brings the offense an element of speed no other full-time
receiver on the roster does, but he is also not built to last
Bengals TE Tyler
Eifert - If owners want to do nothing more than play
him this week against Arizona - the defense that has surrendered
111.1 PPR fantasy points through four games, 39 more than current
TE1 Evan Engram
- I understand. Eifert has also been targeted 19 percent of the
time he runs a route, which is on par with Greg Olsen (21.6 percent).
What is telling is that C.J.
Uzomah has run a total of 37 routes over the last three weeks
combined and been targeted twice, while Eifert has 11 targets
on his 58 targets over the same time. The Bengals will be throwing
the ball a lot this season, so if Andy
Dalton's lack of interest in Uzomah continues, it might signal
Cincinnati wants to gently bump up Eifert's usage.
Brown TE Ricky
Seals-Jones - I'm not sure there was another player
available after final cuts more capable of serving as a reasonable
facsimile of David
Njoku. While Seals-Jones isn't quite the same crazy athlete,
he brings the same rocked-up wide receiver build and style of
play to the team. Seals-Jones has run only 19 routes in three
games with the Browns, but 15 of them came last week. While his
three targets were nothing to write home about, he caught all
of them and finished with 82 yards and a touchdown. With Njoku
unable to return for about two more months, there is an opportunity
for someone like RSJ to help fantasy owners navigate through the
troubled fantasy tight end waters. We've seen him flash before,
and now he has a chance to expand on that for a team that has
a good quarterback situation AND solid supporting cast.
Broncos RBs Phillip
Lindsay and Royce
Freeman - Lindsay and Freeman are being used interchangeably.
Some of the proof for that is Lindsay's 18 targets and 26.1 percent
targeted route rate versus Freeman's 17 targets and 22.4 percent
targeted route rate. For some perspective on their 35 targets,
McCaffrey leads all backs with 31. While I am in no way suggesting
McCaffrey 2.0 is in this backfield should either Lindsay or Freeman
go down, but there is going to be massive opportunity for the
healthy one with the duo currently averaging 24 carries and nearly
nine targets between them.
Texans WR Kenny
Stills - This one is very much fluid, but not because
Stills is a poor receiver. Quite the opposite, actually. If ever
there was a team that needed someone like Stills, it might be
the Texans. Will
Fuller and Keke
Coutee's injury histories have been well-documented, making
a player who can both stretch the field and play the slot capably
a bit of a necessity. Interestingly, all four of the top Houston
receivers have manned the slot between 38 and 44 times this season.
It is still noteworthy Stills has been targeted on 21.5 percent
of his routes - significantly more than Fuller's 15 percent -
despite his relative unfamiliarity with the offense. Whether it
be due to injury to Fuller and/or Coutee or performance, there
is evidence to suggest Stills will be Houston's second-most productive
fantasy receiver in 2019.
Colts WR Parris
Campbell - The retirement of Andrew
Luck combined with Campbell's preseason hamstring issues pretty
much derailed whatever hype train he could've started in August.
Still, it's hard to argue about his efficiency- catching 10 of
his 13 targets - and he's been targeted 19.1 percent of the time
he runs a route. Much like Stills above, that's not a small number
considering how much preseason work he missed. When we further
consider how much HC Frank Reich loved his selection on draft
day, it's not hard to imagine a breakout is coming soon, even
if Hilton returns to action in Week 5 and doesn't get hurt again
for the rest of the year. And if Hilton is sidelined for any length
of time, look out; Campbell is by far the best candidate to replace
what Hilton does for the offense.
Chiefs RB Darrel
Williams - There are multiple turning points during
every fantasy football season, and what HC Andy Reid decides to
do in Week 5 may be one of them. There is little question Darrel
Williams during each player's two-game audition, nor is there
much question Darrel was used in a similar fashion. So what wins
out here? The fact Damien got a contract extension in the offseason
and his starting status entering the season or the fact Darrel
brings a combination of power and explosiveness to this backfield
none of his other teammates do? In addition to being targeted
on 20 percent of his 45 routes so far (not far off of Damien's
23.9 percent rate), Darrel has closed out each of the last two
games ahead of LeSean
McCoy. That alone would seem to speak volumes.
Rams RB Todd
Gurley - This one is going to run a bit long, only
in an effort to eliminate the constant negativity surrounding
him. Gurley has run 104 routes this season, placing him fifth
in the league among running backs. (He had 111 routes run at the
same time last year.) Shockingly, he only ran 34 routes last week.
While I'll be the first to acknowledge his 12 touches against
the Bucs should be alarming, it doesn't account for the fact HC
Sean McVay trusted him to play 74 snaps. Nor does it discount
the fact Gurley ranks fourth in the league with 222 snaps. McVay
promised the Rams were going to be more judicious with how they
use him. That is what they are doing, and one could argue last
week's 74 snaps were either an unexpected departure from that
plan or a test to see if they could begin unleashing Gurley (something
I expect to come after the Week 9 bye).
So you think his play has fallen off? Pro Football Focus charted
Gurley with seven avoided tackles and 2.71 yards after contact
on 79 carries through four games last year. This year, he has
nine avoided tackles and 3.33 yards after contact on 49 carries
through four games. In an effort to make sure I wasn't delusional,
I went back and watched last year's regular-season opener to see
if I could see much (or any) difference in his running style,
explosion, etc. What I saw was more of a change in how defenses
are playing the Rams (please check out all four of my posts).
Most fantasy owners realize the knee could become an issue again
at any time, but that is not what I believe is happening here.
Regardless of whether we like the way it is unfolding or not so
far, the Rams are 3-1 and averaging 29.3 points - not exactly
like the ship is sinking or a ton of motivation to change.
Dolphins WR Preston
Williams - Investing in any Dolphin is dicey at best.
Williams (117) has somehow run 29 fewer routes than team leader
(146), yet has five more catches and six more targets. Because
Miami averages just a shade under 55 plays, Williams' 29.3 routes
run per game may be where he stays for the bulk of his rookie
year. It'll be interesting to see if the return of Albert
Wilson means less time for him, so Week 6 (Wilson's expected
return) will serve a good indication as to whether Miami can produce
a viable receiver in fantasy at any point this season. If the
Dolphins embrace three-wide sets with him as a part of those formations,
then owners may have a potential bye-week option on their hands.
One could argue Williams is already on the cusp of fantasy relevancy
now, and the schedule is about to lighten up with matchups against
the Redskins, Steelers and Jets in three of the first four games
coming off the Week 5 bye.
Jets WR Jamison
Crowder - Crowder was targeted on 15 of his 46 routes
in Week 1 against the Bills. Life has slowed down for him since
then, as Sam Darnold
came down with mononucleosis shortly thereafter, leading to the
Jets running the fewest plays in football. However, people are
likely making a mistake if they believe Crowder isn't going to
benefit when Darnold returns. HC Adam Gase has stated he intends
to pick up the pace of his offense once he has his field general
back. Crowder has somehow managed to remain so heavily targeted
on his routes (24.1 percent) in Darnold's absence, strengthening
the stance his involvement in the offense is more than Darnold
leaning on his slot receivers. It means Gase sees him as an integral
part of the offense as well.
Raiders TE Darren
Waller - Waller has quickly become an obvious start,
but it's worth emphasizing he is being targeted on almost 32 percent
of the routes he is running! He is also commanding 29.8 percent
of the target share in Oakland. For the sake of comparison, that's
3.5 percent higher than Zach
Ertz last year on his way to setting the NFL record for targets
and catches by a tight end.
Steelers WR Diontae
Johnson - The Steelers are very much trying to find
themselves offensively post-Ben
Roethlisberger, as evidenced by James
Conner being targeted on 29 percent of his routes and Jaylen
Samuels being targeted on 20 percent of his. Week 4 probably
wasn't an indication of what the Steelers will be about moving
forward. With that said, Johnson has been the equal of JuJu
Smith-Schuster over the last two games. (Smith-Schuster holds
only a 57-50 edge in routes run. What's even more bizarre is that
has run 56 routes and been virtually invisible in the offense.)
For better or worse, Johnson appears to be Mason
Rudolph's flavor of the week (month?). The rookie's fantasy
owners must be overjoyed with what they hoped was a flyer a couple
of weeks ago, but the Steelers' current offensive model isn't
a long-term answer, nor does it make much sense if it can't find
a way to funnel targets to a stud like Smith-Schuster. To his
credit, Johnson is making major strides to securing the No. 2
job, but Pittsburgh will eventually find a way to get Smith-Schuster
going. And that's an important distinction to make since Rudolph
will be hard-pressed to support more than one fantasy-relevant
receiver for the foreseeable future.
Titans WR A.J.
Davis (114 routes) is the top receiver in Tennessee, although
it would be hard to convince many fantasy owners that is the case.
Brown actually ranks third among Tennessee receivers with his
92 routes, but Marcus
Mariota has targeted him 20.7 percent of the time on his patterns,
whereas Davis (15.8) and Adam
Humphries (15.6) are significantly lower. The biggest problem
with Brown at the moment is opportunity; he has seen no more than
five targets in any game and is running an average of 20.5 routes.
Even for a player with his speed, strength and athleticism, it's
going to be next to impossible for him to maintain any form of
consistency with that kind of usage.
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.