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Receiving Attention



By Doug Orth | 10/8/20 |

Unless people are willing to shell out a few bucks (sometimes a few hundred bucks) to pay for advanced analytics sites like Pro Football Focus, it can be extremely difficult for most fantasy owners to get a true sense of how receivers are truly faring. Tracking targets is a good start and snap counts help, but they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to getting a jump on the competition in terms of assessing trade value and/or waiver priority.

One of PFF's signature stats is yards per route run, and it is a useful piece of information to determine how efficient a receiver is. However, I find the number of routes run to be as useful - if not more so - for fantasy purposes. Combining that information with the number of targets and tracking the weekly changes can be quite useful in determining whose stock is on the rise and whose stock is on the decline.

Routes run - even more than snaps and certainly more than targets, which can vary wildly every week depending on coverage - can give us a better sense of the players the coaching staff trusts the most and who is gaining more trust as the weeks progress. Routes run is far from a perfect stat, as game script often determines if a full-time player records 25 or 45. Over the course of the season, however, the numbers tend to balance out and give us an accurate idea of who that player is. On the flip side, it also gives us one more "excuse" to keep a player on our roster if he's getting a full allotment of snaps and routes but isn't attracting many targets or coming down with many catches. Production tends to fall in line eventually.

Fantasy owners rarely need help on the top guys such as DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams or Michael Thomas. There's a reason why those players are set'em-and-forget'em players. The focus of this article will be more of the fringe-type receivers - those were are overrating and those that we may need to start paying more attention to as their role continues to grow.

Tgt/RR - The percentage of times a receiver is getting targeted on his routes.

 Routes Run; Weeks 1-4
Player Tm W1 W2 W3 W4 Routes Tgts Rec Catch Rate Tgt/RR
A.J. Green CIN 30 45 41 29 145 32 14 43.8% 22.1%
Adam Thielen MIN 31 28 30 23 112 31 20 64.5% 27.7%
Allen Lazard GB 38 27 32 DNP 97 16 13 81.3% 16.5%
Allen Robinson CHI 36 27 44 41 148 41 25 61.0% 27.7%
Amari Cooper DAL 43 47 53 48 191 49 37 75.5% 25.7%
Andy Isabella ARI DNP 10 15 18 43 10 8 80.0% 23.3%
Anthony Miller CHI 22 17 35 33 107 19 9 47.4% 17.8%
Brandin Cooks HOU 19 41 30 38 128 19 10 52.6% 14.8%
Brandon Aiyuk SF DNP 23 35 48 106 16 9 56.3% 15.1%
Calvin Ridley ATL 50 38 39 29 156 35 21 60.0% 22.4%
CeeDee Lamb DAL 40 41 39 47 167 28 21 75.0% 16.8%
Chase Claypool PIT 7 13 31 b 51 8 6 75.0% 15.7%
Chris Godwin TB 39 DNP 37 DNP 76 13 11 84.6% 17.1%
Christian Kirk ARI 45 30 DNP 26 101 13 6 46.2% 12.9%
Cole Beasley BUF 37 28 24 14 103 22 18 81.8% 21.4%
Cooper Kupp LAR 30 26 32 32 120 27 23 85.2% 22.5%
Corey Davis TEN 39 26 32 b 97 19 15 78.9% 19.6%
Curtis Samuel CAR 29 31 23 22 105 17 14 82.4% 16.2%
D.J. Chark JAC 26 41 DNP 39 106 16 15 93.8% 15.1%
D.J. Moore CAR 37 44 28 32 141 32 18 56.3% 22.7%
DK Metcalf SEA 39 34 46 34 153 26 16 61.5% 17.0%
Damiere Byrd NE 21 45 31 41 138 22 14 63.6% 15.9%
Danny Amendola DET 31 24 19 25 99 21 10 47.6% 21.2%
Darius Slayton NYG 42 42 35 45 164 27 15 55.6% 16.5%
Darnell Mooney CHI 12 21 35 34 102 19 13 68.4% 18.6%
Davante Adams GB 43 21 DNP DNP 64 20 17 85.0% 31.3%
David Moore SEA 22 15 17 13 67 10 9 90.0% 14.9%
DeAndre Hopkins ARI 49 41 36 32 158 46 39 84.8% 29.1%
DeSean Jackson PHI 30 36 19 DNP 85 19 10 52.6% 22.4%
DeVante Parker MIA 12 47 25 41 125 29 24 82.8% 23.2%
Devin Duvernay BAL 4 3 6 10 23 7 5 71.4% 30.4%
Diontae Johnson PIT 34 39 10 b 83 23 14 60.9% 27.7%
Dontrelle Inman WAS 27 28 33 43 131 21 11 52.4% 16.0%
Emmanuel Sanders NO 23 33 34 24 114 22 14 63.6% 19.3%
Gabriel Davis BUF 22 17 30 19 88 9 8 88.9% 10.2%
Golden Tate NYG DNP 32 34 39 105 18 14 77.8% 17.1%
Greg Ward PHI 25 5 46 27 103 26 18 69.2% 25.2%
Henry Ruggs III LV 22 26 DNP DNP 48 8 4 50.0% 16.7%
Hunter Renfrow LV 18 24 27 39 108 21 16 76.2% 19.4%
Isaiah Ford MIA 29 38 14 36 117 24 15 62.5% 20.5%
Isaiah McKenzie BUF 7 3 9 10 29 8 7 87.5% 27.6%
Jalen Guyton LAC 23 26 46 25 120 7 5 71.4% 5.8%
Jalen Reagor PHI 30 37 DNP DNP 67 8 5 62.5% 11.9%
James Washington PIT 25 22 27 b 74 14 10 71.4% 18.9%
Jamison Crowder NYJ 38 DNP DNP 48 86 21 14 66.7% 24.4%
Jarvis Landry CLE 33 19 22 29 103 19 17 89.5% 18.4%
Jerry Jeudy DEN 28 25 36 26 115 27 15 55.6% 23.5%
John Brown BUF 50 35 13 33 131 21 14 66.7% 16.0%
Josh Reynolds LAR 17 16 31 22 86 12 10 83.3% 14.0%
JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT 36 42 34 b 112 19 17 89.5% 17.0%
Julian Edelman NE 19 39 31 33 122 27 18 66.7% 22.1%
Julio Jones ATL 47 36 DNP 11 94 20 15 75.0% 21.3%
Justin Jefferson MIN 26 19 27 22 94 20 16 80.0% 21.3%
Justin Watson TB 7 31 DNP 39 77 11 7 63.6% 14.3%
Keelan Cole JAC 22 37 40 37 136 21 19 90.5% 15.4%
Keenan Allen LAC 31 36 51 27 145 45 32 71.1% 31.0%
Kendrick Bourne SF 36 26 36 36 134 22 13 59.1% 16.4%
Kenny Golladay DET DNP DNP 28 31 59 15 10 66.7% 25.4%
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 41 34 33 32 140 18 14 77.8% 12.9%
Laviska Shenault JAC 18 27 31 22 98 20 16 80.0% 20.4%
Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB 29 24 31 34 118 25 12 48.0% 21.2%
Marquise Brown BAL 24 28 31 21 104 26 16 61.5% 25.0%
Marvin Jones DET 47 38 34 33 152 19 12 63.2% 12.5%
Mecole Hardman KC 11 35 21 18 85 14 11 78.6% 16.5%
Michael Gallup DAL 43 45 56 49 193 20 13 65.0% 10.4%
Michael Pittman Jr. IND 24 26 15 DNP 65 11 9 81.8% 16.9%
Michael Thomas NO 31 DNP DNP DNP 31 5 3 60.0% 16.1%
Mike Evans TB 39 30 40 39 148 26 17 65.4% 17.6%
Mike Williams LAC 30 34 23 DNP 87 13 7 53.8% 14.9%
Miles Boykin BAL 26 25 31 15 97 14 10 71.4% 14.4%
Nelson Agholor LV 7 10 33 46 96 9 8 88.9% 9.4%
N'Keal Harry NE 19 44 21 30 114 27 18 66.7% 23.7%
Odell Beckham Jr. CLE 33 21 24 33 111 30 16 53.3% 27.0%
Olamide Zaccheaus ATL DNP 6 33 33 72 16 13 81.3% 22.2%
Preston Williams MIA 33 45 21 31 130 15 6 40.0% 11.5%
Randall Cobb HOU 34 33 25 33 125 18 13 72.2% 14.4%
Robby Anderson CAR 35 38 28 31 132 34 28 82.4% 25.8%
Robert Woods LAR 29 28 33 33 123 22 19 86.4% 17.9%
Russell Gage ATL 46 33 8 33 120 26 19 73.1% 21.7%
Sammy Watkins KC 28 31 42 30 131 26 19 73.1% 19.8%
Scotty Miller TB 32 26 21 32 111 20 15 75.0% 18.0%
Stefon Diggs BUF 52 29 36 33 150 35 26 74.3% 23.3%
T.Y. Hilton IND 40 24 15 28 107 22 13 59.1% 20.6%
Tee Higgins CIN DNP 42 43 29 114 22 12 54.5% 19.3%
Terry McLaurin WAS 36 36 40 45 157 37 26 70.3% 23.6%
Tim Patrick DEN 28 29 41 25 123 21 16 76.2% 17.1%
Tre'Quan Smith NO 25 34 38 25 122 17 14 82.4% 13.9%
Tyler Boyd CIN 39 61 42 31 173 33 28 84.8% 19.1%
Tyler Lockett SEA 38 34 48 36 156 33 26 78.8% 21.2%
Tyreek Hill KC 30 49 40 35 154 29 19 65.5% 18.8%
Van Jefferson LAR 17 14 5 2 38 9 5 55.6% 23.7%
Will Fuller HOU 32 DNP 32 33 97 23 18 78.3% 23.7%
Willie Snead BAL 20 20 30 14 84 10 10 100.0% 11.9%
Zach Pascal IND 31 25 24 27 107 18 10 55.6% 16.8%

Please note "ascending" does not mean I am recommending the player and/or believe he is due to break out. It means there is reason to buy into what the player is "selling." Likewise, "descending" does not mean the player is worthy of being dropped, but rather there is reason for concern. Some will be rather obvious, so I apologize in advance.

Ascending

Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers

Aiyuk's early emergence wasn't hard to see coming once he got over his hamstring injury and was ready in Week 2. George Kittle was lost to a knee sprain in the opener and Deebo Samuel had to go on IR due to a setback in his foot right before the start of the season, leaving Kendrick Bourne as the primary option at receiver and Jordan Reed as the preferred target in the passing game among receivers and tight ends. As we witnessed Sunday night, Kittle is most definitely back and Samuel led San Francisco receivers with 35 receiving yards despite running only 16 routes and logging only 25 of a possible 73 snaps. The question is how much of a piece of the pie can Aiyuk expect to grab moving forward with Kittle and Samuel healthy? HC Kyle Shanahan has already shown he'll scheme the rookie touches, but those same touches look a lot like the same ones Samuel was getting last year. So will each game be a feeling-out process for Shanahan in which he tries to figure out which receiver is "hot" that day? It's a possibility, but the more likely scenario is that Aiyuk lowers Samuel's floor a bit but doesn't get enough consistently to be a reliable starter in fantasy. San Francisco will not have 48 routes for its receivers to run as it did in Week 4 very often.

Chase Claypool, Steelers

Like Aiyuk, Claypool isn't going to be on the waiver wire in most competitive leagues. Unlike Aiyuk, I think his star will only continue to grow. As I suggested several times throughout the summer, I wondered if Pittsburgh saw shades of Martavis Bryant in the Notre Dame product. Through three games, that is what appears to be happening. The targets (two in Week 1, three in Week 2 and four in Week 3) don't tell the story in the same way the routes run do (7, 13, 31), although the dramatic increase in Week 3 probably had more to do with Diontae Johnson's concussion than the level of separation he has created from James Washington. Be that as it may, Johnson's early exit doesn't explain why Claypool ran more routes (31-27). It's unlikely Claypool takes over the third receiver role entirely in 2020 because Washington hasn't done anything to lose it, but the rookie is likely here to stay. Claypool will probably be too hit-or-miss to be a consistent starter in fantasy in 2020, but he will bring week-winning potential to a lineup in just about every matchup. And if JuJu Smith-Schuster or Johnson miss significant time, look out.

Damiere Byrd, Patriots

Quick, name the New England player who leads all non-linemen in snaps (257) and routes run (138) AND has as many targets (22) as T.Y. Hilton and Emmanuel Sanders? That's right, it's the former Panther and Cardinal who entered this season with 44 career catches in four seasons. He's achieved those totals despite seeing limited playing time and not attracting a target in Week 1. N'Keal Harry isn't doing much despite OC Josh McDaniels' attempts to get him touches, while Julian Edelman's five drops are the most in the league (per PFF). While Edelman isn't going anywhere, one gets the sense Harry may already be on borrowed time. And let's face it: the only other receiver on the roster who has flashed at any point recently is Jakobi Meyers. Since his nondescript Week 1 showing, Byrd has been targeted nine, three and 10 times. (For those of you not keeping track at home, that's 19 targets in New England losses and three in Patriots' wins.)

Seeing as how New England figures to be a run-heavy team once Cam Newton is ready to return and the defense remains formidable, the game-script note to end the last paragraph shouldn't be swept under the rug. Let's be clear: Byrd has almost no shot at emerging as a consistent fantasy WR3 because there won't be enough volume after Edelman for it to happen. However, he has three years of familiarity with Newton in Carolina and was the only receiver that seems to be getting open consistently. New England will play in negative game script more often than it has probably at any point in the Bill Belichick era in 2020, and the early returns suggest that Byrd may pay off as a situational starter in fantasy if owners are successful in picking when those situations may arise for the Patriots.

Greg Ward, Eagles

Ward figures to be useful for only as long as rookie Jalen Reagor remains sidelined, which could be at least another month. He may fade into fantasy irrelevancy earlier than that if Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson can stay healthy, but there within lies the kicker: what are the odds both 30-year-olds are back for good? Reagor is adept at playing inside or outside, so if one of the two veterans go down again after Reagor returns, Ward could get locked into full-time duty in the slot. With Dallas Goedert also out indefinitely, that means Ward could be a staple of this offense for a while. I'd only want to start him in fantasy as a bye-week replacement in most traditional leagues, but let's also not discount the possibility that the former college quarterback still has plenty of room for growth in his game, as he showed in his solid Week 3 performance (8-72-1). People don't usually like to hear about pace projections after four games, but Ward is on track for over 100 targets in 2020 and has seven targets in three of four outings so far. Regardless of the player and what people think of his upside (his average depth of target of 5.5 yards and yards after catch per reception average of 3.9 suggests there isn't a lot of upside), any player on a 100-target and 70-catch pace needs to be rostered in just about every league.

Tim Patrick, Broncos

Patrick's routes run haven't changed all that much outside of his spiked Week 3 usage when the Broncos were forced to air it out against the Buccaneers, but that's notable in and of itself. For example, Courtland Sutton played in Week 2. We should have seen a dip in his routes or snaps in that game, but we didn't. Patrick notably leads the Broncos with 123 routes run and 206 snaps, so last week's 6-113-1 line was one that we could have seen coming against a terrible Jets' team, although most fantasy owners had no idea what to expect from Brett Rypien in his NFL debut. It's unlikely we're going to see another game like that from him anytime soon either with the Patriots, Dolphins and Chiefs next up on the schedule, but the exciting thing about Patrick is that he is the one big receiver (6-4, 212) left standing on the roster. Better yet, he's a willing and very able blocker on a team that employs Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. In other words, his role is secure. Yes, Noah Fant and Jerry Jeudy will demand more targets when everyone is healthy and deservedly so, but Patrick has been a steady contributor throughout his career just about every time he's been given a chance and stayed healthy.

Others on the upswing: Darnell Mooney, Bears; Devin Duvernay, Ravens; Gabriel Davis, Bills

Descending

A.J. Green, Bengals

It's a shame Green isn't a four-letter word because that's probably what most of his fantasy owners have been thinking about having him on their team throughout the first quarter of the season. The tape backs up what his detractors are saying about "losing a step" and "not looking like his old self." His routes declined for the first time this season in Week 4, but more telling is the fact he has been targeted less often on his routes in each game (30 percent in the opener to 28.9 to 14.6 to 13.8 in Week 4). Unsurprisingly, Tee Higgins has been targeted more often in each of his games since a target-less Week 1 (14.3 in Week 2 to 20.9 to 24.1 in Week 4). So that's it, Green is done and the movie is over right? Not necessarily.

The Bengals are under no obligation to play Green if they don't want to do so. Say what you will about the team historically, but it seems unlikely that management would have slapped him with the franchise tag (worth nearly $18 million) this offseason only for nostalgic reasons. Everything the team is doing now is being done with Joe Burrow in mind, so Green wouldn't be out there if it wasn't in the quarterback's best interests. While we may never see vintage Green again (at least for very long), I think there is something at work that no one seems to be mentioning: Green is running routes and playing the game passively - almost as if he hasn't regained trust in his body yet. He said as much to the broadcast crew before the Week 4 win and it makes sense given his recent injury history. Obviously, there comes a point where he has to be able to flip the switch and produce or else, but I'm not there yet and believe he is still a buy-low (I mean quite low).

Anthony Miller, Bears

You'd never know it based on the information above, but Miller is very much in danger of becoming irrelevant in fantasy. Darnell Mooney has run one more route than Miller over the last two weeks and only five fewer for the season after arriving as a fifth-round draft pick out of Tulane this spring. For some reason that maybe only HC Matt Nagy knows, he prefers speed receivers in the Taylor Gabriel mold over quicker and more explosive athletes like Miller running opposite Allen Robinson. Miller's fantasy owners from last season likely remember it took a season-ending injury to Gabriel (and Miller to stay healthy) for Miller to become a solid fantasy WR3. A whopping 97.2 percent of Miller's 107 snaps when running a receiving route this season has come out of the slot, so it's safe to say he isn't on the field very often when Chicago is using only two receivers. It's a good sign that 80 of the Bears' 137 personnel (one RB, one TE, three WRs) plays have come in the last two weeks, but Miller's five-target efforts both times in games where Chicago was trailing for most of the time do not bode well for him going forward.

Marvin Jones, Lions

It's been a brutal start for fantasy owners invested in Jones, who has spent the better part of the last two years being a discount version of teammate Kenny Golladay. It was probably too much to ask of Jones to serve as the de facto WR1 while Golladay was out with his hamstring injury in difficult matchups against Chicago and Green Bay, but a return to his familiar complementary role in Weeks 3 and 4 in better matchups versus Arizona and New Orleans (without its top two corners) led to even worse results. Through two games with the whole gang together, the emergence of T.J. Hockenson as a consistent weapon appears to have had little impact on Golladay but a huge one on Jones. His routes run since Golladay's return are about where they should be (34 and 33), but he's seen a combined five targets. At no point during his first four seasons with the Lions has Jones ever been less involved.

I'm slightly more confident in A.J. Green turning things around than I am Jones, although I think it's too early to drop the latter. First and foremost, Jones has been a consistent producer with spiked-week potential for most of his pro career. Perhaps more importantly, Jacksonville and Atlanta await Detroit immediately after the Lions' Week 5 bye and Minnesota is on deck in Week 9. If Jones can't deliver against the Jaguars or Falcons, then it might be time to cut bait.

Preston Williams, Dolphins

Few players got hyped up more toward the end of the summer than Williams, but it has been a grind for his fantasy owners so far. His 12 targets and 78 routes run over the first two weeks were promising even if the production didn't meet expectations, but five combined targets and 52 total routes run in Weeks 3 and 4 suggest something is amiss. OC Chan Gailey seemed to dodge the question earlier this week as to why Williams hasn't been more involved:

Were trying to use all of our weapons. The good thing is we think we have several weapons. The bad thing is there is only one football. If its not a clean look, (Williams is) not getting the throws right now. Were hoping to continue to work with him and put him in positions to get some catches. We know he can be a weapon, we know he should be a weapon. Weve got to continue to work with him on what suits him best and get him in a position to be successful. We need him to the more weapons we have on the field the better off we are as far as creating problems for the defense."

The problem so far is that it only seems Ryan Fitzpatrick looks for Williams near the end zone where his 6-4 frame typically gives him an advantage over his defender. DeVante Parker hasn't been close to 100 percent physically all season and continues to see a steady stream of targets. Gailey attributed more defensive attention to Mike Gesicki as the reason as to why Gesicki hasn't done much the last two games following his 8-130-1 eruption in Week 2. Reading between the lines, Gailey must believe Williams isn't fully recovered yet from last year's ACL tear and/or isn't creating the separation he thinks his second-year wideout should. For the first time this season, Isaiah Ford saw more snaps than Williams (45-43) and ran more routes (36-31).

Of all the players on this half of the list, I am the least concerned about Williams over the remainder of the season. That doesn't mean fantasy owners don't have a right to be concerned. Williams is sporting a catch rate of 40 percent - easily the worst mark in the table above. Ford has been targeted on 20.5 percent of his routes versus Williams' 11.5. (For what it's worth, Parker is at 23.2.) It may be a lot to ask for him to turn things around in Week 5 against the 49ers, but fantasy owners need to see some tangible signs of improvement.

Others on the upswing: T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Golden Tate, Giants; James Washington, Steelers; Van Jefferson, Rams; Willie Snead, Ravens

 


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.