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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
“We’re 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 it’s not a clean look,
(Williams is) not getting the throws right now. We’re 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.
We’ve 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.
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.