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On Target

It’s no secret that if you wish to be competitive in your league, you can’t ignore the receiver position as a critical point toward your ultimate success.

Whether in your initial draft (we all know how easy it is to focus on young running backs) or following, identifying, acquiring and maintaining a stable of WR1s, both current and future, is one of your goals.  Going one step further, especially in PPR leagues, a deep selection of productive receivers can elicit healthy trade value to those who didn’t prepare as well.

When surveying the wide receivers, the first place I look isn’t at fantasy points or touchdowns.  Instead, I start at targets and work my way backwards.  There is no better indication about a receiver’s role in the offense than through his target numbers.  While the number of targets don’t guarantee fantasy production in every case, targets and fantasy points per game (fppg) often do go hand in hand.  Find those receivers who can translate those targets into a high percentage of receptions and you likely have also found your highest scoring group.  Find those with a sub-par reception percentage and you potentially have a nice sleeper should the receiver/quarterback gain experience or should other factors translate into a higher percentage of receptions.

In most cases, few surprises filter to the top, while the big names still are just where you would expect them to be.  However, as  you continue to move down the list, surprising names often can be found.

The Following is a list of the top thirty targeted receivers of 2010, followed by the number of targets, receptions and reception percentage through week sixteen of last year (week seventeen not taken into account due to its inaccurate competitive nature):

The Top Ten

1.   Roddy White – 171 targets/109 catches/63.7% reception percentage
2.   Reggie Wayne – 166/102/61.4%
3.   Larry Fitzgerald – 156/79/50.6%
4.   Brandon Lloyd – 139/72/51.8%
5.   Terrell Owens – 139/72/51.8%
6.   Andre Johnson – 138/86/62.3%
7.   Calvin Johnson – 137/77/56.2%
8.   Santana Moss – 133/84/63.2%
9.   Brandon Marshall – 132/81/61.4%
10. Marques Colston – 131/84/64.1%

The Second Ten

11. Hakeem Nicks – 128/79/61.8%
12. Chad Ochocinco – 125/67/53.6%
13. Dwayne Bowe – 123/67/54.5%
14. Wes Welker – 123/86/69.9%
15. Mike Williams (TB) – 122/61/50%
16. Danny Amendola – 119/83/69.7%
17. Davone Bess – 117/77/65.8%
18. Steve Johnson – 117/77/65.8%
19. Miles Austin – 115/67/58.3%
20. Greg Jennings – 114/72/63.2%

The Final Ten:

21. Jeremy Maclin – 114/70/61.4%
22. Jabar Gaffney – 109/64/58.7%
23. Anquan Boldin – 106/62/58.5%
24. Pierre Garcon – 106/60/56.6%
25. Eddie Royal – 104/59/56.7%
26. Mike Williams (SEA) – 102/62/60.8%
27. Braylon Edwards – 99/52/52.5%
28. Steve Smith (CAR) – 99/46/46.5%
29. Derek Mason – 97/58/59.8%
30. Mike Thomas – 96/65/67.7%

After surveying these numbers, a few things stand out.

The top ten receivers are a bit of a mixed bag, at least when looking at completion percentage.  Many believe that Roddy White cannot reproduce his 2010 campaign and looking at his targets and rate of completion, it’s hard to argue that he would or could, especially with the arrival of Julio Jones.

Looking further, many of the usual suspects are listed, but #3 through #5 sport a significantly less completion rate.  Not surprisingly, those with less than ideal quarterback situations lag the group by as much as ten percent.  For Larry Fitzgerald in particular, this likely represents his floor and any better play at quarterback could spike his numbers in excess of 10%.

We also know that T.O. is gone from Cincinnati and will fall out of this grouping (never say never) and we believe that Brandon Lloyd will not repeat last year’s success.  To Lloyd’s credit however, note that he put together his monster 2010 campaign with a low completion percentage.  Could we be wrong and could Lloyd have ten percent upside with more stable quarterback play?  We still think not, but the numbers foretell the possibility if his targets remain the same.

Looking into the second grouping, we see an interesting range and some surprising names.  Danny Amendola (#16) and Davone Bess (#17), at least using targets as a metric, are being undervalued.  That said, their 69.7% and 65.8% completion percentage, respectively, suggest that their numbers have likely peaked unless more targets come their way – an unlikely scenario in both cases.

Amendola is clearly the Rams WR1 and may be able to reproduce these numbers with a more experienced Sam Bradford under center.  As for Bess, while number two behind Brandon Marshall and very much in a Wes Welker role, he’s likely to produce again at this level.  For my money, however, Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams looks like the player from this group who could be in for a leap into the top ten overall.  At a 50% completion percentage and in his second year with rising quarterback Josh Freeman, Williams makes an ideal target this off-season, no pun intended.

Beyond Mike Williams, Dwayne Bowe and Miles Austin catch my eye.  Some are forecasting a decline in numbers for Bowe, but there appears to be upside given his completion percentage of 54.5%.  Touchdowns aside, I’m looking for increased targets and a five to ten point increase in reception percentage for Bowe in 2011, with TDs remaining strong.  The loss of Tony Romo affected Austin without a doubt.  Many believe that the arrival of one Dez Bryant was to blame for Austin’s less than stellar 2010, but I’m forecasting 15-20 additional targets for Austin along with a 5% increase in completion percentage, Romo still looks for Austin first.

Looking at our third grouping, a couple of things stand out there as well.  Completion percentage is relatively stable, Braylon Edwards and Steve Smith being the exceptions.  For Edwards, too much is up in the air to even hazard a guess as to whether he’s likely to see an increase, or decrease, in his 2011 production.  For Steve Smith, however, his ridiculously low 46.5% completion rate is quite likely his floor.  Whether Smith leaves Carolina or not, I doubt we will see that rate again and Smith is being undervalued across the board.  In the right situation, Smith could easily see a 20% increase in targets, raising his production nicely.  Look for Smith to depart to a contender shortly after the new CBA is signed.  He makes a nice fantasy addition now.

For this exercise, you can go as deep as you like (I usually go to 60).  Many times, finding departing WR1s and locating their heir apparent by using this target exercise can produce great results.  Keep your eye on low completion percentage as it relates to less-than-ideal quarterback situations.  If the quarterback or receiver is young, experience will likely pay off in subsequent years and completion percentage will rise.  Nothing is more important than the pure number of targets because a rising tide lifts all boats and, in this exercise, targets indicates trust and role – both factors that dictate ultimate production.

Jeff Haverlack
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Hot nikkels
11 years ago

Don’t forget that some players missed time due to injury so if you’re going to look at targets take that into account as well.

For example: Brandon Marshall missed 2 games, but if you average his targets by the games he did play then his target number is 150 +/- a couple. That puts him right behind Fitz.

There are others as well such as Andre and Nicks. Nicks leads the 2nd tier listed, but missed games. He would’ve been much higher if he had stayed healthy.

Nice read! I do like to look at the targets as well since that’s what is needed for a WR to get his.

MT
11 years ago

so how will this years top 10 shake out?

sixshooter
11 years ago

I agree that targets are a must when it comes to analyzing receivers but at the same time, I am not so sure they can be relied on as much with finding true sleepers.

I look at some of the sleepers that I, or others, have found in the late rounds in a re-draft league or the waiver wire in any league and I find that the one’s who stand out really didn’t get that many targets the year before.

I am talking about guys like Sidney Rice a couple years ago or Brandon Lloyd last year.

Sidney Rice was a guy that I actually drafted in a couple leagues in 2009 simply because he made the most of the few opportunities he had the previous year and finshed that season with momentum! I had a gut feeling about him! Rice was targeted 31 times mostly late in the 2008 season as compared to 121 in 2009. No way I would have looked at Rice’s 31 targets but I am really not sure what Rice did that gave me that gut feeling but it definitely paid off.

Brandon Lloyd is a receiver that I totally whiffed on last year. I have to admit that I didn’t really even expect him to make the team. He had 18 targets in 2009 only to finish with a whopping 153 targets last year!

Again, I think if you are trying to sort out ranking the proven receivers, then targets most certainly come into play. But if you are looking for that true sleeper, then targets can almost steer you in the wrong direction.

Then again…..I guess I really don’t consider a guy like Davone Bess as much of a sleeper as he has always seemed to get his share of targets and has steadily improved his game from his rookie debut so I am not sure many would be surprised by his production. Same could be said about Amendola and his short career. I have heard many discussing both of those guys extensively before and during last season and it’s not like either one of these guys are sitting on the waiver wire in a Dynasty League!

Bills Fan
11 years ago

Good article, I am a long time believer in using targets and reception % as the prime statistics for evaluation of potential. (in context of course..)

I also agree emphatically with Sixshooter regarding sleepers and breakout players. If the “Targets” or “prior stats” support a sleeper/breakout player, then by definition they cannot be a breakout or sleeper, they are simply doing what is projected in their maturation or situation.

For myself, I have always been one to look for genuine Talent and potential Opportunity again “in context” as the real method for picking sleepers. And this is something that for WRs requires ignoring almost all statistics entirely other than % of completions (put bluntly, can they catch the ball?). If a team has a true shortage at WR talent and there is someone with a good catch % historically (college included) and who has shown something special in ability even in the shortest of stints,.. then there is breakout potential.

There are plenty of WRs who dont breakout as (or when) expected.. But actually watching them play has been more effective for me, and I always had at least 1 of the top 3-5 true breakout WR on my team every year. Not boasting, just something I shoot for in late rounds. If you watch the players, and understand the position you will see what coaches see. For instance last year Jacoby Ford, Mike Williams, Steve Johnson were all rostered at the beginning of the year for me. They all had very clear cut situations.. Great hands, and effort and physical talent, on teams without 2 real WRs present. The year before that Rice was drafted as a reach for the same reasons. But they were gambles at the time but based on talent without stats to back them up.

This year is a bit tougher without having any idea who will actually be on what team but there are definitely teams primed for WR breakouts.. Jacoby Ford “could” simply because OAK still doesnt have any other real WR other than TE Miller who if gone, leaves Ford as the only healthy WR who can catch. (I’m sorry OAK fans, if you watch the actual games, you know that Louis Murphy and DHB are very poor WRs. They get targets yes, but they drop easy passes consistently and run lousy routes.. they are bad WRs from a WRs perspective. Coaches aren’t stupid (owners might be) you throw to the guy who can catch. If Schilens is healthy, he’s the #1.. if not, and Miller is gone, Ford is the only set of hands on the team..

Jerome Simpson who others mentioned is another viable breakout, esp if Ocho is gone. BUT, he is on everyone’s watch list. I like the Marcus Easely pick if anything happens to Evans or Johnson he’s got skills and situation.

The other “situations” to be watched for Breakout WRs are clearly CLE (Greg Little is someone I will be watching not so much because of his “rookie” status, but because of his lack of quality competition.. MoMo and company have not impressed me as good WRs,.. I imagine coaches see the same things both offensively and defensively)

CAR is another deadzone if Steve Smith leaves, and still a great opportunity even if he stays for someone to step up..

TEN,. If Britt gets suspended and continues not to care… uh.. will Nate Washington become elite and carry the receiving core alone? or will there be a breakout on the roster for the season ?? Or will CJ2k have 3000 yards and 30tds, and lead the team in receptions? That is, if there is a viable QB.(watching FA closely here as any WR with good hands and route running brought over has potential to breakout)

WAS ???? quick, if Santana Moss leaves, who leads the team in receptions? Chris Cooley? I want to see what happens but Hankerson even as a rookie (or any quality vet that comes over in FA)is looking to have big potential if Moss leaves, and again, even if he doesn’t.. (but only if WAS doesn’t finish dead last in passing)

SF and Jax have similar opportunities for WRs if there are problems with their #1s, Crabtree and Thomas respectively.. so those are the secondary pools for a talent watch.

Again, these aren’t the guaranteed money shots.. but this is where I’m looking for WR breakouts/sleepers because that is where they “should” come from, with things as they stand. But as we know anything can change in the NFL.

(and just to be clear a breakout for me is someone not drafted/rostered in most shallow leagues who becomes a weekly starter in a 3WR or less lineup and someone another team would trade for)

Cyrus
11 years ago

The only thing from the analysis that surprised me was the mention of Amendola as the WR1. I am sorry, but he is a solid WR2, but the WR1 will be either Avery, Clayton or Danario, depending on who plays the best. Bradford loved Clayton until he got hurt, so I think it might be him, but I am hoping for Danario.

To make the list more thorough, I would reiterate what people above me have said:
1- Have a separate list with rankings done by targets/game. I never sort fantasy stats by total, always by average. There might be some guys (like Clayton) who missed a lot of games but will come back strong.
2- Have a third list with targets/game for the last 5-6 weeks. I don’t know if anything will come of this, but as other comments mentioned, Sidney Rice showed up late in the season and carried the momentum through the next year. There might be some solid sleepers who appeared late who aren’t on the radar.

This is a great list to see who regresses to the mean (those with high targets/completion percentages are overvalued, arguably, and those with lower targets than average or low completion percentages are undervalued.) but it doesn’t tell us who are sleepers.

I think all three rankings would be worthwhile to show something different. This one to show elite receivers who will improve or regress, second list to show who is undervalued due to injury, and third list to see who appeared at the end of the year and qualify as sleepers. (These would have to be compared to the other two lists to see who is new)

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