Hello and welcome to my new weekly article about target share for the 2018 season. Football is back, and it is glorious.
Target share is a wonderful statistic for many reasons. It holds information about a player’s opportunity and is more consistent both on a year-to-year and week-to-week basis than targets, and just about everything else. As we know, targets equal points in fantasy football.
In other words, target share can be relied upon more than most statistics. If a player has a high target share, he is getting a lot of opportunity. But he is also probably going to get that high opportunity again – which is even better.
However, looking into it for this column, it strikes me how much information is behind target share, hidden like fossils and gems that we can benefit from as well.
So, as well as breaking down the changes and surprises in target share, I want to mention some of those hidden gems. They may give us an edge in week-to-week decisions, as well as long-term ramifications for our dynasty teams.
Enough preamble. Let’s get to it.
Who is getting targets?
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Above is a table showing the top 24 players in target share for week one of the NFL season. I’ve also included a lot of data from airyards.com showing more about their opportunity and efficiency on that opportunity.
RACR (Receiver Air yards Conversation Ratio) is an efficiency stat. The higher it is, the more efficiently a player converted their air yards (distance between them and the quarterback at the point of catch). If it is highlighted in yellow it stands out as low, and in blue it stands out as high. If a player has a high efficiency, it means they could suffer “regression” because they outproduced their opportunity by being very efficient.
Their PPR points (the last column on the left) is also a great visualization for when a player has under or over-performed their target share.
Note: a player can have a more naturally high efficiency, and running backs tend to have higher efficiency because of the nature of their targets anyway so it’s hard to judge them on the same scale.
– Three running backs are in the top 24 in target share: Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Jalen Richard. 2017 was unusual for how many running backs led their team in target share (three) and receiving work. The start of 2018 looks very much the same though some of the names seem a little more unexpected.
– Two tight ends entered the top 24 in target share in week one: Zach Ertz and Jared Cook. That’s a typical number, though maybe not the names you were expecting. Comparing percentage of targets from team to team can be tricky, but this is certainly a positive sign for both, as is George Kittle coming in third for the position at 26th overall.
– Robert Woods underperformed in week one and could bounce back in week two
– Kelvin Benjamin was by far the least productive player in the top 24 and most inefficient with his volume as the Buffalo offense struggled to find… any offense. I don’t expect much to change in this regard.
– Quincy Enunwa is not who I would have expected to lead the league in target share. His volume should drop but still be high enough to provide plenty of fantasy relevant weeks in 2018.
What can we believe?
Where we don’t have any more weeks to compare it to, opportunity in week one is tricky to trust beyond long-established proven players. Game script and injuries – as well as variance – will end up being the reason for a lot of what we are looking at right now.
However, I think there are some take aways we can start to run with already. Let’s take a closer look.
WOPR is another Airyards.com metric that takes target share and weights it against air yards (how far the ball was thrown). I’ve also calculated “target number” – per team, for each player, you can see where these players fell on the depth chart in terms of target priority for their team.
Travis Kelce was getting a lot of valuable opportunity in week one. His lack of production no doubt concerned some but the fact he has the fourth highest WOPR in the league as well as the fourth highest target share suggests he will still get plenty of volume as the season rolls on.
Trey Burton, an off-season darling, also disappointed week one. Despite not being a fan of the move, I think his week one opportunity looks very healthy. If you liked him before week one, I’d keep liking him in week two. I’d say the same for Ricky Seals-Jones.
Even with great opportunity, they outperformed expected fantasy points. We should expect them to regress towards their personal means. They should still be good going forward, but they cannot outperform their targets this much every week. Since they all already have top-24 level volume, it’s hard to see how they could find any way to prevent some slight regression this season overall compared to week one.
They are still all firm startable players, to be clear. Regression isn’t a bad word that spells doom, nor something that can be easily expected to hit at any particular time.
When looking at running back receiving stats, remember they are a little different. Potential “outperformance” for running backs has to be taken into account along with their level of rushing work. Joe Mixon looks like he outperformed his opportunity in the receiving game based on WOPR and PPR points, but since a lot of those came from rushing, not WOPR and receiving, it’s deceptive.
The most striking thing to me here is that Jalen Richard, Chris Thompson, and James White all had top-level running back opportunity in the receiving game. All three should be expected to see continued work moving forward.
Since week one is basically little more than a baseline where we can start to compare the changes in usage moving forward, I thought I’d also take a closer look at one of the more tricky situations we wondered about this off-season.
Plenty of questions surrounded the usage of this team receiving weapons even before Marqise Lee was injured and out for the year. So how did week one break down?
T.J Yeldon actually led the team in target share, while Corey Grant was noticeably absent. As for the wide receivers, it’s… tricky.
Donte Moncrief had the most air yard weighted opportunity (more distance in his target share) but also underperformed his opportunity in terms of fantasy points more than the others.
Dede Westbrook was the leader in target share proper but also played the fewest snaps of any wide receiver. (Snap information from 4for4.com).
Based on Keelan Cole‘s PPR points per target (0.4) compared to Dede Westbrook’s (0.33), despite the large difference in snap percentage, I’d say that Cole is actually the better bet for future production at the wide receiver position. Moncrief just has to do better before we can expect much more.
All of the top five target options were efficient at converting their targets into receiving yards except Moncrief. No one the team finished inside the top 40 in terms of target share.
But in the end… it’s a mess.
That’s’ all for now
I’ll continue to track how teams are using their players through the season. Don’t get too stuck on week one, because things are about to get shaken up all over again in week two.
At that time, we can start to look for patterns in usage and opportunity.
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