Target Share Report: Week One

Peter Howard

It’s that time of year again, where a nerd on every website tries to convince you that numbers exist and can tell us something about football. As if. Still, let’s take a look at who is getting the targets with one week of sweet, sweet football in the books in 2020.

Why target share?

I’m going to try and not belabor one of the longest-running nerd arguments out there but, essentially, pure volume numbers don’t provide context. They don’t tell you who is likely to get significant targets no matter the game script, for example. Is it better to get 20% of targets on the New York Jets than 10% of targets in Kansas City? Not necessarily. We know some teams are more likely to score more points and wide receivers and running backs deeper on a team’s depth chart can easily outscore players at the top of the depth charts on other teams.

This weekly article will try to give you a good idea of who is getting the most targets on each team, how likely that is to sustain or be sticky, week over week, and how valuable that is. Every week.

Fortunately, target share is more sticky and predictive than raw volume numbers, which, combined with our “best guess” about the upcoming games, tells us more about what to expect from players.

Here’s a graph showing the correlation (connection) between target share and PPR points in week one for wide receivers. (Mainly because pictures make this article look more professional and intelligent.)

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Volume Hogs

Okay so let’s look at the top 12 and make some observations, shall we?

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Players set to bounce back in points: Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Odell Beckham, Diontae Johnson

Players unlikely to maintain their week one points: Jamison Crowder, Adam Thielen

DeAndre Hopkins, WR ARI

So, yeah, turns out Hopkins is good at football and he took his targets with him when he left Houston. Everybody is very surprised except those who have ever seen him play or, possibly, read my article about vacated targets this off-season.

Jamison Crowder, WR NYJ

At the moment, Crowder is the best wide receiver on the depth chart. Now that doesn’t always lead to a 39% target share, but it helps when the player has already shown an ability to play well in the NFL and the biggest competition he has is a tight end who’s so rarely available it’s virtually a meme now, and a rookie many people saw as raw, if talented. (So long as the coach hates Le’Veon Bell, he’s also working at a reduced volume.) I would expect Crowder’s domination of the targets to continue, mostly, in 2020, but the overall volume and fantasy output seems unlikely to be this rewarding on a week-to-week basis.

Amari Cooper, WR DAL

As expected – by anyone who read my articles on vacated targets and how opportunity works in the NFL for the receiving game this off-season – despite now having two very talented players on the depth chart, Cooper was still the clear leader in this offense. Unlike the Jets, Dallas is far more likely to produce well for fantasy on a week-to-week basis so it feels like a solid bet that Cooper’s top 12 finish is in view.

In other news, CeeDee Lamb (who we expected to be good) is, in fact, good, and the team was happy to have him over Michael Gallup (also very good)… almost like teams prefer players they drafted with a high draft pick or something?

One of my favorite things about the 2020 season so far is watching the “rookies will struggle because there was no preseason” take melt in front of our eyes. We had no idea how it would affect anything. While a logical story, it was strange to see many lineups with such certainty behind one take when the opposite – it’d have minimal effect overall – was just as likely. Rookies came at a value this year.

Rookies are still going to “rookie” and Gallup is going to put up numbers in this offense in 2020. That does not mean we can’t see the consensus number one wide receiver in a strong class hit the upper range of outcomes, such as a 15% target share by the end of the season.

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Adam Thielen, WR MIN

You care too much about age in dynasty, admit it! I’m kidding, mostly. But Thielen looked great like he has since he broke out. Everything lined up for him this off-season, the only real question being if the offense would take a significant step back without Stephen Diggs to help out. I think it did, but not enough that Thielen became irrelevant.

Will he sustain a 32% target share? Unlikely, but of those who crossed the 25% line (the average of top 12 wide receivers since 2000), there are few reasons to truly fear starting him week-to-week.

Will Fuller, WR HOU

Fuller’s role was very healthy in week one. Jokes aside, the Houston offense looked like it was struggling (almost like it traded away one of the league’s best players for… nothing). That is a concern for Fuller. But he has proven to be good in the NFL (when healthy) again. He should remain the team’s leading receiver, even though Brandin Cooks can and will have his good games this year.

Randall Cobb no longer exists, from the view of week one, anyway.

While we are here, I’ll mention that there’s no reason to be surprised by Fuller’s 12.9 aDot (still high, but not a pure “burner” level for sure) or his “high volume” role. Despite some residue “stereotyping arguments” he was always more of a volume/touchdown producer than some persisted in believing.

Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry, WRs NE

New England ranked dead last in passing attempts week one as Cam Newton began his campaign to embarrass the league for giving up on him. Passing attempts per week should increase throughout the season, but Harry and Edelman won’t be the only payers getting targets when they do. Even if that is hard to believe looking at their combined (69%…) target share week one. Still, I expect their production to rise from here even as their target share falls back down to earth.

This is the most positive thing we’ve seen from Harry since he was drafted at the end of the first round last year. His volume reignited my need to roster him in dynasty. As long as both these players can maintain anything like this role, there is fantasy output in their future this season.

Darren Waller, TE LV

At this point, anyone who thought Waller’s targets were going to disappear this season is refusing to accept how the position, or targets, work.

But he won’t sustain 29%, will he? Well, top five tight ends average around 22%, so no, he should come down. But he had a 25% targets share (per game) in 2019, and will be productive. He’s a big part of this offense.

That does not mean your favorite wide receiver on the team can’t do good things. Both can be true.

Odell Beckham, WR CLE

Hopefully, Baker Mayfield is better than we have seen so far. However, even if he isn’t, I’m still fairly confident Beckham should bounce back up in fantasy points. Opportunity and talent are all there, I believe.

More targets than you’d expect

This off-season there was an interesting “movement” (I guess that’s the word?) of analysts’ pointing out that some teams (around 12) second wide receivers are more productive than other teams’ number ones.

In that vein, I looked at target share over expected (expected being the average for that position rank on a team’s depth chart).

Where week one is hyper prone to variance (everything will change when the sample doubles to two weeks, in other words) instead of highlighting some interesting “deeper” targets I found the list highlighted a few situations where the team’s best wide receiver, momentarily, was outproduced by their team’s number two (or three.)

While I greatly enjoyed “Corey Davis szn” (and how!), I think it’s safe to say that AJ Brown, Keenan Allen, DJ Moore, and Allen Robinson should soon be back atop their respective depth charts.

That’s not to say I don’t think Anthony Miller, Corey Davis, and Mike Williams won’t be some of those very valuable, high -scoring WR2s in 2020. I’m counting on them doing it. But I have less hope for Robby Anderson. I just think he is vastly outmatched by DJ Moore and expect something of a bounce-back from Curtis Samuel, Anderson could see his role reduce to a far more volatile one throughout the season. That being said, he had a very valuable skill set on a team with an overabundance of players with talent closer to the line of scrimmage, so don’t count him out either.

As such, some of these very proven players could (maybe) be undervalued after week one. It may be worth sending some trade offers this week.

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Anyway, that’s about all I have time for this week, I hope you found some of it useful, interesting, or in some way entertaining.

If you want to see more stats from week one I am uploading all of my season stats into a free google sheet, again, and you can find it here.

peter howard
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