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There is one week left before we look to do a year-in-review conclusion to this series. I went back and forth on what to write about this week because of where we are in the season.
Suggesting a start-sit decision is moot, and future production is a year away.
Ultimately, I’ve decided on doing some background work on the connection between a player’s stats and what we can and can’t know about their future target share in the following season (or year N+1 if you’re a nerd).
I think this will set us up better for drawing more conclusions about what 2023 may bring.
As always, here’s your weekly reminder that I’m collecting the weekly data (again,) and you can find it here.
Let’s get to it.
When Does Target Share Increase?
On a broad scale, second-year players see the largest and only consistent and predictable increase in volume at the wide receiver position.
This isn’t a new observation, but it does come with your friendly reminder that when looking at an average, you are also looking at a lie.
Numbers aren’t magic. There is a range of outcomes and outliers and anomalies aside, and not all good players conform to all or even any reasonable threshold.
For example, a successful player’s target share in year one is most often grouped between 14-18% if we look at the distribution. The vast majority is over 14% at least, so, it’s a decent average range to look at, but 17% isn’t “necessary.”
Similarly, the majority’s targets per route run (TPRR) is between 16% and 21% and the majority is over 16%. There are exceptions, but few enough that it’s worth not chasing them, and reasonable context can be an “excuse” for a low target share or TPRR.
However, ultimately, if a player you like hasn’t already crossed a 17% target share after year two, or a 20% TPRR, the chance they will in the future is small.
Does being on the field increase your chances of targets?
To put it another way, does a player get better at earning targets?
Snaps have been a commonly tracked start for many years now and yet have failed to correlate to extra targets. I’ve seen work by Blair Andrews on Rotoviz that suggests efficiency (Fantasy Points Over Expected – FPOE) creates better hit groups to find those who increase in target share.
More popular now is route data. This is usually sourced from Pro Football Focus.
Per Route Run
TPRR (also targets per route run) may sound like a stat that tracks volume but it’s not. It’s measuring how often a player earned a target on the routes that they ran, not how many.
Route Rate, as a PFF stat, is the percentage of routes a player runs on their pass plays (not their team’s pass plays).
Not all changes in these stats have equal effects.
Fortunately for all of us, someone else looked into the changes in these stat’s effects on target share in year N+1.
Please check out Ronnie Sassoon’s thread below:
Looking at a league average WR, a change of 1 standard deviation in his Route Participation% is much more impactful on his Target Share than an equal change in his Targets per Route Run; a change in route% is worth 1.84x as much as a change in TPRR.
— Ronnie Sassoon (@ronnie_sassoon) September 6, 2022
While a player’s targets are increased in year two, that change is more a function of their presence on the field than their ability to earn more targets while on the field, according to Ronnie.
A player’s Route Rate is more important than their TPRR. A player doesn’t earn targets “better”, they get more chances to be on the field, and a relatively small change in their presence on the field can create a disproportional effect on their target share. I’ve since talked with Ronnie and – as best I can – I agree with their findings, but I have also made some, perhaps parallel, observations I think are relevant.
Unlike target share and TPRR, Route Rate doesn’t have a good average range. Good players commonly have a Route Rate in year one between 93% and 95%. However, the majority isn’t as great and 24% of hits have a Route Rate below the average of 93%.
It’s more important for a rookie to be “around” 17% target share and around 16% TPRR, while Route Rate can be below 93% and target share increase still occur more often.
As Ronnie said, if a player is already “maxed” at routes – i.e running routes on most of their pass plays – they are less likely to see an increase in target share the following year.
To simplify this, (for myself, I don’t know how you’re doing but at this point, I was having trouble staying upright because the abbreviations were making me dizzy), I divided a player’s routes per game by the team’s routes per game, to find the percentage of routes per game. Looking at that number we can find the second-year volume bump again. A smaller, but more important change at the root of target share increases.
In other words, I think a player will run more routes per game on average in year two, but similar (or fewer) routes per pass play… on average.
Wide receivers will see their largest volume jump in their second season.
The primary cause for this is seeing a larger percentage of their team’s routes per game, not earning more targets per route.
TPRR increase because of their extra presence on the field, not an increased ability to earn targets on the field.
Target share increases are mainly, and disproportionately, a result of changes in a player’s time on the field relative to pass plays, not snaps.
An Example: The 2021 Class
On the left (in the orange columns) are their rookie stats and on the right (in the blue columns) is the difference between their rookie and sophomore stats.
Rashod Batemen and Rondale Moore didn’t play eight games this season which I think makes their stats less viable for this comparison, since stats in a season tend to become more useful and consistent over that threshold.
Note that the players who increased the most in Route Rate in 2022 are the two who produced less in PPG this year, Kadarius Toney and Elijah Moore. They were getting more routes per pass play, but they are getting fewer TPRR, by a lot.
Increased Route Rate had an inverse effect on TPRR and consequently on their Target Share.
Another example of this is DeVonta Smith, who was in the “maxed” range for Route Rate in 2021 but still managed to increase his TPRR in 2022 while seeing the more typical decrease in their Route Rate.
Ultimately, if a player “needs” to increase in Route Rate – or my preferred Routes Per Team Route look – to get a fantasy-relevant level target share, the odds are against it.
However, we can keep track of this and expect a change in more than just a player’s second season.
Beyond Year two
Both Gabriel Davis and Chase Claypool “needed” more time on the field – Route per Team Route – to increase their target share in 2021. They didn’t get it – because most players reduce, this makes sense.
However in 2021, Davis did increase in TPRR, but Claypool didn’t.
While Davis didn’t see the target share (or production) many hoped for, this would have made me less “anti” Davis this off-season – and I think that paid off somewhat for those who bought in.
(Although just to toot my own horn for a second, I still predicted his range of outcomes and target share fairly well at 16% – it’s currently 17%.)
Although it’s also worth noting this would also have been positive for KJ Hamler before 2022, which did not work out well. This may apply to Elijah Moore and Kadarius Toney, who both increased in Route Rate and Route per Team Routes, but decreased in TPRR, like Claypool rather than Davis.
But bother Toney and Moore have had a wildly unique ride this year in terms of their team situations, and I’m not yet convinced those comparisons are fair.
Ultimately, these are useful and actionable observations, but it’s clear none of them are perfect and context plays an important role in evaluating them.
To end I want to send you off with another thread, one I re-read regularly. I think it’s very thought-provoking and good.
The subject is broadly about sample sizes and seasonal-to-season trends and (I’m assured by smarter people) is not as useful for considering individual players. But I still think it helps with perspective.
Adam Harstad once tweeted: “Volume is not more important than efficiency. Most of the time, volume is efficiency.”
Volume is not more important than efficiency. Most of the time, volume *is* efficiency.https://t.co/GWx2BLQw71
— Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad) March 6, 2021
Don’t believe a player can be better than he has been, believe that the better players are better. Players getting more volume are often doing it because they are efficient with that volume, and everything may be selection bias (the Harstad Razor).
Volume isn’t free, it goes to the best players. But players can also improve enough to have more positive changes in the future, no matter their career year.
But that’s just my opinion. Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter anytime.
And please consider joining me here next week to try and use these observations to try and make some guesses about what 2023 holds fantasy target share.
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