Opportunity is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle when trying to predict an individual player’s Fantasy Football value every season. Nothing says opportunity like wide receiver targets. In this article, we are going to look at a few players who could see some regression in their target totals. Team target percentages were found thanks to the FantasyPros.com “Targets by Team” tool.
Los Angeles Rams
Brandin Cooks is an interesting case when looking at what he has done in his young career. He has gone over 1,000 yards each of the last three seasons while catching passes from both Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Not a bad QB duo. Cooks is also one of the most lethal deep threats in the league, having logged a reception of 50 yards or greater in each of the four seasons he has been in the NFL. So, why the potential downturn in production this season?
Despite being a proven asset to every team he has played for, Cooks is now being shipped off to the third team in his short career, the Los Angeles Rams. While the Rams made great strides as an offense last season in their first year under head coach, Sean McVay, Jared Goff is still a far cry from the Brady’s and Brees’s of the league.
When looking at the target totals amongst Rams offensive players last season, Cooper Kupp led the team with 94 targets (5.9 per game). After Kupp, you have Todd Gurley with 87 targets (5.8 per game), Robert Woods with 85 targets (6.5 per game) and Sammy Watkins with only 70 targets (4.4 per game).
Over the last three seasons, Cooks has achieved his numbers by averaging 120 targets per season, coming out to 7.5 targets per game. It’s easy to connect the dots and see that number just wouldn’t have fit into the Rams offense last year. The offenses Cooks has thrived within his career have been very pass-heavy offenses. Last year, Tom Brady completed 385 passes compared to Jared Goff’s 297, a difference of 88 completions.
The Rams offense isn’t expected to change much from last year. If you get a healthy, full season out of Robert Woods and continue to see Kupp doing damage in the slot as a safety valve for Goff, that leaves Cooks to fill the Sammy Watkins role from last year. While Watkins did manage to find the end zone 8 times last year, his 39 receptions and 593 yards left a lot to be desired on a weekly basis.
I fully expect Cooks to outperform what Watkins managed last year. Watkins was a late addition to the team, and it just didn’t ever seem like he was a right fit there. But, with the expected lower volume of targets up for grabs on this offense compared to what Cooks has seen in the past, he could be especially more volatile than usual this year.
The Browns are all the rage as they head into the season loaded with a ton of shiny new toys. One of which is former Miami Dolphins target hog, Jarvis Landry. In PPR leagues, Landry has been a beast with over 100 receptions in two of the last three seasons.
The Dolphins targeted wide receivers a league-high 398 times last year. Landry was a key beneficiary of that with 161 targets last season and led the league with 112 receptions. Over the last three seasons, Landry has averaged 152 targets per year. So let’s focus on 152 targets as his goal, since that is the average number of targets that has helped him maintain an average ranking of WR9 in PPR leagues over the last three seasons.
There are many factors this season that pretty much ensure Landry will not see close to those lofty target totals this season. The first of which, let’s call the “Browns Effect.” The Browns are coming off a 0-16 season and, let’s face it; things just don’t generally go well on offense over there. The Browns had 297 wild targets go towards wide receivers last season which was 101 less than the Dolphins.
The next hit to Landry’s value comes from the Browns assumed Week 1 starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. While Taylor is a huge upgrade compared to what the Browns were trotting out at QB last season, Taylor is still coming from a similarly weak offensive past. The Bills recorded the absolute least wide receiver targets on offense each of the last two seasons with only 229 last year and 267 in 2016. The highest target total a receiver had managed over the last three seasons with a Tyrod Taylor-led Bills offense was only 96 targets by Sammy Watkins in 2015, according to pro-football-reference.com. Substantially lower than anything Landry is used to.
Over the last five years, a wide receiver for the Browns has only hit Landry’s goal of 152 targets once. That was back in 2013 when Josh Gordon went bananas with 87 receptions on 159 targets for 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns in only 14 games. While I still expect Landry to have a solid role on this offense, I just don’t see him coming close to 152 targets. I think you can look at Landry’s 2014 season where he only managed 112 targets as a realistic possibility. That year he had 84 receptions for only 758 yards and 5 touchdowns and finished as the WR31 in PPR leagues.
Landry has a current ADP of 5.09 and is being selected as the WR24 currently on Fantasy Football Calculator. Personally, I am not buying him at that price. I would rather get potentially more touchdown upside in someone like Michael Crabtree who is going at 6.05 in drafts or grab Pierre Garçon who is going at 7.03 in drafts. It’s not crazy to think Garçon see’s more targets and receptions than Landry this season.
Even despite news this morning, Landry will have to beat out a potentially resurgent Josh Gordon for targets this season as well as running back, Duke Johnson, who operates on similar short yardage dump off plays as Landry. Johnson also led the Browns last season with a meager 93 targets. While the Browns are no longer a shoe-in for the worst team in the NFL this season, they are still far from being one of the best and most aggressive on offense. This is still a team that is projected at only five wins according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. Landry will simply be a product of his environment this year and his lowered target totals and overall decline in production should reflect that.
Browns’ WR Josh Gordon did not have any slip ups or failed tests, per sources. His leave is a pro-active, defensive gesture to get extra counseling to try to ensure he does not have any of the setbacks that have marked his past. Those who know him say he has “worked his a— off.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 23, 2018
Devin Funchess was a true gem if you plucked him from the waiver wire last season. Funchess finished as the WR21 in PPR leagues last year as he fell into a feature role thanks to a series of events. Kelvin Benjamin was dealt to the Bills and Greg Olsen had a lost year dealing with a broken foot. Even Curtis Samuel, who was a potential rookie breakout candidate last season, was sent to injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Despite breaking out for 63 receptions on 111 targets for 840 yards and 8 TD’s, Funchess wasn’t actually the Panther’s target leader last year. That title belonged to Christian McCaffrey, who saw 113 targets. Prior to last season, the highest target total Funchess had seen in his career was only 63 in 2015. While the 111 targets Funchess had last year really isn’t that high of a number, there are a few factors working against Funchess being a focal point of this offense.
The biggest obstacle for Funchess is the fact that Greg Olsen sounds like he is back to 100% health coming into the season. The team also recently signed Olsen to a two-year, $17.1 million extension. Olsen has been a security blanket for Cam Newton in his career and has averaged 125 targets per season between 2014-2016. The Panthers new offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, has been notoriously tight end-friendly in his career, signaling a return to dominance for Olsen.
Then we have the aforementioned, Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey not only led the Panthers in targets last season, he also led all running backs in targets as well. That’s more than the likes of Le’Veon Bell (106) and Alvin Kamara (101). This is what the Panthers drafted McCaffrey specifically for and his role is not changing anytime soon.
The last piece of the offense that Funchess will have to battle for targets is the underrated overhaul the Panthers wide receiver corps saw. The team spent a first-round draft pick on Maryland wideout, D.J. Moore. Our own, Asa Berlin, wrote all about Moore recently here. The Panthers also traded for former Eagle, Torrey Smith. Moore could easily battle Funchess for WR1 type duties while Smith will fill the deep threat void that has been somewhat vacant since Ted Ginn left town. These additions, including an eventual return to health for Curtis Samuel, make for a pretty crowded wide receiver group. Especially for a team that will focus nearly 50% of it’s targets to the running back and tight end positions.
As I mentioned earlier, everything had to just fall perfectly in place for Funchess to breakout. It wasn’t exactly part of the bigger plan. It was more for lack of a better option. I think we see Funchess drop down closer to the 80-90 target range this year as more of a situational player who will desperately rely on touchdowns from the erratic passing of Cam Newton to sustain real value in fantasy football this season.
New York Giants
Another player who fell into a larger role last season by default is Sterling Shepard. The New York Giants had a nightmare situation last season as they lost all three of their starting wide receivers in the same week. Odell Beckham Jr. was out for the season with an ankle injury and Brandon Marshall, well, lets be honest, he never really showed up last season anyways. Shepard was the only one who was able to make it back to the field last season.
Shepard saw 84 targets in the 11 games he played, which averages out to 7.6 targets per game. That is about one full target extra on a per game basis than his average 6.5 targets per game he saw in 2016. That was the maximum opportunity he could leverage with no other receivers worth their salt around. The true lead receiver last season for the Giants in the midst of their wide receiver meltdown was actually tight end, Evan Engram. Engram proved the “rookie tight ends generally struggle” theory wrong by turning 115 targets into 64 receptions, 722 yards and 6 TD’s.
One of the biggest changes to the Giants offense this season of course was the signing of former Penn State running back, Saquon Barkley. The team is expected to focus much more on the running game than they have in previous years now that they have someone who can fit the three-down feature-back role.
Shepard has nowhere to go but down this season as OBJ will be back to full health as one of the leagues top wideouts. Evan Engram will now have a full season under his belt as well and has even commented how “The game has slowed down a lot” for him, according to a rotoworld.com news post. Shepard had his numbers buoyed last season by three monster games really where he went over 130 yards in each. Outside of that, he was your average slot man. Expecting anything more than WR4 type of numbers from Shepard this season is likely a little out of the question.
John Ferguson is an avid fantasy football fanatic with 10+ years of experience in competitive leagues and DFS. Ferguson specializes in draft strategies, trade negotiations (Buy Low/Sell High), DFS value picks, and sports betting amongst other parts of football analysis. He follows the Oakland Athletics closely as a diehard fan and enjoys spending quality time with his beautiful wife and three children. A native of Monterey, California, Ferguson now calls Quintana Roo, Mexico home.