The Fantasy football research process has become more efficient over time as the collective space has worked together to weed out the noisy stats and let the cream rise to the top. Generally speaking, today's most commonly referenced stats also are some of the most highly correlated to Fantasy production. If you're interested in advanced stats, I've put together an Advanced Stats Guide for Fantasy Football to help familiarize readers with the stats I reference the most frequently.
Today's topic is a simple but important staple of Fantasy football research: target share. A player's target share simply refers to the percentage of a team's pass attempts that were targeted at that player.
Few stats correlate more closely with Fantasy scoring than raw targets, so why not just use that? Well, raw target totals are still important, but a team's overall play volume and passing attempts affect target totals and can fluctuate greatly on a year-to-year basis. Unpredictable variables such as how often a team plays with a lead or how many quick-paced opponents a team faces impact a team's overall play volume and passing attempts, which in turn impact a player's target total. Target shares remain rather predictable though, as long as the surrounding offensive pieces haven't changed drastically.
So which receivers do the target per route run data suggest are ones to avoid in Fantasy drafts? And which players does Gibbs expect a big step forward from with more playing time in 2021? ... Join SportsLine here to see the complete data and which players Gibbs is focused on in 2021 drafts!
For a few key players, the surrounding offensive pieces have changed drastically this offseason. Digging into past seasons' target share and target per route run data can help identify potential breakouts when aligned with an increase in opportunity. The following five situations present what I believe to be the most compelling target share data heading into 2021.
Detroit is the only team missing over 50 percent of its targets from the 2020 season, and I have written about that situation in multiple places already this offseason as well. I'm expecting a massive leap from T.J. Hockenson in Year 3 -- between Jared Goff's propensity for peppering his short-yardage weapons with targets and the massive target share available, he could solidify himself as one of Fantasy's elite tight end options in 2021. I'm also super encouraged from what we saw from D'Andre Swift as a receiver in his first season and expect him to be a favored check-down option for Goff.
Rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is an intriguing late-round pick too, and I detailed his Dynasty and season-long statistical outlook here. I get it if you don't want to find yourself over-exposed to a bad Detroit offense, but the target share available is unlike what we see anywhere else in the league heading into 2021.
Total team target share available heading into 2021:
64 percent -- Detroit Lions
48 percent -- Tennessee Titans
41 percent -- Jacksonville Jaguars
41 percent -- New England Patriots
38 percent -- Carolina Panthers
37 percent -- Houston Texans
35 percent -- San Francisco 49ers
34 percent -- Cincinnati Bengals
34 percent -- New Orleans Saints
31 percent -- Los Angeles Rams
29 percent -- Arizona Cardinals
27 percent -- Seattle Seahawks
26 percent -- New York Giants
25 percent -- New York Jets
24 percent -- Atlanta Falcons
23 percent -- Las Vegas Raiders
22 percent -- Los Angeles Chargers
18 percent -- Baltimore Ravens
16 percent -- Indianapolis Colts
15 percent -- Buffalo Bills
14 percent -- Philadelphia Eagles
14 percent -- Kansas City Chiefs
13 percent -- Miami Dolphins
13 percent -- Green Bay Packers
12 percent -- Denver Broncos
10 percent -- Pittsburgh Steelers
8 percent -- Chicago Bears
8 percent -- Minnesota Vikings
6 percent -- Washington Football Team
5 percent -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3 percent -- Dallas Cowboys
1 percent -- Cleveland Browns
The Detroit situation stands out the most when examining available target share, but the following situations all deserve your attention as well.
Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team
Samuel has yet to post a target share of even 20 percent while competing with multiple talented pass-catchers for attention in Carolina, but that could change in his first year in Washington.
2019 TGT% -- 17.7 percent
2020 TGT% -- 19.3 percent
Washington returns most of its offensive pieces from 2020 and is near the bottom of the NFL in terms of available target share, but Terry McLaurin is the only player I'd expect to be prioritized above prized offseason acquisition Curtis Samuel. And while Samuel hasn't demanded a target share above 20 percent to this point in his career, I believe there are two valid reasons for believing that he is capable of doing so in 2021.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has a track record of feeding his top two receivers. Whether by coincidence or design, Fitzpatrick has favored two top receivers in each of his recent starting gigs.
In 2019, Fitzpatrick fed DeVante Parker 128 targets and a 21 percent target share. His No. 2 receiver -- undrafted rookie Preston Williams -- only played eight games, but Fitzpatrick fed him a 22 percent target share in those games. In 2020, Fitzpatrick leaned more heavily on Parker (23 percent target share) than anyone else, but he also didn't even have a consistent WR2 on the roster. Williams was regularly limited while recovering from his 2019 injury.
Tragically, Fitzmagic wasn't a regular starter from 2017-18, but we know that both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin got fed in Tampa Bay during that time. Fitz was with the Jets in the two years prior, and he fed two top receivers 100-plus targets in each season.
- 2016 Jets target leaders: 128 - Brandon Marshall (23.4 percent); 105 - Quincy Enunwa (19.2 percent)
- 2015 Jets target leaders: 173 - Brandon Marshall (28.7 percent); 132 - Eric Decker (21.9 percent)
The year before that, Fitzpatrick only started 12 games for the Texans, but he again showed extreme favor for his top two wideouts. Even though Andre Johnson was in his age-33 season and had clearly lost a step, Fitzpatrick still fed him an insane 30.4 percent target share. Fitz also supplied second-year wideout DeAndre Hopkins with a hefty 26.5 percent target share -- up from his 14.7 percent share the year before.
The Panthers really didn't treat Samuel like a full-time receiver in 2020. It seemed like the plan was for D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson to operate as the clear-cut top wideouts while Samuel worked in as a part-time playmaker from the slot -- but Samuel's spectacular play eventually forced their hand. Anderson (551) and Moore (535) both ran significantly more routes than Samuel (440), so using his raw target share really isn't a fair way to evaluate his ability to draw targets. Samuel's target share doesn't jump off the page, but his TPRR rate provides yet another example of why examining targets on a per-route basis is so important.
Samuel drew a target on 21.1 percent of his routes in 2020. For reference, here are a few of the receivers who had a lower TPRR: D.J. Moore, Amari Cooper, Robert Woods, DK Metcalf, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Will Fuller.
When on the field, Samuel was targeted heavily. And for what it's worth, he did show an ability to command a more respectable target share as the season went on. His target share was up to 23 percent in Carolina's final eight games. In the four games following Carolina's Week 13 bye, he matched Robby Anderson with a 25 percent target share. The possibility of a similar type of target share while facing far less competition for targets in Washington seems totally realistic.
Samuel's current average draft position (ADP) doesn't make much sense to me. I am happy to take him after the first 30 or so receivers are off the board. Give me Samuel over Will Fuller, D.J. Chark, Brandon Aiyuk, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and T.Y. Hilton all day.
Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
Here's Calvin Ridley's target share over the last few seasons:
2018 TGT% -- 16.8 percent
2019 TGT% -- 17.7 percent
2020 TGT% -- 25.1 percent
I have concerns about how well Atlanta's offense will fare without Julio, but the volume splits for Calvin Ridley with Julio off the field in 2020 are too insane to ignore. He's a top-five Fantasy WR, and he absolutely has the upside to finish as the WR1.
Calculating the splits was a bit messy as there were games where both Julio and Ridley started and left with injury, which provided a great use case for one of my favorite stats for wide receivers: targets per route run (TPRR). If you are unfamiliar with TPRR, you can read about it in detail for free here.
In games both receivers played at least 70 percent of the snaps, Ridley's TPRR rate was 21.9 percent. In games that Julio Jones was out or didn't play at least 70 percent of the snaps, Ridley's TPRR rate was up to 27 percent. For reference, Cole Beasley had a 21.9 percent TPPR rate in 2020 -- Davante Adams was the only player with a TPRR rate of 27 percent or higher.
It's obviously impressive that his TPRR rate in games played without Julio would have ranked second in the NFL, but what really makes it unbelievable is the types of targets Ridley receives. Understanding the types of routes a receiver is running and how far down the field their targets are generally coming is a crucial piece in Fantasy WR research and evaluation. I discussed the best ways to use the stats and detailed the most interesting player-specific use cases heading into 2021 if you want to learn more.
Ridley's average depth of target was 10.2 yards in 2020. Compare that to just 7.9 for Adams, the only player with a higher TPRR. No other player with an aDOT above 10 yards had a TPRR that was even above 20 percent!
In games Ridley shared the field with Julio, he accounted for an impressive 36.3 percent of Atlanta's air yards. In games played without Julio, Ridley's air yard market share was an absurd 50.5 percent. That would have easily led the NFL over the course of a full season.
I'm not drafting Ridley as if his volume will remain as high in 2021 as it was in the splits I examined -- if I were, he'd be ranked as my WR1. Still, it is important to understand the type of truly unique upside he brings with such eye-popping air yardage potential. Davante Adams (if Aaron Rodgers remains in Green Bay) and Tyreek Hill are the only receivers I would draft ahead of Ridley at this point.
Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Amari Cooper made incremental improvements in his ability to demand targets from 2019 to 2020, and his splits when Dak Prescott was healthy indicate that he could be undervalued heading into 2021.
2019 TGT% -- 20.7 percent
2020 TGT% -- 21.1 percent
Cooper started off the season with target totals of 14, 9, 12, 16, and 4 (the game Prescott was injured in). Check out his splits with and without Dak last season:
With Dak at QB:
- 24 percent target share
- 24.5 TPRR rate
- 28.5 percent AY%
- 1.96 YPRR
Without Dak at QB:
- 20.1 percent target share
- 18.7 percent TPRR rate
- 23.5 percent AY%
- 1.72 YPRR
Those are some massive differentials! For reference, DeAndre Hopkins had a 24.5 percent TPRR rate. Here are the players who finished with an 18.7 percent (Cooper's rate without Dak at QB in 2020) rate in 2020 -- Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, and Mike Gesicki.
Amari looked like the clear-cut WR1 in one of the NFL's most prolific passing attacks before Dak went down. And his massive volume was only accentuated by the fact that his team was regularly involved in shootouts because of their horrendous defense. Heading into 2021, the setup looks awful familiar. I do expect CeeDee Lamb to demand a bigger piece of the pie in Year 2, but Cooper should still be expected to lead the team in targets.
Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
Rashod Bateman was an absolute target hog in 2020, and he profiles as a more complete receiver than Marquise Brown -- who Baltimore fed a massive 25 percent target share to last season. Baltimore invested the 27th overall pick into Bateman, so it certainly seems as if they have an important role in mind for him. Could the rookie come in and demand WR1 volume right away?
2020 TGT% -- 30.4 percent
Bateman's 30 percent target share certainly stands out, but what is really impressive when digging into his 2020 rates is his targets per route run. Bateman was targeted on an absurd 40.1 percent of his routes last season. Only he and Jaelon Darden (40.6 percent) were over 40 percent.
Marquise Brown drew a healthy 21.3 percent TPRR rate for the Ravens last year, but it really felt like that came out of necessity more than merit. No one other than Brown and Mark Andrews was able to draw targets at even close to a league-average rate:
Baltimore's 2020 TPRR leaders:
25.1% -- Mark Andrews
21.3% -- Marquise Brown
16.7% -- Willie Snead
13% -- Devin Duvernay
12.3% -- Miles Boykin
10.6% -- J.K. Dobbins
There is a real opportunity for Bateman to come in and demand upwards of 20 percent of Baltimore's targets right away. Marquise Brown has flashed an ability to get behind opposing secondaries, but he hasn't shown any reason for believing that he is anything more than a complementary field stretcher. Baltimore's first-round investment in Bateman certainly could signal that the days of trying to make Brown work as the team's WR1 are over, and Bateman's 2020 analytics suggest that he is a better fit for that role.
DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have absolutely no one who profiles as a high-volume target on their roster other than rookie DeVonta Smith. Smith's target per route run data suggests that he is up for the challenge of playing a starring role as a rookie.
2020 TGT% -- 34.6 percent
Zach Ertz led Philadelphia with a 19 percent target share in 2020, and he is unlikely to open the 2021 season on Philly's roster. After Ertz, Dallas Goedert (17 percent) and Travis Fulgham (16 percent) were the only other players who even had a target share above 15 percent.
Examining Philly's target per route run data from 2020 tells a similar story -- the team is in need of a WR1 type that can come in and command targets. The Eagles were the only team without a single player who demanded targets on at least 20 percent of their routes run in 2020.
19.8% -- Dallas Goedert
18.7% -- Zach Ertz
17.8% -- Travis Fulgham
17.4% -- Jalen Reagor
16.9% -- Miles Sanders
15.6% -- Greg Ward
14.7% -- Boston Scott
12.6% -- John Hightower
The Eagles have several competent complementary pieces, but they needed someone capable of consistently getting open and handling a WR1 target load. So, they traded up to select DeVonta Smith -- college football's premiere target hog -- with the 10th overall pick. Whether or not Smith has what it takes to fill the role Philly envisions for him remains to be seen, but it is clear that he will have every opportunity to carve out a massive target share in his first pro season.