I’ve been thinking a lot about what my approach to fantasy drafts will be this season and one thing that I kept coming back to is how difficult I find it to be to find high target share WRs post-draft. This thought is driving me towards a WR-heavy approach early in the draft since we typically know who will see the majority of their team’s targets.
I wanted to see if that was reflected in stats at all so I decided to take a look.
Last season, using FFC’s final PPR ADP (https://fantasyfootballcalculator.com/adp?format=ppr&year=2017&teams=12&view=graph&pos=wr) just 5 players who were not being regularly selected in fantasy drafts surpassed 100 targets last season.
Those 5 were Devin Funchess, Marquise Goodwin, Jermaine Kearse, Kenny Stills, and Evan Engram.
I chose 100 because it’s often seen as a benchmark and in his recent article Mike Tagliere says: “There were just three wide receivers who finished inside the top-24 with less than 100 targets: Stefon Diggs, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Nelson Agholor.”
Now back to those 5 undrafted players who hit this benchmark and their finishes and targets:
Funchess - WR20 - 112 targets
Stills - WR26 - 105 targets
Kearse - WR28 - 102 targets
Goodwin - WR29 - 105 targets
It’s just a one year sample but I think those finishes do help prove that it’s really difficult to find a league winning WR in the final rounds of your draft or afterwards.
In fact, if we expand it a little further Adam Thielen (WR8, 143 targets, 9.03 ADP), Marvin Jones (WR11, 107 targets, 9.10 ADP) and Robby Anderson (WR18, 114 targets, 12.11 ADP) were the only WRs drafted after round 6 to break 100 targets.
Out of the all the WRs taken after round 6 just those 3 were able secure high target shares in their offense. In general we do a really good job of being able to identify who will see high target shares in each offense around the league. Because of that, and because we know that a player probably needs to reach 100 targets to finish as a WR2, I think we should change how we approach the WR position. Many people will be content to wait on WR this year because guys like Will Fuller, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins, and Robert Woods among many others are late round candidates that have been productive fantasy assets in the past. However, last year shows us that it can be really hard to count on these late round receivers to obtain a target share that allows them to become every-week fantasy starters.
Think about that when you’re mock drafting and feel like you’re getting “steals” late at the WR position.
While we’re at it we might as well take a look at the top 10 targeted WRs to see how their fantasy finish matched up with their targets:
DeAndre Hopkins - 174 targets - WR1
Antonio Brown - 162 targets - WR2
Jarvis Landry - 161 targets - WR4
Larry Fitzgerald - 161 targets - WR5
Keenan Allen - 159 targets - WR3
Michael Thomas - 149 targets - WR6
Julio Jones - 148 targets - WR7
Adam Thielen - 143 targets - WR8
AJ Green - 143 targets - WR10
Demaryius Thomas - 140 targets - WR16
Of the top 10 fantasy WRs only Tyreek Hill was not also one of the top 10 targeted WRs in the NFL last year. Demaryius Thomas was the lone WR in the top 10 in targets last season to not also finish as a top 10 PPR WR which was almost certainly due to the abysmal QB play he dealt with all season.
There’s a similar trend with tight ends, unsurprisingly. 6 tight ends were among the 36 players that received 100+ targets last season.
Travis Kelce - 122 targets - TE1
Evan Engram - 115 targets - TE5
Delanie Walker - 111 targets - TE4
Zach Ertz - 110 targets - TE3
Jack Doyle - 108 targets - TE6
Rob Gronkowski - 105 targets - TE2
The 6 tight ends that topped the charts in targets filled out the entire top 6 at their position. Engram had really poor efficiency in 2017 but his absurd 115 targets allowed him to have one of the biggest statistical seasons we’ve ever seen from a rookie TE.
I think at times we can occasionally forget just how important volume can be in fantasy football. It often gets discussed with RBs since an inefficient runner can still be a great fantasy asset with enough volume but it’s just as true at WR and TE where the top targeted players are almost guaranteed to finish at the top of their position and where it can be really hard to find someone who is going to get that target share either late in the draft or post-draft. Most of the time you need to pay up if you want those guys who are locked into 100+ targets before the season starts and if you don’t you’re unlikely to get a difference maker, especially at WR.
To me, the biggest difference between late round RBs and late round WRs is the consistency of their volume. With a RB like Marlon Mack, currently going at 8.01 according to FFC’s 12 team PPR ADP, if he’s the lead back you can feel confident that he’s going to touch the ball 10-15 times in a game. Until he’s hurt or until someone passes him on the depth chart you know he’ll see that volume each and every week. And if that happens, you know to leave him on the bench.
However, at WR the targets can’t always be counted on week-to-week. A late round WR like Robert Woods (ADP 7.12) might be very involved one week, or for a 2-3 week stretch, but unless something about his situation has changed (an injury to another WR) it’s difficult to have that trust that he’ll get the volume each week. You’re probably leaving him on the bench until you see a trend, unless you’re desperate, but by the time the trend is significant he could be back to only being the 3rd most targeted WR there. While we know generally who will lead teams in targets each year, it can be difficult to project the targets for the 2nd/3rd WRs for teams on a week-to-week basis because so much can be gameplan dependent.
This is leading me to a WR heavy approach early in the drafts this season in leagues that start 3 WRs and a flex and use .5 or full PPR scoring. There’s a lot of hype surrounding RBs this year, so much so that only Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr, and DeAndre Hopkins are going in the 1st round of PPR drafts at the moment. It’s not often that we’ve been able to start a PPR draft with both OBJ AND Julio Jones or AJ Green so this seems like a year to take advantage of that.
Unless you grab these high target share WRs early it can be very hard to find any later on. It also seems like every year some of the players featured on the most fantasy championship teams are unheralded RBs like Gio Bernard last season or Tim Hightower in 2015. Nearly every key injury at the RB position creates an opportunity to pick up a fantasy starter, while an injury at WR often has a less significant impact as the targets are spread throughout the team.
I’d love to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this!