Sometimes, fantasy football can provide a challenge from two distinct sides. On one hand, fortune can favour the brave (and the lucky). A gut feeling can provide those much-needed points to inch you in front of your opponent. On the other hand, the raw data can provide the answers. The stats can unearth a steal, ready as a secret weapon for the next season. As we all know targets matter!
In this first series of articles, we look at the latter option. We take that data and examine it for the answers we seek – to give a focus on NFL outfits that show promise in 2020. Teams who give arriving players their shot. Teams who can give existing players the chance to expand on the small role they had last year.
The analysis that forms the basis of these articles have come from both individual and team passing stats from the 2019 season. You can read on the way I collect and analyse these stats in the first instalment of this series. Be warned, these articles use a projection of teams having a similar target level for 2020 compared to the 2019 season.
In the second article in this series, we examine a Texas team with some big boots to fill…
Cowboy boots! Get it?? Anyway, a rocky 2019 season caused the Cowboys to miss out on the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. However, there was plenty of fantasy gold on offer with the offensive players at Dallas. Dak Prescott was the QB2, Ezekiel Elliot ended as RB3, with Michael Gallup and Jason Witten slightly further down their position lists at WR22 and TE11.
In total, 13 players were the target of Dak Prescott’s throwing over the course of the 2019 season, which was joint-third lowest in the NFL.
Dak’s 576 throws to offensive targets put the Cowboys at the team with the 9th highest targets in 2019. This gives an average of 44.3 targets/player – the 4th highest in the NFL. One team who managed more were the Rams, who have already been covered in the previous article.
Out of those 13 targeted players, a NFL-high 5 players saw above 61 targets – Ezekiel Elliot, Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb and Jason Witten. Combined, these players account for 469 targets – 81% of the target share.
From the other 8 players, Blake Jarwin saw 41 targets (7.12%) but the other 7? Only 66 targets between them – a measly 11.46% share.
INS AND OUTS
If all five of those high-targeted players had stuck together for 2020, I can imagine it would be hard to look at anyone else digging into that colossal target share. However, two of them have left.
Randall Cobb has stayed within state lines and joined the Texans, whereas Jason Witten has moved with the Raiders to their new Vegas home. Together, those two accounted for 28.82% of targets from the 2019 season. Tavon Austin has also been released, taking an extra 4.17% with him. In total, the outgoing players take 32.99% with them.
At the time of writing, Dallas’ coaching staff have done like-for-like position replacements by bringing in a tight end and a wide receiver to replace the ones they have lost. Blake Bell joins from the Chiefs, and Tevin Jones from the Steelers.
However, it is likely that the replacements are not equal in terms of ability. Bell played a very minor backup role behind Travis Kelce (most tight ends would), and Jones had a 40% completion rate on the least receptions of all Pittsburgh wide receivers (4 catches from 10 targets).
This leaves those remaining players from the 2019 Dallas roster and the incoming college players to take advantage. So who benefits?
THE OLD GUARD
Now that Jason Witten has left for the bright Vegas lights, Jarwin can finally step out of his shadow and have a run at being Dallas’ TE1. But will the Cowboys bringing in Blake Bell from Kansas City have any bearing on this?
While Jarwin and Bell were in the same position of being a backup to a superb TE, the Cowboy beat the former Chief in many categories. This includes average catches per game (2.73 against 1), targets in one game (7 against 3) and games that included targets (Blake saw targets in 14 games, whereas Bell only saw targets in 10).
Jarwin’s completion rate is also ahead of Bell’s, with 75.61% of targets caught compared to 40.00% of Bell’s.
Comparatively, Blake Jarwin’s completion rate is actually the 3rd highest on the Dallas roster, with only Ezekiel Elliot and Witten himself getting better completion percentages.
Therefore it should come as no surprise that the Dallas depth chart lists Jarwin ahead of Bell, as well as Dalton Schultz (received one target all season) and rookie Sean McKeon. This should stand him in good stead to take a larger role in the passing offense.
He is currently ranked as TE20 in ADP and 152nd overall. It’s a good position to be in considering this will be his first season as Dallas’ TE1. If the Cowboys use him as much as Jason Witten, that rank will look quite low by the end of the year. I see him as a strong alternative for a tough TE1 matchup.
As people have been saying on social media…all in on Jarwin!
2019 was a good year for Zeke. Aside from another year of 1000+ yards rushing, his pass availability was also not to be sniffed at. 71 targets equals a palatable 12.33% share – producing 54 completions, 420 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. But as good as 2019 was for the NFL’s RB3… 2018 was even better.
The previous year saw higher stats for the running back in both disciplines. Targets, completion percentage, yardage, average yards per catch and receiving touchdowns were all higher in 2018 than in 2019.
Coincidentally, his target share was also higher in the 2018 season as well. Although the number of targeted players that year was higher than 201, Elliot’s target share was the highest of the whole team, with 18% being the equivalent of 95 targets.
Does the fact that Elliot’s receiving stats took a slight dip relate to Dallas’ inability to make the playoffs? It could be one of the factors.
The numbers show that there is no doubt that Zeke has got the ability to make waves in every game he plays in. His rushing yardage alone during his time as an NFL player proves this fact. But recapturing those targets in 2020 can gain a bigger portion of that target share, and more fantasy points for owners. He can more than justify a top-3 draft pick.
THE NEW BLOOD
The Cowboys spent many draft picks shoring up a defence that cost the team several games last season. Despite this approach, one name stands out above all others when it comes to the new recruits:
There’s always the idea that the mettle of a player is what they do with the situation they find themselves in. And CeeDee Lamb has landed squarely on his feet, most likely after making a spectacular twisting one handed catch. The Oklahoma junior entered the draft a year earlier, and he had good reason to. Lamb has made a solid impact every year he has played. Accruing over 3,200 yards and 32 touchdowns over 3 seasons is a phenomenal record – one that speaks volumes.
Many pundits touted Lamb as a first round draft pick, some even venturing as far as a top 10 draft player. The Cowboys proved the vast majority right on the night, with a pick at 17.
His arrival at the Cowboys is nicely balanced by Randall Cobb’s departure. This moves a huge obstacle from the depth chart, and he is already up there alongside Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper. There is no question that the other receivers will look for snaps. The backfield staff have even added to depth with two undrafted free receivers. However, being the 17th pick in the draft will have influence for who will get the game time.
Lamb has been a major factor in Oklahoma’s offense for the last three years. He knows what it is to be consistently involved in the workings of a successful football team. He will be raring to prove that he can translate a stellar college career into a similar one as an NFL player.
He’s currently coming off the board at WR47, and the 117th overall. With the hype that surrounded Lamb after the combine, I expected this to be higher. Of course, once all the ‘big players’ have gone, his name may well be one of the first that comes to mind. This could be reflected in his high pick of 58 – where Terry McLaurin and Deebo Samuel currently sit. It’s also above Michael Gallup. Is it worth picking Lamb before his Cowboys team-mate? Based on CeeDee’s potential and position depth, I would say so!
As with last time, this article finishes by reminding the reader that all this is just projection based on the numbers. These are all players where the vacated targets could go. However, the numbers do not project who exactly will earn those targets.
Teams can provide every opportunity for a player to succeed, but it is down to that player to run those routes and get in a position to be targeted. They then have to catch that ball, stop the drop and avoid the fumble. If they do all that, then glory awaits.
The next article in this series looks at the third of three highlighted teams, who may give that extra leeway for players to make marks in the receiving game.
Until then, Keep Rushing!