Sometimes, fantasy football can provide a challenge from two distinct sides. On one hand, fortune can favour the brave (and the lucky). With a last-minute switch and a gut feeling providing those much-needed points to inch you ahead of your week’s opponent. On the other, the raw data can provide the answers. Unearthing a steal that can be stored away as a secret weapon for the season to come. Its all about the targets.
In this first series of articles, we look at the latter option. Taking that data and examining it for the answers we seek. Primarily giving a focus on NFL outfits that show promise in providing opportunities for arriving players, and can give existing players the chance to expand on the small role they had in the 2019 season.
The stats that form the basis of these articles have come from the analysis of a team’s passing performance over the 2019 season. The vast majority of these numbers have mainly come on a weekly basis from the ESPN.com website. With additional stats from pro-football-reference.com. Collated and up-to-date Depth charts for incoming and outgoing players have come from ourlads.com.
It has been a busy offseason as usual. With all 32 teams making many moves over the months since the Superbowl. Including their picks in an unprecedented draft format, and the free agents that came afterwards. 2020 rosters have begun to take a primitive shape.
With this shaping can come the inevitable questions of who will make the most of the situation the club finds their roster in and is there any way to predict who could be the one to take their shot?
There are players within these teams that already have a significant share of the targets, and it is likely that they will continue to get looked at in the season ahead, but the numbers may be able to tell us more about who can take advantage in 2020.
For each of those teams, targets and completions over each regular-season game have been recorded to produce a total number of targets, and completions, for every player. This also produces a number of total number of targets for each team. To produce a player’s target share percentage relative to the whole team:
Player’s total targets team’s total targets = player’s share of the team’s targets (%)
Players leaving their teams will take those percentages with them, and add it to the team they are joining (if applicable). After incoming and outgoing players are accounted for, this will provide each team with a final percentage of targets that could be available for the 2020 season.
Outgoing players’ total % – incoming players’ total % = available target share for 2020 (%)
There are some exemptions that have been applied to this data collection. Only targets and receptions to positions associated with fantasy football have been recorded and, in the interest of fairness, only regular-season games have been recorded, due to not all teams competing in the postseason. These stats also take players that have moved mid-season into consideration, as their contributions will affect more than one team’s target share.
Be warned – these articles also use projections of target throw numbers in the 2020 season being similar compared to those in the 2019 season.
With that in mind, let’s start with a team who are looking to bounce back after a disappointing 2019…
LOS ANGELES RAMS
2018’s beaten finalists surprised everybody by missing out on the playoffs last time around but provided plenty of points for those fantasy owners who managed to grab onto the main offensive players on the roster.
In total, 11 Rams players were targeted over the course of the season (the smallest spread of any of the 32 NFL sides) and this lead to 7 of those 11 players getting over 20 targets, and 4 of those seeing over 60 targets -Tyler Higbee, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks. (Gerald Everett needed one more reception to make it 5!)
Add in the fact that the Rams QBs threw the second highest number of passing attempts to offensive targets (with Jared Goff making the vast majority of those 626 attempts) and you have a lot of targets for a very small receiving corps.
ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
This small receiving group has shrunk even more over the offseason, with Todd Gurley (8.03% offensive target share), Brandin Cooks (11.8%) and Mike Thomas (0.66%) contributing to an overall 20.49% of passing attempts being removed from the squad for next season (6th in the NFL).
With no players who had 2019 targets coming on from other clubs, this leaves a lot of opportunity for the remaining team-mates and the new arrivals to take the equivalent of 125 targets, based upon the 2019 season stats.
Another point to consider is that, although the Rams have added quite heavily in terms of offence. Seven college-fresh faces adding to the options available to Jared Goff (4WR, 1TE, 2RB – a team in itself). The overall size of the pass offence is still amongst the smallest in the NFL. Joint 2nd with the Patriots and this is before any roster cuts happen.
Put all of these aspects together, and you find that there is a large opportunity for players to take a firm hold of at least a proportion of that missing 20.49% of passing targets.
So who benefits?
THE OLD GUARD
While Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods may look like the obvious recipients of extra target share due to their reliability and already impressive share of the targets (Kupp logged a healthy 21.97%, and Woods an even healthier 22.79%). Here are some others who could benefit from the available targets, and should be considered for next season:
Todd Gurley’s departure not only opens up a space for a new RB1 in terms of carrying the ball but his contribution to the pass-catching side of the game provides both Brown and Henderson with a chance to improve on their dual attack. Both RBs were bit-players in the passing attack in 2019 (both got less than 1% of targets available in 2019) so this is a chance for them to eat into what Gurley left behind.
Now into his fourth season of NFL ball, the Texas A&M product simmered off after a wild sophomore season, and was firmly stuck in place behind the big three of Kupp, Woods and Cooks. Although he was a consistent part of the Rams offence. Only Week 13’s matchup against the Seattle shows Reynolds as not registering a target. But he made up for this with three carries for 27 yards. The most targets he ever saw in a game was 8 (vs. CIN). Which was a blip on a record that regularly shows 3-4 targets. Cooks’ departure gives Reynolds the chance to reproduce his sophomore season form and establish himself as one of the big boys.
Although it is likely that the existing players will gain some benefit from knowing the playbook and developing rapport with Goff already. It would be wrong not to mention at least a couple of the college prospects due to the large number that the Rams picked up. There are plenty of players with the talent to choose from but here are three to consider:
A second round draft pick from Florida State. Akers was RB1 for the Seminoles in 2019. Demonstrating qualities in both types of attack by gaining some impressive numbers in his senior year. His main game is undoubtedly his rushing. Marking up 225 yards from 30 catches. 4 TDs and averaging 7.5yds / reception is certainly recognisable as something that could be used in the season coming up. Although he has yet to be proven in the NFL. He may find his way into the team by flexing the pass-catching abilities that he showed last season. Focusing on an area where Brown and Henderson didn’t really have a look in during 2019.
Another 2nd round pick for the Rams. Van Jefferson was already touted as a top 100 draft pick on many people’s lists. Jefferson was listed as a WR1 in a Florida side that went 11-2 in a tough schedule. Despite this challenge, he grabbed himself over 650 yards off 49 receptions. Bagging 6 touchdowns on the way, two of which came against the eventual championship winners LSU. NFL graders listed him as a talent who could be looking to make a move up the depth chart within his first seasons. And with a high number of available targets, he could make that move sooner rather than later. Giving Josh Reynolds something to be mindful of.
A little more on Edwards as he could be one to keep an eye on. The shifty utility wide receiver from Maine Black Bears was added to the roster as an undrafted rookie after the draft was completed. On the surface, a successful player from a middling Division 2 college team might be something to be wary of. Especially when you look at the other talent that the Rams picked up.
Further inspection of the numbers shows that Edwards made over 1000 yards on 49 receptions in his 2019 year, with 11 touchdowns and a 22.4yd average to boot. 5 of his 12 games produced over 100 yards. He recorded receptions of over 50 yards in 6 of them. He even threw 4 passing touchdowns off 5 receptions – so maybe Jared needs to watch his back.
A lot of promising figures, but the step up to NFL is big enough from FBS football. It will remain to be seen whether Edwards can dig in to make a mark on the Rams roster coming from the lower leagues.
Of course, I will tie up this article by saying that all this is just a 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.
Next time, we look at another team who may provide your fantasy players with that extra leeway to make a mark in the receiving game.
Until then, Keep Rushing!