Target Watch: Passing Attacks Taking Shape
Howard Bender takes a look at the receivers you're going to want to start and which ones you're going to want to stash
While two weeks into the season is still a small sample size, we’re already seeing a number of passing attacks take shape. Both quarterbacks and offensive coordinators are already tipping their hands to show you and the rest of the NFL who their favorites are and whose number is most likely to be called, particularly when the game is on the line. With injuries being so abundant, particularly this week (how many of you just got completely crushed by the injury bug in Week 2?), there are a few situations that may warrant some short-term monitoring as well. The guys may not be your bread and butter all year long, but for the next couple of weeks, they could be considered fantasy gold. As a result of that, what we’re going to do each week is set up a weekly targets leaderboard and discuss some of the “anomalies” before getting into the full-season leaderboard and discussing things like target percentage and red zone looks.
Again, we’re not here to talk about the no-brainers and must-starts. If you’re crazy enough to bench a stud like Demaryius Thomas because he’s facing Joe Haden and the Browns, there’s no amount of help we can provide. This article series is designed to help you make those tough WR3/Flex decisions, particularly when the bye weeks start to hit. So without further ado, let’s get to it.
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Week 2 Target Leaders
Delanie Walker, TE TEN – Walker really wasn’t seeing a whole lot of love during the summer as his ADP was outside that of the top-15 even in NFFC play. The general consensus was that Kendall Wright would dominate the targets along with Justin Hunter stepping into a larger role. Not to mention that Walker had a problem with the drops back in his days with San Francisco and even at times last season with Tennessee. He posted a 69.8-percent catch rate, but only saw 17 red zone targets in 2013. His targets here are a significant jump for him but with Hunter seeming to struggle here early on, Walker could start seeing an increase in looks over the next couple of weeks.
James Jones, WR OAK – Jones is likely to be a regular here as the primary option for Derek Carr and the Raiders. Just keep in mind that most of his work is going to come during garbage time, just as it was in this game. The Raiders are sure to play a few close ones, but when they’re getting beat by some of the tougher opponents on their schedule, they are likely to start airing it out against second-string defensive backs sitting in a prevent defense. It’s still plenty usable in fantasy though.
Andrew Hawkins, WR CLE – Maybe he’s playing on borrowed time right now, but until Jordan Cameron is healthy and Josh Gordon is back on the field, Hawkins looks like the favorite target for Browns QB Brian Hoyer. Hawkins always had sleeper potential when he was with the Bengals, so to see him blossom as a team’s No. 1 isn’t all that surprising. Depending on how he’s used in the red zone when Cameron returns, he could prove to be a great sell-high the closer Gordon comes to returning.
Sammy Watkins, WR BUF – It was a breakout game for sure, and likely one that a lot of fantasy owners missed due to questions about his ribs and the continued understanding that the Bills are a run-first team. He is easily the best receiver on that team and that’s why he deserves the roster spot. The only problem is that the rookie is going to have lots of inconsistencies in his scoring throughout the year. He could become a garbage-time magnet like Jones, he could get shut down because Buffalo is playing a heavy run game with a short-passing attack, and he could have a few big games like this under his belt. But not knowing when things will break right for him makes it tough for fantasy owners to roll with him. Four targets last week, 11 this time? You picking up what I’m putting down here?
Niles Paul, TE WAS – He’s going to be a hot one on your waiver wire this week as Paul saw crazy attention from new Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. And given the fact that incumbent Jordan Reed is a major injury risk and sat out practice Wednesday, Paul should be in line for another strong week. Coach Jay Gruden says that Reed has two more chances to make an impact at practice before he opts to sit him again, so keep watching those updates we do such a great job providing. If Reed comes back, Paul gets a downgrade, but maybe not by too much as it’s obvious that he and Cousins have a great on-field rapport.
Eddie Royal, WR SD – Hand to God, I didn’t even know he was still alive. Maybe he’s a potential bye-week filler in a really deep PPR league, but it’s difficult to endorse him in any way right now.
Overall Target Leaders
Obviously, the sheer number of targets is a great guideline for deciding who to start and who to sit. He who touches the ball most has the highest potential to score points. However, if you’re playing in a competitive league, then you’re going to have a number of owners thinking in exactly that mindset. So to get an even bigger edge over the knuckleheads in your league and a leg up on the slightly more intelligent ones, we’re going to look a little deeper into the numbers and see where we might be able to find a few names that aren’t so prominent on the radar.
Target Percentage Leaders
Just a quick glance through the Passing Attempts on the list above, you’ll notice a major difference in teams like Green Bay and Atlanta and teams like Tampa Bay and Houston. For a variety of reason ranging from offensive schemes to quarterback talent, some teams simply don’t throw the ball as often. But does that mean the receivers don’t score as many fantasy points? Not always. While they may not be listed at the top of a targets leaderboard, some are very worthwhile option because of the amount of work relative to their team’s passing attack. Tracking a player’s target percentage can reveal a lot more about a player’s role in the offense that goes beyond just the number of times the ball is thrown in his direction. Here are a few interesting ones to consider.
Brian Quick, WR STL – Given the quarterback situation in St. Louis, it’s tough to turn to Quick if you have a number of viable candidates on your team. But through two games, he’s obviously the favorite target with a 27.7-percent target rate and his 77.8-percent catch rate shows his reliability. He hasn’t found the end zone yet, but he’s racking up some nice yardage for you. While we wait to see what happens with Shaun Hill possibly returning, Quick makes for a nice stash for after his Week 4 bye.
Anquan Boldin, WR SF – He’s always been a big favorite for quarterback Colin Kaepernick and now with Vernon Davis likely out this week, his 26.3-percent target rate, which leads all 49ers receivers mind you, could see an increase. More shallow leagues or leagues that either don’t start three receivers or don’t have a flex may be where you can find Boldin still lingering on the waiver wire. The expectations that Davis and Michael Crabtree will dominate the looks isn’t too far off, but Boldin is never a guy you can count out.
Larry Donnell, TE NYG – Every time I hear his name mentioned, I immediate think of the beginning of the movie Major League where the guy is looking over the roster and says, “Mitchell Friedman?” I mean, who is this guy? The unheralded second-year tight end out of Grambling University has been a major favorite of Eli Manning’s through the first two games. He’s certainly helping his cause with a 70.6-percent catch rate and could start moving up on the tight end list should he continue ot get the looks. Definitely someone to put on your watch-list if the Giants fan in your league (there’s always one) hasn’t already scooped him up.
Red Zone Target Leaders
Steve Smith, WR BAL – With all the marquee names out there, it’s still the Old Guard getting it done in the red zone. Smith and Joe Flacco look like they’ve been playing together for years. Smith is dominating in overall targets, but more importantly, he’s getting a third of the red zone targets on this Ravens team. Smith always looks like a great option in PPR leagues, but if he can continue getting this much red zone work, he could return to the top of the food chain in standard leagues as well.
Julian Edelman, WR NE – He’s not just the possession receiver anymore, is he? Similarly to the step forward Antonio Brown took between 2012 and 2013, Edelman could be making that jump here in 2014 as well. Sure, Rob Gronkowski is a big target and a red zone favorite of Tom Brady, but Edelman is a savvy enough receiver to fight his way into the mix here. If he continues to see a strong percentage of the red zone looks, he too will make a jump in value in standard leagues.
And another quick nod to James Jones here as his four red zone targets make up 57.1 percent of the red zone targets for the Raiders. So he’s not only getting the overall targets, garbage time or not, he’s also the first guy Carr is looking for inside the 20. Delanie Walker gets that same nod as well.
|Mohamed Sanu, WR CIN|
|Alshon Jeffery, WR CHI|
|Kendall Wright, WR TEN|
|Cordarrelle Patterson, WR MIN|
|Kyle Rudolph, TE MIN|
|Denarius Moore, WR OAK|
|Justin Hunter, WR TEN|
|Harry Douglas, WR ATL|
|Allen Hurns, WR JAC|
|Eddie Royal, WR SD|
Week 3 Match-up to Watch
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars – While you don’t often look at the Jaguars as a place to mine for fantasy gold, the fact that the Colts have given up 610 receiving yards with four receiving touchdowns through two weeks speaks volumes as to the quality of their pass defense. Cecil Shorts could make his season debut and both Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee could be viable targets for Chad Henne who is expected to play as if his job is at stake, which it is. On the other side, it’s a high-octane Colts against a Jags pass defense that has allowed an average of 300 receiving yards per game and a total of four receiving touchdowns this season. You definitely want to be fighting the good fight with the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks. Not to mention Ahmad Bradshaw out of the backfield and the two tight end. The ‘over’ in this game is looking mighty tasty.