News & Analysis

AFC targets per route: The notable takeaways for fantasy

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 17: Zay Jones #11 of the Buffalo Bills plays against the Philadelphia Eagles the preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 17, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Bills 20-16. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Last Thursday, I looked at NFC players who saw a surprisingly high or low percentage of targets per route run in 2017, in an effort to see who did and didn’t have his quarterback’s trust (or whatever other reason for the odd results).

Today, logically, I follow up with the AFC. It’s simply an effort to get more information behind our evaluations than raw target totals provide on their own. A receiver who has 100 targets looks more valuable than one with 80 on the surface, but if the 100-target guy has 500 routes run and the 80-target guy has 150, well, it stands to reason the 80-target guy does more with his opportunities, and going forward maybe the routes run will match.

That’s the idea, anyway. Here’s a look at the notable results from the AFC.

Baltimore Ravens

Targets per route for key Baltimore Ravens
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Danny Woodhead 37 113 200 1.77 32.74
 Alex Collins 32 108 187 1.73 29.63
 Javorius Allen 55 218 250 1.15 25.23

The Ravens’ plan for 2017 had Woodhead as a key contributor. He’s been the pass-catchingest running back this side of Darren Sproles (or any side, really), and with Joe Flacco’s average depth of target plummeting to a career-low 7.0-yard average, a receiving back was crucial to what promised to be a mediocre-at-best offense. With Woodhead out for essentially the whole year, though, the job fell to, first, Allen, and then Collins. While neither was vintage Woodhead as a receiver, the offense’s needs dictated that the team’s top running back still be a receiving option, making Collins a PPR option as long as he’s the starter despite his subpar 45.4 PFF receiving grade.

Buffalo Bills

Targets per route for key Buffalo Bills
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Kelvin Benjamin 27 128 217 1.7 21.09
 Deonte Thompson 49 290 430 1.48 16.90
 Zay Jones 65 461 316 0.69 14.10
 Andre Holmes 23 196 120 0.61 11.73
 Jordan Matthews 34 309 282 0.91 11.00

You have to look a while to find something positive to take away from Jones’ rookie year. His 0.69 yards per route run was 92nd of 93 qualified receivers, while his PFF grade of 43.6 was 108th of 116. He saw a respectable-if-unspectacular 65 targets, but considering the number of routes he ran, and the fact that he was part of what might have been the league’s worst receiving corps, even that number underwhelms. Even with the recent hotel incident apparently unlikely to affect his playing time or availability, we’ll need to see some serious development from Jones going forward to trust him.

Cincinnati Bengals

Targets per route for key Cincinnati Bengals
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Joe Mixon 34 157 287 1.83 21.66
 Giovani Bernard 53 256 381 1.49 20.70

Mixon’s rookie year was a disappointment, and with Bernard still in the fold, it’s tempting to be scared of a timeshare, with Mixon as the early-down back and Bernard continuing to be the receiving option. But even as he disappointed, Mixon actually saw targets on a greater percentage of his routes than Bernard. Obviously, there’s some selection bias here — with running backs, they often aren’t even running a route unless there’s a likely target, so Bernard’s raw lead of 53 to 34 in targets matters as well — but the fact that Mixon put himself in position to catch a pass that often bodes well for them if the Bengals can improve the offensive line.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Targets per route for key Jacksonville Jaguars
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Allen Robinson 1 1 17 17 100.00
 Marqise Lee 91 421 702 1.67 21.62
 Dede Westbrook 49 233 339 1.45 21.03
 Allen Hurns 54 309 484 1.57 17.48
 Keelan Cole 73 465 748 1.61 15.70

The Jaguars threw a whole mess of receivers out there in 2017. Take out a pair of Allens and add in Donte Moncrief for 2018, and there’s a whole mess of them as well. Moncrief saw targets on only 10.7 percent of his routes in Indianapolis last year. Lee and Westbrook were the dominant attention-getters in Jacksonville, while Cole and Hurns did far less. If I’m investing in a Jaguars receiver for 2018, I’m not excited about it, but Lee and Westbrook are a cut above.

Los Angeles Chargers

Targets per route for key Los Angeles Chargers
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Hunter Henry 60 282 579 2.05 21.28
 Antonio Gates 44 320 316 0.99 13.75
 Hunter Henry (2016) 20 68 138 2.03 29.41
 Antonio Gates (2016) 40 209 321 1.54 19.14

As long as Gates is around, Henry is going to have a tough time being a full-fledged stud tight end. Call Gates the tight end emeritus. But as the trend from 2016 to 2017 shows, even the veteran is seeing his numbers shrink. Gates will get the emeritus looks, but if there was any doubt which Chargers tight end to invest in (and really, there shouldn’t have been), this answers it.

Miami Dolphins

Targets per route for key Miami Dolphins
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Jarvis Landry 156 600 987 1.65 26.00
 DeVante Parker 95 458 670 1.46 20.74
 Kenny Stills 101 621 847 1.36 16.26

The Dolphins illustrate the relationship between depth of target and targets per route better than any other team (and also, frankly, why raw target-per-route numbers can also be misleading, but we're covering that as well). Landry’s aDOT of 6.3 yards meant that he got a lot of quick, theoretically easier targets. Parker was the team’s midrange target (aDOT of 13.4 yards), and had the middle-of-the-road target percentage to match, while Stills (15.5-yard aDOT) had the most work to do to get open. With Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola more-or-less in line to replace Landry in the offense, I’d expect Parker to cede some work to the newcomers, taking him down a peg, but Stills is likely immune to their arrival.

New York Jets

Targets per route for key New York Jets
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Matt Forte 44 191 293 1.53 23.04
 Elijah McGuire 26 129 177 1.37 20.16
 Bilal Powell 29 159 170 1.07 18.24

Powell has been a Jet since approximately forever, and he’s entered half a dozen different seasons as the team’s theoretical No. 1, bell-cow-esque running back, only for something in the shape of a Matt Forte or a Chris Ivory to gum up the works. The team has never really entrusted Powell with as much receiving work as you might guess, given his role on the team. With Isaiah Crowell (no serious receiving back himself) in the fold, you might guess Powell would become the Duke Johnson to Crowell's … well, Crowell, but I wouldn’t be shocked if McGuire sees as much passing-down work as the veteran Powell.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Targets per route for key Pittsburgh Steelers
Player Targets Routes Rec. Yards YPRR Target %
 Antonio Brown 155 534 1533 2.87 29.03
 JuJu Smith-Schuster 77 424 917 2.16 18.16
 Martavis Bryant 81 447 603 1.35 18.12

Smith-Schuster clearly outpaced Bryant in counting stats during his rookie season, but for all intents and purposes, the two were targeted at the same rate. Look deeper, though, and you’ll see a shift as the season went on. Bryant was targeted 17.4 percent of the time through the first half of the season, compared to 16.1 percent for Smith-Schuster, but in the second half, the rookie saw his rate shoot up to 20.4. Bryant’s rose as well, but less, only to 18.7 percent. Some of the rise for both is due to the late-season injury to Brown, but this is another data point in favor of Smith-Schuster being for real and likely to outpace his early 2018 ADP.

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