2022 Fantasy Football: Eight players who could increase their receiving target totals

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) runs with the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals in the second half in an AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

When creating projections and rankings, we often spend most of our time focused on a player's talent, which makes sense because that would be the No. 1 factor if we were forced to choose only one thing.

In evaluating a player’s receiving prowess, I love to focus on targets per route run (TPRR) because it tells us if a player was able to generate targets even if they play in a limited role. It is a crucial component of my tiers and breakout profiles.

This exercise will add the other half of the target-share equation: routes run per dropback. This data point tells us how often a player participated in a route when the team dropped back to pass, so we will call it route participation. We can create a simple range of outcomes for projected targets by bringing the two components together.

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The focus will be on skill position players who have already demonstrated a starter-worthy TPRR for their position and could run more routes in 2022.

For reference, here are the thresholds based on data from 2011 to 2021:

Position Targets Per Route Run Route Participation
RB1 20% 49%
RB2 19% 40%
WR1 25% 88%
WR2 22% 83%
WR3 21% 78%
Top-6 TE 23% 74%
TE 7-12 19% 65%

WR – CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys | 2021 RR/DB: 76% | 2021 TPRR: 22%

The Cowboys often used three- and four-receiver rotations over Lamb’s first two years in the NFL, and he missed one game in Year 2. Still, Lamb registered two WR2 finishes despite his WR3-worthy route participation thanks to his ability to generate targets and a high-volume offense.

Without an injury, Lamb should eclipse WR1 route participation in Year 3, and 95% is a number we see young receivers achieve. Dallas has significant questions in their receiver room:

This means it is a near-lock that Lamb's route participation jumps into the 90% range, which provides an improved floor and more room to smash should he take a big step forward in TPRR.

Targets: Projection Spectrum
85% Participation 90% Participation 95% Participation
22% TPRR 130 138 145
24% TPRR 142 150 159
26% TPRR 154 163 172

Dallas projected for 695 dropbacks

Lamb is an early second-round draft selection this summer, which may feel a tad steep to some fantasy managers who are worried about his ability to take a step forward given his 116 targets last year. Fortunately, even if he doesn’t take another step forward in creating targets, his floor is probably around 138 given his TPRR track record.

His 150 median target projection is based on small growth in TPRR; however, reaching 172 is within range if he makes a third-year leap. I don’t blame anyone who takes Stefon Diggs or Davante Adams ahead of Lamb given their target pedigree. Still, I have him in the same tier as those two receivers, and he is a player we should draft with confidence in the late-first-to-early second round of drafts.

WR – Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders | 2021 Participation: 78% | 2021 TPRR: 23%

Davante Adams and Darren Waller will get their looks in the Raiders offense in 2022, which has some spooked about Renfrow’s prospects. No doubt, the target ceiling is capped with two other pass-catchers that demand looks, but the Raiders are tied for the third-most 50-point game totals over at Superbook thanks to matchups against the AFC West and the NFC West.

The Raiders' 665 projected dropbacks may end up being a tad low, as they will have to throw the ball to win games, and Renfrow also gets a slot-friendly head coach in Josh McDaniels. Ultimately, Derek Carr will decide how to divvy the targets, but McDaniels has done a fabulous job keeping his slot receivers on the field in most personnel groupings.

Dating back to 2012, when McDaniels had a healthy slot receiver (no missed games), here are their routes per dropback:

The Raiders are also a top-heavy roster at receiver, so Renfrow is very likely to obliterate his career-high mark from last season (78%).

Targets: Projection Spectrum
85% Participation 90% Participation 95% Participation
18% TPRR 102 108 114
20% TPRR 113 120 126
22% TPRR 124 132 139

Raiders projected for 665 dropbacks

Renfrow could equal his target total from last season (124) even if his TPRR dips from 23% to the new median projection of 20%, which factors in Adams' arrival. If he can keep things closer to last year, setting a new career-high in targets isn’t unrealistic.

Wild things happen in an NFL season, and Renfrow would carry WR1 upside in any game missed by Adams or Waller, providing him with excellent contingency value. Draft him as a WR3 with WR2 upside that turns into a WR1 in the phone booth if injuries strike.

WR – Russell Gage, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | 2021 Participation: 62% | 2021 TPRR: 24%

The fifth-year receiver is one of my favorite breakout plays after finishing as a WR4 with WR2-worthy underlying data points in 2021 with the Atlanta Falcons. He joins a crowded receiving room where he will take over for Antonio Brown, who participated in 70% and 68% of the routes over the past two seasons when healthy.

Once the Buccaneers are full strength, Gage probably won’t carry the same route participation upside as the two players listed above; however, that could be a different story for the first half of the season. According to Fantasy Points' Dr. Edwin Porras, Chris Godwin may not be available until mid-October or November.

We could see Gage push for 90% participation early in the season, and once Godwin returns, he likely tapers back down to around 70%. Interestingly, if we were only projecting Gage for 70% on the season, he would still have a shot at a record-high in routes run due to the Buccaneers’ fast-paced, pass-heavy attack.

Targets: Projection Spectrum
72% Participation 77% Participation 82% Participation
20% TPRR 105 112 120
22% TPRR 116 124 132
24% TPRR 126 135 144

Buccaneers projected for 729 dropbacks

To get to the median 77% participation rate above, I gave Gage 90% of the work and tapered it down using the timeline above. In the first few weeks amidst Godwin’s return, I gave him 80% and then dropped it to 70%.

Expect Gage to post WR2 numbers over the first part of the season and settle in as a WR3 fantasy option once Godwin returns. If Godwin suffers a setback or the Buccaneers decide to use more 11 personnel, his numbers could climb from there.

WR – Kadarius Toney, New York Giants | Participation: 30% | TPRR: 26%

Toney battled injuries throughout his rookie season, only playing in 10 games. In those contests, he participated in a route on 53% of the Giants' dropbacks and reached the 70% mark three times.

Sterling Shepard is heading into his age 29.6 season and is recovering from an Achilles injury he suffered last December. Toney can play inside or outside, but the slot would be the ideal fit for Toney to use his athleticism after the catch in the underneath passing game. However, the Giants also added Wan’Dale Robinson in the second round, which could push the former first-rounder outside to battle with Darius Slayton for repetitions opposite of Kenny Golladay.

Toney’s floor is relatively low due to his inability to stay out of the news for the wrong reasons, including trade rumors ahead of the draft. However, the Giants’ pecking order is wide open, providing an asymmetrical upside in his range of outcomes.

Targets: Projection Spectrum
50% Participation 60% Participation 85% Participation
20% TPRR 67 81 115
23% TPRR 78 93 132
26% TPRR 88 105 149

Giants projected for 675 dropbacks

If the young receiver can win the confidence of this coaching staff and put injuries aside, he has access to a ceiling higher than Renfrow or Gage. However, his floor isn’t in the same stratosphere, making him a boom-bust WR4 candidate.

WR – Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals | Participation: 40% | TPRR: 24%

Arizona won’t have DeAndre Hopkins‘ (PEDs) services for the first six games of the season, and its schedule starts with three 50-plus game totals against the Kansas City Chiefs, Raiders and Los Angeles Rams.

Marquise Brown and A.J. Green should operate the outside positions, which leaves the slot role open for the Year 2 second-rounder. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the coaching staff have told us over the offseason that Moore’s route tree will expand, and we should know the truth quickly given the likely shootouts Arizona faces out of the gate.

In 2021, Christian Kirk handled the slot duties and participated in 82% of the routes, but that number was 73% over the first eight games before Hopkins was hurt.

Targets: Projection Spectrum
57% Participation 67% Participation 77% Participation
17% TPRR 65 77 88
20% TPRR 77 90 104
23% TPRR 88 104 119

Cardinals projected for 673 dropbacks

Last year, Moore’s looks came near the line of scrimmage, as 34 of 64 targets (53%) came from screen passes. That inflates his targets per route, which is why you will notice a wider TPRR range than the receivers discussed above.

Similarly, there is a broader range of outcomes in route participation given the Cardinals' inability to get him more involved despite losing Hopkins for eight games. Moore ran a route on 50% of dropbacks in 2021 games, so the low-end is just slightly higher (57%) given Kirk's departure.

Moore projects as an upside WR4 who could provide WR3 value until Hopkins' return, which also provides the young wideout a chance to impress the coaching staff enough to expand his role for the entire season.

WR – Jamison Crowder, Buffalo Bills | Participation: 57% | TPRR: 18%

Crowder’s TPRR from last season was a tad low, but he qualifies for the list thanks to 21% and 22% marks in the previous two years.

He will battle with Isaiah McKenzie and rookie Khalil Shakir for slot reps in 11 and 10 personnel groupings, which the Bills used the third-most in the NFL last season (78%). Cole Beasley participated in a route on 69% of Buffalo's dropbacks last season in 16 games, but that number was as high as 79% in 2019 despite missing one contest.

Targets: Projection Spectrum
65% Participation 70% Participation 75% Participation
18% TPRR 83 89 95
20% TPRR 92 99 106
22% TPRR 101 109 117

Bills projected for 707 dropbacks

Beasley registered 99, 101 and 106 targets over the last three seasons, and Crowder profiles similarly, making him a solid WR4 who can provide WR3 value on many weeks with an occasional surge into WR2 territory.

TE – Albert Okwuegbunam, Denver Broncos | Participation: 28% | 24% TPRR

Okwuegbunam will take over the primary tight end duties with Noah Fant shipped to the Seattle Seahawks as part of the Russell Wilson trade. While we could see some route competition from this year’s third-rounder Greg Dulcich, this will undoubtedly be a career year for Okwuegbunam in the route participation department.

The former fourth-rounder delivered Top-3-like underlying efficiency metrics in his first two years on limited route participation (223 total routes) with a 25% TPRR, 2.02 yards per route run (YPRR) and a 77.5 PFF receiving grade.

Targets: Projection Spectrum
60% Participation 70% Participation 80% Participation
16% TPRR 63 73 84
20% TPRR 78 91 104
24% TPRR 94 110 125

Broncos projected for 653 dropbacks

Okwuegbunam’s TPRR floor is 4 percentage points below his 20% median outcome given all the mouths to feed in the Broncos’ passing attack and the small route sample size. Suppose Dulcich challenges for routes and head coach Nathaniel Hackett gives Eric Tomlinson blocking snaps in 21 personnel similar to Marcedes Lewis in Green Bay. In that case, we could see Okwuegbunam struggle to surpass 60% in route participation.

However, his median projection is 91 targets, and he could push for more if the other receiving options struggle. If that happens and his high-end efficiency data isn’t a fluke, he could surprise with a great season.

Finally, this dropback projection assumes Hackett wants to have a pass-balanced offense, but there is a chance that they have to go more of a pass-heavy approach given the division and their five matchups with other teams also projected for 10 or more wins.

Okwuegbunam is a bet on talent in a good offense as a low-end TE1 or high-end TE2.

RB – Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers | Participation: 49% | TPRR: 20%

Jones has delivered RB1-worthy TPRRs over the last three seasons (22%, 24%, 20%), but he hasn’t been able to approach the 60% participation we see from the elite receiving backs such as Alvin Kamara. Adams' departure might open that door considering the Packers’ current receiving options.

  • Allen Lazard has a career-high TPRR of 17% (WR6 territory).
  • Sammy Watkins has been a 19% option over the last two seasons (WR4 territory).
  • Christian Watson could surprise us, but he is a small-school rookie.
  • Randall Cobb is entering Year 12 and posted a 15% TPRR last season (WR6+ territory).
  • Romeo Doubs is another pick who could surprise, but we don’t see that often from fourth-rounders.
  • Amari Rodgers might take a step forward, but he didn’t flash as a rookie.

Then we have Jones’ astronomical 34% TPRR and 2.94 YPRR in eight career games without Adams. Of course, those numbers aren’t sustainable, but 25-30% could be in the cards. Kamara’s TPRRs for reference: 33%, 29%, 27%, 30% and 24%.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see a spike in Jones routes participation across the sample at 49%, which isn’t too far off from Kamara but needs some help. Kamara’s route participation is around 60% once adjusting for missed games.

Targets: Projection Spectrum
45% Participation 50% Participation 60% Participation
20% TPRR 56 62 75
25% TPRR 70 78 93
30% TPRR 84 93 112

Packers projected for 653 dropbacks

Jones’ career-high in targets is 67, which he is almost sure to pass, but to get to the juicy outcomes, he needs to hit the upper threshold in TPRR, or Matt LaFleur must enable him to run a few more routes. It is hard to figure Jones for a ceiling much higher than 60% participation without an injury to A.J. Dillon.

There are two paths to 93 routes, which would mean about 74 receptions with an 80% catch rate (79% average) — a 22 reception improvement over 2021. Treat Jones as a low-end RB1 for 2022.


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