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What we can learn from target percentage for fantasy: AFC

By Daniel Kelley
Apr 9, 2019

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Sep 23, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (15) scores on a 74-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium. The Dolphins defeated the Raiders 28-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Target percentage — how often a player is targeted per route run — can be an informative number for fantasy football. If two teammates each run 30 routes in a game, with one drawing 15 targets and one drawing 5, something is happening. Either the quarterback trusts the heavily targeted guy more, or the coach does, or the heavily targeted guy is just better at getting open.

That’s why I’m going team by team to look at target percentage to see what we can glean. The NFC was Monday, and below is the look at the AFC. This only hopes to look at situations that stand out in one way or another, so not every team will be mentioned below.

Buffalo Bills

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Deonte Thompson 10 37 27.0%
 Isaiah McKenzie 29 142 20.4%
 Kelvin Benjamin 60 312 19.2%
 LeSean McCoy 41 221 18.6%
 Zay Jones 99 545 18.2%
 Robert Foster 44 263 16.7%
 Charles Clay 32 231 13.9%

In case you weren’t sure the Bills needed to bring in a new crop of offensive weapons this offseason, they didn’t have a single player with 30-plus targets have even a 20% target percentage, and their leader in the stat was an abject disaster with the team and released in midseason. Cole Beasley and John Brown aren’t stars, but they should command plenty of targets as long as Josh Allen isn’t tucking-and-running.

Cincinnati Bengals

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 A.J. Green 77 290 26.6%
 Tyler Boyd 103 499 20.6%

It would be tempting to say that Tyler Boyd’s percentage was low compared to A.J. Green, but it must have been higher after Green got hurt. Instead, the numbers were basically the same (20.7% with Green in Week 1-8, 20.5% in Weeks 9-17). But Boyd’s productivity dropped a fair amount when Green left the field, as did his PFF grade. He might be better suited to having Green on the field and being a very productive No. 2 than leading an offense.

Cleveland Browns

Name Year Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Duke Johnson Jr. 2015 70 341 20.5%
 Duke Johnson Jr. 2016 68 277 24.5%
 Duke Johnson Jr. 2017 89 333 26.7%
 Duke Johnson Jr. 2018 61 299 20.4%

If I’m the Browns, and can get him to be amenable to it, I’m keeping Duke Johnson as a third-down/insurance guy. But that looks unlikely, and if he lands somewhere that can really utilize him, I love his potential.

Denver Broncos

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
DaeSean Hamilton 37 183 20.2%
Tim Patrick 30 155 19.4%
Courtland Sutton 24 170 14.1%

(Weeks 14-17 only)

Case Keenum hardly looked at Courtland Sutton after Demaryius Thomas was traded and Emmanuel Sanders got hurt. I’ve explained before why I see Sutton as a deep sleeper with Joe Flacco at quarterback, but his lack of commanding much in the way of targets per route in 2018 is definitely a warning sign.

Indianapolis Colts

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Eric Ebron 108 443 24.4%
 Jack Doyle 32 154 20.8%

In games with Jack Doyle active in 2018, Eric Ebron had a 21.8% target percentage. Without Doyle, it rose to 25.1. Both numbers are good, but the rise indicates why Ebron carries some risk in 2019 if Doyle is back and healthy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Name Year Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Leonard Fournette 2017 13 71 18.3%
 Leonard Fournette 2018 25 96 26.0%

Grains of salt all over this one, because Leonard Fournette’s season was sporadic and limited and ultimately unexciting, but his target percentage definitely spiked in Year 2 — it was 18.3% as a rookie, then 26.0% in 2018. Even with his injury and suspension absences, Fournette ran more routes in 2018 than across all of 2017. T.J. Yeldon and Carlos Hyde are gone, replaced by the unexciting Alfred Blue and Benny Cunningham. Cunningham has plenty of receiving experience, but the door is wide open for Fournette to add more receiving work to his game, which — if he can stay healthy — would really boost his overall value if it happens.

Los Angeles Chargers

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Melvin Gordon III 61 240 25.4%
 Austin Ekeler 47 188 25.0%

Austin Ekeler might never be a No. 1, bell-cow back, but he’s carved out a perfect role as Melvin Gordon’s backup. As noted in my piece on next year’s free agency, Ekeler has a career 3.1 yards per carry in games he’s played 35-plus offensive snaps, 6.1 in games he’s played fewer. He’s destined to forever be an upside flex play, but a good one.

Miami Dolphins

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Albert Wilson 36 129 27.9%
 DeVante Parker 43 226 19.0%
 Jakeem Grant 31 164 18.9%
 Danny Amendola 75 415 18.1%
 Leonte Carroo 4 25 16.0%
 Kenny Stills 60 435 13.8%

Albert Wilson’s raw fantasy numbers at the time of his injury (391 yards, 4 touchdowns, 96.7 PPR points, WR25) were fine, but artificially inflated by three different receptions of 40-plus yards (including two over 70) and a 52-yard touchdown pass. It’s hard to imagine you can count on that sort of deep-play ability repeating itself. What is more repeatable, though, is Wilson’s target percentage, as he dominated the team’s receivers in that number. If he proves to be healthy for 2019, Wilson will be right back to sleeper status.

New York Jets

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Trenton Cannon 26 101 25.7%
 Elijah McGuire 30 153 19.6%
 Isaiah Crowell 26 144 18.1%
 Bilal Powell 17 96 17.7%

The Jets haven’t been a team that heavily targets running backs in recent years. Trenton Cannon had only 26 targets, but his 25.7% target percentage was the highest for a back with at least that many targets in the PFF era. Raise the threshold, and the target percentages drop below 20. Le’Veon Bell could set new marks for the Jets in 2019.

Oakland Raiders

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Jalen Richard 77 268 28.7%
 Marshawn Lynch 19 79 24.1%
 Doug Martin 23 134 17.2%

Jalen Richard was the PPR RB29 in 2018 despite losing significant time to Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin and despite only one touchdown in 123 touches. Lynch and Martin are (probably) gone, and only Isaiah Crowell has been brought in to replace them. Richard is currently being underdrafted, is my point.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Name Targets Snaps in Route Tgt Pct.
 Antonio Brown 164 670 24.5%
 JuJu Smith-Schuster 161 684 23.5%
 Ryan Switzer 44 242 18.2%
 James Washington 36 380 9.5%

At a minimum of 350 routes run (barely 20 a game), only one player was targeted less often than James Washington’s 9.5%, and that was Kansas City’s Chris Conley at 9.2. With Antonio Brown gone from the Steelers but Donte Moncrief in town, we’ll see what happens to Washington’s place in the circle of trust in 2019. He’s a deep sleeper at wide receiver, but he was also the lowest-graded wide receiver (49.4) of 116 qualifying in 2018, so he’ll have a lot to prove.

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