News & Analysis

Which players see the most money opportunities in fantasy football?

Nov 3, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf (14) during the second half at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Tampa Bay 40-34. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to fantasy football, volume has always been king. You want the players who generate the most targets and touches — more opportunities equates to more fantasy points. But not all opportunities are created equal.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd saw 142 targets in 2019 — the seventh-most among all wide receivers — and finished as WR17. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett saw the 24th-most targets (108) and finished as the WR13. The difference? End-zone targets and deep targets (20 yards or more) — aka the money targets. 

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Last season, Lockett ranked fourth in end-zone targets (13) and sixth in deep targets (28); Boyd ranked outside the top 100 in end-zone targets (two) and 48th in deep targets (14).

Elevating players on raw target totals and target share isn't enough to project fantasy value. Money targets need to be considered. Let's dig into the players who saw ample money targets last season to find players who should be viewed in high regard come 2020 fantasy football draft day. 

End-Zone Targets

In PPR scoring last season, a non-end-zone target netted an average of 1.67 fantasy points. An end-zone target averaged almost double that (3.14). The end-zone target by far is the most valuable opportunity a player can receive in fantasy football.  

Most end-zone targets in 2019
D.K. Metcalf 18
Mike Evans 14
Kenny Golladay 14
Tyler Lockett 13
Odell Beckham Jr. 13

Rookie wideout D.K. Metcalf led all players in that category in 2019. If we include additional end-zone targets on plays not included in the box score (penalties etc.), he totaled a whopping 23 end-zone targets.

Metcalf’s high number of end-zone targets is likely to keep coming in 2020 — since 2017, the top two Seahawks pass-catchers have averaged just under 16 end-zone targets per season. Not to mention, nine end-zone targets last season went to David Moore, who is just a mediocre No. 3 wide receiver — that was was tied for the 18th among all players. Philip Dorsett truthers have to be thrilled to hear that.

This mainstay of wide receiver end-zone production is due in part to quarterback Russell Wilson, who consistently attacks the end zone. Wilson leads the NFL in passing attempts and passing touchdowns and ranks third in PFF passing grade (90.1) on throws to the end zone over the past three seasons.

Most end-zone throws since 2017
Russell Wilson 157
Jameis Winston 119
Philip Rivers 114
Kirk Cousins 112
Aaron Rodgers 107
Ben Roethlisberger 106

DeAndre Hopkins leads all receivers in end-zone targets over that same time span, but it remains to be seen if that trend will continue with the Arizona Cardinals in 2020. In 2019, Kyler Murray ranked 17th in end-zone passing attempts (27), while Deshaun Watson ranked 10th (32).

Most end-zone targets since 2017
DeAndre Hopkins 53
Mike Evans 49
Antonio Brown 40
Marvin Jones Jr. 38
Robby Anderson 37

Metcalf also reigned supreme when it came to the percent of total targets that were end-zone targets in 2019. 

Highest end-zone target percentage in 2019 (WRs)
D.K. Metcalf 19%
Adam Thielen 17%
Mike Williams 14%
Breshad Perriman 14%
Marquise Brown 14%
Preston Williams 14%

Among receivers with at least 40 targets, Metcalf’s 19% end-zone target share ranked No. 1 among all positions. 

Highest end-zone target percentage in 2019 (all positions)
D.K. Metcalf 19%
Jared Cook 18%
Adam Thielen 17%
Kyle Rudolph 15%
Mike Williams 14%

Two Minnesota Vikings also cracked the top-five, which adds up considering Kirk Cousins ranks fourth in end-zone throws since 2017. During Weeks 1-7 when Adam Thielen was healthy, he tied for second in total end-zone targets (eight). He did not record another end-zone target for the remainder of the regular season after he came back from his injury.

There were also some notable names who had a 5% or lower end-zone target rate in 2019: Tyler Boyd (1%), Robert Woods (2%), Diontae Johnson (2%), Michael Gallup (4%), Christian Kirk (4%), Cooper Kupp (5%), D.J. Moore (5%), Darren Waller (5%), Julio Jones (5%), Jarvis Landry (5%) and Hunter Henry (5%).

Some interesting sleeper candidates saw a high percentage of end-zone targets in 2019 — most specifically, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric EbronHe owned the 10th-highest end-zone target percentage (10%) among tight ends and gets the benefit of playing with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who ranks sixth in total end-zone passing attempts since 2017 despite missing essentially all of the 2019 season. Ebron ranks second in total end-zone targets (30) over that period behind only Jimmy Graham (35).

Graham has moved on from Green Bay, which creates an interesting opportunity for Allen Lazard, who saw a 10% end-zone target percentage. That mark ranked inside the top-20 at the wide receiver position. Considering Graham’s 2019 end-zone target percentage was third-highest at the position, Lazard could be a viable option to see increased looks from Aaron Rodgers in the end zone.

Highest end-zone target percentage in 2019 (TEs)
Jared Cook 18%
Kyle Rudolph 15%
Jimmy Graham 14%
Noah Fant 14%
Darren Fells 13%
Mike Gesicki 13%

The relationship between Lazard and Rodgers has been highly noted, but there is another Packers wide receiver who popped as a legitimate sleeper — Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling ranked 10th in end-zone target percentage (13%) while also ranking third in deep target percentage (35.2%) among wide receivers with at least 15 deep targets.

MVS possesses 4.37 speed, and his quarterback ranks first in deep passing attempts and third in deep passing touchdowns (23) since 2018. Valdes-Scantling was a train wreck in 2019, but his downfield skills could make a splash within a weak receiver room.

Deep Targets

In 2019 PPR scoring, a non-deep target (under 20 yards) netted an average of 1.71 fantasy points. A deep target averaged 1.3-times that (2.22). Deep targets don’t hold the same weight as end-zone targets, but they are still sought after.   

Kenny Golladay ranked No. 1 in total deep targets and seventh in deep target percentage (31.9%) in 2019. Going deep has been part of Golladay’s game since he entered the NFL — he ranks eighth in total deep targets and fifth in receiving yards off those passes since 2017.

Most deep targets (2019)
Kenny Golladay 36
Odell Beckham Jr. 33
DeVante Parker 29
Allen Robinson II 29
Stefon Diggs 29

Look for quarterback Matthew Stafford to continue chucking the ball downfield in 2020, as he ranks 10th in total deep pass attempts since 2017 despite missing the second half of the 2019 season.

Most deep passing attempts since 2017
Russell Wilson 244
Jameis Winston 207
Aaron Rodgers 207
Tom Brady 207
Philip Rivers 203
Matt Ryan 194

It’s noteworthy as well that a brand new quarterback-wide receiver duo will play together for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who both have plenty of experience with the deep ball. Tom Brady and Mike Evans should silence the critics of Brady’s perceived ineptitude when it comes to tossing the long ball.  

Most deep targets since 2017
Julio Jones 95
DeAndre Hopkins 87
Robby Anderson 84
Tyreek Hill 84
Mike Evans 82

Evans should be the definitive deep target in the Buccaneers’ offense after the team chose not to bring back wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who led the league in deep target percentage in 2019 among wide receivers with at least 12 deep targets.

Highest deep target percentage in 2019
Breshad Perriman 43.1%
Ted Ginn Jr. 37.7%
David Moore 35.3%
Marquez Valdes-Scantling 35.2%
James Washington 33.8%
Will Fuller V 32.9%
Mike Williams 32.9%

Notable names who ranked low in deep target percentage in 2019 include Julian Edelman (9.5%), Tyler Boyd (9.5%), Robert Woods (11.6%), Emmanuel Sanders (12.5%), Larry Fitzgerald (13.5%), Keenan Allen (13.6%), DeAndre Hopkins (13.7%), Chris Godwin (14.9%) and Julio Jones (15.4%).

Takeaways

This information brings to light a few late-round dart throws. Ted Ginn Jr. served as the primary deep threat in New Orleans for the past few seasons. He moved on to Chicago, and the team could turn to third-year wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith, who has had his moments filling in for Ginn. The speedy receiver also owned a 13% end-zone target percentage, which ranked eighth at the wide receiver position.

Allen Lazard cracked the top 13 in deep target percentage (29.4%) and gets his second shoutout in this piece, having emerged as a sneaky deep threat. His aDOT in 2019 (13.2) was right on par with notable vertical receivers like Marvin Jones Jr. (13.7), Marquise Goodwin (13.1) and Tyler Lockett (13.8). And, again, Jimmy Graham’s departure looks like another plus for Lazard, as the veteran tight end ranked fifth in deep target percentage among tight ends in 2019.

Highest deep target percentage in 2019 (TEs)
Dawson Knox 19.6%
O.J. Howard 19.2%
Mike Gesicki 18.8%
Mark Andrews 18.6%
Jimmy Graham 17.2%

Lazard has not been a player I've been bullish on leading up to the 2020 season, but with the continued praise of his quarterback and the money targets he saw in 2019 — along with the projected ones for 2020 — he's someone I'm going to target more aggressively. Lazard is consensus WR61 in the PFF fantasy projections and, ironically, I have him ranked the highest of my peers at WR55. His current ADP is WR64. 

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