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On Target: It's Not Just About Targets

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.

For those who were with us last year and utilized this column in its inaugural season, welcome back. We'll take a similar look at target data with a few tweaks here and there to help make those tight lineup choices a little easier each week. For those who are new to this column, here's a quick overview of what we're trying to accomplish:

Ultimately, the goal of this piece is to provide you with a key resource when making tough decisions about which receivers and tight ends to start once you get beyond the no-brainers. Jeff Erickson's Weekly Value Meter is an invaluable tool, yet people still seem to have a tough time deciding between a player he ranks 40th, and one he ranks 45th. With Jeff's rankings, and this column as an added resource, you will have much more data and insight at your disposal to make the best possible lineup decisions.

Tracking targets is one of the best ways to help decide which receivers to start each week. In a vacuum, players who see the most targets in a game are afforded the most opportunities to rack up yards and score touchdowns. Simple, right? However, with many other factors to take into account, fantasy owners need to go beyond just a cursory glance at the target leaders. Is a player seeing the most targets on his team? If his quarterback throws 40 times a game, what percentage of those throws are going toward a specific receiver? Does he catch everything that comes his way? How many of his targets are coming in the red zone, as opposed to between the 20s?

Each week, a Targets Leaderboard will be compiled with the previous week's information available; and from there, we will discuss a number of players of interest. We'll look into both their individual and team situations to determine how worthy they are of a start, or if some of the data is just an anomaly rather than a trusted number. Although they will regularly appear on the leaderboard, we will not discus players like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. Barring a debilitating injury, they should be staples in your lineup regardless of matchup. In this column, we'll look more closely at players such as Brian Hartline and Jerome Simpson; guys who are considered more WR3/flex option material or, as is usually the case, bye-week fillers.

Last season we organized the leaderboard by target percentage as it was, and still is, my opinion that it is one of the most telling stats, and usually a good tiebreaker when narrowing your choices each week. Over the course of the season, it should be the most telling stat. How often a player is targeted in his team's passing attack tells you plenty about his role in the offense, and ultimately, his fantasy value. A high target percentage means a player is getting the ball more often than most and has significantly more opportunities to rack up yardage, find the end zone, and, in the end, put up strong fantasy numbers.

But while organizing by target percentage is my preference, the table you will be using has a number of other statistics because of one inherent flaw in the rate stat. While a high target percentage obviously means the player is a major focal point of his team's passing attack, some players can prove to be more valuable in fantasy despite a lower target rate. For example, Cecil Shorts may have a higher target percentage than Demaryius Thomas because he is one of maybe two or three viable receiver options while Thomas is competing in a high-octane offense with a number of receivers.

You also have to take into consideration that a player's target rate is obviously affected by the number of pass plays called each game. New England, Denver and New Orleans are always going to have a higher percentage of passes each week while teams like Carolina and Minnesota may focus more on the ground attack. The higher number of pass plays tends to drive down the target rate unless you're talking about someone like Marshall and the Bears.

That is why I implore you to utilize this entire table and not just assume that the player with the higher target percentage is the way to go. When I do my own analysis each week, I start with the target rate, but then I turn to the actual number of targets, red-zone target percentage and catch rate. Both catch percentage and red-zone target percentage are important to watch as both become subsets of the overall Target Percentage. If a player has a low catch rate, there is little chance of him seeing a decent target percentage. Simply put, a quarterback isn't going to throw to a guy who can't hold onto the ball.

Similarly, a high red-zone percentage may not necessarily indicate a high-scoring player if he lacks the yardage. Sure, he may grab the six points for the touchdown reception, but without strong yardage numbers, his point total may not be as glamorous as hoped. Think of these players like touchdown vultures among running backs. However, even a player who has a low red-zone target percentage can still produce boatloads of points if he has a high target percentage since he racks up a ton of yards each game and still occasionally finds the end zone.

From there I look at the individual match-ups and finally come to a decision. Sounds complicated, but that's why this table has been assembled. It will give you an all-in-one look at all the relevant data and then I'll follow it up with some weekly start/sit suggestions.

Clear as mud? Good.

So let's get to the target results from Week 1. Again, It's organized by target percentage first and foremost and then the secondary stats.

PLAYERPOSYARDSTDPASS ATTTARGETSRECRZ TRGTRZ TRG%CATCH%TARGET%
Anquan Boldin, SFWR2081391713350.076.543.6
Greg Olsen, CARTE56023105133.350.043.5
Vincent Jackson, TBWR15403113700.053.841.9
Brian Hartline, MIAWR1141381591100.060.039.5
A.J. Green, CINWR1622331396100.069.239.4
Emmanuel Sanders, PITWR57033127228.658.336.4
DeSean Jackson, PHIWR1041259700.077.836.0
Andre Johnson, HOUWR146045161200.075.035.6
Larry Fitzgerald, ARIWR80240148775.057.135.0
Steve Smith, CARWR5112386466.775.034.8
Reggie Wayne, INDWR9612388133.3100.034.8
Randall Cobb, GBWR108137127866.758.332.4
Brandon Marshall, CHIWR1041331081100.080.030.3
Jerome Simpson, MINWR1400288700.087.528.6
Rod Streater, OAKWR7002985116.762.527.6
Jordy Nelson, GBWR130137107216.770.027.0
Danny Amendola, NEWR104052141000.071.426.9
Kenbrell Thompkins, NEWR4205214400.028.626.9
Cecil Shorts, JACWR4004111300.027.326.8
Jared Cook, STLTE141238107433.370.026.3
Brandon Gibson, MIAWR7703810700.070.026.3
Demaryius Thomas, DENWR161242115120.045.526.2
Mike Williams, TBWR52131841100.050.025.8
Jordan Cameron, CLETE108153139580.069.224.5
Miles Austin, DALWR72049121000.083.324.5
Doug Baldwin, SEAWR910338700.087.524.2
Alshon Jeffery, CHIWR420338500.062.524.2
Denarius Moore, OAKWR4312975650.071.424.1
Julio Jones, ATLWR7613897525.077.823.7
Stephen Hill, NYJWR3903996150.066.723.1
Vernon Davis, SFTE9823996433.366.723.1
Andre Roberts, ARIWR970409800.088.922.5
Pierre Garcon, WASWR6404911700.063.622.4
Ace Sanders, JACWR140419300.033.322.0
Jermichael Finley, GBTE5613785116.762.521.6
Brandon Myers, NYGTE6614297733.377.821.4
Jerricho Cotchery, PITWR3413374628.657.121.2
Wes Welker, DENWR67252119660.081.821.2
Steven Jackson, ATLRB4503885312.562.521.1
Calvin Johnson, DETWR3704394350.044.420.9
Kellen Winslow, NYJTE791398700.087.520.5
DeMarco Murray, DALRB39049108233.380.020.4
Dallas Clark, BALTE8706212700.058.319.4
Shane Vereen, NERB5805210700.070.019.2
Victor Cruz, NYGWR11834285222.262.519.0
Hakeem Nicks, NYGWR11404285222.262.519.0
Da'Rel Scott, NYGRB5104285222.262.519.0
Davone Bess, CLEWR47053105120.050.018.9
Greg Little, CLEWR2605310400.040.018.9
Reggie Bush, DETRB1011438400.050.018.6
Jason Witten, DALTE7024998550.088.918.4
Santana Moss, WASWR540499500.055.618.4
Arian Foster, HOURB3304586125.075.017.8
Ray Rice, BALRB35062118350.072.717.7
Julian Edelman, NEWR79252974100.077.817.3
Dez Bryant, DALWR220498400.050.016.3
Brandon Stokley, BALWR3406210400.040.016.1
Travis Benjamin, CLEWR440538300.037.515.1
Leonard Hankerson, WASWR8024975150.071.414.3
Torrey Smith, BALWR9206284116.750.012.9

PLAYERS TO NOTE

Julian Edelman, NE -
The most talked-about receiver on this whole leaderboard is also likely to be the most popular free agent on your waiver wire this week - Julian Edelman. He was Tom Brady's No. 1 stud in the red zone, and while his target percentage was significantly lower than that of Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, he put up the most points of the three. But how likely is that going to last in the long run? With Amendola likely out Thursday, Edelman probably will see an increase in targets. But once Amendola returns, Thompkins shakes his rookie jitters and Rob Gronkowski comes back, how many targets is he really going to see? Just something to think about when setting up that free-agent bid.

Jerome Simpson, MIN -
Simpson should be another hot commodity, but again, maybe not someone on whom to blow your FAAB budget. He could see the highest percentage on the team, but probably not by much with Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph likely to take a significant amount of Christian Ponder's attention. Not to mention, we're talking about a run-first team led by Adrian Peterson.

Brian Hartline, MIA -
Hartline could definitely surprise some people this season and is actually someone to consider putting in a solid bid for this week. He and Ryan Tannehill built a strong rapport last year, and he was a fantastic play in PPR leagues. This year, even with Mike Wallace in town, Hartline should see a large percentage of targets, and he's also going to see more red-zone looks than he did last year. In fact, already through one game he's matched last season's touchdown total.

Anquan Boldin, SF -
If you thought Michael Crabtree was destined to be atop the leaderboard late last year, just watch Boldin. Barring injury, he should be in the top five of this leaderboard for more than just target percentage. He and Colin Kaepernick looked like in Week 1 they had been playing together for years, and you just can't fake that kind of on-field chemistry.

Greg Olsen, CAR -
While it might not surprise you to see Olsen as the top tight end on this list, my guess is that Jared Cook and Vernon Davis should surpass him in overall value. Here's a perfect example actually as to why you should look at more than just the target rate. Both Davis and Cook should rack up more yardage and probably find the endzone more as well.

Cleveland Receivers - Get a good look at Travis Benjamin and Greg Little now as one likely will fall off the map once Josh Gordon returns from suspension Week 3. I'm guessing it's Benjamin, but considering the problem Little had with drops last season, that's certainly not set in stone. I didn't include Davone Bess here because I see him as a favorite possession receiver for Brandon Weeden, and he should be a decent fill-in for PPR leagues once bye-weeks start up.

POTENTIAL FALLERS

Travis Benjamin
Emmanuel Sanders
Brandon Gibson
Stephen Hill
Da'Rel Scott

POTENTIAL RISERS
(players who failed to make the Week 1 leaderboard)

Antonio Brown
Tavon Austin
Dwayne Bowe
Marques Colston
Darren Sproles

WEEK 2 MATCHUP TO WATCH

Washington at Green Bay -
The Packers will be looking to show the home crowd that they are the team to beat this year (whether they are or not), and Aaron Rodgers can pick apart a secondary much easier than Michael Vick, who really stuck it to the Redskins in Week 1. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley could find their way into some pretty sick numbers against the Skins pass defense. On the other side, the Packers secondary didn't exactly stifle anyone but Kyle Williams during Week 1, so Robert Griffin could find himself chucking it downfield early and often. Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson could have quite a day.