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On Target: Examining Yards Per Target

Davis Mattek

Davis Mattek has played DFS for a living for over a year and began in the fantasy sports industry in 2012. He is a member of the FSTA and FSWA.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but you can actually get fantasy points for things other than touchdowns (note: heavy sarcasm). Most, or at least a lot, of the analysis in this year's On Target has centered on touchdowns. Touchdowns are relatively low-frequency events, but they provide fantasy points in bunches, and I think it's fairly reasonable that we focus on them. Without touchdowns, our fantasy teams will fall apart, and by getting as many of them in our lineups as possible, it's much easier to win championships. Yards, however, play a critical component in fantasy points (obviously). Opportunity isn't always easy to predict, especially with more tertiary players. Something that I haven't examined yet in the column this year is yards per target. Often, yards per target, as opposed to yards per reception, can really get at the heart of wide receiver (or tight end) efficiency.

Rather that simply examining what happens when a pass catcher actually secures the ball, there is extra information baked into yards per target. Catch percentage, effectiveness on different types of routes and involvement in the offense are pieces of information that can be found in yards per target. The following table is a sorted list of all players with 50-plus targets in 2014, descending from the leader in YPT. (Just for fun, I included TD per target, but the numbers are so miniscule that they are hard to analyze.)

DeSean Jackson724211.928580.064
T.Y. Hilton966311.2810830.044
Malcom Floyd553610.986040.074
Randall Cobb795810.598370.1310
Kenny Stills513910.375290.042
Odell Beckham594110.326090.085
Emmanuel Sanders1057610.2810790.077
Mike Evans824910.268410.18
Jordy Nelson1066810.0610660.089
Travis Kelce544110.045420.074
DeAndre Hopkins81519.918030.054
Golden Tate106729.8810470.033
Marques Colston63389.816180.032
A.J. Green65419.686290.064
Demaryius Thomas124829.6111920.079
Larry Fitzgerald69469.546580.032
Taylor Gabriel57309.475400.021
Antonio Brown123889.4411610.079
Heath Miller54439.285010.042
Delanie Walker72439.266670.064
Steve Smith90539.088170.065
Rob Gronkowski90589.028120.19
Kenny Britt53279.004770.063
Jeremy Maclin109638.999800.089
Terrance Williams50288.884440.126
Anquan Boldin94658.788250.044
Torrey Smith62328.775440.16
Eddie Royal52348.674510.15
Greg Olsen84568.577200.065
Dez Bryant103638.538790.110
Brandon LaFell79488.536740.065
Mohamed Sanu86498.367190.065
Coby Fleener56318.344670.074
Alshon Jeffery94588.337830.055
Julio Jones118728.319800.034
Jordan Matthews77508.256350.086
Dwayne Bowe67448.2255100
Antonio Gates60408.184910.159
Allen Hurns60318.134880.085
Zach Ertz57348.074600.042
Andrew Hawkins87507.986940.022
Brandin Cooks69537.975500.043
Julius Thomas54407.894260.2212
Kelvin Benjamin98527.847680.088
Calvin Johnson74387.815780.043
Miles Austin64417.734950.032
Michael Floyd59267.694540.074
Sammy Watkins89487.696840.065
Martellus Bennett82577.666280.065
Jimmy Graham88657.616700.19
Jermaine Kearse50267.603800.021
Greg Jennings66407.595010.053
John Brown70377.565290.075
Andre Holmes63327.524740.064
Justin Hunter64277.54800.053
Doug Baldwin66467.444910.032
Roddy White89567.446620.065
Pierre Garcon68467.324980.043
Jason Witten63437.324610.064
Jerricho Cotchery58327.3142400
Markus Wheaton62367.294520.032
Larry Donnell65467.094610.096
Le'Veon Bell70576.914840.032
Michael Crabtree83486.835670.054
Jarvis Landry66496.824500.085
Julian Edelman102706.816950.022
Mike Wallace87486.805920.087
Brandon Marshall91526.796180.098
Kendall Wright74446.775010.054
Allen Robinson81486.775480.022
Jared Cook70376.764730.011
Eric Decker76476.755130.054
Keenan Allen95616.756410.022
Reggie Wayne90506.726050.022
Matt Forte89726.725980.033
Vincent Jackson103486.586780.022
Owen Daniels54376.573550.063
Andre Johnson103586.486670.011
James Jones82546.455290.054
Robert Woods75456.394790.043
Riley Cooper68396.254250.011
Andre Ellington64466.173950.032
Fred Jackson51406.143130.021
Charles Clay58395.973460.032
Cecil Shorts64345.953810.021
Rueben Randle97535.745570.022
Cordarrelle Patterson61305.743500.021
Shane Vereen62435.693530.053
Jermaine Gresham57425.653220.042
Mychal Rivera60385.573340.053
Percy Harvin58405.3330900
Andre Roberts57285.162940.042
Jeremy Kerley60315.053030.021

Let's start with the good before the bad. DeSean Jackson is what he always has been: a lightly used wide receiver who has a good shot at a 30-point fantasy outting every week ... but also can go out and put up four points simply because he is only targeted downfield. Kenny Stills at fifth on this list should encourage everyone who put in a waiver claim for him after Brandin Cooks went down. While Cooks was mostly being used around the line of scrimmage and in possession situations, Stills has seemed to inherit a little bit of the old Robert Meachem/Devery Henderson role. If Stills can combine his downfield efficiency with the involvement in the offense that Cooks leaves behind, being a WR1 for the rest of the season is not out of the question. In fact, I would think that suggesting that Stills is anything worse than a WR2 is downright ridiculous. Jordy Nelson, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Travis Kelce are familiar names atop the yards per target list. We know these guys are great, so it's not surprising.

I'm not really interested in players who are doing well. For the most part, we know that players who rack up a lot of yards are efficient, and their efficiency means that their quarterback and their coach will continually go back to them. If it's working, NFL coaches are very, very likely to continue doing whatever it is. Inefficient players, on the other hand, are subject to the vagaries of matchup and game plan. Reuben Randle is one of the worst players in football in yards per target, and that shouldn't be particularly surprising. He fell under constant criticism last season for not knowing the playbook and running the wrong routes; for our purposes, Beckham is the only NYG receiver worth paying attention too.

Andre Ellington is primarily known an explosive player, someone who doesn't need a ton of touches to be fantasy viable. This season, he's seen more work than normal but it has had a dramatic impact on his effectiveness. There isn't a ton of actionable information here for this season, but it would suggest he might be a little overvalued next year because his composite numbers look pretty good. Keenan Allen at the bottom of the YPT table tells us that he is who we thought he was as a prospect, but not as a rookie. He's a good player, with sure hands, but he isn't explosive enough to ever really profile as a WR1. Probably the most surprising name for me was Mike Wallace so low. He's generally been an explosive player for his career and has had quite a season with Ryan Tannehill. I think this is probably more an anomaly than anything else, but I've never been high on Wallace's ability anyway.