In the offseason you will see the prior year and how targets were diverted throughout the season. This will turn to the current year once Week 1 takes place. If you are in the offseason and trying to apply 2019 data to 2020, it has a lot of worth. Targets can be consistent from year to year, but we can also see vacant targets. If a player leaves or is traded, then there will be some targets up for grabs. You can also see a general range for what a player’s targets will be on a yearly basis, as there will be trends to follow from year to year.
Once a new season is going to start, the targets will start flying in. Now some will be consistent, but some numbers can be flukey as well. Starting with the consistent scenarios, some wide receivers are just dominant and the easy guys to throw to for quarterbacks, and will be their go-to guy in the offense. This would be names like Julio Jones and Michael Thomas. These guys are seeing double-digit targets a game, and there are only a few names who get these types of numbers. These are truly the elite target numbers in the game. Averaging 7-9 targets a game is generally where you see some of the top receiving options land, things will start to dwindle down after that.
Going week to week you are going to see a lot of changes throughout the season. Looking at things early on in a season, you have to look further than just the numbers. You might notice some dips in the numbers, and also some weeks that just don’t add up. There are a few reasons for why these things can change. To start if you see a blank week, this is either because that team was on bye, or that player was injured. Low targets can also be a sign of an injury where they left early in the game. Players that see a large number of targets randomly might have stepped in for an injured wide receiver to where they now have a larger role in the offense.
For those players who rely on high passing volume numbers to get targets, game flow is going to determine their fate on some weeks. If a team is playing from behind, you might see a few players get more targets than they usually do as that team is chasing a game from behind. Now if a team doesn’t need to throw a lot that week and are leading with the rushing attack, targets might drop off. This is not going to be shown in just the simple numbers above, so finding out more to the story is important when viewing any sort of stat. Injuries occur throughout a long season, and it is likely a wide receiver or tight end will be affected. Teams can adjust by plugging in the next name and that player sees similar targets, or they can spread out his targets over the rest of the receiving core.
At the top row you can toggle between the number of targets and the percentage of team targets. After weeks have gone by, you can get a better understanding of how teams are involving their players. A wide receiver getting 25% of the team targets is a large number. If you look for a specific week, you might see players getting 35-40% of the team targets. This is a great way to narrow down how each player is used within the passing game. It also gives you a better indication of the two tight ends a team might use or the two running backs.
Offensive Styles & Targets
The way offenses are run and also the way they are built have a large effect on how targets are spread around. To start, offenses that build with a traditional two strong wide receivers, they will likely see the most targets on the offense. We have also seen teams move to having an elite receiving tight end and a strong WR1 in the system. Of course there are multiple variations of how teams are built. Looking at teams with a lacking receiving core, targets might be spread around, or the tight ends and running backs pick up a majority of the targets. Teams that do have a dynamic pass-catching back might take away some targets from the surrounding wide receivers and tight ends. Overall there is a totem pole of targets in the offense, and the way a team is built is going to be reflected in that. For the most part, talent is going to correlate with where the targets go.
Now quarterback play is also going to play into where targets go. We often have those quarterbacks who have a strong link with a receiving target. We saw it with Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson a few seasons ago, and now we are seeing it with Davante Adams. Quarterbacks who are more likely to take shots down field will help out the wide receivers and tight ends that rely on a higher average depth of target, where quarterbacks that do not air it out down the field might check down more. This is where we could see the tight ends and running backs get more looks, as well as a slot receiver. Quarterbacks that look to unload quickly are going to rack up targets for those possession type wide receivers.
Offenses are run in various ways. Those high powered offense that have a ton of pass volume per week are going to be strong for receivers and tight ends to get their volume. Those teams can support having a few skill position players to have over five targets a week. Teams that are a bit more balanced and or run heavy are going to have targets be more centered on their stud players. We saw that with Minnesota. They have been a run heavy team, but the targets mainly went to Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Teams that spread the ball around can be a fantasy nightmare, making it hard to pinpoint each week the top wide receivers. While it is effective for real life football, it can be a struggle for our fantasy game.
Defenses will also play a factor, because teams with bad defenses correlate more with higher pass attempts. We look at the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals in recent years, as they have had bad defenses where the offense has to air it out. We call this garbage time, but the targets are there for a lot of teams that have bad defenses. This is always something to look at on a weekly basis, as game script can give you an edge if you can predict how a game is going to go to project players with a few extra targets in comparison to their average.
What Happens To Targets After Roster Moves?
Most of the roster moves are going to be made throughout the offseason. We have rookies coming into the league, as well as free agent and trade transactions. To look at rookies first, we have seen a lot of receivers come in and get targets right from year one. This is always an important first step for their overall career. The quicker a wide receiver can come in and get targets, the better their chances are at having plenty of success in the NFL. Draft stock is also tied to this where the higher you go, the odds are more in your favor for the role you will have. Skill position players that are drafted later will have to work their way in more, but their leash is also much shorter. A rookie being inserted within the pass offense could shake some targets around, but for the most part he is being inserted because they have a lot of targets up for grabs already.
As players move around the league in the offseason, this is going to leave vacant targets on their prior team. Now if they are a big name, we could see 90+ targets now up for grabs. A team will bring in a new name, shift everyone up the depth chart, or move more towards a run based offense. We have seen this all in the past. Now on that team with vacant targets, bringing in a new name can still create a shift in how things will be spread out. There is no guarantee that player just picks up all those 90 targets, and that is rarely the case. For the most part things will be spread out, as everyone will look to pick up the slack within this offense. If a depth chart is truly set to take on those vacant snaps because they have confidence in the names behind them, we will everyone slide up and take on a larger role in the offense.
The collective effort on an offense is higher than ever. We see more pass-catching backs than ever before, and tight ends have more of a role in the game than ever before. So just because a wide receiver gets traded, it doesn’t mean a wide receiver is going to get more targets. We easily can see tight ends and running backs slide into more targets. It does not put an immediate need on the team to fill that same position role for targets. Because of this, we have to really evaluate how an offense is going to change. Some of those targets could be spread out, but if a wide receiver leaves nine targets a game behind, five of those targets could turn into run plays. We have seen teams deal with changes in that regard.
If you are playing season long football, targets are a good starting point before your draft. Opportunity and volume is always going to be the most crucial area to start your research process. Efficiency will come later. Before the draft, narrow down some of those names who are going to see larger targets, and as mentioned above, evaluate those potential changes in targets to where new opportunities can be had. This is going to stretch across running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. If a player sees a ton of volume, they are not going to be as dependent on efficiency each week. Players that see less targets per game are going to need to be more efficient with those targets because they can’t afford to miss them.
During the season, target shares are going to always be changing. With injuries and early on moves where we missed how offenses will be run, there will be chances to grab players that have larger targets than expected. Working the waiver wire and free agency is always a helping hand for how far you make it in your fantasy league. Using this page is a great way to identify trends and use them to your advantage for adding and dropping players from your team. You can also view red zone targets to see who gets used the most in the red zone. These numbers correlate with touchdowns and most of the time these targets go to the bigger bodied wide receivers or tight ends who have that advantage in closer quarters.
For those playing daily fantasy football, we are always looking at things on a weekly basis, and if we are in Week 2, we are not prepping for weeks ahead like we would be in season long. Projections are a big part of daily fantasy, and nailing those high volume target guys is going to be a staple for your cash games. Lower volume players are not going to be, as they would be more reserved for tournaments. Overall projections are going to breakdown where we think the targets are going to go. As mentioned above, game script is a good way to take advantage of the rest of the field. If a team is projected to lose by double digits, they might be throwing more often to try and keep pace. You can find some low ownership on those types of guys because that may not be completely baked into their projections. Taking advantage of injuries and being able to project where new targets will go is also an important aspect of daily fantasy.
NFL Targets FAQ
What Is A Target In The NFL?
A target is when a quarterback throws the ball to his intended receiver. This is recorded as a target for that player whether he catches the ball or not. Running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends can all record targets.
Who Gets The Most Targets In The NFL?
If you are wondering which position gets the most targets, this can really depend on how the team is run. Usually it is going to be the number one wide receiver, but a team might also have their top option be a tight end like the Kansas City Chiefs.
Who Led The NFL In Targets In 2019?
Michael Thomas led the league in targets, and by a hefty margin. He had 185 targets, and the next closest was Julio Jones with 157. Thomas broke the record for most receptions in a single season. He has been one of the top targeted wideouts over the last few seasons.
What Tight End Had The Most Targets In 2019?
Travis Kelce brought in 136 targets in 2019, and was the top tight end when it came to generating targets in the passing game. Kelce is one of the Chiefs top receiving options, and Patrick Mahomes continues to look his way most often.
What Running Back Had The Most Targets In 2019?
There is a pretty clear front runner for the best receiving back in the game right now. Christian McCaffrey saw 141 targets in 2019, and also was a large part of the Carolina passing game overall. The next closest was Austin Ekeler with 108.