Targets Per Route Run Report: 2023 Season Preview (Fantasy Football)

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Every season, there are a handful of players that break out and turn into league-winning fantasy players. Sure, they could be elite receivers who go to the next level of domination, but winning teams always seem to find that waiver wire pickup or rookie that seemingly comes out of nowhere. How do we know when it’s time to start a player who seems to be improving? What if we could predict the future?

Buckle up, because where we’re going, we don’t need roads. 

In 2021, Kyle Borgognoni wrote a fantastic primer for evaluating the percentage of routes targeted for players. Or, as it’s now more commonly known, targets per route run (TPRR). I’d highly recommend reading his article if you want to understand the methodology behind the analysis.

What is TPRR?

If you’re a fan of simplicity, you’ll love TPRR. The data is widely available, and the equation is straightforward. To calculate TPRR, we divide a player’s targets by their routes run in the same sample set (a game, a stretch of the season, an entire season, etc.). For example, let’s look at Tyreek Hill, who was a TPRR cheat code in 2022. Hill ran 534 routes and was targeted 167 times, which comes to 0.313. That number means Cheetah was targeted on 31.3% of his routes, i.e. the ball came his way on every third route he ran. If you hear Gwen Stefani in the background, it’s because that ish is B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

On the other hand, we’ll compare Hill with Allen Robinson (for maybe the last time ever). In the 10 games he played, Robinson ran 364 routes (that’s more than Tyreek in that span!) and was targeted 51 times, which is a TPRR of 0.14, or 14%. No bananas, just ish.

What TPRR Can Do

Touchdowns, receptions, and yards are all stats you can see in a player’s fantasy points, but TPRR can highlight players who are on the verge of fantasy relevance before they’re the new hotness. Targets per route run focuses on how a player performs when they’re on the field, so it is really good at not penalizing a player for missing time due to injury or seeing a smaller percentage of snaps. Those are the players you can target mid-season before the rest of your league catches on.

At its core, TPRR is a measure of efficiency; it tells us a player’s ability either to get open or be a part of the offensive scheme. We say it often: earning targets is a skill. And that skill, expressed as TPRR, has a strong correlation with fantasy relevance. Since 2006, 92% of receivers who finished as a WR2 or better (top 24) had a TPRR of at least 20%.

What TPRR Can’t Do

TPRR is like a signpost, pointing us toward the mountain range of fantasy football glory. “There’s gold in them there hills,” and whatnot. But it’s not a guarantee. Let’s take Elijah Moore in 2022. He seemed poised for a breakout last season after seeing 64 targets his rookie season and achieving a TPRR of 24%. In retrospect, there were warning signs (Garrett Wilson drafted at number 10 overall, and Zach Wilson not being good at football) even before things got ugly in Jersey. Moore finished last season with a TPRR of only 11.9%. (Side note: I haven’t given up on Elijah Moore; I think he could find redemption in Cleveland).

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We can’t look at TPRR as the only factor, but it is incredibly helpful in the right context. This season, I’ll be including more analysis of a player’s TPRR in conjunction with their team’s pass rate over expectation (PROE) to provide a clearer picture of the opportunity within a given team dynamic. More on that during the season.

2022 Recap

In the immortal words of Jack Shephard to Kate Austen, “We have to go back!” Let’s take a look at the top 20 players from 2022 in TPRR.  To eliminate worthless data, I’ve limited this list to players who ran at least 250 routes in 2022.

Player Team GP Rts Tgts TPRR
Tyreek Hill MIA 17 534 167 31.3%
Amon-Ra St. Brown DET 16 483 139 28.8%
Cooper Kupp LA 9 338 95 28.1%
Drake London* ATL 17 419 114 27.2%
Davante Adams LV 17 618 168 27.2%
Chris Olave* NO 15 431 114 26.5%
Stefon Diggs BUF 16 573 149 26.0%
CeeDee Lamb DAL 17 571 148 25.9%
DeAndre Hopkins ARZ 9 362 93 25.7%
Justin Jefferson MIN 17 690 176 25.5%
Ja’Marr Chase CIN 12 518 127 24.5%
Christian Watson* GB 14 270 65 24.1%
D.K. Metcalf SEA 17 578 139 24.0%
Keenan Allen LAC 10 356 85 23.9%
A.J. Brown PHI 17 578 137 23.7%
Chris Godwin TB 15 581 137 23.6%
Garrett Wilson* NYJ 17 595 139 23.4%
Deebo Samuel SF 13 375 87 23.2%
Diontae Johnson PIT 17 614 141 23.0%
Amari Cooper CLV 17 562 126 22.4%

*Rookie
Source: pff.com

See anyone you recognize?

The best receivers in the NFL are going to top a lot of lists, so it’s not a surprise to see the likes of Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams, and Justin Jefferson here. This is where TPRR really shines. Several players on this list had seasons limited by injury, but we can see that they were heavily targeted when they were on the field.

Finally, the rookies made their presence known, with Drake London, Chris Olave, Christian Watson, and Garrett Wilson nabbing four of the top 20 spots.

Players to Target in 2023

What are we supposed to do with this info? With the majority of league drafts coming up, it’s a good time to factor TPRR into your decision-making and ranking of receivers. Has their situation changed? Are certain players being elevated or devalued based on situations unlikely to repeat themselves (i.e. injuries)? I love using TPRR as a gut check when I’m evaluating players for a draft because it tells me what actually happened on the field.

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Second-Year Wide Receivers

Since 2017, 19 players have finished their rookie season with at least a 20% TPRR. Of that list, nine of them have had at least one top-12 season. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Drake London proved they belong on this list, and I’d bet on a repeat for all three in 2023. None of these three have significant competition for targets, and each’s average draft position reflects the vibes around their respective offenses.

Christian Watson, Green Bay Packers

Christian Watson went on an absolute tear in the second half of 2022, which is exactly what you want to see in a rookie. He made his name on touchdowns last season and has the smallest sample size of the four, but his 24.1% TPRR is encouraging. I have to admit that he’s the closest comp to Elijah Moore for me, with the Packers drafting Jayden Reed in the second round this year and Jordan Love being an unknown commodity. Watson undoubtedly has upside, but there’s plenty of risk involved. He’s currently being drafted as the WR25 ahead of players I like more, like Tyler Lockett and the next gentleman on this list.

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

Diontae Johnson endured a difficult 2022 campaign. Kenny Pickett looked like a rookie, the Steelers’ offense reeked, and Johnson finished the season without a touchdown to his name. Pittsburgh’s offense looks poised to improve this season, and Johnson’s elite TPRR locks him in for 130+ targets. He’s shown he can be a WR1 before and is an absolute steal at his current WR35 ADP.

Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers

Age and injury are the only things working against Keenan Allen in 2023. The Chargers invested a lot of draft capital into Quentin Johnston this year, and they’ll probably continue to do so as the Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler era draws to a close. But none of that changes the fact that Justin Herbert looks Allen’s way when he’s on the field. Barring injury, Allen is being drafted at his floor as the WR18.

Players that Scare Me in 2023

Christian Watson

See above. He’s the one player with a great TPRR that I don’t find myself drafting very often.

Calvin Ridley & Christian Kirk, Jacksonville Jaguars

I’m a believer in Trevor Lawrence, I am. But I just don’t know how the targets are going to shake out. Despite a good overall finish last season, Christian Kirk only managed a target on 19.8% of his routes with Zay Jones as his competition. He’s not a horrible value at WR30, but I’d rather draft a player with more upside at that spot. And he’s still going ahead of guys like Mike Evans and Diontae Johnson.

Which brings me to Calvin Ridley. There’s a lot of upside with Ridley, sure, because we just don’t know what he’s going to be after not playing football for the last 55 years. He seemed like he was ready to step into that alpha role in Atlanta, posting a 25% TPRR in the five games he played in 2021, but he’s being drafted as the WR17 as of the time of this writing, which is a little rich for my blood.

Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals

Ja’Marr Chase is the alpha for the Bengals, and Higgins is an excellent running mate. However, Higgins’ efficiency dipped in a season where Chase only played in 12 games, as his TPRR dropped from the low 20s to 19.4%. Maybe he’s completely healthy now, but he won’t finish as a top-12 receiver unless his targets increase. He’s a locked-in WR2, but that’s not where he’s being drafted.

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Conclusion

Every week this season, I’ll be back with the TPRR Report to highlight the top players in this category, as well as players who could be trade targets, starts, or waiver wire pickups. We’ll also dive into some red flags that pop up early in the season and determine if it’s time to cut bait and look elsewhere for your fantasy salvation.

Good luck at your drafts, and I’ll see you after Week 1.

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