Fantasy Football Target Trends for the 2021 Season

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Targets are an easy-to-understand statistic that frequently leads to fantasy production. That’s precisely why I’ve been writing a weekly target-based article for The Ballers for three seasons now. This year, as usual, there is plenty of overlap between the most targeted and most fantasy-productive players. Of course, the caliber of the team offense, the quality of the quarterback delivering the targets, and their location on the field, also play an important role.

Let’s break down the target trends from the 2021 season and see what stands out, but first look at this exipure reviews to used by the players.

Most Targeted Players

Player Targets Target/game Team Target Share Fantasy Finish
Cooper Kupp 191 11.2 31.7% WR1
Davante Adams 169 10.6 31.6% WR3
Diontae Johnson 169 10.6 28.4% WR9
Justin Jefferson 167 9.8 28.9% WR4
Stefon Diggs 164 9.6 26.5% WR7
DJ Moore 163 9.6 28.3% WR19
Tyreek Hill 159 9.4 25.0% WR6
Keenan Allen 157 9.8 25.0% WR14
Mark Andrews 154 9.1 26.1% WR6*
Marquise Brown 145 9.1 26.1% WR23
* Finish denotes where the player would’ve finished among wide receivers

After his dominant fantasy season, it’s not surprising to see Cooper Kupp atop the list of most-targeted players this season. He’s the first player to top 190 targets since 2015 when Julio Jones (203), Antonio Brown (193), and DeAndre Hopkins (192) all accomplished the feat. Kupp also led the league in targets/game and team target share. He had a truly dominant season.

DJ Moore (#MyGuy) stands out as an under-performer yet again. Despite setting a career-high in targets, he finished with just four touchdowns for the third consecutive season. It would appear that positive regression isn’t a thing when you have subpar quarterbacks delivering the targets.

It’s also worth noting that Deebo Samuel, the fantasy WR2 on the season, is nowhere to be found on the list of most-targeted players. He had a respectable 121 targets on the season but made his hay with his additional work on the ground. He carried the ball 59 times this season and ended up with more rushing touchdowns (8) than receiving touchdowns (6).

Most Targeted Tight Ends

Player Targets Target/game Team Target Share Fantasy Finish
Mark Andrews 154 9.1 26.1% TE1
Travis Kelce 134 8.4 22.1% TE2
Zach Ertz 112 6.6 19.3% TE6
Mike Gesicki 112 6.6 18.6% TE11
Kyle Pitts 110 6.5 20.0% TE7
Dalton Schultz 104 6.1 16.4% TE3
George Kittle 94 6.7 22.7% TE4
Cole Kmet 93 5.5 17.7% TE21
Darren Waller 93 8.5 23.4% TE18
Noah Fant 90 5.6 18.3% TE12

The TE1 torch appears to have been passed in 2021. Mark Andrews saw 20 more targets than Travis Kelce on the season and had nearly one more target/game. His 154 targets on the season were the third-most ever by a tight end, falling just two short of the record set by Zach Ertz in 2018.

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Injuries derailed what could’ve been a special season from Darren Waller. He trailed only Andrews in targets/game and pro-rated target share but only got to play in 11 games. The same can be said for George Kittle, who finished as the TE4 on the season despite missing three games.

Most Targeted Running Backs

Player Targets Target/game Team Target Share Fantasy Finish
Austin Ekeler 94 5.9 15.1% RB2
Najee Harris 94 5.5 14.0% RB4
Leonard Fournette 84 6.0 14.0% RB7
D’Andre Swift 78 6.0 18.4% RB19
Cordarrelle Patterson 69 4.3 13.2% RB9
Alvin Kamara 67 5.2 20.3% RB8
Ezekiel Elliott 65 3.8 10.2% RB6
Aaron Jones 65 4.3 12.9% RB12
Josh Jacobs 64 4.3 12.2% RB14
Myles Gaskin 63 3.7 10.5% RB26

Despite the new 17-game NFL season, no running back totaled 100 targets for the first time since 2010. It illustrates how the running back position was ravaged by injuries, especially among premier pass-catching backs. Austin Ekeler, Leonard Fournette, and D’Andre Swift were all pacing for 100+ targets over 17 games. Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey each have multiple 100+ target seasons under their belts but suffered multi-game injuries. Even pass-catching specialist J.D. McKissic missed the last six games of the season.

Najee Harris, Ezekiel Elliott, and Myles Gaskin are the only backs on the above table that played all 17 games. Jonathan Taylor, the RB1 in 2021, saw 51 targets over all 17 games.

Most Targeted Rookies

Player Targets Target/game Team Target Share Fantasy Finish
Jaylen Waddle 140 8.8 25% WR16
Ja’Marr Chase 128 7.5 24% WR5
Amon-Ra St. Brown 119 7.0 21% WR21
Kyle Pitts 110 6.5 20% TE7
DeVonta Smith 104 6.1 22% WR29
Najee Harris 94 5.5 14% RB4
Pat Freiermuth 79 4.9 13% TE13
Elijah Moore 77 7.0 19% WR48
Rashod Bateman 67 5.6 16% WR73
Rondale Moore 64 4.6 14% WR71

For the second year in a row, five rookies saw at least 100 targets on the season. Last year Justin Jefferson lit the world on fire with 125 targets in his rookie season, but both Jaylen Waddle and Ja’Marr Chase topped that in 2021. Waddle set the rookie reception record, but his 140 targets are just the fourth-most all-time, trailing Kelvin Benjamin (145), Anquan Boldin (165), and Terry Glenn (167).

Amon-Ra St. Brown started the season slowly but came on with a huge run to end the season. He saw 67 targets over his last six games, well over half of his total on the season. His 119 targets are the most by a Detroit Lion since Kenny Golladay in 2018.

It was a banner year for rookie tight ends. Kyle Pitts saw the third-most ever for a rookie at the position, and Pat Freiermuth’s 79 were good for seventh-most. It was a far cry from 2021 when Cole Kmet led rookie tight ends with just 44 targets.

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High-Value Targets

Player Red Zone Targets Ten Zone Targets
Cooper Kupp 38 18
Stefon Diggs 34 14
Davante Adams 28 14
Chris Godwin 26 8
Keenan Allen 25 12
Tyreek Hill 24 8
Mike Williams 23 12
Justin Jefferson 23 10
Hunter Renfrow 22 12
Diontae Johnson 21 9

The closer you get to the end zone, the more valuable the targets become. It makes sense to see the dominant names at the top of this list. Most of the players on the list are crisp route runners, as opposed to the jump ball specialists so often associated with end zone targets.

Chris Godwin didn’t crack the top-20 of most targeted players in the league, but it’s clear he had Tom Brady’s trust whenever the Buccaneers neared the end zone.

No tight end made the top ten for red-zone targets, with Tyler Higbee just missing the cut at 20.

Top 10 Single Week Performances

19 targets – Darren Waller, Week 1
19 targets – Najee Harris, Week 3
18 targets – Davante Adams, Week 3
18 targets – Tyreek Hill, Week 8
17 targets – Amari Cooper, Week 1
17 targets – Chris Godwin, Week 13
17 targets – Mike Williams, Week 18
16 targets – five separate occurrences

For the first time since 2017, no player saw 20 or more targets in a single game this season. It’s wild that the two top single-game target performances of the season came from a tight end and running back instead of a wideout. Despite playing six more games, Harris ended up with just one more target than Waller on the season. Each player saw approximately 20% of their season target totals come during their peak week.

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