Fantasy Football: WR Targets & What We Know for 2019
After the NFL Draft, now is the time to start piecing together the puzzle of how offenses will fit together and how we can project players moving forward. This is the third part of this projection series so if you haven’t checked them out yet, review the overarching article, Projecting Offenses and Who Owns the Targets in 2019, to get a clear picture of why I want to look at offenses through this lens and what market share percentages can tell us. I started off last month detailing the Pass-Catching RB & What We Know for 2019 to show which offenses utilized RBs in the passing game and what trends emerged.
Let’s dive into how offenses distributed their targets to the WR position compared to the rest of their team’s pass catchers from 2018, see if there are any patterns or correlations to observe, and begin to siphon out some meaningful data to help us make projections for 2019.
Assessing 2018 Data
If you are unfamiliar with the term “market share”, it’s another way of saying how much percent of a team’s total passing attempts were taken by a specific position. These pass attempts are “adjusted” by taking out throwaways, spikes and the minuscule, abnormal targets to players such as O-Lineman and QBs. For example, if we look at the Atlanta Falcons wide receivers from 2018, Julio Jones (WR1 with 170 targets), Mohamed Sanu (WR2 with 94 targets), and Calvin Ridley (WR3 with 92 targets) along with their backups (Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, and Russell Gage add another 51 targets) saw 67.4 percent of the team’s overall adjusted passing volume. That was the second-highest WR share in the league.
Here is a zoomed out view of how targets were distributed in 2018 sorted by the highest team WR market shares to the lowest.
- Not surprisingly, the league-leaders in team WR market share were teams that devalued throwing the ball to the RB compared to the WR position. This was discussed at length in the previous Pass-Catching RB targets article. Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Minnesota, and Houston all targeted their WRs at least 66 percent of the time but were in the “danger zone” of RB market shares highlighted by the bright red.
- The Buccaneers also had an elite WR3 market share as Chris Godwin’s 95 targets was the most among third WR options in the league. Many expect big things for the third year WR in 2019 as the team transitions under Bruce Arians, who has always emphasized downfield passing schemes and supported multiple fantasy WRs while in Arizona.
- Among the leaders in team WR market share, we also find two of the bottom three in terms of total pass attempts. The Dolphins and Seahawks both threw the ball at abysmal rates and while the individual WR target shares suffered, each team supported above average WR3 market shares. In other words, the meager total pass attempts were spread around.
- Seeing the Eagles at 46.1 percent is downright astounding. If you look at their WR group based on targets, Nelson Agholor checks in with 97 targets, Alshon Jeffrey had 92, and the midseason acquisition of Golden Tate came in at third among WRs with 44 targets. The Eagles’ league-high 35.8 percent TE market share was a drain on the wideouts.
- An often forgotten calculation, the “other” category highlights the percentage of remaining team targets that did NOT go towards a team’s pass-catching RB1, RB2, or WRs 1-3, and the TE1. As seen below, generally speaking, teams with high WR1 market shares (Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry) had relatively low extra targets to ancillary players. The Texans & DeAndre Hopkins were the exception to this but we can chalk up a high “other” market share to the countless injuries their WRs such as Will Fuller, Keke Coutee, and Demaryius Thomas. This forced “other”, non-elite fantasy options to soak up targets.
- Below are the 12 teams that posted an above-average WR2 market share and the corresponding team’s total pass attempts. The WR2 position was what correlated the most among pass-catching positions with team pass attempts. Other than the outlier Seahawks, this chart revealed that teams with high market share for their WR2 (think Stefon Diggs, Juju Smith-Schuster, Robert Woods, Sterling Shepard) had relatively high pass attempt totals. This tells us that if your team had a big enough passing pie to share in 2018, you likely had a secondary WR option worth feeding as well.
Assessing Five Year Trends
If we decide to look at WR market shares over the last five years, perhaps we can see if a team is consistent in their usage and what types of spikes some experienced. Please realize the five-year average can be misleading when we see a change in offensive personnel, injuries, and more importantly, scheme changes with offensive coordinators.
- Here are the teams that have been below the league average of WR market share every year for the last five years: the Titans, Chargers, Saints, Patriots, Chiefs, Redskins, and Eagles. Despite the league’s increasing affinity for 3-WR sets, those teams (besides TEN & WAS) I just listed are among the most successful in the league and all look to be Super Bowl contenders in 2019. Those teams emphasize the RB and TE positions so well that it maximizes their overall passing game rather than hyper-targeting just the WR position.
- The Broncos, Falcons, Packers, and Dolphins are the only teams to be above the league average every year for the last five years. These teams also have supported some of the lowest TE market shares, which makes sense considering they’ve all had mostly irrelevant fantasy TEs.
- There are some extreme outliers on this list if you look closely enough. The 2015 & 2016 New York Jets went bananas as Ryan Fitzpatrick only had eyes for Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. (Those were fun years) The 2014 49ers with Colin Kaepernick decided to only throw to Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree while almost completely neglecting the RB position. 71 percent comes in third behind those Jets. On the other end, the 2014 Chiefs, 2015 Titans, and Eagles all had paltry WR market shares under 45 percent.
- What happened to the Bears in 2016? It seems to be a blip on the radar as the team went 3-13 with Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer, and Jay Cutler all starting at least 5 games each. Sit on that for a second. The team only threw 559 attempts (which would’ve been slightly above average) and Cam Meredith (my former flame) led the team with 97 targets. The 65.2 percent WR market share compared to the other years shows you weird things can happen year-to-year.
How to Project for 2019
Based upon the 2018 market share distribution and some of the trends we’ve seen over the last five years, here are a couple of overarching team projections for 2019 and how different teams might approach the WR position.
Positive Regression Candidates
- The Raiders are due for some WR love in 2018 as the team acquired Antonio Brown and signed Tyrell Williams to bolster out their formerly anemic group. Their 51.1 percent market share was absurdly low compared to where they’ve been in the Derek Carr era.
- The Jaguars have finally relieved themselves (yes poop joke intended) of Blake Bortles. After steadily declining over the last three years, expect a more balanced attack in 2019 with Nick Foles and WR Marqise Lee returning. Foles doesn’t hyper-target RBs like T.J. Yeldon was in 2018. Roughly 21% of Foles’ attempts went to Philly RBs last year, slightly below league average.
- The Dolphins have carried the sixth highest WR market share in the league over the last five years. Despite a dip last year, you can have ample reason to believe Ryan Fitzpatrick will hyper-target his WRs. Not saying they will be quality targets, but if you believe Fitzpatrick will be the starter in Miami for the first couple of weeks over Josh Rosen, be prepared to be peppered if you are a WR. Take a shot on Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, and Devante Parker later in drafts.
When #Fitzpatrick was a starter, this is how his teams finished in terms of % of team targets to the WR position
2018 TB- 67.9% (1st in league)
2017 TB- Only started 3 games
2016 NYJ- 71.3% (1st)
2015 NYJ- 74.2!!!% (1st)
2014 HOU- 69.4% (2nd)
— Kyle Borgognoni (@kyle_borg) March 18, 2019
Regression to the Mean Candidates
- The Falcons WRs overachieved in 2018 for a number of reasons. They remained relatively healthy for most of the year while their pass-catching RB, Devonta Freeman, did not. 67.4 percent for WRs was quite high and with the return of OC Dirk Koetter, I expect there to be a slight dip in their passing volume.
- It might be shocking to see the Ravens on this list but when you compare where this team had been over the last five years, it seems like the WRs were abnormally targeted. In the Flacco years, the TEs were the main beneficiaries and this regime has invested in Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Time will tell if Lamar Jackson will gel immediately with the recent rookie additions of WRs Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin.
“This is the New Norm” Candidates
- The Vikings have spent most of their franchise’s budget to ensure that Kirk Cousins is married to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs over the next few years. Despite all the talk of emphasizing the running game, those two WRs demand 130+ targets each, which means being in the top 10 of team WR market share should be a given.
- While the passing volume will continue to be low, the Seahawks and Russell Wilson have never really thrown the RB position. Will Dissly and Nick Vannett are serviceable, yet unspectacular TE options. That leaves us with a WR corp (Tyler Lockett, David Moore, and rookies D.K. Metcalf, Gary Jennings Jr., and UDFA Jazz Ferguson) to hyper-target once again.
- The Browns offense went from a bunch of barely targeted, irrelevant scrub WRs from 2015-2017 to a star-powered group headed by Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry with Baker Mayfield throwing the rock. 60 percent is probably the floor and if OC Todd Monken lets it fly, we could see 600+ team pass attempts in 2018.
- The Bills look like they have some momentum at the QB position, at least in terms of fantasy production. The Josh Allen experience was a wild ride and although the WRs have been nothing special, the 60 percent target share was the highest its been in years. That’s good news for an organization that spent their money this offseason on new, albeit undersized WR weapons in John Brown and Cole Beasley.