Five TEs That Could Lose Targets in 2016

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In the first part of this series of analyzing target regression, we looked at five RBs who could lose valuable targets in 2016. We followed that up with a look at five WRs that could miss out on targets in 2016.

In review, there are at least five factors that we must consider in projecting target totals:

1. Emergence/Health of Teammate(s)

2. Unsustainable Target Rate

3. Quarterback Situation

4. Offensive Coordinator Mindset

5. The Cliff

Here’s a look at the five TEs I selected last year as prime candidates to lose out on some targets.

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Last Year’s Regression Candidates

Player 2014 Targets 2015 Projected Targets 2015 Targets
Martellus Bennett 129 98 80
Greg Olsen 122 106 124
Mychal Rivera 101 52 46
Jermaine Gresham 80 39 32
Jared Cook 98 75 75

I was 4 out of 5 once again making this column a solid 12 of 15 for 2015. That’s a robust 80% accuracy in terms of predicting regression across three positions. Here are five names to consider for 2016…

Prime Tight End Candidates for Regression

Gary Barnidge (2015 Targets: 125)

No-one saw this coming. I tried to dig and dig through 2015 preseason content from any fantasy expert to find the who predicted this seldom used TE would end up as TE3 in standard and TE4 in PPR. Barnidge AVERAGED 13 targets per season his first six years in the league but found himself in the perfect scenario last year to put up big numbers and earn an extension in the offseason. He caught 79 passes for 1043 yards and nine TDs while being targeted second most among TEs, even more than Rob Gronkowski. What a bet that would’ve been to start the year. His 24 red zone targets were the sixth highest figure in the league for any RB/WR/TE, although his catch rate of 37.5% was obscenely low.  And while Barnidge should continue to be the team’s most reliable weapon in the passing game, the Browns added five WRs in the draft, including uber talented Corey Coleman, who should demand targets on the outside. Barnidge also had hernia surgery during the offseason, although most reports claim he should be ready for Week 1. If you’re a believer, Barnidge is a relative steal for the volume of targets coming his way at the TE position as he’s currently being drafted at 7.12 in PPR leagues. Even with some regression coming, Barnidge can still end up as a mid-to-back-end TE1.
Projected 2016 Targets: 98

Richard Rodgers (2015 Targets: 85)

What most fantasy owners will remember in an otherwise middling Packers’ fantasy season was the Richard Rodgers-to-Aaron Rodgers “Hail Mary” to beat the Lions, which in turn blew up the Twittersphere that night. Rodgers was in fact a solid fantasy TE for much of the year, although his final season totals were propped up by a couple huge games as he finished as TE9 in standard and TE11 in PPR formats. His final line was 58 catches on 85 targets with 510 yards and a solid eight TDs, the fifth highest mark for a TE in the league. Rodgers was certainly on the upswing in terms of his dynasty value no sooner than the Packers decided to open their wallets and sign a free-agent TE. The always tantalizing, yet underachieving Jared Cook was inked this offseason to team up with Rodgers. They both will be more valuable football players than fantasy football assets this year. Rodgers does have visible chemistry with his fellow Cal alumnus and namesake QB, but it’s certain his targets should regress from a career year especially as Jordy Nelson returns from injury. It’s best to stay away from this situation as the week-to-week beneficiary could most certainly change back-and-forth.
Projected 2016 Targets: 48

Delanie Walker (2015 Targets: 133) 

Since signing with the Titans three years ago, Walker has been a draft day steal and sneaky good weapon at the TE position. He balled out in 2015 leading all TEs in targets (133) and catches (94) while finishing third in yards (1,088). He finished as TE5 in standard and TE3 in PPR scoring, both career highs. It seemed like Marcus Mariota looked his way early and often as the “security blanket” for the Titans offense. Walker even added in a 36 yard rush one week! Looking forward however, the main factor for Walker’s regression in targets is the simple fact that he had a career year. 133 targets is essentially Jimmy Graham in New Orleans type of volume, something not seen often at the TE position. The Titans also will be much improved from their anemic WR corps as they signed Rishard Matthews in the offseason, have a clean bill of health for Kendall Wright, and have seen the progression and maturation of freak athlete and red zone monster Dorial Green-Beckham. Rookie WR Tajae Sharpe also has made some noise in camp as a viable option in the passing game. All of this adds up to Walker slightly regressing in his target share, which sat at 24% in 2015, by far highest for a TE and roughly the same percentage of Odell Beckham Jr. Walker should still end up as a mid-level TE who unfortunately must be drafted 3-4 rounds earlier than in the past.
Projected 2016 Targets: 104

Jason Witten (2015 Targets: 104) 

Every year we dog on Witten and his age, and every year he goes out and plays all 16 games; all despite nagging injuries and an inconsistent supporting cast. Even with Tony Romo going down, Witten still found himself posting his ninth 100+ target season as he finished with 77 catches for 712 yards and three TDs. He was routinely double-teamed as Dez Bryant missed much of the year and the Cowboys offense was dreadful at best. He rounded out the year as TE9 in standard and TE10 in PPR leagues. Despite an uptick in total targets, Witten posted his second-lowest fantasy points per game average of his career and now he’s entering his age-34 season. With the drafting of the dynamic Ezekiel Elliott, behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, and the return of the Dez Bryant and Tony Romo, I have a hard time seeing Witten improving upon last year’s numbers. Currently, Witten is being taken in the 13th round of drafts or basically for free. You could do better finding TEs with similar ADPs yet higher upside such as Eric Ebron or Dwayne Allen.
Projected 2016 Targets: 91

Benjamin Watson (2015 Targets: 110) 

This one seems to be the easiest slam dunk of the group. Watson burst onto the scene as Drew Brees’ primary TE weapon last year despite all of the preseason hype with the incumbent Josh Hill. As a 34 year-old veteran, Watson enjoyed his finest season hauling in 74 of his 110 targets for 825 yards and 6 TDs. He finished as the TE8 in standard and TE7 in PPR formats, a humongous jump considering he was going undrafted everywhere last year. Watson cashed in this offseason with the Ravens to the tune of a 2 year, $7 million contract. He suddenly finds himself on the most stocked TE team in the NFL with second-year draft pick Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle, and the hopefully healed up Dennis Pitta. All of these options for Joe Flacco have their pluses and minuses, while Watson’s forte is consistency and soft hands despite entering his age-36 season. His 110 targets was a career high and even more shocking considering he averaged only 30 the previous two seasons. He now falls back into the weekly TE roulette that will be found on your league’s waiver wire.
Projected 2016 Targets: 72

Check out TFFB’s Consensus TE Rankings  or Episode #196 on Early Top 10 Tight Ends.

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