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Bull Rush - Target Risers and PPR Values

BJ the Chicago Kid has a track titled “His Pain II” in which Kendrick Lamar somberly takes us on an emotional ride over a smooth piano riff and subtle bass line while wondering whether his life is coincidental or a gift from above. Now some of you might not know who Kendrick Lamar is, and others may despise rap music.

Should you fall in either category, bear with me, because this is really about players you’ll want to target in your fantasy football drafts and/or potentially trade for in your dynasty leagues - as their targets are bound to be on the rise this season.

It’s just also about the song.

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Paint a Bullseye on These Targets

During the first of his three verses in "His Pain," Lamar tells us about one of his boys whose brother died a day after his homeless uncle was cold outside which came a week after this same friend saw cancer in his mother’s eyes. All of which came two weeks after his boy lost his job and couldn’t pay his rent, and a month after he lost custody of his daughter… Of course, after his boy finishes detailing his treacherous past couple of months, Lamar turns around to find $100.

Enter Allen Hurns.

A hamstring strain and high ankle sprain pale in comparison, but much like Lamar’s homeboy, Hurns has been through his fair share of pain - missing 11 games due to injury over the past two seasons. Thing is, instead of one of his teammates turning around to find a come up, Hurns is the one who sees his fortunes change as he makes the move from Duval to the DFW metroplex.

True, Blake Bortles attempted more passes than Dak Prescott a season ago. Bortles threw for more yards in 2017 than Dak; also true. But, as you might have heard, this Cowboys offense will be without Dez Bryant for the first time in nearly a decade. This is the same Dez Bryant who finished last season 12th among WRs with 132 targets. Oh, and let’s not forget seven-time, Mr. Cowboy award winner himself, Jason Witten, who’s now somewhere drinking a tall glass of Jack while listening to Eric Church – Witten’s 87 targets in 2017 were good for the 8th most among tight ends. That’s 219 pass attempts. Gone. Make that around 250 when you factor in Brice Butler now calling Arizona home.

It won’t be a one-man show among the Cowboys receiving corps, however, as Terrance Williams is still around. But, we pretty much know what he is at this point (and in my humble opinion, it’s not much more that what we’ve seen to this point in his career). He also recently ran his Lamborghini into a light pole (subsequently resulting in a public intoxication charge), and there’s a chance he could see additional charges and possibly not see the field for the full 16. Cole Beasley will also still be donning the blue and silver. For whatever that’s worth. (Although he is in line for an increased workload, and has potential to be a PPR darling). Dallas also added journeyman, Deonte Thompson, who is coming off the best season of his pro career. Which sounds good, in theory, until you realize he’d never put up more than 250 receiving yards in any of his four seasons in the NFL. Tavon Austin was yet another off-season addition for the 'Boys, but seeing how he’s averaged 39 receptions for 338 yards over his five NFL seasons, it’s probably not wise to expect a monster season (through the air, at least). All told, Hurns is the only current Cowboy receiver we’ve seen produce fantasy relevant numbers – 1031 yards and 10 TDs in 2015 – and if I had to bet on the Cowboys receiver which will lead the team come season’s end, it’s Hurns who saw just 56 targets a year ago. If that number doubles, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised; he’s arguably the most talented of the bunch, and the opportunity is there for the taking.

Back to Kendrick.

The second verse picks up where the first left off - more irony. Lamar now recounts a number of criminal activities he had partaken in only to have someone shoot at him during a drive by, miss (of course), instead hitting an innocent little boy.

Enter Jordan Matthews.

Despite just 181 yards his freshman year, Matthews went on to finish his Vanderbilt career with 3,759 yards – the most career receiving yards of any SEC receiver, ever, and the 33rd highest receiving yardage total in NCAA history (he also holds the SEC record with 262 career receptions). Needless to say, Matthews came into the NFL highly touted, and the fact that he’s failed to put up 1,000 receiving yards in any of his four seasons (he fell three shy in 2015) is damn near criminal. But of course, like Lamar, he dodges a bullet.

After signing a one-year deal with the Patriots, Matthews will now find himself on the receiving end of the Golden Boy Tom Brady’s passes instead of playing in Buffalo - who finished with the second fewest pass attempts a season ago - where both injury and QB play led to a measly 25 receptions for 282 yards and a lone TD on 36 targets in 2017. Not only is Brady an instant upgrade, but the Patriots leading receiver from ’17, Brandin Cooks, is now a Ram while Danny Amendola took his talents to South Beach. That’s 200 Tom Brady targets which have now come available, and given Matthews’ affinity for the slot, you have to figure he’s a perfect fit for the Pats offense. Not speaking from experience here, but I’d imagine that has to feel like going to the ATM to take out $60, checking your available balance to make sure you’ve got it, and seeing a balance of $1,287,139.07.

And while we’re on Brady and the Patriots, Chris Hogan only saw 59 targets last season. I don’t know of anything from his past to liberally relate to Kendrick’s criminal activities, but this article is about players whose target shares are bound to increase. Hogan is a player whose target share is bound to increase; probably by at least 40%.

Oh, and Julian Edelman will miss the first four games of the season.

Now between these two wry, doleful verses, Lamar repeatedly questions why he continues to be blessed on the hook - an answer he would later provide following his 3rd and final verse of the track. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, there are a few more players who may be wondering why they continue to be blessed (because playing in the NFL, and making millions isn’t nearly blessed enough).

Geronimo Allison is definitely a candidate.

On one hand, the Packers drafted three receivers in this years’ draft – the most of any team. On the other hand, Green Bay added Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis – both figure to be involved in the passing game. But on one arm, Allison is a third-year breakout candidate who has experience in this offense and looks to be first in line to fill the void created by the departure of Jordy Nelson. On the other arm, and most important of all, Aaron Rodgers is back. Nothing else needs to be said. Hands are useless without arms.

Then we have Jerick McKinnon.

34% of McKinnon’s career yards from scrimmage have come through the air, and he’s one of the few running backs to boast about as many receiving TDs as rushing over his NFL career. He’s the second coming of Brian Westbrook. But this isn’t as much about McKinnon’s skill set as it is the situation he now finds himself in. Carlos Hyde saw 88 targets last season; which is important for three reasons:
1. McKinnon is essentially replacing Hyde in San Francisco.
2. Those 88 targets mark the most of Hyde’s NFL career.
3. Last season was Kyle Shanahan’s first as the 49ers Head Coach.

Just three backs saw 100 or more targets a season ago, and seeing how Hyde had just 64 in his first three seasons combined, I can’t help but look at those 88 and think McKinnon should easily flirt with that 100-target mark. He’s a must in PPR leagues. I mean he did see 68 targets a season ago in Minnesota... In a timeshare. Not to mention Devonta Freeman put up his two best receiving seasons in 2015 and 2016 with Shanahan as his Offensive Coordinator. Oh, and let’s not forget this ‘9ers offense averaged 28.8 points per game over their last 5 (against some pretty good defenses, mind you) after handing the reigns to Jimmy Garoppolo.

Yes, please. And, thank you.

Success in life is sometimes as much about chance as it is preparation, and if you’ve played fantasy football to any extent, you’ve surely experienced this firsthand. There will always be the guy/gal who starts a backup QB on the week the starter goes down, streams the DST who miraculously intercepts three passes and puts up two TDs, or doesn’t watch a single snap but somehow manages to go 14-2. Preparation will always win out in the long run, though, and targets are one of the few metrics in the NFL that can be predicted with a reasonable level of consistency on a weekly basis.

As Kendrick lays in bed doing some soul searching in his third and final verse, he sees his homeboy outside with the same little boy who was hit by the bullet intended for him. He now realizes the point of it all – his luck is bound to run out, his life needs to change, and he needs to start putting himself in a better position to prosper. So, he gives them the $100, throws away his pistol, and finally gives us the answer as to why he keeps being blessed… so he can bless us. Which is exactly what these players will do for our fantasy squads in 2018.


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