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Target Regression Candidates - Wide Receiver

Michael Thomas New Orleans Saints

I don't know how many times I've written this during the past few weeks, but here we go again: no matter how good a pass-catcher is, if he's not targeted often he will have no way to rack up fantasy points. With opportunities come chances to score points. Without them, catches are literally out of reach for any wideout. No joke.

When football fans check box scores and stat lines they are always focusing on the numbers that "count", those being receptions, yards, and touchdowns. We fantasy GMs, though, focus on what is truly important and less volatile game to game: targets. The more targets, the more a player is used no matter how many passes he actually catches (to a certain extent). Targets, though, are in limited supply. That is why players getting large numbers of them are most probably going to regress to the mean in that department.

Here I will discuss four wide receivers expected to see lower targets in 2020 due to changes in their team offense or simply because they clearly exceeded the expectations in 2019. Watch out for those potential slumps, as they could put your winning chances in danger!

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Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

185 Targets in 2019

Michael Thomas' 2019 was no joke. Far from it. In fact, it was one of the most ridiculous player seasons ever in the last 20 years of football. Looking at data from 2000 onwards, Thomas' 2019 season and his 185 targets rank as the ninth-most in that 20-year span. That is going to be, simply put, impossible to replicate. You can check the top-10 seasons by targets in the chart above. Do you notice anything? It's simple, no player has ever been targeted 184+ times twice in his career, and only Antonio Brown and Brandon Marshall have had two 180+ seasons each.

I can go even deeper. As you see, 2015 was a one-of-a-kind year with three WRs into the 190-target range, including Julio Jones' 200+. Well, since then only Thomas last season, DeAndre Hopkins in 2017, and Mike Evans in 2016 have been targeted more than 170 times in a single year. Again, Thomas' targets will drop no matter what.

Thomas is a stud. Zero doubts about that. If you can't draft one of the top two or three running backs in your draft, don't hesitate and go get Thomas with your first-round pick if he's still available. But keep in mind that he won't reach his 2019 numbers in targets. The Saints have added Emmanuel Sanders to the receiving corps and while Drew Brees might play the full season if he stays healthy, it would take a historic effort by Thomas to surpass or even reach his 185 targets from last year.


Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns

138 Targets in 2019

If you have played fantasy football for the past few years, you must have heard this: Jarvis Landry is the most underrated wide receiver (or even player) by fantasy GMs. If you haven't, well, now you have and it is as true as it gets. No matter what, Landry is somehow still "faded" by fantasy players in favor of other receivers such as... football darling Odell Beckham Jr. Just last season, OBJ was drafted with an ADP of 13.9 to Landry's 69.2. When the season finished OBJ had scored 201.3 PPR points to Landry's 237.4. This season, OBJ has an ADP of 38.3 to Landry's 93.6. I guess people never learn.

Or do they? If we are honest, the most probable outcome in 2020 will be the same as the one from 2019: Beckham will be favored by Baker Mayfield over Landry and the rest of the players on the Browns offense. While Landry out-targeted Beckham last year 138 to 133 and was much more efficient with his chances, I'm convinced he will log a similar target share instead of a greater one based on production.

On top of Beckham's magnetism for targets, Landry will also need to fight for them with the recently added TE Austin Hooper (he was targeted 97 times in Atlanta on a similar offense featuring two great receivers in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley), TE David Njoku, and a full season from both RBs Nick Chubb (not much of a threat) and Kareem Hunt (who averaged more than five targets per game in the eight matches he was part of). If only because of all of the options Cleveland has on its attack, those targets will undoubtedly go down for Landry.


Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals

148 Targets in 2019

It made sense for Boyd to become Cincinnati's No. 1 wide receiver in 2019 with A.J. Green ultimately missing the year entirely. Other than Boyd, the Bengals had to rely on RB Joe Mixon and a group comprised of WRs Auden Tate, Alex Erickson, and John Ross III, and TE Tyler Eifert. None of those pass-catchers averaged more than 8.5 PPG and Eifert was the top scorer with 106.6 PPR points.

When it comes to targets, Boyd's 148 accounted for 25.1% of all Bengals' targets last season. The second most-targeted player, Tate, finished with just 80 targets (13.5% target share). That is to say, Boyd almost doubled Tate in targets. In doing so, Boyd racked up 40 more targets than he did in 2018 reaching a career-high last season. Prior to that, he had 108 in 2018 and a paltry 81 in 2017.

I'm not saying Boyd is not worth targeting that much (he finished the year as the WR18 with 222.9 PPR points), but he will have to battle Mixon again from the backfield and A.J. Green's comeback after a full season off the gridiron. You also have to factor in a full season from John Ross (he missed eight games entirely in 2019), and the fact that the Bengals will have a rookie QB manning the team. All things point toward a decrease in targets for Boyd next season.


Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals

108 Targets in 2019

The jury is still out on how good Christian Kirk truly is. A former second-round pick from the 2018 class, Kirk has yet to have a truly explosive season. His rookie year finished after 12 games and last season he played 13, topping at 709 tards on 108 targets to go with 3 TDs. Those numbers aren't bad, surely, but they were not great by any means. Kirk's 2019 season ranked 39th-best in PPG (12.9) among all sophomore WR seasons since 2010 (min. 10 games played).

The Cardinals added dynamic QB Kyler Murray last season and have one of the most exciting offenses in the game. That helped Kirk bulk his fantasy numbers up (he even logged 10 rushing attempts for 93 yards) and will keep doing so, but the Cardinals are also returning veteran Larry Fitzgerald in 2020 and have added one of the best wide receivers around in DeAndre Hopkins. That last point is critical for Kirk's production in 2020.

Just because of his presence on the field, Hopkins will get looks more often than not. Hopkins comes from a 2019 season in which he logged the fifth-most targets in the NFL (150). Neither Fitzgerald nor Kirk reached even 110, and they will still lose targets to Hopkins, so they're at the risk of falling behind 100 targets easily. On top of that, Kenyan Drake will be the No. 1 RB of the Cardinals from Week 1 and not just a mid-season addition. Since he was traded to Arizona he was targeted four or more times in six of his eight games as a Cardinal for 35 targets on the season. Multiply that by two, and the targets Kirk might receive definitely start to look like a lock for a decrease.


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