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Veteran WRs Set to Lose Targets in 2020

Turnover exists in all work places. The NFL is no exception. As far as professional sports go, the NFL has more turnover than the rest. Between free agency, trades, and the draft, player situations undergo significant and sometimes unexpected changes.

Each year, a new crop of rookies enters the league and aging or underperforming veterans get phased out. This year's wide receiver class is one of the deepest of all time and considered to be the best since the historic class of 2014. As a result, a number of veteran receivers are going to see their targets decline.

Here are the most likely candidates to suffer that fate.

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Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

The Rams' best wide receiver finds himself here despite an unbelievably fantastic return from an ACL tear. Typically, wide receivers return from serious knee injuries take a while to get going. Cooper Kupp burst out of the gate on his way to being the overall WR3 over the first half of the 2019 season. The reason Kupp is on this list has nothing to do with his play. Sean McVay went from boy genius to incompetent seemingly overnight.

Over the first eight games of the season, Kupp saw 87 targets. Over the final eight games of the season, Kupp saw 47 targets (and that includes 10 in Week 17, which we typically ignore). I am not ruling out the possibility that the Rams go back to the offense that made Kupp a superstar over the first half of 2019, but I'm not optimistic. I have completely turned on Sean McVay due to his irrational decisions throughout the 2019 season.

The Rams traded away Brandin Cooks and his 72 targets, but spent a second round pick on Van Jefferson. They still have Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds, who will be two men on the field in two receiver sets as well as Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee, who will both consistently take snaps away from Kupp. The Rams spend a second round pick on Cam Akers, who had a 10.4% college target share. Kupp has more competition for targets and a coach that prefers to run 12 personnel without him. Kupp will be lucky to see 110 targets in the 2020 season.

 

John Brown and Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills

It's fair to say John Brown is the most obvious name on this list. Brown saw a career high 115 targets in 2019 operating as Josh Allen's de facto WR1. The reality is Brown was never built to be a WR1. He toiled in mediocrity for three years following his 2015 breakout campaign until he was thrust into a leading role out of necessity. That's the key: it was never by design. The Bills made that message loud and clear by going out and acquiring Stefon Diggs from Minnesota. There is little doubt that Diggs will immediately slot in atop the Bills' depth chart at wide receiver.

Diggs' arrival pushes everyone down a peg. Beasley will still man the slot, but he has no prayer of repeating his 106 targets from last season. Allen is too erratic of a passer to ever be a high volume guy. He attempted just 461 passes last season (512 total passes if you include Matt Barkley's 51 attempts). In 2018, the combination of Allen and his three backups attempted 496 passes. That is what we can expect from the Bills' offense - roughly 500 pass attempts.

Diggs is going to lead the Bills in targets with at least 110. Last season, tight ends and running backs accounted for about 80 targets each while ancillary pass catchers totaled about 100 targets. That leaves approximately 130 targets for Brown and Beasley to share. Even if we consolidate away some of the targets from the ancillary players, there is no way Brown and Beasley both reach 100 targets. One of them can get there if the other takes a bigger hit, but the most likely outcome is both see a sizable dip.

 

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

If there is one guy that can prove me wrong on this list, it's going to be Larry Fitzgerald. Old man Fitz just keeps going as he enters his age 37 season. After seeing 161 targets in 2017, Fitz was targeted 112 times in 2018 and 109 times in 2019. He still has elite hands, dropping just two passes last season, but it's clear that he's more safety valve than focal point of the offense at this point.

While it's possible that one of Andy Isabella or Hakeem Butler makes a second year impact, the obvious threat to Fitz's target count is newly acquired DeAndre Hopkins. The former Texan has seen at least 150 targets in every season since 2014. Kyler Murray is definitely liable to lead the NFL in pass attempts running Kliff Kingsbury's air raid offense. The team being more competitive in 2020 is likely to result in more pass attempts as the team has fewer opportunities to just mail it in during the fourth quarter of blowouts.

Murray attempted 542 pass attempts in 2019. That number could hit 600 in 2020. Even so, the Cardinals have no real vacated targets (Yes, David Johnson is gone, but we can just consolidate his 47 targets into Kenyan Drake). Christian Kirk is entering his second season and I wouldn't expect him to see any significant dip in targets and certainly not for the purpose of throwing the ball more to a 37 year old. Essentially, the Cardinals are adding Hopkins' 150 targets. Even if Hopkins only sees 130-140 targets, it's hard to envision Fitzgerald getting anywhere near 100 targets.

 

Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers

Insert sad face emoji here. My poor Curtis Samuel. Oh what could have been? What should have been! Kyle Allen ruined Samuel by being the worst deep ball passer ever! Seriously, Allen completed 23.2% of his deep pass attempts, 35th in the league. Samuel was 23rd in target separation and 11th in total air yards. The man was open all day, every day, and Allen was incapable of hitting him. Samuel's breakout was thwarted and now it may never happen.

The Panthers let Cam Newton go, but massively upgraded from Kyle Allen to Teddy Bridgewater. The problem for Samuel is twofold. Bridgewater had one of the lowest average depth of target distances in the league, just 6.0 and the Panthers signed Robby Anderson.

Samuel saw 105 targets in 2019. He will have a hard time reaching 80 in 2020. Anderson is not a better receiver than Samuel, but Anderson does run a 4.41 with a 78th percentile speed score. While he can't hold a candle to Samuel's 4.31 and 91st percentile speed score, he can command at least 80-90 targets and takeover as the primary Z receiver.

Samuel will still be out there in three receiver sets, but even dropping one spot on the Panthers' depth chart is a huge blow. D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey are going to remain target hogs. When Bridgewater does take shots downfield, Samuel now has to share those targets with Anderson.

Samuel can still have a better fantasy season than he did in 2019 because Bridgewater can't possibly be less efficient than Allen, but Samuel is not going to reach triple digits in targets with another quality pass catcher added to the fold.

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