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Targeting Targets - Week 4 Fantasy Football

The Other Articles – Targeting Targets – Week 2 Preview

Targeting Targets

Written By: Adam Cahill – Find Adam on Twitter @theotherffguy


The NFL season has official begun and all of our fantasy football predictions now have a weeks worth of data to react (and most definitely over react) to.  As a general philosophy I tend to zoom out, rather than zoom in, to evaluate players for fantasy football.  Every NFL player has a plethora of stats to draw from, whether that be from their experience in the NFL or at the collegiate level.  So having a foundation that is based in the knowledge of how each player has performed so far in their football careers is extremely important to evaluating a players ability to be an elite performer at the NFL level.  However, what we often see when we zoom in and look at the NFL or fantasy football as a weekly game is that player performances begin to resemble a polygraph chart with certain spikes in performance that stand out like lies to a polygraph examiner.  On a weekly level, these spikes in performance can be extremely difficult to predict. There are, however, a few factors that I tend to focus on when predicting a players weekly performance.  The largest factor, for me, is always health.  NFL players constantly play through being banged up, but playing through more serious injuries is almost always a red flag that you should shy away from using that player in your weekly fantasy match up.  Only so many players fit this profile of definitive avoids, especially early in the season, so it becomes important to have other factors to rely on to make those difficult weekly match up choices.

Targets are one of those factors that can lead us to the promised land of a weekly win by pushing us in the right direction when trying to make those difficult start or sit decisions.  By analyzing a team’s passing attempts and who they were targeting the most in week one, we gain a bit of insight into the progressions a quarterback might go through.  In this weekly article we’ll look back at the season, and last week (or for this week, only last week), to see how a teams targets are shaking out and take a look towards this weeks match ups to identify which players will benefit from a increased target share and being a focal point in their passing offense.

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins

DALTEJason Witten1490.643
DALWRCole Beasley1280.667
DALWRDez Bryant510.2
DALWRTerrance Williams430.75
DALWRBrice Butler210.5
DALRBEzekiel Elliott210.5
DALRBLance Dunbar210.5
DALTEGeoff Swaim111
WASTEJordan Reed1170.636
WASWRDeSean Jackson1060.6
WASWRJamison Crowder1060.6
WASWRPierre Garcon661
WASRBChris Thompson221
WASWRJosh Doctson111
WASRBMatt Jones111
WASTEVernon Davis111

Dallas Cowboys

Last week the Dallas Cowboys showed what their offense might look like when led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott in a tight contest against the New York Giants.  This week they are up against another divisional rival in the Washington Redskins, who are coming off a blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The stand out from that match up was a player who many consider to be the most dominate wide receiver in the NFL, Antonio Brown.  However early in that game it looked as though Brown was going to have a tough night against Washington’s new cornerback Josh Norman, but the Redskins seemed to want to keep Norman locked on to the right side of the field and the Steelers quickly took advantage.  Looking forward to week two it’ll be interesting to see if the Cowboys also avoid Norman and exploit the match ups that appear on the opposite side of the field.  Last week, Dak Prescott showed a bit of what kind of NFL quarterback he’ll be early in his career.  With 42 total attempts in his first week against the Giants we got a good look at the tendencies that Dak has and how they differ from injured quarterback Tony Romo.  The largest take away when reviewing these week one target numbers has to be that over 60% of Dak’s attempts targeted an interior receiver in either tight end Jason Witten or slot receiver Cole Beasley.  Both of these receivers had a low yards per reception (Y/R), with Beasley having the higher of the two with 8.1 Y/R.  Dak really did what a lot of young quarterbacks tend to do, he took the high percentage completions and took less risks.  The impact of this was, of course, felt most by Dez Bryant, who only had one catch all game.  Dez had one end zone target that was ruled a touchdown before being overturned after review, a situation Dez knows all too well, but other than that was often overlooked in the Dallas passing game.  Looking forward to week 2, it’ll be tough for any owner to have confidence in Dez with Dak’s unwillingness to throw the ball down field.  The interior receivers, Witten and Beasley, should see the majority of targets close to the line again this week.  Dez is a receiver who had a really low catch percentage (43.1%) while working without Tony Romo last season and if he struggles similarly this season without Romo, he’ll struggle to produce to the value that fantasy owners intended when they were drafting him in the early rounds, despite Romo’s injury, this season.

Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins failed to produce a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night after starting the game strong, but then just getting dominated as the game progressed.  Trailing for most of the game, The Redskins basically abandoned the run game which had quarterback Kirk Cousins attempt 42 passes over the course of the game.  Cousin’s appeared to struggle, but one of the successes was maintaining a completion percentage above 70%.  Looking forward towards their week two match up with Dallas, the biggest question for Washington is whether they will be able to show any consistency in their rushing game.  Washington posted a league low, 11 rushing attempts in their opening week game and failed to really develop any consistency on the ground.  Through the air, Cousins had a lot of success spreading the ball around going a perfect 11 for 11 when not targeting receivers named Reed, Jackson, or Crowder.  With Washington having four receivers with six or more receptions, the only thing missing from this being a successful fantasy game for both Cousins and his receivers was touchdowns.  His lack of touchdowns should look to rebound in a huge way in week two going up against a Cowboy’s pass defense that gave three passing touchdowns to the Giants last week while Eli Manning only attempted 28 passes.  With the added benefit of Washington being home favorites, I think this week should be a huge opportunity for Kirk Cousins and this passing attack to get back on track and I’m expecting a huge rebound performance from himself and Washington’s main pass catchers.

New Orleans Saints at New York Giants

NOWRBrandin Cooks960.667
NOWRWillie Snead991
NORBTravaris Cadet730.429
NOWRMichael Thomas661
NOTECoby Fleener410.25
NORBMark Ingram221
NORBTim Hightower111
NYGWROdell Beckham840.5
NYGRBShane Vereen530.6
NYGWRSterling Shepard430.75
NYGWRVictor Cruz441
NYGTEWill Tye331
NYGTELarry Donnell210.5
NYGRBRashad Jennings210.5

New Orleans Saints

 The New Orleans Saints lost a heartbreaker last week to the Oakland Raiders on a risky two point conversion call by Raider’s coach Jack Del Rio.  This felt like a game New Orleans should have won, but their defense leaves a lot to be desired.  On the offensive side of the ball Drew Brees did what Drew Brees does when he is at Home, and has the benefit of throwing the ball in the Superdome; he threw for over 400 yard and four touchdowns in route to the number one fantasy quarterback performance.  This amazing stat line fueled two huge wide receiver performances as Brandin Cooks and Willy Snead had over 300 yards receiving and three touchdowns between the two of them.  One of the only let downs in the Saints passing attack came from new tight end Coby Fleener, who many were touting as a top five fantasy tight end during draft season.  Fleener was the fifth option in the Saints passing attack, seeing four targets, but beyond that struggled to hall in more than the one reception he had for six yards.  In their match up with the Giants this week we should learn a lot about whether Fleener’s performance was just the signs of a player still learning his role in the offense, or if Fleener will not be used in the same way Saints tight ends have throughout Drew Brees’ career.  The Giants gave up nine receptions on 14 targets to Cowboys tight end Jason Witten in week one which made Witten the leader in targets, receptions, and yards in the Cowboy’s passing game.  A lot of that can be attributed to rookie quarterback Dak Prescott taking what the defenses were giving him underneath, but it’s to be seen if the Giants will utilize similar coverage packages throughout the season as a means to take away a team’s big play ability in favor of giving them lots of short completions.  There are few match ups that point as favorably to the tight end as this one against New York, but really all interior pass catchers should see success for the Saints.  There is a lot of potential for another huge game for receiver Willy Snead, who went a perfect nine for nine against the Raiders in week one.  Snead runs a full route tree, but seemed to have his most success running routes to the interior of the field last week and with the Giants likely giving up that area of the field most often; he should have success again this week.  I would say to limit expectations a bit for the Saints passing attack, especially after a huge performance at home.  Brees has a long history of showing up huge at home, but has shown a tendency to struggle more often on the road.  Overall, I still see the saints having a lot of success and think this should be a great match up for the Saints interior receivers.

New York Giants

The Giants did not have to pass much to squeeze out a win against the Cowboys last week, attempting only 28 passes.  They showed an almost even pass to rush split with 25 rush plays, which is much more even than their splits last season which showed a tendency to pass on over 60% of their plays.  Quarterback Eli Manning showed a tendency for targeting his running backs and tight ends last week, targeting non-wide receivers on 42% of his pass attempts and completing the same percentage (42%) of his passes to those players.  In week two, the Giants get the opportunity to go up against one of the worst defenses in the league over the past few seasons in the New Orleans Saints.  The Saints defense gave up over 300 yards passing and 150 yards rushing in their loss to the Raiders last week, and showed that they are struggling in much the same way they did a season ago.  Another three touchdown game is definitely in Manning’s range of outcomes against this poor Saints defense.  With, what should be, an increase in attempts there should be lots of opportunity for the Giants pass catchers to post good fantasy performances in week two.  All eyes will likely be on New York’s star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, who had his role in the offense limited last week against a Dallas defense that has held him in check throughout his career.  Odell should once again be the most heavily targeted receiver in the Giants offense, but should hopefully improve on his 50% catch rate and lack of touchdowns from last week. Since Eli targeted his running backs and tight ends so heavily last week, there is a good chance they see a similar opportunity this week.  This could be huge for tight ends Larry Donnell and Will Tye, as New Orleans was the worst in the league last season against tight ends.  Eli targeted the two tight ends five times for four receptions on limited attempts last week and, with what likely will be an increase in attempts this week, Donnell and Tye both have the ability to perform well in a match up that is perfect for them.

Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears

PHIWRJordan Matthews1470.5
PHITEZach Ertz760.857
PHIWRDarren Sproles520.4
PHIWRNelson Agholor540.8
PHIWRDorial Green-Beckham221
PHITEBrent Celek111
CHIWRKevin White730.429
CHIWRAlshon Jeffery640.667
CHIWREddie Royal640.667
CHIRBJeremy Langford420.5
CHITEZach Miller430.75

Philadelphia Eagles

Rookie quarterback Carson Wentz got his first NFL start in a win against the lack luster Cleveland Browns last week.  Wentz completed nearly 60% of his passes and threw for two touchdowns in what was overall a good first showing for the rookie.  The Eagles had a nearly even run to pass split, but ran a ton of plays while dominating time of possession.  It was obvious that Wentz’s favorite target was receiver Jordan Matthews, who Wentz targeted 38% of the time.  Matthews had a great game, hauling in seven catches for 114 yard and a touchdown, but could have had an elite performance if his catch rate wasn’t only 50%.  With a rookie quarterback, who is still learning, it is common to lock onto a receiver or two and target them heavily throughout a game regardless of the coverage or situation and Wentz did a lot of that in week one.  One of the largest changes from week one to two for the Eagles should be the loss of tight end Zach Ertz who will likely miss extended time with a rib injury.  Ertz had a solid performance and was Wentz’s second most targeted option in the passing game.  With Ertz out, veteran tight end Brent Celek should look to fill his role and get a bit of a target bump.  However, the largest benefactor from the loss of Ertz has got to be Jordan Matthews who should be even more heavily targeted against the Bears.

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears performed well early before fizzling out as the game went on against Houston.  In the loss, Jay Cutler only targeted five players, which was the least of any NFL quarterback.  Jay has shown the tendency throughout his career to become overly locked in to one wide receiver and just overwhelm him targets, but in this first week he did a good job spreading the ball around.  It’ll be interesting to see if Cutler goes back to his old habits of just locking in on Jeffrey and sending double digit targets his way or if he has adjusted to allow a more even distribution of passes to his receivers.  The Eagles passing defense is still a bit of a mystery since they went up against a Cleveland passing attack that looked non-existent with Robert Griffin III at the helm.  Griffin suffered as injury that he played through for most of the game, but beyond that Cleveland was already viewed as a lack luster passing attack.  With little known about how the Eagles defense will fair against a more (if barely more) competent passer in Cutler, there is upside for the Bears quarterback to have one of his better games on the season.


Written By: Adam Cahill – Follow Adam on Twitter @theotherffguy

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