Production from wide receivers and tight ends can vary wildly on a week-to-week basis — a frustrating reality for many a fantasy football enthusiast. One week, Sammy Watkins is the hottest WR on the planet, posting 46.8 standard PPR points; the next week, the Kansas City Chief manages just 10.8.
So what is Watkins? Is he a one-week wonder? Is he a fantasy stud who just had a quiet Week 2? Is he the really the borderline top-30 WR his preseason ESPN average draft position (ADP) pegged him as?
Only time will tell for sure. But there is one stat that’s linked strongly to a WR or TEs fantasy value and points to Watkins as a potential elite option this season: targets. Most leagues don’t assign any point values to targets, but they’re usually readily available to fantasy managers. Targets are the easiest way to tell how involved a receiver is in the offense, and more targets usually means more receptions and a better chance of higher touchdown and yardage totals.
Much of that may be already known or even common sense to football fans. But did you know that the top 12 most-targeted players even as early as Week 2 can tell you who will score the most fantasy points for the entire season?
Take last year for example. Through the first two weeks of 2018, seven of the top 12 most-targeted WRs and TEs went on to finish in the top 12 in PPR points scored. By Week 4, all but three of the eventual top 12 PPR scorers at those combined positions were among the top 12 in targets. In 2017, half of the top 12 in targets through both Week 2 and Week 4 finished top 12 in PPR points.
By the end of 2018, the top dozen PPR scorers at WR/TE was comprised of 12 of the top 13 in targets by the end of the season. The previous year, it was 10 of the top 13 in targets among the 12 best PPR producers at the positions. The link between PPR points and targets is pretty clear.
OK, so we know all of that now, but how does all that apply to this year? If the trend is to continue this year, that would mean about half of the current top 12 in targets among WRs and TEs will finish this season as clear WR1s or game-changing TEs. Let’s look at the current top 12 in targets at those combined positions.
- 26 targets: Michael Thomas (WR, New Orleans Saints)
- 25: Keenan Allen (WR, Los Angeles Chargers)
- 24: Larry Fitzgerald (WR, Arizona Cardinals), D.J. Moore (WR, Carolina Panthers), Watkins
- 23: Jamison Crowder (WR, New York Jets), Zach Ertz (TE, Philadelphia Eagles)
- 22: Evan Engram (TE, New York Giants)
- 21: Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, Cleveland Browns), Tyler Boyd (WR, Cincinnati Bengals), DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Houston Texans), Julio Jones (WR, Atlanta Falcons)
A few of these names are perennial standouts at their positions and are the most likely to hold strong all the way to the end: Thomas, Allen, Ertz, Beckham, Hopkins and Jones.
In Watkins’ favor is his status at the top WR for elite QB Patrick Mahomes while Tyreek Hill remains out for several more weeks. That said, his history as a boom-or-bust option makes him a volatile option once Hill returns.
All the talk about Cincinnati pass catchers has centered on speedy John Ross, who isn’t far behind with 20 targets. Still, Boyd proves himself a solid fantasy option a year ago and figures to retain his role once A.J. Green returns from injury in a few weeks. After the usual suspects, he’s got the best chance to break out as a top-12 PPR scorer from this group.
Fitzgerald, likely a future Hall of Famer, continues to defy age and may be rejuvenated with new coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie passer Kyler Murray in Arizona. I wouldn’t blame anyone for selling high on him, but don’t dismiss him as a fluke.
Of the rest, Crowder looks likely to fall off now that the Jets are down to third-string quarterback Luke Falk. With Cam Newton’s health uncertain, Moore also may fall off this pace. Without seeing how the Giants’ offense operates now that Daniel Jones has taken over for Eli Manning at quarterback, it’s hard to tell where Engram settles, too. Thomas, who will be without quarterback Drew Brees for nearly two months, could drop off, but I wouldn’t bet on it; he’s too talented, and he racked up plenty of points and targets with Teddy Bridgewater under center.
Hopefully, this knowledge will help guide fantasy managers’ decision-making when it comes to these players, whether its in an attempt to unload them or in an effort to acquire them via trade. Either way, it’s something to keep in mind both this year and beyond.