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Last time we met I took a look at running backs who would see a bump in receiving targets this season. All of them were seeing some type of change from last season, be it coaching, moving to a new team or having someone ahead of them move. You will see a similar pattern here with the wide receivers and tight ends I highlight.
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Cecil Shorts - Last season Shorts averaged 6.4 targets when Blaine Gabbert was the quarterback and 10.2 when Chad Henne played. That would give you the impression that you would want Henne in at quarterback if you draft Shorts, but Gabbert was much more efficient in his targets. With Gabbert Shorts averaged the fourth best yards and fantasy points per target and with Henne he ranked 28th and 29th in the same categories. But did the extra inefficient targets help his fantasy production? Under Gabbert he averaged 9 fantasy points per game and under Henne he averaged 11. So yes, the extra targets did help. And guess who will get extra targets from the more efficient quarterback (if his thumb is healed) with Justin Blackmon out the first four games? Why yes, one Cecil Shorts. It will only be four games, but that is enough to build a rapport with Shorts, which should carry over once Blackmon returns.
Kenbrell Thompkins – Last season Brandon Lloyd was the much touted “X” receiver in the high-powered Patriots offense. He won the job much by default and every fantasy player and their dog was hoping for a near Randy Moss-like season when they drafted him in the fourth or fifth round. But unfortunately for his owners that didn’t happen. He finished as the 33rd best fantasy receiver. This season there has been a much different evolution of the new X receiver. Undrafted Free Agent Kenbrell Thompkins was an underdog to even make the team and ended up winning the job based solely on his play.
Even with little to no rapport with Tom Brady the sheer momentum of the Patriots offense gave Lloyd 131 targets which he caught 74 of for 911 yards and four touchdowns. Thompkins has already demonstrated a connection with Brady in preseason and creates separation and doesn’t shy away from contact. He has proven himself so far to the starter in a position that has fantasy upside higher than really any other wide receiver position on any team in the league. People will say he’s going too high as he shoots up draft boards, but if we are talking about his ceiling, there really isn’t one high enough outside the elite receivers.
Michael Floyd – Last season Bruce Arians gave Andrew Luck 627 passing attempts which ranked fifth in the league. That’s a goodly amount for a rookie, even one as great as Luck. This season he moves to the desert to attempt to turn the Cardinals around with the help of newly acquired Carson Palmer. But instead of Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton he’ll have Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. The three Colts receivers totaled 408 targets last season while the three Cardinals receivers saw 356 targets. The problem of course was efficiency. The Colts wide receivers caught 216 passes to the Cardinals 109. This was due to the poor play of Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, John Skelton and Brian Hoyer who all saw the field, while Andrew Luck was the only player to throw a single pass for the Colts.
That finally brings me to Michael Floyd. Last year as a rookie he saw 86 total targets. Donnie Avery on the other hand had 123 targets for the Colts and T.Y. Hilton outplayed him most of the season. Floyd is now the #2 receiver in Arizona and his target floor will be around 120. Add that to a better quarterback and system for wide receivers and you have a chance for good things. Larry Fitzgerald will see the most targets of course, but there will still be plenty to go around to give Floyd value.
Jordan Cameron – The Browns receiver isn’t taking over for a heavily targeted tight end from last season, but he is becoming the starter with a new regime that is particularly enamored with the position. While head coach Rob Chudzinski was the tight end coach for the Chargers in 2005 and 2006, Antonio Gates was the #1 fantasy tight end both seasons. In 2007 with Chud the offensive coordinator for the Browns, Kellen Winslow was the fourth best fantasy tight end. Then when he returned to San Diego in 2009 and 2010, Gates finished as the third and second fantasy tight ends respectively. As offensive coordinator for the Panthers in 2011 under Chudzinski, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey split time, but they saw the 5th most targets to tight ends. And then last season, Olsen finished as the sixth best fantasy tight end after Shockey hit the road. And Norv Turner has also been kind to tight ends as a coach, but I’ll spare you the numbers this time. Suffice it to say, these two make the best one-two punch at head coach and offensive coordinator for a tight end that you’ll see.
Of course Cameron is still raw and we can’t be 100% certain that he can be the talent all season that he’s shown in practice and preseason this year. But he does have the physical attributes, talent and opportunity to be a top tight end this season. I’m on board.
Vernon Davis – Michael Crabtree is not a tight end, but Vernon Davis is more than a tight end. When Crabtree was hurt in OTAs the only player you could look toward and expect to fill his shoes was Vernon Davis. Davis ran an amazing 4.38 forty at the combine while Crabtree topped out at 4.54. That’s not the end all and be all about these two players, but we do know that Davis can take on linebackers and safeties and even some cornerbacks without losing one on one.
Last season when Colin Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith he targeted Davis 20 times or 2.9 targets a game. That ranked fourth to Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Delanie Walker! That changed slightly in the playoffs and Super Bowl when he averaged the second most targets on the team with 6.3 a game while Crabtree averaged a 9.3. Of course Davis made those targets count, catching 12 of 19 for 254 yards and a touchdown. Which was better than all the regular season games with Kaepernick combined. Now that Crabtree is out and Davis and Kaepernick have shown they can be a strong duo, the possibilities are extremely high.
Ed Dickson - Dennis Pitta is done for the year so in steps one Mr. Ed Dickson who promptly gets hurt himself. So the Ravens sign old man Dallas Clark as a stopgap. That little bump in the road has depressed Dickson’s ADP, but not my excitement for his season.
Dennis Pitta beat out Dickson for the tight end job, but not by much. His blocking skills kept him on the line of scrimmage and opened up Dickson for coveted red zone targets, which he led the Ravens in last year. Pitta also finished 10th overall in targets with 94. If you were to add Dickson and Pitta’s targets from last year together they’d have 127, which would rank third in the league. It doesn’t really take all that much for a tight end to finish in the top 10 for fantasy. If you get over 100 targets your chances are very good. Of the eight tight ends to top 100 targets, seven of them finished in the top 10. Now for the Ravens, they didn’t just lose Pitta, they also lost Anquan Boldin, who played much like a tight end. Last season the odds were if Boldin had a good target game then Pitta did not. This is because they often lined up in the slot and couldn’t do it at the same time. Check out CD Carter’s look at this very subject here. Does that mean that Dickson will now get all of these targets? No, but the idea that Dallas Clark is the answer as the slot guy while Dickson plays on the line seems a little far-fetched. Dickson has returned to practice and by all accounts looks like he’ll be ready for week one. Dickson ran a 4.59 forty while Clark ran a 4.68 forty 10 years ago and at 34 years of age has lost a step or three. Dickson’s injury and the acquisition of Clark will leave doubt in fantasy footballer’s minds, but I would take those likely 100 targets and top 10 upside and grab him at his rock bottom ADP.