So much of the conversation in fantasy football circles revolves around whether or not a player is #good. While talent is undoubtedly important, opportunity is far more predictive of fantasy success, especially when it comes to receivers.
Over the past five years, there have been 181 instances of a receiver getting at least 100 targets in a season. Of those seasons, just 37 finished outside the top-36 fantasy receivers in STANDARD scoring. The number falls to 26 in PPR formats. So, even in standard formats, identifying a receiver who will garner 100 targets gives a fantasy player an 80-percent chance of landing at least a WR3.
On a weekly basis, the importance of targets shines through even more clearly. In some exceptionally great work, Sean Fakete notes volume is among the strongest predictors of elite fantasy games. 98 percent of the weekly top finishers in the last three seasons had at least six receptions. The same is true of 86 percent of top-6 finishes and 76 percent of top-12 receivers. When trying to identify high-upside receivers on a weekly basis, volume should play a big role in the decision-making process.
The problem is most high-volume receivers are already valued properly. Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, and DeAndre Hopkins finished 1-2-3 in targets last season, so it is not a coincidence they are three of the top-four drafted receivers this year. There are some late-round guys, however, who have the potential for a large workload even before considering any injury possibilities.
Editor's Note: Get updated rankings, projections, player profiles, and plenty more with the Rotoworld Draft Guide, stay up to date on all the breaking news at the Rotoworld News Page, and join the conversation on Twitter by following @Rotoworld_FB and @RMSummerlin.
The poster child for this piece is Matthews, who until relatively recently was going undrafted and can still be had in the 14th-round according to Fantasy Football Calculator. That was ridiculous even before Dorial Green-Beckham was traded, and now it is absolute madness.
Signed from the Dolphins in free agency, Matthews is clearly the No. 1 receiver in Tennessee. His main competition for targets in the receiving corps consists of Tajae Sharpe, who is a physically-limited rookie, Kendall Wright, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury and not a favorite of Mike Mularkey, Andre Johnson, who washed out with the Colts last season, and Harry Douglas, who caught a whopping 50 percent of his targets last year. Justin Hunter is also on the roster, but probably not for long.
With that collection of “talent” behind him, there is no reason for Matthews to be anything but the primary receiving threat on the perimeter. He might still be below Delanie Walker on the target totem pole, but 120 targets are well within the realm of possibilities. That type of volume would almost guarantee him WR3 status.
Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd
This headline would have just read LaFell on Monday, but news of a torn ligament in his hand muddles the picture somewhat. What remains clear is there is a massive opportunity for targets in the Bengals offense, especially with Tyler Eifert likely to miss the first several games, and someone not named A.J. Green will have to fill a high-volume role.
The favorite for the job remains LaFell, who Marvin Lewis expects to be ready for Week 1. LaFell was awful in New England last season, but he is just a year removed from a 74/953/7 campaign as a high-volume member of the Patriots’ passing attack. He finished with 119 targets in 2014, over 30 less than Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu combined for last season. LaFell will not get all of those targets even if he is healthy Week 1, but he will likely see a large chunk. 100 targets is a realistic projection if he is healthy.
The problem is he might not be healthy, which is why Boyd’s name has to be mentioned. Boyd discouragingly did not work as a starter in two-wide sets with LaFell sidelined in the first preseason game, but with LaFell dealing with more than a day to day injury, it is possible the team moves their second-round pick out of the slot. Boyd was not impressive on tape in college, but he was very productive and made a couple big plays in the first preseason game. If LaFell’s injury forces him to miss time, Boyd will have to vault up draft boards.
Brandon Tate, who actually took over LaFell’s spot in the first preseason game, deserves a mention, but he has all of 57 catches in his seven-year career. It is unlikely he develops into a high-volume option, but crazier things have happened. He could be a hot wavier-wire name after Week 1.
This one straddles the line of requiring an injury or not, but it seems clear Aiken could be a high-volume option even without new injuries to Steve Smith Sr. or Breshad Perriman.
While Smith Sr. should never be counted out, he is a 37-year-old coming off a devastating Achilles’ injury who has yet to practice this year. It is not a given he plays a big role even when “healthy.” As for Perriman, the Ravens have no idea when he will get back, and even if he is “healthy” by the end of camp, he has barely practiced with the team in his two-year career. It is unlikely he is a big contributor right out of the gate, and it remains possible he starts the season on the reserve/PUP list. That leaves Mike Wallace as Aiken’s only healthy competition. While he has been getting some buzz lately in camp, Wallace has been nothing but a disappointment the last several seasons.
There is a real chance Aiken opens the year as the primary receiver, a role which netted him over 10 targets a game when Smith was sidelined last season. While that type of workload is probably out of the question, 120 targets seem well within reach, and he is available in the double-digit rounds. Aiken is an easy pick that late.