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Odell Beckham
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By the Numbers

Targets Aren't Created Equal - A 2019 Study

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: January 3, 2020, 8:56 pm ET

If you solely looked at target data to make sit/start decisions, you’d do okay, but we can do much, much better than that because targets aren’t created equal. My week-by-week air yards charts in my weekly Fantasy Forecast column take target data to the next level (a major thank you to Josh Hermsmeyer for the public air yards data), but, as you’ll see in a second, we can do better than that with more data. 


2019 Leaders in PPR Points Per Target

Player Tm PPR Points Per Target
Jared Cook NO 2.6
A.J. Brown TEN 2.4
Chris Godwin TB 2.3
Stefon Diggs MIN 2.3
Tyrell Williams OAK 2.2
Kenny Stills HOU 2.2
Kenny Golladay DET 2.2
Tyler Lockett SEA 2.1
Mark Andrews BAL 2.1
Marvin Jones DET 2.1
Tyreek Hill KAN 2.1
Amari Cooper DAL 2.1
Terry McLaurin WAS 2.1
Marquise Brown BAL 2.1
Calvin Ridley ATL 2.1
George Kittle SF 2.1
Michael Thomas NO 2.0
Darius Slayton NYG 2.0
Cooper Kupp LAR 2.0
Breshad Perriman TB 2.0
Hunter Henry LAC 2.0
Austin Hooper ATL 2.0
Mike Evans TB 2.0
Allen Lazard GB 1.9
DeVante Parker MIA 1.9
Deebo Samuel SF 1.9
Darren Waller OAK 1.9
DK Metcalf SEA 1.9
Will Fuller HOU 1.9
Michael Gallup DAL 1.9
Hunter Renfrow OAK 1.9
D.J. Chark JAX 1.9
Randall Cobb DAL 1.9
John Brown BUF 1.9

These are your top pass-catchers in fantasy points per target for the 2019 season (min. 50 targets). Some of these pass-catchers are simply really good football players. Some of these pass-catchers just ran hot this year. And some of these pass-catchers were used in optimal spots this year. This column will highlight things that matter for fantasy pass-catchers beyond just targets and how these things affected pass-catchers this season. 


 

"Shallow" vs. "Deep" Targets

PPR by aDOTAverage Fantasy Points by Depth of Target

 

Here are the average fantasy points (PPR) per target based on how many yards the pass traveled before or beyond the line of scrimmage (aka air yards). The two lines show there is an increase in average fantasy points per target up until the 40-60 yard range. That means a target 10 yards downfield is worth fewer fantasy points than a target 30 yards downfield. Simply put, air yards do matter. 

This chart also shows there is a slight difference between an air yard at home (blue) and an air yard on the road (red). The difference is particularly notable on deep targets, as you can see in the 25-45 yard range. Remember this when you’re settling a tie-breaker between a deep threat receiver at home and a deep threat receiver on the road.

 


 

"Slot" vs. "Deep Threat" WRs

Slot vs. Deep WRs

 

As a general rule of thumb, slot receivers are low-variance, volume-based fantasy assets. Slot receivers are rarely targeted in the volatile 25+ yard range (more on this in a second) and are peppered with targets between -3 and 12 yards of the line of scrimmage. That’s why I created this chart to break down how many fantasy points a defense allows per game split by “underneath” and “deep” targets. Looking at defense allowed data that includes deep production doesn’t help us make a Cole Beasley sit/start decision. My chart will.

 


 

"Steady" vs. "Volatile" Targets

Variance in Fantasy Points by Depth of Target

 

This chart shows the variation in receiving fantasy points (PPR) based on how many yards the pass traveled before or beyond the line of scrimmage (aka air yards). Targets at or near the line of scrimmage have the lowest amount of variance, while deeper targets have a lot wider range of outcomes. This should be common sense because deep targets are harder to catch and are also worth more fantasy points, as we just discussed in the chart above. 

The key point here is that we should buy and sell fantasy receivers based on what they’ve recently done on deeper targets. If a receiver is hot on deep targets, it’s probably best to sell him because we know those deep targets are more volatile and it’s likely that the receiver has simply been lucky recently. On the flip side, receivers who haven’t caught many deep targets are probably worth buying for the exact opposite reason. Here are the top-25 pass-catchers in targets of 25+ air yards, aka the volatile receivers we should’ve been buying and selling week-to-week this season. Keep in mind that the average of these "deep targets" is approximately 2.2 PPR points per target:

 

Pass Catcher

Team

Deep Targets

PPR Points Per Deep Target

Kenny Golladay

DET

24

3.6

Mike Williams

LAC

23

2.4

DeVante Parker

MIA

22

3.1

Curtis Samuel

CAR

22

0.6 (dude...)

Stefon Diggs

MIN

21

4.3 (will regress)

Mike Evans

TB

21

2.8

James Washington

PIT

21

2.5

Breshad Perriman

TB

19

1.9

Odell Beckham

CLE

19

1.5 (c’mon)

D.J. Chark

JAX

18

2.8

John Brown

BUF

18

2.6

Tyler Lockett

SEA

18

2.2

Marquez Valdes-Scantling

GB

18

1.8

DK Metcalf

SEA

17

3.4 (stud)

Darius Slayton

NYG

17

2.8

Will Fuller

HOU

17

2.1

DeAndre Hopkins

HOU

17

2.0

Ted Ginn

NO

16

1.8

Tyreek Hill

KC

15

3.6 (Tyfreak)

Robby Anderson

NYJ

15

2.3

Christian Kirk

ARI

15

2.2

Julio Jones

ATL

15

1.8

Terry McLaurin

WAS

14

2.6

Chris Conley

JAX

14

2.1

Amari Cooper

DAL

13

2.6

 

Odell Beckham and Curtis Samuel. What. The. Hell. Happened. (More on them in 3… 2… 1…)

 


 

"Outside" vs. "Over The Middle" Targets

Outside vs. Over the Middle Targets

 

The depth of each target does not paint the entire picture for PPR points. Where a receiver is catching the ball in relation to the sideline is very important and might be the most underrated aspect of evaluating receivers right now. This chart shows how a target in the middle of the field (red) is typically worth 0.25 to 1.5 more PPR points than a target on the outside (blue). For example, a target 30 yards downfield near the sideline is worth 2.1 PPR points, equivalent to a target 11 yards downfield when it is over the middle. This shows how air yards can lie to us from time to time. The table below shows the top-20 pass catchers (min. 50 targets) ranked by the percentage of targets on the outside:

 

Pass Catcher Team % of Targets on the Outside Outside PPR Per Target
T.Y. Hilton IND 94% 1.9
Curtis Samuel CAR 92% 1.5 (bad for a WR)
Aaron Jones GB 88% 1.6
Demaryius Thomas NYJ 88% 1.6
Ted Ginn NO 88% 1.1
Odell Beckham CLE 87% 1.3 (awful for a WR)
Jarius Wright CAR 86% 1.0
Will Fuller HOU 86% 2.0 (stud)
Robert Woods LAR 86% 1.6
Christian McCaffrey CAR 85% 1.7
Saquon Barkley NYG 85% 1.5
Miles Sanders PHI 84% 2.0
Leonard Fournette JAX 84% 1.2
Duke Johnson HOU 84% 1.7
Demarcus Robinson KC 84% 1.8
Gerald Everett LAR 83% 1.3
Preston Williams MIA 83% 1.3
Corey Davis TEN 83% 1.5
Courtland Sutton DEN 82% 1.6
Tyler Lockett SEA 82% 2.1 (needs more targets)
Alvin Kamara NO 81% 1.4
Tyreek Hill KC 81% 2.0 (Tyfreak)
John Brown BUF 80% 2.0 (stud)

 

Some of the most frustrating fantasy receivers of 2019 appear on this list, which makes sense for the reasons we just went over in the chart above. One constant headache I had this fantasy year was with the 2019 air yards GOAT, Curtis Samuel. But now looking back, that was extremely foolish of me. Samuel’s air yard totals were phony for reasons beyond Kyle Allen's inability to throw deep passes. 92% of Samuel’s targets and 88% of his air yards came on the less-valuable outside targets. That, simply put, is not good for fantasy. (If you want to see which teams threw the ball over the middle the most often, scroll to the bottom of the column.)

 


 

Red Zone Targets

Fantasy Points by Yards to the End Zone

 

The last variable to monitor is how close a player is to the end zone. A player is obviously more likely to score a touchdown the closer he gets to the end zone, but this chart shows the exact relationship separated by passes (red) and runs (blue). Fantasy points per target are flat from 100 yards away from the end zone to about 30 yards out. Then the expected fantasy points begin to increase at a steady rate until we get to the goal line. In general, it’s safe to use red zone stats, but only for pass plays.

 


 

Red Zone Carries

Do not use red zone rushing stats. A rush from 10 to 20 yards out is not that different than a rush from 80 yards away from the end zone for fantasy purposes. Instead, use inside-the-10 or inside-the-five carries when looking for RB value. That’s where all the magic happens. The table below includes rushers with at least eight inside-the-five carries, and it compares their differences in fantasy points per carry on carries inside-the-five and carries between 6-20 yards from the end zone:

Rusher

Team

Carries

(1-5 yards from End Zone)

FPs Per Carry 

(1-5)

FPs Per Carry

(6-20)

Dalvin Cook

MIN

21

2.7

1.1

Christian McCaffrey

CAR

20

2.8

0.7

Ezekiel Elliott

DAL

18

3.5

0.5

Joe Mixon

CIN

18

1.8

0.3 (awful)

David Montgomery

CHI

18

1.8

0.7

Aaron Jones

GB

17

3.7 (elite)

2.0 (elite)

Todd Gurley

LAR

16

3.2

0.9

Nick Chubb

CLE

16

1.1 (awful)

0.8

Melvin Gordon

LAC

15

2.9

0.8

Sony Michel

NE

14

2.7

0.4

Josh Jacobs

OAK

12

2.7

0.8

Derrick Henry

TEN

11

3.9 (elite)

1.5 (good)

Mark Ingram

BAL

11

3.4

0.9

Marlon Mack

IND

10

2.5

1.0

Frank Gore

BUF

10

1.2 (awful)

0.2 (awful)

Jordan Howard

PHI

10

3.2

1.1

Peyton Barber

TB

10

2.5

1.4

Kerryon Johnson

DET

10

2.5

0.3

Leonard Fournette

JAX

9

2.0

0.2 (awful)

Chris Carson

SEA

9

3.3

0.7

Carlos Hyde

HOU

9

2.8

0.5

Phillip Lindsay

DEN

9

3.5

0.3

Tevin Coleman

SF

9

2.1

1.0

Austin Ekeler

LAC

9

1.4

1.0

Saquon Barkley

NYG

8

0.8 (awful)

0.8

Lamar Jackson

BAL

8

2.3

1.2

Alvin Kamara

NO

8

2.4

0.8

Gus Edwards

BAL

8

0.1 (bruh...)

0.8

Kenyan Drake

ARI

8

4.7 (elite)

1.1

Malcolm Brown

LAR

8

4.0 (elite)

0.4

 

Inside-the-five carries averaged 2.6 fantasy points, while carries between 6-20 yards from the end zone averaged 0.8 fantasy points. Do not treat them as if they’re the same. Just ask Ezekiel Elliott, who had a 3.0 fantasy points per carry difference. For 2020 fantasy drafts, I like Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley as bounceback candidates for rushing touchdowns and Aaron Jones as a negative regression candidate.

 


 

Conclusion

Targets aren’t created equal. How deep a target travels downfield, where a pass-catcher is standing in relation to the sideline, and how close he is to the end zone all matter. These variables, plus others, need to be factored in when making sit/start decisions and when buying/selling players in season-long leagues. The best way to handle all these things is to wrap them into a model and compare expected fantasy points to actual fantasy points. Expect the results of my expected fantasy points to appear in a future Rotoworld column. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make this a weekly column for the 2020 season. 

 


 

Bonus Team-by-Team Content

Over the Middle Targets by Team

 

Here is another example of #OurRavens pacing the NFL in a stat that is correlated to offensive success and another reason why Lamar Jackson’s rushing value translates to his passing success. Both Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown were near the top of the rankings for the highest percentage of targets over the middle. 

 

Deep Targets by Team

 

The offenses at the top were more willing to throw the ball downfield in 2019, which is great for fantasy but can make an offense more boom-or-bust. This chart shows why Jameis Winston is a stud fantasy quarterback but also shows why he’s such a volatile real-life quarterback.