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Wide Receiver Usage Report – Changing of the Guard in Pittsburgh?

Two weeks have gone, and everything that has happened in the NFL is exactly as we all predicted … or not, as the case may be. Once again, we are back to take a look back at emerging trends from the wide receiver spot after a frenetic Week 2 of the 2018 season.

In this series, our focus is the performance of wide receivers from the last week of NFL action. We hope to identify any emerging trends, like players suddenly seeing a huge workload, making them worthy of your attention. On the flip side, we must also be aware of situations where players begin to stand out for all the wrong reasons, and we hope to help you see the warning signs before it is too late. Let’s get into it.

Week 2 Target Leaders

PlayerTargetsReceptionsTarget Share %PPR PointsWeekly Rank
JuJu Smith-Schuster191332.0%31.1WR3
Antonio Brown17928.0%15.7WR32
Allen Robinson141041.0%18.3WR23
Golden Tate13725.0%18.8WR22
Adam Thielen131227.0%31.1WR2
Stefon Diggs13927.0%35.9WR1
Michael Thomas131237.0%30.9WR4
Mike Evans121036.0%22.3WR12
Davante Adams12829.0%20.4WR17
Nelson Agholor12826.0%23WR9
Demaryius Thomas11531.0%6.8WR77
T.Y. Hilton11735.0%21.3WR14
DeAndre Hopkins11635.0%23WR8
Quincy Enunwa11727.0%16.2WR31

It’s never a shock to see a Pittsburgh Steeler atop the targets totem pole in a given week. But it does warrant an eyebrow raise when that receiver is not Antonio Brown.

Michael Thomas of the Saints is establishing himself as a true target hog through two weeks of the season. Only Brown has more targets than his 30, while no player in NFL history has more receptions after two weeks of a season than Thomas’ 28.

In all, there are 11 WRs who have commanded a target share in excess of 30 percent through two weeks of the season. Of the 11, only one of them is outside the top 36 in terms of total PPR points. Corey Davis is currently the WR44, despite his 34 percent share of the Titans targets.

Seldom Used, Always Dangerous

While players that attract a large target share are always attractive to fantasy players, there can be value in the high ceiling “boom or bust” player. In 2018, and indeed for large portions of his career, this type of player has been personified by DeSean Jackson. And my word if he hasn’t delivered so far in 2018.


Jackson is currently the WR3, despite only nine receptions (on nine targets) this season. He leads all WRs in receiving yards, air yards (209), yards per target (30.6) and fantasy points per pass route (1.56). He has achieved all this on just 46.6 percent of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps. It is not unfair to say that regression is on its way for Jackson. But if he can keep up his connection with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jackson may still have the occasional big week left in him this season. Viewing the image below, you can clearly understand why Jackson is keen that Fitzpatrick remains at the helm, even when Jameis Winston returns from suspension.

fitz djax

In the Red

A vast majority of NFL touchdowns are scored inside the red zone. As a result, it is clear that the smart teams rely on their best players when they get down inside their opponent’s 20-yard lines. Quarterbacks will look for the man they can trust the most. That’s why the identity of the most targeted WR inside the red zone in 2018 may come as something of a surprise.


Steeling for Change

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you may have seen the news that Antonio Brown is not a happy bunny. On Sunday, he clashed with his coaches on the sidelines during the Steelers loss to the Chiefs. On Monday, he decided not to show up for work, instead choosing to spend valuable time arguing with former Steelers employees on Twitter. His agent Drew Rosenhaus, a man always keen for his clients to enjoy a harmonious relationship with their teams, has stated that Brown does not want to be traded.1 Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger believes Rosenhaus and feels that Brown is “a competitor and he wants to be the best in the world, and he wants to make every play and catch every touchdown.”

Maybe the fact that he’s not been the best WR in Pittsburgh, let alone the world, is the cause of his frustrations.

juju ab

JuJu Smith-Schuster has been nothing short of outstanding through two weeks, and given his near-permanent residence in the slot, he may be better suited to the declining (yes, I went there) skillset of his QB.

Smith-Schuster’s average depth of target in 2018 is a mere 5.7, compared to Brown’s 10.4. I’m not suggesting that Ben is struggling to get the ball down the field to Brown, but when one looks at the adjusted yards per attempt profile when targeting the two, one begins to worry:

ben wrs

It’s not that Brown is a bad player, of course. Far from it. Smith-Schuster is just really really good.

Brown will still get his targets, of course. But this situation is worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks.

Let It Go

If the Denver Broncos, and Case Keenum, could just stop throwing the ball to Demaryius Thomas, and throw it instead to Emmanuel Sanders, they’d find good things will happen. Not to mention that they’ll make a lot of fantasy owners very happy.

dt es

  1. In the interests of full disclosure, I have viewed Rosenhaus with a degree of suspicion ever since 2005 offseason, when his entreaties began to sow the first seeds of mistrust between the Eagles and Terrell Owens. Yes, I bloody well do bear grudges.  (back)

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