This article is part of a series about which wide receivers could lead the league in targets.
The big three wide receivers this year, and first off the board in any format, are almost universally Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Odell Beckham. But there are several other receivers with a legitimate chance to lead the league in targets this season. There are an abundance of reasons that if it’s not one of the big three, it’s likely to be Keenan Allen.
PROJECTING THE OFFENSE
The league leader in targets has had at least 170 of them every year for the last decade; in an initial projection for the Chargers this season, I gave Allen 181.
|Player||Targets||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Receiving Touchdowns||Receiving Fantasy Points|
Our Projection Machine initially works off of three factors: average scoring margin per play, pass tendency, and pace tendency. San Diego was off the charts in all three last season:
|Average Scoring Margin Per Play||Pass Tendency||Pace Tendency|
|2015 Chargers||(3.9) points||+5.0%||+5.0 plays/gm|
|2015 League Median||(1.4)||(1.0%)||+0.75|
|75th Percentile 2015 LM||+1.1||+2.0%||(1.0)|
|25th Percentile 2015 LM||(4.0)||(4.0%)||(2.75)|
|2016 Chargers (Projected)||(2.9)||+4.0%||+4.0|
I tried to give them reasonable projected levels based on last year being so strange, with Allen missing eight games, Stevie Johnson missing six, and Antonio Gates missing five. Of all the team’s running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, the only players to appear in all 16 games were Danny Woodhead, and the backup tight ends, John Phillips and David Johnson. No wide receiver or tight end recorded 90 targets, something that four of them did in 2014.
We see the expected, implied plunge in Rivers’ efficiency following the last full healthy game Allen played in Week 7, but the inverse is surprisingly true of the number of plays run, and passes attempted:
713 to 727 pass attempts would’ve led the league by a country mile, which is usually indicative of inefficiency necessitating volume, as we saw with the Ravens, who led the league last season with 676. San Diego was not that, though, as their volume was a result of the defense just bleeding, and creating high-scoring shootouts.
As the chart above shows, the Chargers were barely better in point differential with Allen, but their offense was an efficient, voluminous dream. In those seven games, Allen was averaging 12.0 targets, a very healthy 26.4 percent team market share, and a 16 game pace of 192. The only receivers with at least 192 targets last season were Jones (204), Brown (195), and DeAndre Hopkins (192). Not coincidentally, Allen was the overall fantasy WR3 after Week 7, behind only Jones and Hopkins.
TEAM COMPETITION FOR TARGETS
It’s difficult to project that kind of team volume, even though there isn’t a whole of reasons it will go down, other than regression to the mean. It’s not difficult, however, to project 27 or 28 percent of team targets to Allen, who just got paid like this team expects to funnel the offense through him for the foreseeable future. He is also entering the age, and experience range, where wide receivers can be expected to peak.
2015 team target leader Woodhead is also probably going to cede opportunity to Melvin Gordon, and Gates will have to eventually succumb to the natural laws of time. It’s highly unlikely free agent acquisition Travis Benjamin gathers all of the 131 targets vacated by Malcolm Floyd‘s retirement and Ladarius Green‘s move to Pittsburgh. Even if he does, there’s still another 100 targets that went to Dontrelle Inman, Javontee Herndon, and Donald Brown.
RUNNING BACKS, DEFENSE, AND GAME FLOW
Rich Hribar talked about the concept of game flow and script two years ago, finding that teams are two to three times as likely to run when winning, depending how late in the game it is, and how much they’re winning by. This concept is crucial in projecting volume both for running backs and wide receivers. Douche also posted recently why garbage time matters, even if it doesn’t matter quite as much. You don’t want to target wide receivers because they’re on losing teams, or teams with terrible defenses; but, it helps.
As mentioned above, the Chargers defense was just horrendous last season no matter who was playing offense. Good thing for defensive coordinator John Pagano that all those injuries occurred, because he probably would’ve been fired under normal circumstances. After 2014, when the team was thirteenth best in points allowed, but twelfth worst in yards allowed per play, and sixth worst in turnovers, they followed up with a 2015 campaign where they were twelfth worst, fifth worst, and eighth worst, respectively.
To hear departed, long-time star safety Eric Weddle tell it, the whole thing is a complete shitshow. Not to mention, the team is moving after this year, and will probably be playing in front of a half empty stadium of pissed off people, probably rooting for the other team. Las Vegas also thinks they have the worst chance of winning the division by a canyon, paying eight-to-one if you’ll donate your money in Rivers’ name, and under three-to-one for any of the three other teams.
Another thing that doesn’t bode well for the team’s chances to flip their negative scripts, is their inability to run the ball for years. Ladanian Tomlinson‘s last one thousand rushing yard season was 2008; since then, Ryan Mathews is the only San Diego running back to reach that number, and he did it only twice, in 2011, and 2013.
Gordon and Woodhead were both bottom twelve in efficiency for all running backs last year, for all that had at least as many attempts as Woodhead (97):
Gordon was 22nd in rushing attempts league-wide last season, finishing with 184 carries, 641 rushing yards, and zero touchdowns. None of the other 25 running backs who had more than 160 carries finished with fewer than 698 rushing yards. The next closest running back in attempts, who also had zero rushing touchdowns, was Charles Sims; he was 43rd league-wide, with only 107 carries.
This team can’t run the ball, and can’t stop the other team from scoring. They can air the hell out of that ball, though, and they have an alpha receiver that is going to get force fed.
For more articles in this series, see the links below (more will be added as they are published)