The RotoViz staff has been making their cases for dark horse wide receivers who could lead the NFL in targets. I am betting on Brandon Marshall, and I think you should join me on the bandwagon.
The average NFL target leader since 2000 has seen 182 targets per season. I believe there are several scenarios in which Marshall can clear this number.
Those Who Don’t Learn From History…
Okay I get it: betting on Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, or Odell Beckham seems like the safer bet since they’re the top three players by ADP, have more stable QB situations, and are not on the wrong side of 30. However, the laws of Father Time do not necessarily apply uniformly to all WRs over the age of 30. As Tyler Buecher showed for Demaryius Thomas, history is firmly on Marshall’s side:
Since 2012, Marshall is fourth in total targets and only has 12 less targets than Brown, or a measly 0.2 targets per game. While you would be keen to notice two other players above Marshall in Thomas and the now retired Calvin Johnson, neither necessarily had the same consistency of being an upper echelon target hog like Marshall. Since 2012, only 31 WRs have registered a season averaging 10 targets per game or higher, but Marshall, Jones, and Brown are the only players to do it three times (data courtesy of the new Rotoviz Screener):
Earlier this offseason, I wrote about why I was going after Marshall and Eric Decker with brute force in MFL10s while their prices were still discounted for the uncertainty of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract. My hypothesis was that it did not matter who the Jets QB was because the offense was still going to funnel targets to the two top guys. In 2015, only two teams had their two leading receivers combine for over half of the team’s targets:
If you want to further narrow that down to only offenses that were in the top half of pass attempts, then you can lower the threshold to say the Jets and Broncos were the only two teams to clear 46 percent – and comfortably at that.
The Jets RBs did have a very high 19 percent market share but there’s simply nothing else at receiver. Their third receiver, Quincy Enunwa, had a seven percent share. Their leading tight end, Jeff Cumberland, had a two percent share! Marshall and Decker’s target shares are sacred. Even more appealing is that even with their ridiculously high combined market share, Marshall’s share was actually his lowest since 2011 for a season where he played all 16 games:
Betting on Game Script
There’s another reason Marshall could lead the league in targets: the Jets schedule is a whole lot more difficult this year. In 2015, the Jets had the second easiest schedule, according to NFL Trade Rumors’ strength of schedule model. They were favored by at least 3.5 points six times. Even with Marshall’s WR3 year, we can see this game script was actually an anchor to the Jets passing game:
In games where the Jets were three point or less favorites or underdogs, they averaged an extra eight pass attempts per game with nearly three of those going to Marshall. Marshall saw a 190 target pace in those games. That is a pretty handy stat because take a look at the Jets opponents this year (schedule courtesy of Pro Football Reference):
Per NFLTradeRumors’ SOS model again, this is the fourth most difficult schedule in the NFL. Outside of those Browns and 49ers games, is there a single game on there the Jets will be more than three point favorites? I do not think so.
My initial Jets projection, which is generally more of a median projection than a ceiling projection, saw Marshall repeating his 28.8 percent share, which was good for 175 targets.
However, if Marshall could actually get back to 30 percent – which can certainly happen given the lack of competition for targets outside of Decker and the fact that Denver’s top receivers actually had a four percent higher share (meaning an increase for Marshall and Decker is not unprecedented even when they are already so much higher than all the other teams) – then the target number would actually hit 183. If Marshall got to 32 percent, which his average of his last four healthy seasons, then he would see 194 targets.
Even if his market share stayed constant, we have also established 190 targets is in his range of outcomes just from the Jets potentially passing more against a much tougher schedule (my projection calls for 608 team pass attempts, whereas their pace was 652 in the splits above). A 28.8 percent share of 652 passes would be 188 targets.
Marshall and Decker are already tied for first and second for my most owned WRs in my MFL10 portfolio. If you like chasing volume, then I suggest you join me, so that I do not have to say, “I told you so,” when Marshall leads the NFL in targets this year.
Other Articles in this Series
David Caban on Deandre Hopkins
Tyler Buecher on Demaryius Thomas
14Team Mocker on Keenan Allen