This article is part of a series about wide receivers that 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. 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 DeAndre Hopkins.
PROJECTING THE OFFENSE
In each season of the last decade, the league leader in targets has eclipsed 170. With some help from the Projection Machine, I arrived at a total of 180 in an initial projection for Hopkins.
|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. As you can see, Houston has had an accelerated pace over the last two seasons when compared to the rest of the league and has been on both extremes of scoring margin per play.
|Average Scoring Margin Per Play||Pass Tendency||Pace Tendency|
|2015 Texans||(3.6) points||0.0%||+6.7 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 Texans (Projected)||(1.4)||(0.0%)||+3.5|
I did my best to keep all assumptions included in the projections reasonable. Overall, I expect the Texans to have a season similar to last. Bill O’Brien lead the team to nine wins in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. As the current over/under for the team is floating around 8.5, I felt comfortable anticipating the team to have similar tendencies in the coming season. The jury is still out on Brock Osweiler and though the Texans front office appears to believe in his talent, I elected to be conservative. As such, I assumed Osweiler to provide production similar to that posted by the hodgepodge of passers the team featured during the last two seasons. I did include a bump in rushing production and used Arian Foster’s 2014 numbers as a guide. After baking these considerations into my projection, I was left with 581 anticipated passing attempts; a decrease of 38 attempts from last year.
TEAM COMPETITION FOR TARGETS
Hopkins commanded 31 percent of Texans’ targets in 2015 and should be able to do so again in the coming season. When compared to other top-level talents such as Demaryius Thomas, who could make his own claim for the target crown, Hopkins will not be in competition for targets with a proven WR2. Rookie Will Fuller seems like the likely player to fill this role and assume the 94 targets vacated by Nate Washington. This would be a solid outcome for the 22 year old; of the 65 WRs drafted in the first round since 2000, only 16 have gone for over 95 targets in their rookie season. Cecil Shorts was Houston’s WR3 in 2015 and I doubt that Braxton Miller will be able to usurp this role. Shorts played in 11 games last year and it does not appear that his presence, or lack of, had much of an impact on Hopkins.
Lamar Miller figures to see a substantial amount of targets in the passing game. However, Houston running backs were targeted 114 times last season and Hopkins still got 192 looks. Plus, Foster received 59 targets in a 13 game 2014 but Hopkins and Andre Johnson combined for a total of 273 targets or 56 percent of Texans’ passing attempts.
RUNNING BACKS, DEFENSE, AND GAME FLOW
As noted in our discussion of fellow potential target monster Keenan Allen, game flow and script are extremely important in projecting volume for both RBs and WRs. In general, winning team’s have less of a need to pass and naturally this can be influenced by the defense.
The Texans defense was stout in both 2014 and 2015 allowing only 19.2 and 19.6 points per game. This was good for seventh best in the league both years. Further, the team finished third in terms of total yards per game and passing yards per game in 2015, as well as 10th in rushing yards per game. There’s no reason to assume that things will be radically different in the coming season but it should be noted that despite the commendable efforts of the team’s defense, the Texans offense still passed 619 times and played at a rapid pace. Though the team will now have a solid option out of the backfield, it will have both a signal caller and lead back adjusting to the team, alongside a group of young receivers. For these reasons, I expect the team’s game script to trend towards the negative and a higher pass tendency to be required as games move into the third and fourth quarters.
In the second halves of games played last season, Hopkins saw 65 targets when the team was behind and 42 targets when ahead or tied. Those numbers could be slightly troubling, however, if you believe that Houston will not significantly improve there’s not a whole lot to worry about. At the end of the day, the path to 170 targets for Hopkins is lacking the impediments that a number of his peers may see and is one that is very realistic. Unlike Alshon Jeffery, another young receiver sure to be peppered in 2016, Hopkins has yet to miss a game in his NFL career. He has already proven the ability to be a league leader in targets and production, the talent surrounding him does not pose a substantial threat to his market share and his team’s anticipated game flow raises no major red flags.