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.
It could very well be Jarvis Landry in 2016.
PROJECTING THE OFFENSE
The league leader in targets has had at least 170 of them every year for the last decade. In my projection for the 2016 Miami Dolphins, I gave Jarvis Landry 180 targets.
|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. The major thing I expect to change under new head coach Adam Gase is the Dolphins’ offensive play pace. Under Gase (and Peyton Manning), the 2013 Broncos were +7.0 plays/game over the average and +2.0 plays/game in 2014.
Well sure, Manning is a future first ballot Hall of Famer and he was running the hurry-up since second grade. What about a QB on the level of Ryan Tannehill?
In Chicago last season, with Gase as the offensive coordinator, the Bears had their first season with above average pace (+0.5 plays/gm) since Jay Cutler’s arrival in 2009. Pretty amazing considering that Chicago played without their offensive stars (Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett) for large stretches of the season.
|Average Scoring Margin Per Play||Pass Tendency||Pace Tendency|
|2015 Dolphins||(2.5) points||+4.9%||(2.3) 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 Dolphins (Projected)||0.0||+4.0%||+3.2|
Projecting Landry for 180 targets isn’t a massive reach since he saw 112 as a rookie (31st most since targets became a stat in 1992). In 2015, Landry had 166 targets (sixth in the NFL and third most all-time for a second-year WR) even with the team finishing 27th in offensive plays per game. That’s a big accomplishment considering teams like the Houston Texans and DeAndre Hopkins ran almost 10 more plays per game than Miami did in 2015. If the Dolphins can pick up their pace even slightly, I see opportunity for all of their young wide receivers.
TEAM COMPETITION FOR TARGETS
Projecting the likely pass distribution for the 2016 Dolphins begins and ends with Ryan Tannehill’s strengths as a passer. As you can see from his career AYA graph, a whopping 82 percent of his pass attempts are of the less than 15 yard variety.
That tendency fits right into Landry’s wheelhouse. In his first two seasons, Landry has the second- and fifth-shortest average depth of catch seasons since 2013. With 110 receptions he barely crested five yards past the line of scrimmage on average.
Shortest "average depth of catch" over past three seasons. pic.twitter.com/xaY4hQcFBL
— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) June 29, 2016
As far as the other WRs, DeVante Parker had an abbreviated rookie season while suffering setbacks due to his broken foot. Ben Gretch looked at why Parker could be more active in his sophomore season. We all love the college production of Leonte Carroo, and while rookie WRs can tend to have an immediate impact, there are already two highly drafted receivers on the roster. Even still, I think I am fairly bullish on my projection for Carroo because I think Miami will have to throw, a lot.
Tight End Jordan Cameron was a free agent flop for the Dolphins in 2015. He hasn’t really done much in the NFL outside of 2013 in Cleveland when he and Josh Gordon balled out. As many like to do when an OC switches teams, Cameron is projected based on the production of Julius Thomas and Martellus Bennett with Gase. I think my projection sees Cameron as a red zone threat with a high touchdown total on a fairly low number of targets. Of course there is that scary concussion history to deal with as well. His backup, Dion Sims, is big and athletic, but he is also unproven with only 48 career receptions in three years.
Running your offense through a slow, nonexplosive slot receiver is not the most efficient way to attack NFL defenses. Despite Landry’s efficiency numbers being abysmal, he still saw 28 percent of the team’s total targets in 2015. So with Tannehill at the helm and Landry on the roster, it’s a match made in mediocrity. At least for 2016, I find it hard to project the majority of targets going anywhere else.
RUNNING BACKS, DEFENSE, AND GAME FLOW
Spectacularly underutilized Lamar Miller left for the Texans in free agency which leaves the Miami running game with a rather large question mark.
Jay Ajayi had almost 400 touches in his final year at Boise State, which included 50 receptions. Ajayi only saw 11 targets in nine games in 2015. It’s tough to get a handle on what this year will bring because the coaching decisions were seemingly so inept last season. Projecting him for 40+ targets seems fair.
Kenyan Drake was the third RB drafted in the 2016 NFL draft. Drake was primarily a passing down back behind super-stud Derrick Henry at Alabama. Gase has stated publicly that he wants a “stable of running backs” and that he wants all of his backs to be able to stay on the field in all situations. Drake has me intrigued since he was thought of so highly by Miami that he was drafted over prized pass-catching RB prospects like C.J. Prosise, Devontae Booker and Kenneth Dixon. Drake also scares me because there isn’t much on his college production resume. I gave Drake 30 targets and that could be low or it could be high. I have no idea.
I still think there is a good possibility that Miami brings in a veteran free agent before the season starts. Someone like Arian Foster could shake things up dramatically.
Miami’s defense finished 29th in pass defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders. It’s hard to argue that any of their offseason moves might have a positive impact on that ranking. Per their current depth chart, they are starting rookie corner Xavien Howard and the routinely torched Byron Maxwell on the opposite side.
Predicting game flow is tough enough week to week, let alone for the season. But the 2016 schedule might set up well for Landry. Miami faces the stout front sevens of the AFC East (twice), NFC West, and AFC North. That means tough run defenses and furious pass rushes. Look for Tannehill to dump off the football as soon as he possibly can.
In addition, the three divisions above might be some of the most competitive top to bottom. Vegas has the Dolphins slotted at seven wins for 2016. If Miami is going to get there, they’ll need to do it through the air with a sieve-like defense and an unproven running game.
The Miami Target Machine
I’ve laid out my case for how Jarvis Landry could lead the NFL in targets. To be honest, I’m not a Landry fan. But through this exercise, I have talked myself into his current 2016 ADP of WR18. It’s hard to argue that he won’t be a mid-WR2 just on pure volume alone. I don’t have much faith in Ryan Tannehill as an NFL quarterback which is weirdly good for Landry and bad for the Dolphins as a team. It’s a study in futility that a WR could actually have the most targets and maybe even receptions in the NFL and still not lead PPR fantasy leagues in WR points.