I recently wrote a guest post for Rotoworld arguing top receivers need to be capable of posting a 200-target season in 2016. The obvious follow-up: is who are the players most likely to get there this season?
It’s important to note that only five wide receivers hit 30 percent market share of their team’s targets in games they played last season. That was also true for the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons. That type of share is generally reserved for elite players plus good circumstances; some teams simply spread the ball around too much or have too many weapons to support such a high market share.
Another factor is that, prior to 2012, no season since at least 2000 had featured more than four teams throwing for over 600 pass attempts. But starting in 2012, there have been nine, nine, 11, and finally 15 teams last season who hit the threshold.
Combine these things and you’ll quickly realize 200 targets is a very difficult goal. It would take 33 percent of 600 targets to reach that number, and 30.8 percent of 650. Even last year’s league-leading 676 attempts would require a 29.6 share to hit 200.
Here are the six receivers I think have the potential to reach these numbers in 2016.
The Clubhouse Leaders
The chalk, I expect Brown to lead the league in targets this year. He has eclipsed a 30 percent share two years running, including last year’s league-leading 33 percent share. His 193 targets in 2015 were the ninth most since 1992,1 but Ben Roethlisberger missed four games. In the 12 games they played together, Brown was pacing for 216 targets and 159 receptions.
The Steelers have thrown more than three percent more passes than an average team each of Todd Haley’s four seasons in Pittsburgh, and were 9.5 percent above that mark in 2014. With Roethlisberger in the lineup last year, they were pacing for a similar mark.
With Martavis Bryant out for the season and Le’Veon Bell set to miss some time, I’d put the odds of Brown surpassing 200 targets in a healthy season for both he and Big Ben somewhere North of 50/50, perhaps around 75 percent. He’s the clear No. 1 overall pick in all formats by my estimation.
Jones broke the 200-target threshold last year, notching 203. Matt Ryan has eclipsed 600 pass attempts for four consecutive seasons, so it would seem the volume will be there. I like Mohamed Sanu as a purely volume play in his own right, but not in a way that would legitimately jeopardize Jones repeating a 30+ percent target share. Outside of Sanu and Devonta Freeman, there isn’t much competition for targets here.
One cause for concern might be the team’s stated desire to get Tevin Coleman more involved and Kyle Shanahan’s tendency to run a little more than league average. If the team throws fewer passes overall, it could cap Jones’ upside closer to the 190-target mark. Overall, though, he’s a strong bet to repeat the feat.
Through his first two years, Odell Beckham has not yet played a full 16 game season. Despite that, he’s amassed 288 targets. Heading into his third season at age 23, he has already seen 27.6 percent of his team’s targets in the 27 career games he’s played in.
With Victor Cruz nursing back to health and rookie Sterling Shepard the other main competition for targets, 30 percent seems very attainable for Beckham in 2016. The Giants surpassed the 600-attempt mark in each of new head coach Ben McAdoo’s two seasons as offensive coordinator, and have been notably more pass heavy when Beckham’s been in the lineup.
Shane Vereen led the team in RB snaps in 2015, and with an aging lead back in Rashad Jennings and the draft investment in Shepard, a continued increase in pass attempts for the G-Men seems plenty plausible. The question will be whether Beckham makes the jump to a truly elite target share, or if this offense is simply not set up that way, and he’ll have to rely on plus efficiency over something closer to 175 targets (28 percent of 625 attempts).
14TeamMocker pointed out that Allen was pacing for 192 targets in the first seven games of last season, before an injury in Week 8 ended his season. He also noted the Chargers were on an unsustainable passing pace in the first two months of last season. I don’t want to hand wave that away, but getting to 200 targets means averaging 12.5 per game. It’s notable, then, that Allen eclipsed that number in four of those first seven games – and hit double digits all three games after Antonio Gates returned from suspension – even if the team was throwing at an alarming rate.
I point out those four specific games because we’re working with a small sample. I’m not sure Allen’s 26.8 percent share in those seven games tells us much, at least not enough to throw a rise to 30 percent out the window. The two biggest target competitors in this offense are both on the wrong side of the age curve – Gates and Danny Woodhead – and free agent Travis Benjamin is a downfield threat but not a target hog.2
The Chargers threw 667 passes in 2015, just nine attempts shy of Baltimore’s league-leading 676. There are reasons for Melvin Gordon optimism, but it’s certainly possible he struggles again this season. Should that happen, the Chargers could again find themselves among the league leaders in attempts, with Allen being the volume beneficiary.
Marshall is entering his age-32 season, so this may seem overly optimistic. But this is a receiver who, back in 2012, managed 192 targets for a Bears’ team that threw just 485 passes. That was good for an insane 39.8 market share. In fact, for Marshall’s career, he has seen 29.2 percent of all targets in games he’s played in, the highest rate for any player over the last decade, no target minimum required. Whether it’s a skill or something related to his demeanor, he has clearly showed an ability to dominate targets.
Last season, the Jets threw 604 passes under Chan Gailey. Marshall saw 173, good for a 28.7 percent share. That overall number could rise with the jettisoning of Chris Ivory and the addition of Matt Forte, and also the potential for worse game scripts.
Projecting 200 targets is obviously an upside proposition, and there are still significant risks surrounding Marshall’s age. But the circumstances of the offense and his target-dominating history give him a real shot, even at 32.
Mike Braude made a good case that Mike Evans is overpriced earlier this offseason, but it was largely built around expecting the Buccaneers to be a low-volume offense. My RotoViz Radio Season Preview cohost Pat Kerrane got me thinking about whether the Bucs could see a pretty substantial rise in attempts in 2015, noting Dirk Koetter was extremely pass-heavy while offensive coordinator for the Falcons. Given Jameis Winston was a rookie last season, it would make some sense that 2015’s total was somewhat tempered. To wit, the team opened up the offense a bit in the second half of the season.
The Buccaneers could easily find themselves in negative game scripts, and the focus of the season could shift to the development of their young QB. Given that Evans posted a 30.1 percent share last year after a 25.1 percent share as a rookie, and given that he’s competing for targets with the aging Vincent Jackson and the volatile Austin Seferian-Jenkins, it’s not out of the question he posts a 32 or 33 percent share in his third season.
Likely Topping Out at 180-185 in a Best-Case Scenario
There are a number of elite receivers that should have very safe target floors due to high expected market shares in 2016, but whose offenses I don’t project to throw enough to carry a WR1 to 200 targets. Keep in mind that a player would have to match Antonio Brown’s league-leading 33 percent from last season to hit 200 on 600 total pass attempts. DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, and Demaryius Thomas all play on teams whose attempt totals could cap their target ceilings. Each has the capability of breaking a 30 percent share, and should their teams wind up in an inordinate amount of negative game scripts that lead to unpredictably high pass totals,3 these guys have an outside chance to flirt with 200 because of those shares.
Some of highest-volume pass offenses are also unlisted here, because they don’t project to have a receiver with a high enough share. The Saints have been the league’s most consistently pass heavy team over the last half decade, but no Saint has hit even 23 percent of the target share since Marques Colston hit 24.9 way back in 2006. Brandin Cooks would need an unprecedented breakout to command enough of Brees’ attention to approach 30 percent.
The Colts are another team that could lead the league in pass attempts in 2016, and in Andrew Luck’s rookie season in 2012 Reggie Wayne saw 194 targets, accounting for 31.5 percent of Luck’s 627 targets. In Luck’s last healthy season, 2014, he threw a league-high 661 passes. But TY Hilton doesn’t profile as a 30 percent target share receiver, with a career high of just 24 percent. It might sound crazy, but I think Donte Moncrief might be the better Colts bet for this feat, particularly if Hilton were to go down and Moncrief were to really elevate his play in his third season. I’m concerned for my sanity that I’m even suggesting a 200-target season for Moncrief, but suffice to say I’m high on the Colts’ passing volume in 2016.
Lastly, there are a couple elite talents playing alongside strong No. 2s and two low-aDOT market share compilers that I think could play in offenses with the potential to hit 600 attempts, but for whom I think a 30 percent share might be too optimistic. I’m talking about Allen Robinson and Amari Cooper in the former group, and Jarvis Landry and Golden Tate in the latter.
- PFR’s target data does not extend any earlier. (back)
- He saw just 20.8 percent of targets as Cleveland’s WR1 last season. (back)
- I’m thinking of something similar to the Chargers or Texans from the early part of 2015, and I think similar situations will arise again in 2016, but they are difficult to identify in advance. (back)