By: Mike Robinson
Fantasy owners covet wide receivers that garner the most targets at the right price. Targets mean opportunities for receptions, yards gained and touchdowns. The best wide receivers are able to convert their targets into productive fantasy stats a rate above their peers. Shrewd owners look for volume guys at discount draft capital prices. This article will bring attention to some target hogs (100+ targets) who’s current ranking may provide fantasy owners an opportunity take advantage of their true value. Seattle’s Doug Baldwin currently ranked WR15 fits these criteria, along with value picks Davante Adams WR19, Michael Crabtree WR27 and Larry Fitzgerald WR38 and a few others (rankings according to MFL data). These players are not the Odell Beckham’s or Antonio Brown’s of the world, but if you need wide receiver value with volume targets, these are names to keep in mind as you navigate your fantasy drafts outside the first two rounds.
Doug Baldwin, WR, SEA – 125 targets
(currently WR15, per MFL)
For two years, Doug Baldwin has been the primary target for Seattle Seahawks’ currently 10th ranked passing offense. Looking at his target numbers over the past three years, even the addition of Jimmy Graham in 2015 has had little impact on his progress. Baldwin has remained a favorite option for Russell Wilson, going from 98 targets in 2014 to 103 targets in 2015 and now 125 targets in 2016. He maintained a 75% catch rate over the last 2 years. He gathered 94 receptions off his 125 targets this past season, 58% were on plays for less than 10 yards while 25% were in the 10-20 yd. range and 15 plays were over 20yds. What does this mean?
This data indicates that Baldwin is primarily a short yardage receiver who occasionally slips behind the defense for about 1 play over 20 yards per game. He surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark 3 times (Wk 3 vs. SFO, 8-164-1TD; Wk 11 vs. PHI 4-104-0TD; and Wk 16 vs. ARI 13-171-1TD). His average targets of around 8 per game combined with his 75% catch rate mean you can generally expect Baldwin to deliver on average around 6 catches per game, generating about 70 yds. and scoring a TD every other week. That production was good enough for a WR9 finishing position in 2016.
Seattle did draft Michigan WR Amara Darboh (6’1″, 216 lbs) in the 3rd round with the 109th overall pick, but I expect him to be more of a Jermaine Kearse understudy than a threat to Baldwin’s production. What about Baldwin’s peer group in the third round of the fantasy draft? How does he compare? In terms of targets, Baldwin’s (125) ranks behind DeAndre Hopkins (140), and ahead of Amari Cooper (123), and Brandin Cooks (111). Let’s take a closer look at each of these receivers and see what facts are behind the number of targets.
*Dynasty owners concerned about Baldwin’s contract status should keep reading to the end of this article.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU – 140 targets
(currently WR8, per MFL)
I’m not going to knock DeAndre Hopkins abilities as a wide receiver, “Houston, we have a problem”, but it’s not him. He posted a stat line of 71-831-4TD, 140 targets in 2016. The Texans’ quarterback situation has the most bearing on Hopkins’ production. He will likely receive targets from a combination of Tom Savage to start the season and then rookie Deshaun Watson should take over at some point. Savage is basically a placeholder while Watson learns the offense and gets adjusted to the Pro game.
While rookie QB Watson may have the Houston fans singing his praises, he is still a rookie and also tossed 17 interceptions at the college level last season (good enough to be one spot away from the most INTs thrown by any NFL QB in 2016). His lack of arm strength is also of concern as he delivered passes at the combine in the 45 mph range. Comparatively speaking, Kansas City’s 1st round pick, Patrick Mahomes was routinely delivering the ball at 55 mph. Watson will have to lead his targets with almost perfect anticipation (not common for rookies) to avoid racking up picks. The last two QBs to rack up picks got run out of Houston altogether, reference Brock Osweiler (traded to CLE) 16 picks in 2016 and Matt Schaub’s 2013 season with 14 INTs (including a 4 game stretch of pick-6’s).
Looking at DeAndre Hopkins’ last 8 games, he was targeted 64 times, but only caught 31 balls (48% catch rate). This metric really speaks to the inaccuracy of Brock Osweiler more than the catching ability of Hopkins. During that same stretch of games, Doug Baldwin posted 54 catches on 70 targets (77% catch rate). This speaks to the chemistry between Baldwin and his QB Russell Wilson. If Deshaun Watson can come in after a few games and deliver a Dak Prescott-like performance (and that’s a big “if”), Hopkins could really shine in the latter half of the season.
On the other hand, Houston’s passing offense went from 18th in 2015 to 29th in 2016 (per ESPN’s NFL Team Passing Stats). If the Savage and/or Watson combo fails it will end up hurting Hopkins’ opportunity to get his stats to match up with his abilities. Hopkins’ ability to deliver stellar results at the outset of this season may be limited, but he really has nowhere to go but up given his high number of targets (140+). He is currently ranked at ADP 20.42 which is a little high for considering his ceiling. Hopkins could actually grow in value as the season goes on and his QB Watson matures. Take him early and pray for a more prosperous 2017.
Brandin Cooks, WR, NEP – 111 targets (at NOS)
(currently WR12, per MFL)
Brandin Cooks enjoyed a healthy target level from Drew Brees in New Orleans as he racked up a stat line of 75-1154-8TD, 111 targets, 67% catch rate. He has now moved to the Patriots who possess many options in the passing game and he must learn a new offense, but he has arguably one of the best QBs in NFL history, Tom Brady. The outlook is high and we would assume that he has a clear path to WR1 numbers.
Perceptions thus far are that Cooks has bought into the Patriot way. He is learning the playbook for all the receiver positions to be ready for wherever Belichick needs him. He has connected with Brady on routes of the short, intermediate and deep varieties in practices during OTAs. He has also been seen working with Brady after everyone else has left the practice field. With his mind getting a handle on things, we can start to look at available targets for him in the New England passing game.
Brady’s 2016 season was late starting after serving his 4-game suspension, but he did put up 432 targets in the remaining 8 games. Projecting New England’s target figures for 2017 at a completion rate of 67%, and a full complement of 16 games, Brady should complete at least 350+ passes in 2017 (based on projected 525-550 targets). This is more than enough opportunities to support a healthy stat line for Cooks. My gut tells me that Cooks should excel in the Patriots offense and warrants selection ahead of Allen Robinson (WR10). I’m optimistic that Cooks has a bright future in New England with Tom Brady and will still remain a strong receiver if Jimmy G. gets called into service.
Keenan Allen, WR, LAC – ??? targets
(currently WR17, per MFL)
Keenan Allen has missed 25 games over the past three seasons due to three unrelated injuries (collarbone/kidney/ACL knee). He is coming back from an ACL injury suffered in 33-27 overtime loss to Kansas City in back in September. That said, he is poised to a make a strong return with Phillip Rivers at the helm and hopes to return to his 2013 form when he posted 71-1046-8TD on 104 targets (68% catch rate). Fantasy owners have remained hopeful and loyal to Keenan Allen even through these last two years. I’m not holding my breath, though.
The Chargers’ acquisition of Clemson WR Mike Williams in the first round of the draft has many analysts asking why? Perhaps the ownership wants some sort of insurance policy for Allen. Keenan presents a risk/reward situation that IMO is only for the bold or those with an OBJ, Julio Jones or Antonio Brown already on their roster. At his current price, he could be the bargain of the century or the bane of existence. If you are risk averse, I recommend avoiding Keenan Allen until he can prove to be a reliable player that is available for a majority of the 16 game schedule.
Red Zone Target Rankings in 2016 per NFLsavant.com
- Jordy Nelson, WR, GBP (35)
- Kyle Rudolph, TE, MIN (30)
- Michael Crabtree, WR OAK (26)
- Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, NYG (26)
- Davante Adams, WR, GBP (25)
Amari Cooper, WR, OAK – 123 targets
(currently WR6, per MFL)
Amari Cooper at ADP 14.23 is perhaps one of the biggest question marks on this list among Redraft league owners. Why would I say that? Amari Cooper did get out of the gate strong last season posting 4 games with over 120 yards receiving in the first 8 games and averaged 10 targets/game. This guy is a beast, right? Well, “not so fast, my friends” (catch phrase credit to Lee Corso). Over the last 8 games, his performance dropped to an average of 5.5 targets and 3.4 rec. and 41 yds. (26-323-2TD on 43 targets, 60% catch rate). When we compare that to Doug Baldwin’s last 8 games where he averaged 8.75 targets, 6.75 rec. and 75 yds. (54-603-5TD on 70 targets, 77% catch rate), we are starting to see how Baldwin may provide value ahead of Cooper in 2017 in redraft leagues.
Also consider the fact that Amari is not even the most targeted receiver on his own team and has not produced when targeted in the Red Zone with 17 targets, 5 rec., 0 TD in 2016 ranks him 33rd (per NFLsavant.com). While I agree that he’s a really good receiver with a bright future, his redraft price has gone a little askew from his actual worth in 2017 IMO. He’ll need to up those TD numbers in the Red Zone to earn his current WR6 ranking. I’d rather diversify my portfolio by taking an A.J. Green or T.Y. Hilton and then grab Michael Crabtree a few rounds later and still get similar production as Cooper offers.
Davante Adams, WR, GBP – 112 targets
(currently WR19, per MFL)
Next to Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams is proving to be another trusted target of Aaron Rodgers. Considering Jordy’s return in 2016, Adams has still improved from 46-429-1TD on 88 targets (52% catch rate) in 2015 by posting 69-966-10TD on 112 targets (62% catch rate) in 2016. In securing those 69 receptions off 112 targets this past season, 46% were on plays for less than 10 yards while 33% were in the 10-20 yd. range and 14 plays were over 20yds. Being effective on short, medium and long routes, Adams has begun to establish himself as a versatile route runner in the Green Bay passing attack.
The Red Zone was a friend to Adams as he ranked 5th in Red Zone production scoring 9 touchdowns with his 14 receptions on 25 Red Zone targets (Jordy Nelson ranked first overall). Fantasy owners are taking note as Green Bay’s second passing option is being selected around the 5th round next to NFL primary targets such as Demaryius Thomas 86-1036-5TD, 138 targets, 62% catch rate, 8th in Red Zone; Terrelle Pryor 70-913-4, 130 targets, 54% catch rate, 51st in Red Zone; Allen Robinson 68-801-6, 138 targets, 49% catch rate, 9th in Red Zone; and Alshon Jeffery 51-811-2, 91 targets, 56% catch rate, 76th in Red Zone.
Michael Crabtree, WR, OAK – 137 targets
(currently WR27, per MFL)
As mentioned above, first option Amari Cooper gets all the draft day love, currently being selected in the 2nd/3rd round of fantasy drafts per MFL. Crabtree, meanwhile, is waiting patiently for you in Round 6 with a WR27 ranking that is severely undervalued. As Derek Carr’s second passing option, Crabtree was targeted 137 times (14 more than Cooper) and scored twice as many touchdowns (8) as Cooper (4). This trend has continued over the past two seasons. Crabtree finished as the WR13 posting 84-956-8TD on 137 targets (61% catch rate).
Compare Crabtree to other WRs in the 5th/6th round like touchdown dependent, Donte Moncrief (30-307-7TD on 56 targets (53% catch rate); or second fiddle to Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker (51-699-4TD on 81 targets (62% catch rate); and QB converted to WR now in Washington, Terrelle Pryor 70-913-4TD on 130 targets (53% catch rate). While others are overpaying for Cooper in the early rounds, you can take advantage by selecting proven WR1 players like T.Y. Hilton or Jordy Nelson in the 2nd round of your fantasy draft. Then you can still land Crabtree in the 5th or 6th round at a great value.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI – 146 targets
(currently WR38, per MFL)
Carson Palmer’s favorite target over the last several years, Larry Fitzgerald continues to deliver year after year despite his age. His 146 targets rank sixth among wide receivers and his 106 receptions were good enough for the #2 spot. He was 16th in yards gained and ranked in the top 25 for touchdowns. His stat line in 2016 was 106-985-5TDs on 146 targets (73% catch rate). Finishing 2016 as the WR20 his current ranking of WR38 is ridiculously low despite his age and definitely, presents a value to those who draft him at his current ADP of 94.91.
Arizona did select Grambling State WR prospect, Chad Williams in Round 3 with the 98th overall pick. Fitzgerald has been praising the rookie by comparing Williams’ hands to former Cardinal great, Anquan Boldin. Another sign of Williams impact was the recent conversion of Andre Ellington from WR (an experiment this spring) back to RB. However, with John Brown and J.J. Nelson still on the board, Fitzgerald should have one more solid season left in 2017.
Target Hog Performance in Larry Fitzgerald’s ADP range:
- Larry Fitzgerald, 106-985-5TD, 146 targets, 73% catch rate
- Kelvin Benjamin, 57-848-6TD, 111 targets, 51% catch rate
- Mike Williams (Rookie, no stats yet)
- Corey Coleman, 28-373-3TD, 64 targets, 43% catch rate
- Breshad Perriman, 29-437-3TD, 58 targets, 50% catch rate
Kelvin Benjamin experienced accuracy issues from Cam Newton last season. Rookie Mike Williams is in a potentially crowded situation in Los Angeles (Chargers new home). Corey Coleman just sustained another injury this week as he landed awkwardly on the football in drills. Breshad Perriman’s value was impacted recently by Jeremy Maclin’s signing this week in Baltimore. In this peer group, Fitz’s value proposition is undeniable. His ADP suggests that you can get Fitzgerald in the 10 round, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that gets elevated by a round or two by your league mates come draft day.
For Dynasty Owners:
Baldwin’s Contract Status
What about his contract status? Is Baldwin’s value to the team supported by the amount he is being paid? Baldwin is turning 29 years old this September and he is in the midst of a four-year contract (per Spotrac.com). In 2017, Baldwin will earn a base salary of $7,750,000, a signing bonus of $7,000,000 and a roster bonus of $500,000. In terms of guaranteed money ($24,250,000 guaranteed), Baldwin is the 8th highest paid wide receiver in NFL. He’s ahead of Cooper (9th), Allen (10th), Cooks (41st), and Hopkins (51st) on that list. $7.75M in 2017 salary became fully guaranteed on 2/11/2017.
After this season though $4.5M of his 2018 salary becomes fully guaranteed on the 5th waiver day of 2018. This provides an out for Seattle ownership in after this season.
The waiver period runs from the first business day after the Super Bowl through the end of the NFL’s regular season. Once the waiver period starts each year through the trading deadline, a vested veteran — a player who has acquired four years of pension credit — is not subject to the waiver system if the club decides to release him. That means if a team decides to release a vested veteran, the league considers his contract to be terminated immediately and he is free to negotiate and sign with any other club. (per NFL Ops).
Facing a $10,400,000 cap hit in 2018 for Baldwin’s services at age 30, GM John Schneider may opt to go in a different direction. This may depend in part on the progress of Amara Darboh from year 1 to year 2. From a dynasty league perspective this summer may be the last opportunity you have to capitalize on Baldwin’s trade value or if you are contending, you may opt to hold for one more solid season.