"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see."-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Dart-frenzied office workers staple their boss's picture to them. Deal-crazed women across the country clamor for red-tag sales. And men's room urinals are decorated with colorful, fragranced versions of them that are ideal for stream accuracy when breaking the seal. Yes, I'm talking about targets. Without them archery wouldn't be a sport and fantasy football addicts wouldn't know the intricacies of the wide reciever.
In fantasy, targets are an immensely important statistic in comprehending the fickle make-up of wideouts. Outside of the sticky-fingered elite – Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin – these inconsistent producers are relative cycles of boom and bust that are less dependable on a week-to-week basis than running backs. However, by becoming familiar with the football version of sabermetrics, fantasy disciples can pinpoint potential upswings in receiver values, exploiting them on draft day and beyond. Why should you be familiar with them? Here are three reasons to quench your curiosity:
1. Quarterback Favorites
Just like fantasy players, signal callers have their own man-crushes for certain receivers. Examining targets allows owners to get inside-the-huddle and find out what quarterbacks are thinking and who they admire the most in passing situations. For instance, compare the red-zone targets of Chris Chambers and Santana Moss from 2005. Despite both players going on average around pick 35 this season, Chambers had an astounding 18 more targets inside the 20 than Moss. What does this mean? If you're looking to draft a receiver in Round 3, aim for the wideout with more goal-line dependability instead of the long-distance threat. Although targets don't guarantee completions, they denote the connection potential, which in turn could spell points for your squad.
2. Coaching Philosophies
Probably the most important determinate of receiver value is that overweight, rugged-looking clipboard holder on the sideline calling the shots. Coaches with pass-happy systems like Denny Green, Bill Belichick and Mike Martz make fantasy owners and receivers salivate because of the lofty number of looks generated. In many cases it's the system and not the skills that make a fantasy receiver a standout. Put into practice, when deciding between Muhsin Muhammad and Jerry Porter as a No. 3, think about the offensive strategies of each team before making a commitment. Both players had similar red-zone targets and averaged around nine total targets per game last year. Matching this information with team passing rankings – the Bears ranked 31st in the league in that category a year ago – and it's clear that Porter is the wiser choice. As the example implies, when used in conjunction with other information, targets give us a glimpse of what is coming through the coach's headset.
3. Defining Receiver Types
Is the receiver you're eye-balling in Round 5 the possession or sling-shot type? Imperative for owners that play in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues, targets help define what category a wideout falls under. For example, compare the 2005 numbers of Anquan Boldin and Randy Moss. Grease man Boldin averaged 12.2 targets per game, catching 51 percent of passes thrown his direction for a total of 102 receptions. Meanwhile, Moss averaged a meager 7.7 targets/game, catching 45 percent of passes thrown his way, finishing with 60 receptions. This is exactly why you let someone else invest in the Raiders wideout in PPR leagues on draft day. Sure extraneous factors, such as quarterback accuracy can alter numbers, but for an owner in a PPR – or any league for that matter – format, Boldin is clearly the more attractive pick. Seek out the dirty workers who are not afraid to go over the middle and dodge the home-run sprinters. Targets truly define whether the wideout you select is a PPR breakout or fake-out.
You shout: "Quit belittling my college education and give me some names I can target in my draft already!"
Based on 2005 totals here are five underappreciated wide receivers you can draft after the 40th pick:
|Player||TPG||RZTPG||D %||REC||C %||Y! ADP|
TPG=targets per game, RZTPG=red-zone targets per game, D percent=drop percentage, REC=total 2005 receptions, C percent=percentage of catches made not including drops, Y! ADP=2006 average draft pick in Yahoo! leagues
Burress: Afflicted with a case of banana hands in 2005, tying Muhsin Muhammad with a league leading 11 drops, anticipate Burress to apply stick 'em and be the most undervalued "name" receiver in drafts this season. With Eli Manning continuing to improve his accuracy – he bettered his 2004 completion percentage by 4.6 points last year – and based on Plax's size, leaping ability and myriad of red-zone targets, he should see a spike in production as long as his catch percentage can meet or exceed 50 percent. It's not out of the realm of possibility for him to finish around: 85 REC, 1,300 YDs and 9-11 touchdowns.
Driver: Although Brett Favre is on the verge of doing Super Poly-Grip commercials, Driver is undoubtedly his number one option. Driver excelled after Javon Walker ended his 2005 season with a knee injury in Week 1, setting a career high with 86 catches and 1,221 yards. An object of consistency, he had at least 50 yards receiving in 12 games. With more targets than Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Randy Moss last year, Driver is a performance vehicle that will sit on draft day longer than needed. Known as one of the smoothest route runners in the game, he should easily match his two-year averages – 85 REC, 1,214 YDs, 7 TDs – playing in a pass-dominant system. Put the keys in the ignition in Round 4.
Mason: Re-teamed with the hard candy Steve McNair shell of the M&M duo, Mason is a dream for PPR freaks. He caught a minimum of five passes in 10 games and at least 50 yards in 13 contests last year with the abominable Kyle Boller at the helm. While the No. 1 WR with the "Air" in Tennessee, Mason averaged 14.3 red-zone looks per season, three higher than a year ago. If he can convert on the additional opportunities inside the 20, it's not unfathomable for him to return to 7-9 TD totals. The 25th receiver selected on average, he will be a bargain in the 5th or 6th round of 12-team drafts. Expect finishing totals around: 90 REC, 1,175 YDs, and 7 TDs.
Houshmandzadeh: With a name that would make any aspiring 12-year-old spelling bee contender sweat, Housh deserves more love. Second only to Chris Chambers in wide receiver red-zone targets last year, the fourth-year Bengals standout is the ideal complement to the boisterous Chad Johnson. Finishing 2005 with a touchdown in six straight games, Housh also had nine games of 60 yards or more and was one of the more sure-handed wideouts in the league, dropping only four passes. Technically entering into his third full playing season, look for the former Oregon State star to take a major step in production and finish with: 85 REC, 1,050 YDs and 9 TDs. With Carson Palmer healthy for training camp, Housh is a buried treasure if he slips to Round 5.
Branch: Golden boy Tom Brady's most dependable receiver with David Givens in Tennessee, Branch could really peel back the dollar bills playing in a contract year. Although knee high to a dachshund, standing at just 5-foot-9, Branch possesses blazing open-field speed and cutting ability that makes him very dangerous in short slant patterns that Bill Belichick loves to call. Trending upward across the board over the past couple of seasons, Branch was a silent, but deadly producer in '05 totaling 55 yards or more in 10 games. With rookie Chad Jackson likely to start opposite of him, Branch could see an increase in red-zone looks. Count on him as a strong No. 2 wide receiver capable of: 85 REC, 1,100 YDs and 6 TDs.
What receivers will take it to the house for your team this year? Who will make your All-Madden team? What's the over/under on a Drew Rosenhaus appearance alongside T.O. this season? Here are my top WR sleepers for 2006:
Roy Williams, Det 2005 Stats: 45 REC, 687 YDs, 15.3 YPC, 8 TDs Y! ADP: 41.4
Lowdown: Mike Martz, meet your new version of Torry Holt. Entering into his magical third year in the league, Williams is a towering target that possesses the size and physical attributes to be a dynamo. In 2005, he played with little heart tallying four games of 60 yards or more with the deplorable Joey Harrington at the helm. Hey, who wouldn't? But with Jon Kitna running the show, things are looking up. Clearly the most talented receiver on a revamped Lions team, big Roy will finally blast his game into the stratosphere in Martz's complex, yet prolific passing attack. He will be a topflight No. 2 with final totals around: 75 REC, 1,100 YDs, 9 TDs.
Javon Walker, Den 2005 Stats: 4 REC, 27 YDs, 6.8 YPC, 0 TDs Y! ADP: 51.4
Lowdown: The serial cry-baby is ready to be reborn on a Mike Shanahan club that adores giving people second chances. Tearing his ACL in Week 1 with the Packers last year, Walker blew his opportunity at a lucrative contract, settling with an incentive laced deal with Denver during the offseason. One of the best fantasy wideouts two years ago, he is a receiver that can kangaroo over most defenders. Given his 6-foot-3 frame, look for Jake Plummer to target him often in the red-zone. With Rod Smith aging and Ashley Lelie disgruntled, Walker will emerge as the Broncos number one air option if he can remain healthy. He is a top-tiered No. 2 in all formats and a PPR producer who should compile numbers around: 80 REC, 1,100 YDs, and 8 TDs.
Nate Burleson, Sea 2005 Stats: 30 REC, 328 YDs, 10.9 YPC, 1 TD Y! ADP: 70.1
Lowdown: Flop, bust, failure, however you want to describe it, fantasy followers were hoodwinked by Burleson last season. Battling chronic knee, shoulder and hip injuries, he cracked under the pressure of being a No. 1 in Minnesota after the departure of Randy Moss. Notching just one game of 50 or more yards, you could easily argue he was one of the biggest wide receiver lames after going in Round 4 in most drafts. An aggressive route runner with excellent separation speed, Burleson should thrive in the coffee capital with Darrell Jackson shouldering a great deal of attention from opposing defenses. Anticipate him to move past Bobby Engram in training camp and become the Seahawks No. 2. Although going a bit high in Yahoo! drafts, his ADP in performance-based formats is 107. Trust him as a No. 3 producer in 12-team leagues and expect totals of: 70 REC, 750 YDs, and 6 TDs.
Reggie Brown, Phi 2005 Stats: 43 REC, 571 YDs, 13.3 YPC, 4 TDs Y! ADP: 102.7
Lowdown One man's delusional driveway exercise routine is another man's gain. After Owens' departure in Week 7, Brown became a viable fantasy option in deeper leagues averaging 3.6 REC, 46.3 YPG and 6.9 targets/game. In his second year out of Georgia, he is a fluid athlete with quick feet and is an exceptional route runner comparable to a young version of Rod Smith. With chunky soup aficionado Donovan McNabb healthy, look for Brown to excel in his first full season as the Eagles primary wide receiver weapon. However, with only four red-zone targets last year, he will not be a trustworthy scorer. Confide in him as a No. 3 in yardage leagues with finishing totals around: 70 REC, 950 YDs and 5 TDs.
Mark Clayton, Bal 2005 Stats: 44 REC, 471 YDs, 10.7 YPC, 2 TDs Y! ADP: 104.3
Lowdown: The wide receiver on my all-stalker team, Clayton, like DeAngelo Williams, will be getting a fruit cake and a dozen red roses from yours truly for Christmas. A waiver wire gem for many owners over the past five weeks of 2005, the scrappy Clayton totaled more fantasy points during that span than studs Randy Moss, Chad Johnson and Joey Galloway. Averaging 8.6 targets per game and 63.2 YPG with five touchdowns from Week 13 on, he quickly emerged into one of the AFC's most dangerous young receivers. A very similar player to New England's Deion Branch, Clayton is a lethal bullet who is not afraid to venture in-between the hash marks. The presence of Steve McNair should take his game to unforeseen fantasy levels making him an upside-drenched No. 3 wideout you can steal after Round 8.
Matt Jones, Jax 2005 Stats: 36 REC, 432 YDs, 12.0 YPC, 5 TDs Y! ADP: 104.6
Lowdown:An athletic marvel, Jones should consider donating his body to science after football. The former college quarterback showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie campaign, totaling three touchdowns from Weeks 8-11, including a 117-yard outburst against the Ravens in Week 10. Standing at a skyscraping 6-foot-6, Jones is Sasquatch on speed, destined to be a star at a position he is still learning. The retirement of Jimmy Smith instantly places him into a leapfrog statistical situation as he will likely be the main home-run threat and red-zone target – four of the five TD passes Jones caught in 2005 were inside the 20 – for Byron Leftwich this season. Expect the bionic man to take his game to a higher plateau in his second year in the league, making him a No. 3 with upside for your squad.
Michael Clayton, TB 2005 Stats: 32 REC, 372 YDs, 11.6 YPC, 0 TDs Y! ADP: 112.8
Lowdown: If you don't believe in sophomore slumps, look no further than Clayton in 2005. Only the fifth receiver in the last decade to top 1,000 yards receiving in his rookie campaign, Clayton was plagued by reoccurring knee troubles stemming from surgery prior to the season. Failing to reach pay-dirt and catching a mere 32 passes last year, Clayton saw an enormous 821-yard drop-off from 2004. With David Boston in camp and pushing to overtake his starting spot opposite Joey Galloway, look for Clayton to play with a renewed vigor in training camp and reemerge as a dependable option for your team. But temper your expectations. Galloway is undoubtedly the Bucs' primary option and Chris Simms is about as statistically exciting as a manatee in shoulder pads. PPR owners looking for a late-round grease man should take a stab at this Buccaneer as a fourth receiver.
David Givens, Ten 2005 Stats: 59 REC, 738 YDs, 12.5 YPC, 2 TDs Y! ADP: 131.3
Lowdown: Leaving a complicated New England offense that would make Vince Young's head explode, Givens will thrive in the Volunteer State. Racking six games of 50 or more yards a year ago, Givens has been a decent No. 3 receiver over the past three seasons, averaging 50 REC, 707 YDs and 4 TDs. A big target that is not phased in finding holes in traffic jams, he is a prime king of consistency candidate for those searching for value in the late rounds. Because of his size and leaping ability, he will likely be the top red-zone target for Billy Volek this season, adding to his scoring potential. Volek recently commented that he expects Drew Bennett and Givens to top the 1,000 yard mark this year, making the fifth-year vet a tasty option after Round 10.
Samie Parker, KC 2005 Stats: 36 REC, 533 YDs, 14.8 YPC, 3 TDs Y! ADP: N/A
Lowdown: Some loser named Larry Johnson seems to be getting all the pub in KC, but the former Oregon Duck could "quack" your fantasy roster – So, I ran out of material – as a No. 3 WR at some point this year. In an interview in early June, Trent Green commented that he expects "big things" from Parker this season. Playing in Herm Edwards smashmouth offense "big things" may not necessarily translate into lofty numbers, but there is a lot to like about Parker. In 2005, he quietly posted 55-plus yards in four of his past five games, showcasing his explosive speed and athleticism that many scouts believe will make him an electric receiver at his peak. Despite the ground emphasis, he is likely a waiver wire add at some point this season that should tally numbers similar to Justin McCareins under Edwards in 2004 – 56 REC, 770 YDs, 4 TDs. In a contract year, he is a rising talent that will have the opposition seeing red in spurts.
Scanning media reports with a fine-toothed comb, the Noise puts his fantasy spin on various tasty tidbits.
Rams running back and Busta Rhymes clone Steven Jackson is ready to rev his engine in Scott Linehan's balanced ground and air attack. The 23-year-old commented, "This is me getting a new beginning. I feel like I've got a chance to start my career over. If Linehan is going to use me in the way that he used Ronnie and Ricky, I feel like this can be my breakout year." Linehan added, "He's shown to be a mature pro in his approach. He knows that he's got to practice like he's going to play, and you see him getting himself ready. That takes some time, and he's at that point, his third year, where he's ready to go." Rams training camp is set to open July 27th in Earth City, Missouri.
Noise: Jackson is telling Linehan: "Gimme Some More." Under Linehan's offensive system in Miami last year, the Dolphins ran 45 percent of the time for a combined 375 attempts between Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. With that in mind, the expectation is for Jackson to carry the pigskin approximately 25 times/game or between 350-400 carries for the year. Some haters would instantly scoff at the idea of Jackson getting that many touches given his history of knee troubles, but let them make the mistake of overlooking him. Using his 2005 stats as a barometer, he would see a 27 percent increase in rushing yards with 350 carries at 4.1 YPC. A nearly flawless blend of speed and power, Jackson is also much underappreciated as a receiver, finishing seventh among running backs with 43 receptions last year. Currently going in the mid-second round in Yahoo! leagues, Jackson will emerge as a lower-tiered No. 1 back finishing around 1,600 total yards and 10 TDs. If you have an early pick in the second round, don't flinch.
UNLEASH THE BEAST
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Willis McGahee? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
Subject: RB strategy: 2nd Round risky?
I like your column, but I think you under-analyzed the draft strategy of selecting a RB in the first round and then avoiding them for 2-4 picks. The key to this strategy is considering not the top 20 RBs overall, but the differences between first round RBs and second round RBs. Most everyone agrees that you go after a stud RB in the first round; no problem there. But then, some argue, there's a big drop-off in the 2nd round at RB.
So, while I agree that 4th round, or later, RBs are a crapshoot, I'm not convinced that they're any riskier than 2nd round RBs. In fact, I might go with the later round RB strategy drafters this year! I assume what happens, when they win their leagues, is that they draft two, three, four upside RBs in the mid-to-late rounds, and one of them pans out.
Best, Jeff Hogge Chicago, IL
Noise: As I mentioned two weeks ago in the Noise, the tier-to-tier slide is more drastic at running back than at QB and WR. Since 2001, the average drop-off alone from the first to the 10th scorer at RB is 41.9 percent. If you were to take that thinking a step further to study the decline in value from the 10th to the 20th back using 2005 (Mike Anderson vs. Chris Brown) as a measuring stick, the difference was not nearly as steep at 21.2 percent. Even though the decline is less harsh, it's still a noteworthy margin that could mean everything when on your knees praying for 10 more yards from your reciever on Monday Night.
You make a valid argument, but take a closer look at ADP values from last year. Clinton Portis, Tiki Barber and Rudi Johnson were all drafted in the second round on average in 12-team leagues and all three finished in the top eight in running back total points. Meanwhile, only one player with an ADP after Round 4, Larry Johnson, finished in the top 10. As I discussed in full detail last week, over the past five seasons there is only a 14 percent chance that a back taken after Round 4 will finish in the top 20 of RB scoring. With terrific names like Steven Jackson, Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown going in Round 2 in Yahoo! leagues, their stud potential outweighs any other Round 4 or later back. Although this season's plethora of committees could yield an abundance of mid-round RB values, history dictates a different trend. As someone who adheres to the nuisances of the numbers, I am sticking with two backs in the first three rounds even if Jerry Rice circa 1990 is available in Round 2.
Thanks for reading and good luck to you in your fantasy endeavors.