Target Decoder Week 2: Hines in Catchup Mode

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It’s the coldest comfort to roster a receiver or tight end or running back who sees a glut of targets and fails to convert them into fantasy production.

Everything aligned for the player: He ran a bunch of pass routes, he saw a good number of looks from his quarterback -- maybe even a high-value target or two. It didn’t end with fantasy points on the scoreboard so it was, you believe, a failure.

“Process” can sound like the official excuse of the loser -- a word you blurt out when things go sideways. “The process was right,” the loser says, “and the results didn’t follow.” Whatever you think of a process for spotting worthy borderline fantasy options, it remains vitally important. Figuring out how to identify streaming plays or desperation options in fantasy football is the first step to benefiting from unforeseen production from said players.

In this space we’ll examine the intriguing cross-section of defenses most vulnerable to certain positions and how pass catchers are being used in their respective offenses. Mostly we’ll focus on tight ends and running backs whose weekly prospects might look slightly less hideous with some much-needed context.

Our early-season data will naturally come from the 2020 season. With every passing week, our understanding of defensive shortcomings and pass catchers’ roles will improve, and with that, players highlighted in this space will be more viable in 12 and 14-team fantasy leagues.

Let’s decode some targets for Week 2.

Nyheim Hines (IND) vs. LAR

I’d say Hines’ Week 1 usage against the Seahawks should be a source of mind-numbing anxiety for Jonathan Taylor drafters if Taylor hadn’t seen a good amount of involvement in Indy’s passing game. Taylor commanded seven targets against Seattle while Hines saw eight targets. Carson Wentz could very well carry on the checkdown tradition established by his predecessor, Philip Rivers.

Player

Snap rate

Rushing attempts

Targets

Pass routes

Jonathan Taylor

55.3%

18

7

18

Nyheim Hines

44.7%

10

8

22

Some quick math tells us Taylor and Hines were the only Colts backs to see the field last week. Both Taylor (RB11) and Hines (RB19) were top-20 running backs in PPR formats. That they won’t both register that kind of value every week hardly means Hines can’t be useful in 12-team leagues.

Colts head coach Frank Reich and his staff have been open about their desire to get Hines more involved after limited usage in 2020 (beyond a few games where Taylor was out or dinged up). For at least one week, the team’s commitment to Hines -- illustrated by his new three year, $18.6 million contract extension -- resulted in on-field opportunity, and with it, production.

Hines now faces a Rams defense that has long forced QBs to funnel targets to running backs and tight ends. In 2020, running backs saw a healthy 21.75 percent target share against the Rams -- the fifth highest rate in the league. LA allowed 5.2 receptions and 76.3 receiving yards to running backs last season as opponents largely avoided throwing the pigskin to wideouts facing the NFL’s best coverage unit (the Rams allowed the sixth fewest receiver receptions).

We might regard Aaron Donald and LA’s vicious front seven as a mechanism for running back targets. Constant (quick) pressure leads to quick passes, many of them to pass catchers nearest to the quarterback. That should be a boon for Hines in Week 2. Don’t hesitate to throw him into your 12-team league rosters against LA.

DFS spin: You’re only interested in Hines on DraftKings, where we get full-PPR scoring. He’s a cool $2,500 less than Taylor in Week 2 and makes for a perfect run-back option alongside a Rams stack (Matthew Stafford and two of his primary pass catchers). I don’t like Indy’s chances of stopping LA’s renewed aerial attack.

James O'Shaughnessy (JAC) vs. DEN

I take great pleasure in reporting we may have found this year’s Logan Thomas.

O'Shaughnessy could be one of several beneficiaries of a Jacksonville offense that will be forced into pass-heavy negative game script again and again in 2021. Sideways game script led to fantastic Week 1 usage for the seventh year pro: O'Shaughnessy caught six of his eight targets while (importantly) running a pass route on 76.9 percent of Trevor Lawrence’s drop backs against the Texans. Only T.J. Hockensen and Darren Waller logged more Week 1 routes than O'Shaughnessy.

It was, of course, blocking tight end Chris Manhertz who caught a touchdown from Lawrence in Week 1. Manhertz’s score came on his lone target as he ran a route on 13.2 percent of his QB’s drop backs. Do we like it? No. Does it mean O'Shaughnessy can’t be a red zone target? Of course not.

O'Shaughnessy quietly caught 28 of 38 targets for 262 yards (9.4 yards per reception) in Jacksonville’s lost 2020 season. He was a surprisingly efficient fantasy producer when given a full complement of pass routes last year.

It doesn’t much matter that Denver shut down the aged Kyle Rudolph in Week 1. Last year, the Broncos gave up the ninth most tight end receptions and the sixth most tight end receiving yards. Almost 20 percent of passes attempted against Denver’s defense last season went to tight ends. And it wasn’t just Waller and Travis Kelce eating the Broncos alive in 2020; Tampa tight ends totaled a dozen targets against them in Week 3 and Hayden Hurst saw eight targets against Denver in Week 9. Chargers tight ends commanded ten targets against Denver in Week 16. Tight ends seeing opportunity against the Broncos was, as the kids say, a thing.

Our game is one of volume. No matter what you think of O'Shaughnessy as a player -- not much, probably -- he’s going to be on the field, running routes in an offense that will be in hair-on-fire catchup mode for most of the season. That makes him viable, whether you like it or not (you don’t). The Jags enter Week 2 as six-point home underdogs. The conditions are once again ripe for endless Trevor Lawrence drop backs.

DFS spin: O'Shaughnessy ($2,700 on DraftKings and $4,400 on FanDuel) is probably best for cash games this week. The secret is out: He’s a cheap source of targets in what will be a pass-heavy offense. If you’re compelled to seek a bottom-barrel tournament correlation stack in the Broncos-Jaguars game, consider O'Shaughnessy with Tim Patrick or KJ Hamler.

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Tyler Kroft (NYJ) vs. NE

We’re keeping our eyes on usage in this space more than weekly matchups. That’s how Kroft made the cut. And as a little bonus: His Week 2 matchup doesn’t entirely suck.

Kroft, in his debut as the Jets’ primary pass-catching tight end, saw more usage than the most ardent Kroft truther could have hoped for. He ran a pass route on 72.2 percent of Zach Wilson’s drop backs against the Panthers and caught three of five targets for 26 yards. Kroft was tied for the tenth most tight end routes on opening day, running 41 percent of his routes from the slot. Fellow Gang Green tight end also saw five targets -- not my favorite stat of the week -- on a mere 11 routes. Tight end is a key to the Jets’ new look Shanahanian offense -- we knew that going into the year.

Kroft goes up against a New England defense that seemingly shut down Dolphins tight ends in Week 1. A slightly closer look at the numbers shows you the Dolphins targeted their tight ends just four times in their Week 1 win over the Pats. Mike Gesicki led Miami tight ends with a lowly 17 pass routes against the Patriots. It was hardly ideal usage.

Tight ends facing New England in 2020 saw a not-entirely-hateful 19.43 percent target share. Almost every Patriots game last season was one defined by low offensive volume, both in snaps and pass attempts. That changed dramatically in Week 1 with Mac Jones replacing Cam Newton: New England notched 70 offensive snaps, the eighth most of the week. There’s at least a modicum of reason to hope Pats games are more fantasy friendly in 2021.

DFS spin: Kroft ($2,900 on DraftKings and $4,700 on FanDuel) will have close to zero rostership in Week 2 DFS tournaments, satisfying at least one condition for a sensible GPP play. He’d make sense as a correlation stack with Jakobi Meyers or Nelson Agholor.