Fantasy football is, at its core, an exercise in risk analysis. Points are our currency and every article we digest, every podcast we engorge ourselves in, every box score we study is aimed at shining a light on safe, bankable volume we can rely on on a weekly basis. That’s the purpose served by Targets and Touches, a thorough and exhaustively researched window into which players are making their respective teams tick. This will be a weekly fixture here at Rotoworld, informed by data from Airyards.com, Pro Football Focus and Pro-Football-Reference.
Before we open Pandora’s box, please note that stat lines are arranged with the most recent game first while “X” signifies a player’s absence. To make the info more accessible, I also cut out much of the clutter, removing players averaging fewer than one target or carry, anyone slated to miss significant time (you won’t find Hunter Henry or Tyreek Hill listed) and other fluff (fullback and receiver carries, for instance) that doesn’t factor into our decision-making. Now let’s get to the good stuff.
Observations: A week after posting a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating (becoming the first Raven to achieve that mark), Lamar Jackson kept the train rolling by shredding Arizona for 272 yards through the air and 120 more on the ground. In doing so, he became the second signal-caller to compile 250-plus passing yards and 120 rushing yards in the same game (Colin Kaepernick planted his flag in 2012) and the first to do it in the regular season. After giving us a taste of Marquise Brown in Week 1, the Ravens finally unleashed Hollywood on the masses, feeding him a team-high 13 targets over 50 offensive snaps (36 more than he saw in the opener). The former Oklahoma Sooner leads all rookies in both catches (12) and receiving yards (233). Playing through a questionable tag after being shelved with a foot injury at Friday’s practice, Mark Andrews proceeded to obliterate the Cardinals (who fellow tight end T.J. Hockenson ripped for 131 yards the week prior) on Sunday, spouting off for a robust 8-112-1 receiving line. He leads all tight ends in receiving yards (220) this year and it’s not close.
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Observations: Playing at MetLife Stadium for the second straight week (one of the all-time scheduling quirks), John Brown put on another elaborate display in the Meadowlands, galloping to 72 yards on seven catches as the Bills moved to 2-0. Brown has always been an air yards prodigy, but this year he’s added a new wrinkle to his game, supplementing his well-known deep prowess with improved efficiency (career-best 77.8-percent catch rate). You get the feeling Frank Gore could do this forever. The 36-year-old’s bruising goal-line touchdown Sunday against the Giants was the 78th of his illustrious career, good for 21st on the NFL’s all-time list. Meanwhile rookie Devin Singletary is chomping at the bit for a bigger workload. He ranks 16th in rushing yards (127) despite handling just 10 carries (48th).
Targets: Tyler Boyd (11, 11), John Ross (8, 12), Tyler Eifert (5, 6), Joe Mixon (5, 3), Giovani Bernard (3, 3), Alex Erickson (3, 4), Drew Sample (3, 0), Auden Tate (3, X), Damion Willis (3, 5), C.J. Uzomah (0, 5)
Air Yards: Tyler Boyd (66, 75), John Ross (65, 172), Auden Tate (25, X), Tyler Eifert (24, 36), Damion Willis (14, 49), Alex Erickson (12, 25), Drew Sample (9, 0), C.J. Uzomah (0, 16), Giovani Bernard (-4, -1), Joe Mixon (-4, -4)
Receiving Yards: Tyler Boyd (138, 60), John Ross (112, 158), Drew Sample (25, 0), Alex Erickson (14, 28), Joe Mixon (10, 7), Tyler Eifert (9, 27), Giovani Bernard (7, 42), Auden Tate (6, X), Damion Willis (6, 30), C.J. Uzomah (0, 66)
Observations: So let me get this straight. You expect me to believe John Ross—who entered the year with 210 yards to his name—leads the NFL in receiving yards through two weeks? And over that same span Joe Mixon—who ranked third in the league in rushing yards per game a year ago—has rushed for 27 yards (56th) on 17 carries (1.6 yards per attempt)? The Mayans had it all wrong. Forget about 2012 … this is the apocalypse. We know Ross can separate—he ran literally the fastest 40 ever (4.22) at the Combine—but his cushy volume (21-percent target share) may be the most unexpected consequence of A.J. Green’s early absence. Tyler Boyd was primarily a slot receiver last season (he lined up inside on 73.2 percent of snaps), but new coach Zac Taylor has experimented by using him on the perimeter more frequently (career-low 54.8-percent slot rate). Some were expecting an elevated role for Giovani Bernard with Mixon hobbled (he sprained his ankle in the opener), but that never materialized as Mixon led the backfield in both snaps (38 to Bernard’s 27) and touches (14-7) in the loss to San Francisco.
Targets: Odell Beckham (10, 11), Jarvis Landry (7, 7), Nick Chubb (4, 4), D’Ernest Johnson (4, 2), Damion Ratley (3, 2), Demetrius Harris (1, 1), David Njoku (1, 6), Rashard Higgins (X, 3), Dontrell Hilliard (X, 2)
Air Yards: Odell Beckham (147, 116), Jarvis Landry (62, 98), Damion Ratley (27, 16), D’Ernest Johnson (25, 8), Nick Chubb (16, 6), Demetrius Harris (4, 6), David Njoku (3, 38), Rashard Higgins (X, 48), Dontrell Hilliard (X, 7)
Receiving Yards: Odell Beckham (161, 71), Damion Ratley (50, 17), D’Ernest Johnson (42, 23), Nick Chubb (36, 10), Jarvis Landry (32, 67), Demetrius Harris (4, 0), David Njoku (0, 37), Rashard Higgins (X, 46), Dontrell Hilliard (X, 14)
Observations: Ever the showman, Odell Beckham went predictably bonkers in his return to MetLife Stadium, burying the Jets with an emphatic 6-161-1 receiving line. The festivities included an internet-exploding one-hander (a top-shelf move he only busts out for special occasions) and a career-long 89-yard touchdown gifted to him on a laughably light coverage scheme employed by galaxy-brained defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (who traded barbs with Beckham leading up to Monday night’s game). Jarvis Landry, a PPR staple in years past, is suddenly flirting with afterthought status. He left Monday’s proceedings with just 32 yards, fifth-most on his own team behind a pair of running backs and some joker named Damion Ratley. Second-year torpedo Nick Chubb is getting exactly the volume we look for in a workhorse back, ranking fifth in touches (42) while playing a surprisingly active role in the Browns’ passing game (7-46-0 receiving line on eight targets).
Observations: You’d never know Emmanuel Sanders is 32 and coming off an Achilles tear with the way he’s dominated in the early going. He had his fingerprints all over Week 2, skying over the defense for a miraculous touchdown in the final minute before pinning the Broncos to a one-point lead with a successful two-point conversion. Sanders has been the offense’s saving grace as evidenced by Joe Flacco’s 120.2 quarterback rating when targeting him. Royce Freeman (102 yards from scrimmage) finished one yard shy of his career-high while outplaying his backfield counterpart Phillip Lindsay (just 36 yards on 13 carries) for the second straight week. Freeman has nearly as many receiving yards through two games (53) as he did all of last year (72). Chris Harris applied his usual lockdown coverage on Allen Robinson, silencing the Bears field-stretcher much of the day, though A-Rob’s 25-yard-catch in the closing seconds ultimately facilitated Eddy Pineiro’s walk-off field goal.
Observations: Houston needed a late goal-line stand to avoid a 0-2 start, stonewalling Leonard Fournette on his two-point conversion try to preserve a hard-fought Texans victory. Fresh off a 111-yard masterpiece in an opening-week loss to New Orleans, DeAndre Hopkins played Jalen Ramsey to a draw, amassing 40 yards on just five catches. Carlos Hyde has benefited from a change of scenery, quickly ascending to lead status in Houston’s backfield. The veteran contributed 90 rushing yards against Jacksonville while holding a firm edge in touches over teammate Duke Johnson (20-6 in Hyde’s favor). Even with A.J. Bouye (hamstring) sidelined and Hopkins occupied by Ramsey, Will Fuller wasn’t able to carve out much real estate Sunday, slumping to a meager 4-40-0 receiving line on seven targets. Keke Coutee played 43.8 percent of snaps (28-of-64) in his return from a sprained ankle, well below the 63.7-percent snap rate he compiled as a rookie in 2018.
Air Yards: T.Y. Hilton (71, 87), Eric Ebron (14, 24), Parris Campbell (12, -4), Jack Doyle (12, 10), Deon Cain (9, 32), Chester Rogers (6, 0), Mo Alie-Cox (5, 3), Nyheim Hines (-1, -14), Marlon Mack (-2, 0)
Receiving Yards: T.Y. Hilton (43, 87), Eric Ebron (25, 8), Chester Rogers (24, 0), Jack Doyle (21, 20), Parris Campbell (12, 1), Marlon Mack (12, 0), Nyheim Hines (5, 4), Mo Alie-Cox (0, 3), Deon Cain (0, 35)
Observations: After leading all Week 1 rushers with 174 yards on the ground, Marlon Mack plummeted back to earth on Sunday, scuffling to a lackluster 2.6 yards per carry (51 yards on 20 attempts) in a win over Tennessee. Parris Campbell made the most of his lone target, landing on the receiving end of a 12-yard touchdown heave by Jacoby Brissett. That marked the rookie’s first career end-zone visit. Deon Cain saw more run in Devin Funchess’ absence—his 32 snaps were second to T.Y. Hilton among Colts receivers—though it didn’t translate in the fantasy realm as the 2018 sixth-rounder was targeted just once on 21 routes. Predictably, three of Brissett’s five touchdown throws this year have gone to T.Y. Hilton, who has made a habit of hitting pay-dirt when the Titans are on the schedule (three touchdowns in his last three games against them).
RZ Carries: Gardner Minshew (1, 1)
Observations: D.J. Chark set out to prove that his head-turning Week 1 (4-146-1 on four targets) was no fluke and largely succeeded, reeling in seven grabs for 55 yards and a touchdown on a team-high nine targets in a loss to Houston. It’s taken Chark all of two games to eclipse his yardage output from last season (174). Gardner Minshew’s first career start was an admittedly mixed bag (the Jags probably could have done without his three fumbles), though he finished with a flourish, architecting a late touchdown drive that cut Houston’s lead to one with 30 seconds remaining (Leonard Fournette was stuffed on the two-point attempt). The mustachioed rookie also showed promise as a runner, scrambling for a team-best 56 yards on six rushes. Fournette hasn’t gotten the fantasy juices flowing yet, but his 12 targets in the early going are reason for optimism. He handled all 19 backfield touches in Week 2 while ceding just two snaps to backup Tyler Ervin.
Kansas City Chiefs
Observations: The Chiefs are the Golden State Warriors of the NFL—all they need is one good quarter to beat you. In his latest act of sheer absurdity, Patrick Mahomes massacred the Raiders for 278 yards and four touchdowns … just in the second quarter. If Mahomes had only played that one quarter, he still would have finished 11th in passing yards for the week. Point-chasing can be a dangerous fantasy endeavor and I was certainly guilty of it with Sammy Watkins, plugging him into every FanDuel lineup I could. To quote the incomparable Gob Bluth, it was a huge mistake. In the span of a week, Watkins somehow went from leading the league in receiving yards (198) to finishing fourth on his own team in that stat. As brutal as the carnage was to our collective wallets, Sunday’s disappointment shouldn’t sour us on Watkins, who still commanded a robust 30-percent target share and will remain a focal point for the duration of Tyreek Hill’s absence. Meanwhile, Demarcus Robinson went absolutely ballistic, shaking off his Week 1 struggles (one catch for zero yards) by toasting the Raiders for 172 yards and two touchdowns. With Damien Williams (knee) and LeSean McCoy (ankle) counted among the Chiefs’ walking wounded, this wouldn’t be the worst time to throw in a waiver claim for Darwin Thompson.
Los Angeles Chargers
Observations: Traveling cross-country for an early game is usually a recipe for disaster and that self-fulfilling prophecy played out in Week 2 as the Chargers flopped with a pitiful showing in Detroit. Keenan Allen spent the afternoon draped by All-Pro corner Darius Slay, but that didn’t stop Philip Rivers from feeding him an exhausting 15 targets. Mike Williams played a bit more than promised, seeing 40 snaps despite missing most of the practice week with a bum knee. Rivers afforded him two red-zone looks and Williams—who fills every bit of his 6’4,” 220-pound frame—should remain a fixture inside the 20 with Hunter Henry (knee) lost to another injury. Austin Ekeler’s emergence has not been a positive development for Melvin Gordon, who is losing leverage by the day in his ill-fated contract standoff with Chargers brass. Among running backs, Ekeler leads the league in both receiving yards (163) and receiving touchdowns (two).
Targets: Jakeem Grant (7, 3), DeVante Parker (7, 7), Kenyan Drake (6, 3), Preston Williams (6, 5), Kalen Ballage (5, 1), Mike Gesicki (2, 6), Allen Hurns (2, 3), Mark Walton (2, 0), Albert Wilson (X, 4)
Air Yards: DeVante Parker (147, 163), Jakeem Grant (95, 46), Preston Williams (94, 73), Allen Hurns (46, 56), Kalen Ballage (23, -5), Kenyan Drake (18, 28), Mike Gesicki (11, 58), Mark Walton (9, 0), Albert Wilson (X, 0)
Receiving Yards: Preston Williams (63, 24), Kenyan Drake (29, 15), Jakeem Grant (22, -3), Allen Hurns (13, 22), Mark Walton (12, 0), Mike Gesicki (11, 31), Kalen Ballage (6, 13), DeVante Parker (0, 75), Albert Wilson (X, 13)
RZ Carries: None
Observations: As their astounding -92-point differential would suggest, the Dolphins have been a tough watch thus far. No one looked more checked out than Kalen Ballage in Week 2 as the second-year ground-chewer dropped two passes in Sunday’s eyesore including one that Jamie Collins willingly accepted for a pick-six. DeVante Parker evaporated against New England (a common occurrence when lockdown corner Stephon Gilmore is at the controls), goose-egging despite leading the team in both targets (seven) and air yards (147). Josh Rosen was summoned for mop-up duty again in Week 2, logging 24 meaningless snaps in relief of struggling starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s been letting it rip, producing a daring 15.0 aDOT through two appearances. Jakeem Grant and Allen Hurns both saw increased slot responsibilities in the absence of Albert Wilson (hip), though obviously neither of them moved the needle much.
New England Patriots
Observations: Antonio Brown’s New England debut was a promising one as the Miami native snagged four balls for 56 yards and a touchdown against his hometown Dolphins. He got off to a sizzling start, netting three catches for 36 yards on the opening drive. Brown and Tom Brady weren’t on the same page in the second half (zero catches on four targets), though that disconnect was probably to be expected after only working together in three practice sessions. AB’s usage (he was in on 24-of-71 offensive snaps) is bound to increase as he grows more comfortable in Josh McDaniels’ scheme. Rex Burkhead leads the Patriots in yards from scrimmage (153) through two weeks, which I’m sure all of you saw coming. Dating back to the Super Bowl, the Patriots haven’t allowed a touchdown in their last three games, outscoring opponents by a jaw-dropping 89-6 margin over that span.
New York Jets
RZ Carries: Le’Veon Bell (1, 1)
Observations: Between Sam Darnold being quarantined with mono (no day at the beach if you’ve ever had it) and Trevor Siemian likely a goner after suffering a gruesome-looking ankle injury on Monday Night Football, the Jets may as well throw in the towel offensively. Adam Gase, who reportedly didn’t even want Le’Veon Bell this offseason, is running his $52-million asset into the ground (league-leading 54 touches), and wouldn’t you too if your quarterback was Luke Falk? Never the most durable of backs, Bell’s punishing early workload seems destined to end in injury, making Ty Montgomery a priority handcuff in all fantasy formats. Jamison Crowder was the biggest beneficiary of Darnold’s dink-and-dunk stylings in Week 1 (14-99-0 on 17 targets) but fell flat in his follow-up act, registering just four catches for 40 scoreless yards in the loss to Cleveland.
Air Yards: Tyrell Williams (76, 125), Hunter Renfrow (51, 11), Derek Carrier (48, 0), Darren Waller (32, 55), Ryan Grant (23, 12), DeAndre Washington (17, 0), Jalen Richard (1, 0), Foster Moreau (0, 7)
Receiving Yards: Darren Waller (63, 70), Tyrell Williams (46, 105), Derek Carrier (33, 0), Hunter Renfrow (30, 13), DeAndre Washington (26, 0), Jalen Richard (2, 0), Foster Moreau (0, 20), Ryan Grant (-2, 16)
Observations: The Raiders were flying high after taming the Broncos in Week 1, but all it took was one quarter of Patrick Mahomes heroics to knock them off their high horse. Darren Waller has been Steady Eddie, entering Derek Carr’s circle of trust by pulling in 13-of-15 targets for 133 yards through two appearances. Josh Jacobs has been a driving force in an otherwise listless Oakland offense (what else is new), supplying 184 rushing yards (fourth-most behind Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley and Marlon Mack) while settling in as the Raiders’ backfield ringleader. The rookie has yet to emerge as a receiving weapon (Carr has only looked to him on one occasion), but his monopoly on red-zone carries (league-high 12 attempts inside the 20) affords him considerable value in the fantasy sphere.
Targets: JuJu Smith-Schuster (8, 8), Vance McDonald (7, 4), James Conner (4, 4), Diontae Johnson (4, 5), Ryan Switzer (4, 6), James Washington (3, 6), Johnny Holton (1, 2), Donte Moncrief (1, 10), Jaylen Samuels (1, 2)
Air Yards: JuJu Smith-Schuster (121, 64), Johnny Holton (42, 45), Diontae Johnson (42, 45), James Washington (30, 169), Donte Moncrief (19, 92), Vance McDonald (12, 32), Ryan Switzer (7, 12), Jaylen Samuels (-5, 3), James Conner (-11, 3)
Receiving Yards: JuJu Smith-Schuster (84, 78), Vance McDonald (38, 40), James Washington (23, 51), Diontae Johnson (17, 25), Jaylen Samuels (13, 2), James Conner (12, 44), Johnny Holton (0, 0), Donte Moncrief (0, 7), Ryan Switzer (0, 29)
Observations: The Steelers have never had a losing year under Mike Tomlin, but the odds are stacked against them without Ben Roethlisberger, who was lost to a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2. It’s a downgrade for the whole offense, save for maybe James Washington, a college teammate of newly-minted starter Mason Rudolph. I have a degree in journalism and a master’s in creative writing, but it’s still hard for me to adequately describe just how awful Donte Moncrief has been in his two games with Pittsburgh, submitting an embarrassing 27.3-percent catch rate (three grabs on 11 targets) while already falling out of the Steelers’ rotation. ProFootballFocus has charged two drops to his ledger, which seems generous. After being a ghost in Week 1, Vance McDonald returned to form with a stout 7-38-2 receiving line Sunday against the Seahawks.
RZ Carries: Derrick Henry (2, 4)
Observations: After decimating the Browns in Week 1, the Titans reverted to their usual brand of mediocrity Sunday in a discouraging loss to Indianapolis. Marcus Mariota’s shortcomings in Cleveland were masked by a slew of big plays including a 75-yard thunderbolt strike from Derrick Henry, but there was no hiding against the Colts, who sacked him four times for a loss of 35 yards in the losing effort. Adam Humphries (four receiving yards through two games) was the subject of a free-agent bidding war between New England and Tennessee, a moment in time that seems more surreal with each passing week. If you thought A.J. Brown’s blistering Week 1 (100 yards on three catches) was too good to be true, Week 2 confirmed your suspicions as the second-round rookie labored to a sluggish 3-25-0 receiving line with a long gain of only 11 yards.