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Market Share Separating Pass Catchers

You can't score fantasy points if you don't get the ball. Target share and air yards share can tell us a lot about how players are used in an offense, suggesting who might be overvalued or overlooked.

Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys

Moving over to Dallas mid-season, Cooper registered 725 yards and 6 touchdowns in nine games played. Importantly, he sustained a healthy target share of 24%. Now heading into his second season as a Cowboy, Cooper comes off the board at pick 32.1. This might not be high enough.

Now with a three-season sample size of Dak Prescott quarterbacking the Cowboys, his lead receiver has never finished below a 24% target share. In 2016 and 2017, Dez Bryant finished with target shares of 24% and 27% in the twilight of his career. Still in his prime, Cooper finished with a 24% target share.

Looking at the Cowboys’ 2019 team, Dallas lost reliable slot receiver Cole Beasley and his 87 targets, while neglecting to add any pass catchers of consequence (sorry Jason Witten). The potential for increased targets and a second year to learn the Dallas offense should benefit Cooper in 2019

Keke Coutee and Will Fuller, Houston Texans

While both Fuller and Coutee dealt with injuries in 2018, both performed well when on the field. Fuller posted 503 yards and 4 scores on 32 catches in only seven games played. Similarly, Coutee posted 287 receiving yards and 1 touchdown on 28 catches in six games played for the Texans.

After their promising early career performances, Fuller and Coutee come off the board at 77.50 and 112.10 in early Best Ball leagues on PlayDraft. Separately, each seem like values in a Houston offense that finished 11th in points per game in 2018.

Looking at target share data from a season ago, Fuller and Coutee finished with target shares of 22% and 20% respectively when adjusting for games played. With DeAndre Hopkins already commanding a 32% target share in the Houston offense, it seems unlikely for Fuller and Coutee to each reach a 20% target share when all of the playmakers are healthy.

Across the NFL only four NFL teams had a pair of receivers account for at least 50% of their team’s targets. NFL offenses just aren't that concentrated, and while it remains possible one of these receivers ascends in 2019, it likely would have to come through an injury to the other.

James Washington / Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

Before beginning this breakdown, I want to qualify this prediction. Whoever wins the No. 2 receiving job should be in for a big season. The early candidate looks like Washington, who comes off the board at pick 123.00 in early Best Ball leagues. However, the Steelers spent a third-round pick on Johnson, who can be drafted at 215 overall.

Historically speaking, the No. 2 receiving option in Pittsburgh has been a highly productive role for fantasy football. In 2018, the Steelers finished as one of four teams to have their top two receivers account for 50% of their team’s targets. Looking back a few seasons, Pittsburgh’s leading duo finished with combined target shares of 47% and 49% in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

More importantly, Pittsburgh finished with the most pass attempts in 2018 and the third-most pass attempts in 2017, creating elevated volume.

Looking back to 2016 and 2017, Le’Veon Bell effectively played as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 wide receiver with target shares north of 20% each of those two seasons. However, with Bell sitting out 2018, James Conner only accounted for 12% of the team’s targets, creating an opportunity for a secondary wide receiver to step up.

Washington showed very little as a rookie with only 16 catches and 217 yards and Johnson faces a steep learning curve jumping from Toledo to the NFL. However, if one can seize this job, they should smash their ADP.

Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

Williams broke out in 2018, with 664 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 43 receptions. With Tyrell Williams leaving for Oakland, additional targets could open for him in Los Angeles this season.

Despite the available targets, Williams’ profile still contains a number of red flags. The first of which is the presence of Melvin Gordon. Over the course of his career, Gordon has been a more than capable pass catcher out of the backfield, recording target counts of 83 and 66 each of the past two seasons. Looking at 2018 alone, Gordon accounted for 17% of the Chargers’ targets, which ranked second on the team.

Expanding to the entire NFL, only seven running backs recorded at least a 17% target share over a full season. On these teams, the highest target share a No. 3 option recorded was 18% (Sterling Shepard) and the highest yardage total was 788 (D.J. Moore). Williams himself recorded a 13% target share as the No. 3 receiving option behind Keenan Allen and Gordon in this very offense a season ago.

This miniscule target share shows Williams’ floor without the touchdown production. His 10 touchdowns last season occurred on only 14 red zone targets, a number that should see some regression. Overall, a potential deflated target share, coupled with touchdown regression makes Williams a strong avoid.

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

Exploding in his second year in the league, Kittle accounted for 1,377 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns on 88 receptions. This receiving total was fourth in the league across all positions. Heading into his third season in San Francisco, Kittle’s ADP has climbed up to 23.00 in early Best Ball drafts.

Despite the early career production and elite role in the 49ers’ offense, Kittle could be looking at some regression this season. First of all, 857 of Kittle’s 1,377 receiving yards came after the catch (highest rate in the NFL). Yards after catch have proven difficult to predict year over year.

Second, looking at the tight end position as a whole, three tight ends finished 2018 with target shares north of 25%, including Kittle at 26%. In both 2016 and 2017 no tight ends finished north of this mark.

Zooming out and looking at Kittle’s situation, the 49ers’ 2018 offense set up perfectly for a second-year breakout. Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon both suffered injuries early in the season and made little impact the rest of the way. The running back position also dealt with a slew of injuries (Jerick McKinnon – ACL, Matt Breida – ankle sprain, and Raheem Mostert – broken arm). This situation created the perfect storm for the 49ers to funnel targets to Kittle.

Kittle’s elite athleticism and receiving prowess keep him inside the top three tight ends, but a draft position inside the top 25 picks remains too rich. With the addition of Deebo Samuel plus Dante Pettis entering his second year, look for Kittle’s target share and production to drop in 2019.

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