Learning To Love Rookie Season Average Targets & Target Share %
After studying the last four WR classes (2016 – 2020), I have noticed some metrics that WRs will need to hit in their rookie season, regardless of their draft capital, to become viable fantasy starters and studs. These include their average targets per game, catch percentage, and Target Share percentage (TS %) in games played when playing at least 8 games during their rookie season.
If they achieve less than 4 targets a game average, for games played and targets available in those games, while also having under a 12% target share for this time span, they have only a 5.17% chance of achieving a WR1 or WR2 season. The most common place they will end up is as a WR4+ as every WR with these metrics struggled to be fantasy relevant. The only two players to achieve reaching WR1 or WR2 status, for one season each respectively, and both not yet repeating this ranking are Chris Godwin and DJ Chark. This is from a total of 21 WRs with 58 seasons played between them for this data. The difference for those two that did break out, was that in their rookie season, they saw almost a full target more per game on average and caught almost 61.82% of the balls thrown their way. Those that didn’t break out tended to catch under 58% of the balls thrown their way during their rookie season. The 2020 Rookies who hit this metric were: Henry Ruggs (3.31 targets 10.89% TS, 60.47% catch), Gabriel Davis (3.88 targets, 10.4% TS, 56.45% catch), Quentiz Cephus (2.69 targets, 7.26% TS, 57.14% catch), Tyron Johnson, Collin Johnson, and Lynn Bowden.
For those that see over an average of 4 targets and a target share between 12.01% and 15% their rookie season, these WRs tend to cap out as a WR2 but at a huge percentage with 42% of them hitting WR2 status at least once. This is by far the best rate of success at one Tier of any grouping with this. Players in this range include Kenny Golladay, DJ Moore, Courtland Sutton, Calvin Ridley, and more. Those that hit WR1 status caught 68.7% of balls thrown their way while seeing at least 5 targets on average. The 2020 rookies that hit this were Jalen Reagor (4.91 targets, 12.98% TS, 57.41% catch), KJ Hamler (4.31 targets, 12.15% TS, 53.57% catch), Michael Pittman (4.69 targets, 13.56% TS, 65.57% catch), and Laviska Shenault (5.64 targets, 14.49% TS, 73.42% catch.)
Those with a target share between 15.01% and 18% with over 4 targets per game averaged tended to be split between being WR2, 3, and 4’s. Only one WR broke out in this group to become a WR1 and that was Tyreek Hill. Most tend to be evenly split between WR2 and 3 with those being the most successful being tied to offenses that threw a lot. This group also saw the highest injury rate and missed time. For those that achieved the WR1 and 2 spots though the part that stood out was that they caught almost 74% of the balls thrown their way their rookie season compared to only 58% for those who have not broken above a WR3. The 2020 rookies who hit this were: CeeDee Lamb (6.94 targets, 17.37% TS, 66.67% catch), Chase Claypool (6.81 targets, 16.62% TS, 56.88% catch), Denzel Mims (4.89 targets, 15.02% TS, 52.27% catch), and Darnell Mooney (6.13 targets, 15.96% TS, 62.24% catch).
Finally, those with greater than an 18% TS as a rookie are the ones most likely to achieve WR1 status. 24% of those who hit this metric were able to achieve WR1 status while catching 65.47% of the balls thrown their way and seeing 6.46 average targets per game. This group of WRs tends to either hit the WR1 or WR3. The separator tends to be which ones catch the ball more consistently. Injuries are the most common reason those who hit the metric did not achieve at least WR3 in a season. The 2020 rookies who hit this were: Justin Jefferson (7.81 targets, 24.22 TS%, 70.40% catch), Jerry Jeudy (7.06 targets, 20.32% TS, 46.02% catch), Tee Higgins (6.75 targets, 18.62% TS, 62.04% catch), and Brandon Aiyuk (8.00 targets, 22.91 TS%, 62.50% catch).
Based on all the data, the 2020 rookies I am most interested in would be Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Denzel Mims, Darnell Mooney, Brandon Aiyuk, Laviska Shenault, and Chase Claypool. Of those, the ones with the lowest cost right now are Mooney, Mims, and Claypool. The one that's outside of Jefferson who already achieved a WR1 season that is most primed to take that leap would be Shenault with Lamb not far behind him.
The 2020 rookies I am down on would be Henry Ruggs, Michael Pittman, KJ Hamler, Lynn Bowden, Tyron Johnson, Collin Johnson, Gabriel Davis, Quentiz Cephus, Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy, and Jalen Reagor. While one or two could still hit, the odds are not in their favor and the cost for most of these would not be something I would want to invest in now, instead of looking for the late 1sts/mid 2nds most of these would cost to invest in the incoming rookie class looking for whom could see the highest target share or in those listed in the paragraph above. Of those who I am down on, the two most likely to be successful based on the numbers shown would be Michael Pittman and Tee Higgins. Tee Higgins likely capped due to being with Chase and Boyd which then his cost of a first-rounder to me would be better spent on someone like Waddle or Elijah Moore (especially if Crowder is released). Pittman likely could be had for an early second though and could be a sneaky low-cost investment for someone who could be a consistent WR2 if he brings up his catch %. If you can catch someone with rookie fever willing to give them up more cheaply, I would be okay going after them for the right cost.
In summary, if a rookie WR sees less than a 4-target average per game and less than a 12% TS they should be avoided and if possible, flip them to someone who believes in them willing to overpay. For those seeing over 4 targets and a target share between 12.01 and 18% these are most likely to be WR2s and if you can get them for the right price can be a good investment to build your roster depth. And rookie WRs who see over 6.4 targets per game and a TS over 18.01% with a 65+% catch percentage is the most likely to bring you WR1 seasons.