The True Value Of Targets
If you’ve played fantasy football for any amount of time or listened to any type of fantasy content you’ve probably heard popular industry jargon like:
“Volume is king” - “In fantasy, we chase volume” - “Follow the targets”
While that is true, it does not tell the whole story. Fantasy football isn’t that simple, we cannot just assume that whoever receives the most targets will score the most fantasy points.
As you can see above, yes volume propels you to the potential of finishing highly in fantasy, but it is not a 1 to 1 translation. Many of the guys lower on this list received ELITE volume, but because of the surrounding factors, they were not elite in fantasy.
And you can see the opposite is true, you can be an elite wide receiver in fantasy without elite volume. So, the purpose of this article is to separate and weigh certain types of volume vs others. That way, we can outline who can perform at an elite level without elite raw target totals. According to Warren Sharp, there is an expected fantasy points attached to each type of target a wide receiver can receive.
What I decided to do in this article is come up with a statistic that best represents just how valuable each wide receivers’ targets were. This was all based on the premise that we cannot predict volume exactly year over year and it’s foolish to think that we can. So, in my opinion, it’s best practice to chase players based on where and how they get their volume, rather than simply who gets the most because it leaves more room for error in projections.
Using the data that Warren Sharp outlines above, I broke down each type of target a player can receive into 4 different buckets. Let’s take Mike Evans for example:
You can see among Mike Evans’ 108 targets we can break them down further. It’s very simple to say, “Mike Evans isn’t that valuable, he only had 108 targets”. But when you dig into what type of targets Evans received, you can see that there are four distinctions of targets that all have an expected fantasy outcome per Sharp’s Article.
Deep Targets -> Targets of 20+ Air Yards
Red Zone Targets -> Targets that occurred within 20 yards of the endzone
End Zone Targets -> Targets that reached the endzone (if they catch it, it’s a touchdown)
Non-Valuable Targets -> Any remaining target that did not fit the description of either of the other 3 buckets
(*DISCLAIMER* I assumed all endzone targets were also red-zone targets and removed them according, careful not to double count.)
Here were the expected fantasy point values based on Sharp’s research:
Deep Targets -> 2.0 Fantasy Points per Target
Red Zone Targets -> 2.42 Fantasy Points per Target
End Zone Targets -> 3.69 Fantasy Points per Target
Non-Valuable Targets -> 1.43 Fantasy Points per Target
Therefore, we can assign expected fantasy points per target to each of Evan's different types of targets and find an overall score of expected fantasy points based on where and how he was targeted. The practical use of this is that we can compare it to 1) his teammates and 2) other wide receivers being drafted near him.
True Target Value Example
The name I settled on for this stat is “True Target Value” and again, what this statistic measures are how valuable a player’s targets are based on expected fantasy points relative to what areas of the field they are receiving them. True Target Value accounts for this on a per-target basis as well, so it doesn’t favor wide receivers who receive high volume.
That’s a lot of mumbo jumbo but as I said, the practical use of this is 1) comparison to teammates and 2) other receivers at ADP. For Mike Evans specifically, comparing his targets to his teammates is exactly why he’s the guy I want to own in Tampa Bay this year. Here’s the full breakdown:
And finally, here’s how their true target values compare:
You can see that those non-valuable targets are a smaller percentage of Evans's total targets than they are for Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. Based on these true target values, we can arrive at the conclusion that a target to Mike Evans is more valuable than a target to either of the other Bucs wide receivers. Therefore, Mike Evans doesn’t require a massive target share or even out target these two necessarily to be the most valuable fantasy option.
A target to Evans is about 8% more valuable than a target to AB and 15% more valuable than a target to Chris Godwin. So, if these were their target totals in 2021, they should all produce similarly for fantasy.
Evans -> 100
AB -> 108
Godwin -> 115
Because we don’t know who gets the most targets in this offense, it makes it easy to bet on Evans because he gets the highest value targets and requires fewer targets overall to produce at a high level.
Now I know you’re probably thinking, “no one cares about the Bucs receivers I wanna see how my favorite sleeper stacks up in this stat you created”. Well, here you go, here were the top 25 receivers in the stat (min 75 targets):
League Leaders in True Target Value
The archetype of receivers here is “boom or bust guys” but this is just a piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t mean all these receivers are going to be the best in fantasy. It means that IF THEY GET THE TARGETS, they will be great.
That’s why we can see why guys like Tyreek, Metcalf, Ridley & Fuller, who were elite last year despite not receiving league-high volume
Whoever fills Agholor’s role in LV (Ruggs or John Brown) is going to be valuable for fantasy
Mike William’s sleeper status is warranted
DJ Chark receiving the high-value targets for the Jags makes him interesting considering how large of a QB upgrade he received
A lot of second-year wide receivers are in for a big jump: Claypool, Lamb, Higgins & Aiyuk
Finally, the flip side. Here were the receivers (min 75 targets) whose targets weren’t very valuable:
Slot receivers make up a large majority of this list: Renfrow, Shepard, Ward, Meyers, Crowder, Samuel, Boyd, Gage, Reynolds, Lockett, Godwin, Keenan, Kupp. This proves to serve that slot receivers will need more volume to be successful because they are usually not receiving the important targets.
Overall, you can see several guys who underperformed based on how many targets they received. JuJu, Jeudy, Diontae, Gage, Boyd, Cooper, Anderson, McLaurin, all these guys could have been much better but as we can see now it was due to where and how they were receiving their targets.
Both Rams wide receivers are at the bottom of this list for a couple of reasons: 1) Goff didn’t push the ball much downfield last year and 2) they ran so much in the red zone that the red zone work wasn’t there for the wideouts. This could definitely be on the way up with Akers injury and Stafford coming in.
Obviously, there are some big-time fantasy producers on this list, like Diggs and Hopkins but the reality for those guys is that they are getting all the targets in the offense. The important, the not important, whatever, they just get fed the ball.
Here are a few more teammate comparisons for crowded wide receiving cores:
Therefore, a Claypool target is worth 11% more than a Diontae target and 12% more than a JuJu target.