For wide receivers, volume is necessary.
TOP-10 WR Target Projections
These are the wide receivers I project to see the most targets in Week 1 (Sunday main slate only):
1. Julio Jones: 12 targets – Ankle tweak sustained in third preseason game proved to be minor. In Julio’s last four games against the Bucs, he’s seen 17, 13, 11 and 11 targets.
2. Alshon Jeffery: 11 targets – The Bears will try to hide Jay Cutler with the run game and their defense. But that won’t be possible with the Texans playing so fast and the Bears’ defense a liability. Alshon averaged a whopping 12.1 targets in the seven games he played fully last year, which would have been second in the league behind only Julio Jones.
3. DeAndre Hopkins: 10 targets – The Texans led the NFL in plays per game last year and were third in neutral-situation pace. Now Hopkins has Will Fuller to help alleviate the double-teams that slowed him down last year.
4. Brandon Marshall: 10 targets – Marshall has shown no signs of slowing down, but the time I want to use a 32-year-old wideout is early in the year. Quietly ranked fifth in targets per game last year at 10.8.
5. Jarvis Landry: 10 targets – It’s unclear if Richard Sherman will go into the slot to match up with Landry. Regardless, Ryan Tannehill (now in an up-tempo offense) is locked onto Landry like few other QB/WR combos in the league. If the Dolphins fall behind, as they’re likely to at Seattle, Landry will get fed relentlessly.
6. Odell Beckham: 9 targets – Expecting Odell to be at significantly less ownership than Julio due in part to Dallas’ slow pace. Also Dallas had all the answers for OBJ last year, holding him to 5-44-0 and 4-35-0 in two matchups.
7. Amari Cooper: 8 targets – Cooper’s sophomore season will mean a larger market share of targets at the expense of Michael Crabtree. Even if he gets shadowed by top Saints CB Delvin Breaux, I showed here why that isn’t a big concern. Also, Cooper and Derek Carr roomed together at training camp (#NarrativeStreet).
8. Mike Evans: 8 targets – Note that in the nine games Evans played with Vincent Jackson last year, he averaged 8.1 targets per game. When playing without V-Jax, Evans saw 12.5 targets per game. Jackson is healthy this week and Evans projects to see some shadow coverage from Desmond Trufant.
9. Keenan Allen: 8 targets – Many forget Allen was averaging 11.1 targets per game when he went down midway through last season. The matchup at Kansas City isn’t great, but note that CB Sean Smith is now a Raider and shaky Phillip Gaines is stepping in opposite Marcus Peters.
10. Dez Bryant: 8 targets – Dallas will try to protect first-time starter Dak Prescott with a slow-paced, run-heavy plan. He’ll still have opportunites to hit a healthy Dez Bryant, who is over last year’s foot problems and flashing his unique goal-line ability.
Figuring out the top-end guys (above) is relatively easy. The low-end wideouts are much harder – and more valuable. Normally, I’ll discuss five wideouts under $5000 who I project for at least five targets. This week I lowered the threshold to WRs under $4500 due to all the value that has emerged at the position.
Note: The following projections are based on the main Week 1 slate only.
1. Tajae Sharpe, Titans: $3,000
This fifth-round rookie out of UMass tore through the Titans’ depth chart immediately, riding past Dorial Green-Beckham in the spring and emerging as Marcus Mariota’s No. 1 receiver in training camp. He was in on 44 of the final 58 snaps Mariota played in the preseason, earning 10 targets in that span. When the Titans rotated Andre Johnson and Harry Douglas in, it was Rishard Matthews who came off the field – not Sharpe. So we have a min-priced No. 1 wideout who projects for 6-8 targets. Sharpe is a viable option in head-to-head games, but certainly is not a must with all the other value that has emerged (Dak Prescott, Spencer Ware etc).
Projection: Seven targets
2. Will Fuller, Texans: $3,700
The Texans didn’t use a first-round pick on Fuller to have him ride the pine. He was immediately installed as an every-down player opposite coverage magnet DeAndre Hopkins while Braxton Miller mans the slot. Fuller is poised to reward that confidence, as he was one of the preseason’s most impressive players (8-144-2 on 82 snaps). The Week 1 matchup is ideal against a Bears team that made some strong additions to their front seven this offseason but remains weak and injured in the secondary. We know Bill O’Brien is going to play fast (led NFL in plays) and he’s going to have Brock Osweiler playing well (previously turned Christian Hackenberg and Brian Hoyer into viable QBs).
Projection: Six targets
3. Vincent Jackson, Bucs: $4,400
It’s unclear to me if V-Jax is done at age 33 or if he still has gas left in the tank. That keeps him in GPP-only territory. But if there’s ever a time to use a 33-year-old player, it’s when he’s fresh at the beginning of the season and in a plus matchup. That’s the case here as strong Falcons CB Desmond Trufant is a candidate to shadow Mike Evans, therefore leaving weaker Robert Alford on Jackson. An added benefit of using Jackson in tournaments is his price is very close to chalk WR Marvin Jones ($4600), which will depress his ownership. More on price-point pivots here.
Projection: Six targets
4. Terrelle Pryor, Browns: $3,000
Josh Gordon is suspended for four weeks, so the Browns will ride with first-round rookie Corey Coleman and Terrelle Pryor as their primary wide receivers. Yes, this is the same Terrelle Pryor who played quarterback at Ohio State and started 10 NFL games at quarterback for the Raiders. It’s also the same Terrelle Pryor who ran a 4.42 at 6’4/240. He has the ideal body type and athletic profile to be a top-flight wide receiver and flashed those skills in the preseason by going 5-122-1 on 85 snaps. Expect Pryor to have a high average depth of target in a middling matchup with the Eagles, making him a GPP-only play for me. The aforementioned Sharpe is safer.
Projection: Five targets
5. Michael Thomas, Saints: $4,000
Over the final two preseason games, Saints’ second-round rookie Michael Thomas ran with Brandin Cooks in 2-WR sets while Willie Snead came on for 3-WR sets. It’s notable as the Saints only run an average amount of 3-WR sets, but we should also realize that Snead will be in for a majority of pass plays. He’s a strong play at $4800 and projects in the 4-6 target range as well. But the 6-foot-3 Thomas projects as the preferred red-zone target over Snead and Brandin Cooks (2-of-129 targets inside the 10-yard line last year). He’s another interesting GPP leverage play as most people will be rostering Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Cooks and Coby Fleener from the potential OAK/NO shootout.
Projection: Five targets
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