There’s on old adage: numbers don’t lie. It’s true at Google, it’s true at Microsoft and it’s true in fantasy football. Sure, you can fudge the numbers and make them support just about any theory you can conjure up. But in the end, the truth shall win out. In fantasy football, the numbers are as plain as the print on this page. You can’t manipulate them, you can’t distort them; you can only take them for what they are: the truth. And in this great hobby of ours, the truth is this: players who are “targeted” more often are more likely to contribute to your fantasy success. Or, are they?
Let’s start with an example: You’re trying to decide between which No. 2 receiver to take in your points-per-reception draft. You’re mulling over two closely ranked players (in your mind), and the clock is ticking. You were fortunate enough to take Andre Johnson in the first round, but you went with a running back in the second round and a number of elite wide receivers have gone off the board since that time. At this moment, you’re looking at Mike Wallace and Jordy Nelson (two closely ranked receivers with similar average draft positions). Simple choice? Well, let’s take a closer look.
Mike Wallace was targeted 113 times in 2011 (24th among wide receivers), while Jordy Nelson received just 96 looks (40th). Surely we go with Wallace, right? Not so fast. Nelson had 1,263 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, while Wallace had slightly less yards (1,193) and just eight touchdowns. They had nearly identical reception numbers (72 to 68) with a slight edge to Wallace, but Nelson hauled in 67 percent of the passes thrown his way, compared to just 58.5 percent for Wallace. Suddenly it’s not such a clear-cut decision in favor of Mike Wallace.
So now what? Yes, Wallace was targeted 17 times more than Nelson over the course of the 2011 season. So? That averages out to just over one target per game over a 16-game schedule, yet Wallace had just four more receptions on the year. Clearly Jordy Nelson made more of his opportunities than Mike Wallace did. Not only that, but many in the NFL and fantasy circles believe Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the game. Nelson has tremendous talent around him and he doesn’t drop the ball when the drive, or the game, is on the line.
What does this table tell us? It tells us a number of things. First, it tells us that in 2011, either Brandon Lloyd couldn’t catch a cold or Sam Bradford couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. It also tells us that Roddy White was a target monster last year. He led the league in targets with 181, catching 100 of them for nearly 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns. The emergence of youngster Julio Jones did and will continue to prevent defenses from paying too much attention to Roddy White. Coupled with a breakout season expected from quarterback Matt Ryan, White should once again find himself atop the rankings at the end of 2012.
Brandon Marshall now finds himself reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler in Chicago. Surely that means a big boost for Marshall’s numbers this season, right? The last time these two played together (2008 in Denver), Marshall led the league in targets with 181 (12.1 targets per game) had 1,265 receiving yards and six touchdowns. More scores would be nice, but overall very good numbers. Last season in Miami, Marshall had 145 targets, 81 receptions and more than 1,200 receiving yards with six touchdowns. And that was with Chad Henne and Matt Moore at quarterback. Surprisingly, very similar statistics from his last season with Cutler. So what will the reunion with Cutler mean for Marshall in 2012? It’s hard to know for sure, but it’s safe to think Marshall will continue to see a lot of passes thrown his way.
Another example of how targets can be deceiving is Giants’ receiver Victor Cruz. He ranked 12th in total targets (131) last year, yet he caught 63 percent of the balls thrown his way for 1,536 yards (third in the NFL) and didn’t even start all 16 games! He had the highest yards-per-target in the league by far. But people know who he is now and it’ll cost you a relatively high draft pick (average draft position of 33) if you want him on your team in 2012.