On Target: Working Between the 20’s
By Davis Mattek
Maybe I’ve had it all wrong (I doubt it, but let’s take this trip together). Maybe, just maybe, predicting yards and sheer receptions is more important for fantasy football and that yes, while scientifically, big guys score more touchdowns, it is possible that the four- or five-touchdown difference between a Demaryius Thomas and a Kendall Wright type doesn’t matter if it’s made up for in week-to-week consistency. If all that we are trying to do is find WR1s, then I do think it still makes sense to focus on touchdowns more than any other factor, but it is unlikely that we’ll ever actually be able to field a fantasy team full of WR1s. Last year it was possible if you landed on Alshon Jeffrey and Josh Gordon in the later rounds, but late-round WR value has topped out at high-end WR2s this season.
So a different way to approach the tight end/wide receiver problem is to see what they do without the red zone. It applies some neutral context, because not every game for every team sees multiple trips to the end zone. You can pretty much be guaranteed that a team will have at least eight or nine possessions between the 20s and that lends itself to consistency among pass-catching fantasy options. The table below looks at what pass catchers have done in between the 20s this season. (Click columns to sort.)
Unlike many things in football, this list actually makes complete sense. No one on the list has scored a touchdown on more than 9 percent of their targets between the 20s, and the most non-red-zone touchdowns is Jeremy Maclin‘s six. As you get closer to the end zone, it becomes easier to score touchdowns. That is why we draft players who will get red-zone targets and be efficient with them … but not all fantasy points are scored there.
As we get closer to the fantasy playoffs, relying on consistent options week to week will be the path to titles. We have to assume that teams in the position to make the playoffs already have high-ceiling options like Demaryius Thomas, Rob Gronkowski or other superstar performers. Building a balanced lineup that can put up points every week is important once the noise and volatility of a three-week sample deciding a league champion come into effect.
It’s not worth discussing Antonio Brown, as anyone who owns him isn’t trading him or benching him. Toward the top of this list in terms of sheer targets, T.Y Hilton is a fascinating case, though. Before the season, many analysts believed he was simply too boom or bust to be relied upon week to week. He would certainly have his 30-point blowup games, but in prior seasons even with Reggie Wayne out, he was no lock for consistent fantasy production. It would appear that Hilton has undergone a dramatic shift in his game. Indianapolis has fully turned over the reins of the offense to Andrew Luck, and he has made Hilton a fantasy superstar. No longer reliant on just the deep ball, Hilton has emerged as a hybrid mix of Reggie Wayne‘s historic role in the Colts offense as a possession guy and the deep threat who can break games open. I wasn’t on board with Hilton early on, but I certainly am now.
Jordan Matthews had his breakout game on national TV Monday night with six catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, but there were indications of supreme talent even before that. He has seen 46 targets between the 20s, and there were some signs that, eventually, he would become the No. 2 option in that passing game, replacing Riley Cooper. Matthews will still operate out of the slot, and it appears through 1.5 games that he has some supreme chemistry with Mark Sanchez, catching three touchdown passes with the Sanchize at the helm. I’m making him a priority add in every league that I’m in, and he’ll likely be a staple of my daily fantasy lineups as he remains underpriced.
The trend of this column has been discussing consistency, but there is some room for a discussion on inconsistency. Keenan Allen was beloved by fantasy football owners after scoring double-digit touchdowns as a rookie, but he simply isn’t that guy. My evaluation of Allen was a bit flawed, as his horrible collegiate production was influenced by awful quarterback play, and he was nursing an injury at the NFL combine. That said, he’s probably a career WR2 who lacks gamebreaking speed and agility. He hasn’t scored a touchdown outside of the red zone and hasn’t been productive there, either. If he’s still on your playoff-bound roster, he needs to remain tethered to your bench until an Antonio Gates injury opens up the Chargers passing game.