29 Writers Vote for the 2017 Target Leader – The Favorites
We asked the RotoViz staff to rank their top-five picks to lead the NFL in targets for 2017. Since leading the league in targets requires elite talent and favorable circumstances, the results aren’t particularly shocking, nor should they be. But we did have plenty of dissent at the top and a few dark horses definitely crept in.
Twenty-nine writers offered contributions to this series. In Part 1, we looked at the long shots. And in Part 3, we’ll examine the high-profile guys our writers think you should avoid this season.
This edition focuses on the three players with the most first-place votes. We also asked our voters to explain the biggest concern their choice faces.
The Heir to Megatron
Julio Jones is the most freakishly athletic WR in the NFL, and his three-year 16-game pace of 176 targets trails only Antonio Brown. Four of our writers voted for Jones, including Anthony Amico, Scott Smith, Justin Woodruff, and Hasan Rahim.
He has the second-most targets per game over the last three seasons and has a lot less 2017 competition than the WR in first, Antonio Brown. The Falcons should have to throw more this season, and when Matt Ryan’s efficiency regresses, I expect him to lean heavily on his top target. – Amico
The likelihood for a downturn in offensive efficiency was a theme, as was the almost complete lack of competition.
As a team, the Falcons only had the 26th-most pass attempts; they had finished 8th, 3rd, and 3rd in the previous seasons. Ryan attempted almost 100 fewer passes in 2016 than his previous three-year average. Jones’ target share of 28 percent, although still elite, was the lowest of his prior three seasons. Despite all this, his 147-target pace would have placed top 10. – Woodruff
Of course, Jones has struggled to stay healthy during his career, seeming to break down with the big workloads. All four Jones voters mentioned this as the biggest hurdle to his target supremacy.
It’s fair to mention his health as a concern. Jones has only played a 16-game season twice in his six-year career, and only once in the past four. This offseason Jones had surgery on his left foot, the third one of his career. – Woodruff
No one has recorded more targets or receptions than Odell Beckham through three seasons. (A.J. Green is tied with 457 targets; Jarvis Landry with 288 receptions.) Target competition has been added in the form of Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram, but four of our writers expect this to only help Beckham in returning to his rookie year promise.
He’s already third in targets/game over the past three years. The Giants running game will continue to be garbage, their defense may not stay as healthy as last season, and Marshall/Engram will draw enough coverage to open him up more regularly. The Steelers will spread the ball around more and Julio Jones may miss a game or two. This is the year OBJ takes the league by storm. – John Lapinski
Beckham is the best part of the Giants offense, and anything they want to do has to go through him. Plus, he’s going to want to put in a huge year before he goes full diva next year ahead of his new contract. That’s going to be one squeaky wheel in need of a lot oil. – Neil Dutton
But there are concerns, and target competition isn’t the only potential difficulty.
The Giants run game could take a step forward. If the defense has another good year, the combination could allow the Giants to have a less pass-heavy attack in frequent positive gamescripts. – Devin McIntyre
Eli might be in his decline and the offense might continue to struggle like it did in 2016. If the Giants can’t sustain drives, their plays per game will suffer and there won’t be a large enough pool of targets. – Lapinski
The Consensus Choice
Antonio Brown received a full 15 first-place votes out of 29. His three-year, 16-game pace of 180 targets leads all receivers, and he’s been a remarkably consistent fantasy juggernaut during that time.
Plus, Jeremy Marin, Charles Kleinheksel, Shawn Roche, Michael Dubner, and Jordan Hoover all separately pointed out that he actually scored better with Martavis Bryant on the field.
It’s a boring choice, I know, but there’s no doubting the rapport built between Brown and Ben Roethlisberger over the last few seasons. Brown has posted four consecutive 150-plus target seasons, topping out at a whopping 193 in 2015. Over the last three seasons, Pittsburgh has remained above league average in terms of plays per game and passes per game, hinting at a continued stream of volume for Brown in 2017. – Hoover
It’s certainly encouraging that Brown has been better with another elite WR on the field. This can sometimes be an underrated element of trying to decipher target competition, and one that is often complicated by the quality and scheme of the opposing defensive slate.
On the other hand, this is perhaps a trend we shouldn’t expect to continue. As Brian Malone notes, “Brown has seen more targets when Bryant plays than when he doesn’t. But if Bryant takes another step, he may command a larger share of the Steelers passing game.”
The biggest hurdle for Brown may not be his own target level but merely if some other WR lands in a short-term game script and target volume nirvana.1 But a few recent developments could start to limit Brown’s ceiling. The defense is improved, and most of our rankers were worried about Roethlisberger’s health.
Game script. Steelers have invested heavily in defense since 2015, and if they’re significantly better on that side of the ball, they could lean run-heavy to close out games. – Roche
If both Bell and Bryant stay healthy and James commands more targets than expected, there’s almost no chance for Brown to lead the league in targets. Ben Roethlisberger also needs to stay healthy so the Steelers will throw the ball at their normal rate. – Kyle Pollock
An injury to Ben Roethlisberger is by far the biggest obstacle, far more than Bryant coming back or the Steelers selecting Smith-Schuster. And while “anyone” can get hurt, Ben has been banged up a lot and the cumulative effects of all the hits he has taken playing the style he plays over his career make this by far the most concerning thing for Brown’s target share. If Ben goes down, the efficiency of this whole offense takes a huge hit. Even if it is only for a couple games, it could keep Brown from the No. 1 spot. – Tod Burros
Le’Veon Bell’s presence is noted by numerous rankers, and his splits with Brown are interesting.