By Michael Beller
October 01, 2014

The importance of targets is self-evident, but here a few numbers that should drive home why it matters to know who is getting the ball, and where they are getting it.

Six receivers have at least 40 targets this year -- Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, Julio Jones, Steve Smith, Jeremy Maclin and Julian Edelman. Those six players rank first, second, third, fourth, sixth and 12th, respectively, among receivers in fantasy points.

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Two players on the Chicago Bears have 10 targets in the red zone -- Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett. Marshall is tied for the league lead with five receiving touchdowns, while Bennett has four.

Speaking of Bennett, he his ridden all his red-zone looks to the No. 2 spot among tight ends. The only player he trails is Jimmy Graham, who is the only tight end with at least 40 targets.

Two of the top-five scoring running backs, Matt Forte and Le’Veon Bell, also rank in the top three in targets. Another member of the top five, Ahmad Bradshaw, leads all running backs with seven red-zone targets.

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Clearly, targets are valuable currency. Let’s see who else is cashing in Week 4 of the Target Report. 

The first number listed after a player’s name is his overall targets, and the second is how many balls he has had thrown his way inside the 20-yard-line. This information gives us an even better look at how each player is being used within his team’s passing game.

Arizona Cardinals

Larry Fitzgerald – 25, 8
Michael Floyd – 23, 1
John Brown – 17, 4
Andre Ellington – 14, 2
John Carlson – 8, 0
Stepfan Taylor – 3, 2 

Fitzgerald’s demise has been widely reported, but he’s still dominating this team in touches. It was encouraging to see Drew Stanton hook up deep with Michael Floyd in Arizona’s last game, but his ceiling will be limited so long as he isn’t getting consistent looks in the red zone.

Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones – 41, 3
Roddy White – 27, 2
Devin Hester – 17, 0
Harry Douglas – 17, 1
Levine Toilolo – 12, 2
Jacquizz Rodgers – 11, 1
Devonta Freeman – 9, 2
Steven Jackson – 6, 1
Antone Smith – 5, 0 

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I’m enjoying Hester’s sudden receiving success as much as anyone, but he has 17 targets in four games, and not one has been inside the 20-yard-line. Jerry Rice couldn’t sustain fantasy value with those sorts of numbers, so do you really think Hester can? Also, everyone should now be remembering what the Atlanta passing attack can do when Jones and White have their legs under them.


Baltimore Ravens

Steve Smith – 42, 9
Torrey Smith – 25, 2
Justin Forsett – 19, 2
Owen Daniels – 16, 4
Marlon Brown – 5, 0
Bernard Pierce – 3, 0
Lorenzo Taliaferro – 1, 0 

Brown made three big catches against the Panthers last week. Expect him to be in the No. 3 receiver role over Jacoby Jones. Other than that, it’s mostly status quo for the Ravens. That means Steve Smith playing like a WR1 and Torrey Smith getting relegated to WR3 territory though he did find the end zone last week). While Daniels was a no-show last week, I still expect him to put up top-10 tight end numbers for the rest of the season. Remember, he and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak have a very good, shared history.

Buffalo Bills 

Sammy Watkins – 34, 5
Robert Woods – 29, 2
Fred Jackson – 23, 3
Mike Williams – 16, 5
Scott Chandler – 13, 1
C.J. Spiller – 12, 2 

Chances are the target breakdown won’t change much with Kyle Orton under center. The hope would be that each receiver’s catch rate increases. Not including the running backs, EJ Manuel’s best completion percentage with a specific pass catcher was 61.5 percent with Chandler. He completed only 52.9 percent of passes thrown to Watkins.

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Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin – 39, 3
Greg Olsen – 33, 3
Jason Avant – 17, 1
Jerricho Cotchery – 16, 1
Mike Tolbert – 11, 0
Jonathan Stewart – 7, 0
Darrin Reaves – 6, 1
DeAngelo Williams – 2, 0 

Even with Cam Newton struggling, Benjamin has developed into a weekly must-start receiver. He’s tied for fifth in the NFL with nine targets of at least 20 yards, and doubles as one of the most dangerous red-zone weapons in the league. Such is life when you’re 6-foot-5, 240 pounds. Don’t worry about Newton. Play Benjamin every single week.

Chicago Bears

Martellus Bennett – 40, 10
Alshon Jeffery – 38, 5
Brandon Marshall – 35, 10
Matt Forte – 31, 4
Santonio Holmes – 10, 1 

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The obvious thing that jumps out here is just how many red-zone targets Chicago pass catchers have racked up in four games. Jay Cutler has thrown the ball a combined 29 times to Marshall, Jeffery, Forte and Bennett in the red zone. What’s more, the Bears have been very good inside the 20-yard-line this season. They just had a streak of 12 straight goal-to-go possessions resulting in touchdowns snapped, and Cutler leads the league with 133 yards and 10 touchdowns in the red zone.

Cincinnati Bengals

A.J. Green – 20, 2
Mohamed Sanu – 20, 4
Giovani Bernard – 18, 1
Brandon Tate – 10, 0
Jermaine Gresham – 9, 2
Jeremy Hill – 2, 0
Andy Dalton(!) – 1, 1 

Marvin Jones makes his season debut in Week 5, and it will be interesting to see how he affects the target breakdown in Cincinnati. Recall that A.J. Green has his 20 targets in just two games since he missed nearly all of one because of his toe injury and the Bengals had a bye last week.

Cleveland Browns

Andrew Hawkins – 33, 2
Miles Austin – 23, 4
Taylor Gabriel – 14, 2
Jordan Cameron – 9, 2
Terrance West – 4, 1
Isaiah Crowell – 2, 0
Ben Tate – 0, 0

Expect Hawkins’ targets to decrease a bit with Cameron back at 100 percent. Coming off a bye, the most interesting thing to watch this week will be the backfield situation on third down. Can Crowell hold down that role? If he can, he could have some fantasy value, even with Tate healthy.

Dallas Cowboys

Dez Bryant – 32, 3
Jason Witten – 22, 1
Terrance Williams – 22, 5
Cole Beasley – 15, 2
DeMarco Murray – 12, 1 

If I’m a Dez Bryant owner, I’m very upset that he has just three red-zone targets in four games. Unsurprisingly, he has caught two of those, both of which went for six points. Bryant had 21 targets inside the 20-yard-line a year ago, good for 30.4 percent of Dallas’ total. At this rate, he’ll end up with just a touch more red-zone targets this year than he had inside the 5-yard-line in 2013. You can bet that Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan and Tony Romo are all aware of this.

Denver Broncos

Emmanuel Sanders – 33, 4
Demaryius Thomas – 31, 7
Julius Thomas – 17, 6
Montee Ball – 8, 2
Wes Welker – 8, 0
Andre Caldwell – 6, 1
Jacob Tamme – 4, 1 

Demaryius Thomas has a catch rate of just 45.2 percent this year. Last year, it was 64.8 percent, and in 2012 it was 66.7 percent. He’s still getting plenty of targets, and Peyton Manning hasn’t thrown the ball to anyone more than him inside the 20-yard-line. This week will be your last opportunity to get him at any sort of a discount.

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Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson – 36, 5
Golden Tate – 33, 2
Reggie Bush – 23, 4
Joique Bell – 16, 1
Eric Ebron – 13, 3
Jeremy Ross – 8, 0
Joseph Fauria – 6, 2 

Fauria is dealing with an ankle injury, and Brandon Pettigrew is clearly third on the depth chart. Meanwhile, Ebron played was on the field for a career high in snaps, both in absolute and percentage terms. The Lions used the 10th pick on him for a reason. If any one tight end emerges in Detroit, it will be the rookie. The reason why I continue to support Bush over Bell is because of the former’s involvement in the passing game when the Lions get into scoring range.

Green Bay Packers

Jordy Nelson – 50, 11
Randall Cobb – 31, 8
Davante Adams – 14, 3
Andrew Quarless – 13, 3
Eddie Lacy – 10, 3
Jarrett Boykin – 7, 2 

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Everyone is waiting for a third receiver to step up alongside Nelson and Cobb, but that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Nelson leads the league in both targets and red-zone targets this year, and there’s no reason to expect that to change. He’s getting nearly 36.8 percent of the targets, and has caught two-thirds of the balls thrown his way. At the same time, Cobb leads the team with five touchdowns. Both are rock-solid WR1s.

Houston Texans

Andre Johnson – 38, 7
DeAndre Hopkins – 27, 3
Arian Foster – 14, 1
Garrett Graham – 13, 1
Damaris Johnson – 8, 0
Alfred Blue – 4, 0 

If media tropes are your thing, the above numbers for Johnson and Hopkins probably surprise you. While Hopkins has been more productive and is being touted as the No. 1 receiver in Houston, Johnson is blowing him away in overall and red-zone targets. So long as Ryan Fitzpatrick keeps throwing the ball in Johnson’s direction this frequently, the touchdowns are going to come. He’s a nice buy-low candidate right now.

Indianapolis Colts

T.Y. Hilton – 38, 3
Reggie Wayne – 34, 3
Hakeem Nicks – 19, 5
Coby Fleener – 18, 4
Ahmad Bradshaw – 16, 7
Dwayne Allen – 15, 4
Trent Richardson – 15, 1 

Either one of Fleener or Allen could probably be a top-five tight end if the other one just disappeared. With both healthy, however, they look like a very poor man’s Rob Gronkowski-Aaron Hernandez duo from the days of yore. Both guys are capable of being fantasy starters. The Colts are the only team in the league with seven players with at least 15 targets. Andrew Luck is spreading the love this year.

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Jacksonville Jaguars

Allen Robinson – 24, 2
Allen Hurns – 24, 0
Marqise Lee – 15, 1
Mike Brown – 14, 0
Cecil Shorts – 13, 1
Clay Harbor – 8, 0
Toby Gerhart – 7, 1
Denard Robinson – 7, 0 

While there is some value in Robinson, Hurns and Lee, the fact that they Jaguars get so few scoring opportunities keeps their ceilings limited. Two players on the Bears, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett, have more red-zone targets individually than all the Jaguars combined. Lee has missed the last two games, and yet he’s still third on the team in targets. He’s the No. 1 guy when he comes back, especially with Shorts back on the shelf.

Kansas City Chiefs

Travis Kelce – 24, 5
Donnie Avery – 22, 4
Dwayne Bowe – 19, 2
Anthony Fasano – 14, 2
Knile Davis – 13, 3
Jamaal Charles – 8, 3 

Kelce’s 2014 coming-out party may have been last Monday night when he racked up 93 yards on eight receptions and nine targets. It’s clear that he’s the team’s greatest threat in the passing game not named Charles. Speaking of the running back, he has turned all three of his red-zone targets into scores. As long as his ankle holds up, he looks like a touchdown machine again this season.

Miami Dolphins

Mike Wallace – 36, 6
Brian Hartline – 28, 6
Charles Clay – 23, 4
Lamar Miller – 17, 4
Knowshon Moreno – 0, 0 

No one has ever won a fantasy league on Hartline’s back, but he can be a useful receiver when Miami returns from its Week 5 bye. Ryan Tannehill clearly trusts him in the red zone, and 24 teams still have their byes from Week 6 through Week 12. You likely won’t ever start Hartline when you have your full complement of receivers, but you might be happy to plug him in when you’re down a player or two.

Minnesota Vikings

Greg Jennings – 22, 3
Cordarrelle Patterson – 21, 1
Matt Asiata – 18, 4
Jarius Wright – 16, 2
Jerick McKinnon – 11, 0
Rhett Ellison – 5, 0 

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As one of Asiata’s greatest detractors, I can admit to being surprised by the fact that he leads the Vikings in red-zone targets. Of course, he hasn’t turned any of the four targets into touchdowns, so it’s not like he’s adding a ton of value through the air. Neither is Patterson, who has a disappointing 21 targets in four games. One of the knocks on him heading into the season was his poor route-running, and that’s likely responsible for him getting barely more than five targets per game. He’s not going to post the WR2 value so many expected of him with that workload. Wright is absolutely worth grabbing off waiver wires after he caught eight of 10 targets for 135 yards in Teddy Bridgewater’s first start. There could definitely be a special connection here.

New England Patriots

Julian Edelman – 40, 6
Rob Gronkowski – 27, 6
Shane Vereen – 22, 1
Brandon LaFell – 22, 1
Kenbrell Thompkins – 12, 1
Danny Amendola – 11, 1
Stevan Ridley – 4, 0
Aaron Dobson – 3, 0 

This passing game is in complete shambles, and it’s thanks to two factors. First, the line can’t block anyone, ranking dead last in pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus. Second, there isn’t a downfield threat on this team, and opposing defenses know it. They’re putting pressure on Brady and playing tight press coverage to take away anything short. There’s nothing the Patriots can do to beat it at the moment. I’d try to sell Edelman while he still has decent value.

New Orleans Saints

Jimmy Graham – 44, 6
Brandin Cooks – 30, 3
Marques Colston – 25, 3
Pierre Thomas – 15, 2
Kenny Stills – 12, 1
Robert Meachem – 8, 2
Mark Ingram – 5, 0
Khiry Robinson – 4, 0 

Thomas’ usage in the passing game this year has been bizarre. After leading all running backs with 77 receptions last year, he has just 15 targets in four games. Given that the Saints offense hasn’t been the usual juggernaut we expect to see during the Drew Brees Era, it’s even more surprising that they’ve gone so far way from something that worked well last year. Expect Thomas’ involvement in the passing game to pick up.

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New York Giants

Victor Cruz – 32, 2
Larry Donnell – 31, 10
Rueben Randle – 30, 7
Rashad Jennings – 12, 2
Andre Williams – 6, 0 

Donnell’s emergence is going to do wonders for the Giants in the red zone. They’ve looked much better in the last two weeks nailing down offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s system, and it all starts with Eli Manning being efficient and accurate. With Donnell occupying the middle, expect Cruz’ and Randle’s production to step up on the outside. This could be turning into a very lucrative fantasy offense.

New York Jets

Jeremy Kerley – 27, 4
Eric Decker – 25, 3
Jace Amaro – 14, 0
Jeff Cumberland – 14, 3
Chris Johnson – 11, 1
Chris Ivory – 11, 1
Greg Salas – 11, 1
David Nelson – 9, 1 

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Last week was all about the awakening of Amaro, who caught all five of his targets for 58 yards. He’s clearly the best tight end on the Jets’ roster, and gives Geno Smith another capable pass catcher, something the struggling quarterback desperately needs. Those of you in deep leagues or dealing with tight end woes should keep an eye on how Amaro’s role in the offense changes as the season progresses. He may be worth grabbing soon, and you can make a profit by being a week early on guys while they’re still relatively unknown. 

Oakland Raiders

James Jones – 30, 4
Andre Holmes – 22, 1
Denarius Moore – 20, 1
Mychal Rivera – 19, 0
Darren McFadden – 13, 0
Rod Streater – 13, 1
Marcel Reece – 13, 0
Maruice Jones-Drew – 0, 0 

This is like Jacksonville-lite, which is just as disgusting as it sounds. At least Jacksonville has a few appealing weapons. The only guys even somewhat relevant here are Jones and Holmes, and you need to be in a deep league to consider starting them, even during heavy bye weeks. And no, Matt McGloin will not solve the problem.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jeremy Maclin – 47, 6
Riley Cooper – 29, 4
Jordan Matthews – 26, 5
Darren Sproles – 22, 2
Zach Ertz – 21, 1
LeSean McCoy – 15, 1 

The Philadelphia passing game is Maclin’s show. There’s no way for him to fall from WR1 status if he’s getting 12 targets per game. While the Eagles will almost certainly get McCoy more involved in the passing game going forward, don’t expect a Charles-like workload in the red zone. McCoy only had four red-zone targets last year. Charles had 18.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Antonio Brown – 41, 6
Heath Miller – 29, 6
Markus Wheaton – 28, 2
Le’Veon Bell – 22, 2
Justin Brown – 15, 5
LeGarrette Blount – 2, 1 

Deep leaguers should keep an eye on Brown. The Pittsburgh offense has proven itself as one of the more explosive for fantasy purposes, and Brown already has five red-zone targets this year. With 24 more byes coming in Week 6 through Week 12, Brown can be a spot-start guy a couple times over the next few months. Miller’s target numbers look impressive, but remember that he got 11 of those last week. That’s not to say he isn’t a useful fantasy tight end, but the consistency has been lacking this year.

San Diego Chargers

Keenan Allen – 29, 3
Eddie Royal – 28, 3
Antonio Gates – 23, 3
Malcom Floyd – 18, 3
Donald Brown – 16, 4
Ladarius Green – 9, 3 

It might be time to start believing in Royal. He has just one fewer target than Allen, and has already managed to find the end zone four times. After scoring eight touchdowns last year, it could be time to give in and admit that Royal has some juice as a WR3. I still wouldn’t ever trust him as the third receiver on my fantasy depth chart. Floyd has seven targets of at least 20 yards in the air, the 13th-highest total in the league. He has caught four of those for 154 yards and a touchdown.

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San Francisco 49ers

Michael Crabtree – 33, 5
Anquan Boldin – 27, 3
Steve Johnson – 18, 3
Vernon Davis – 14, 1
Brondon Lloyd – 10, 1
Frank Gore – 5, 0
Carlos Hyde – 5, 2 

After getting just two targets Week 1, Crabtree has at least eight targets in each of San Francisco’s last three games. He has an 80 percent catch rate on the year, which will ultimately have to come down. However, he’s also the only person in this passing attack, Colin Kaepernick included, that fantasy owners should trust as a starter every week. He gets the attention, across the field and in the red zone, necessary to be a WR2.

Seattle Seahawks

Percy Harvin – 18, 2
Doug Baldwin – 17, 2
Marshawn Lynch – 10, 2
Jermaine Kearse – 10, 1
Zach Miller – 7, 0
Ricardo Lockette – 6, 0 

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St. Louis Rams

Jared Cook – 22, 2
Brian Quick – 22, 1
Lance Kendricks – 15, 2
Kenny Britt – 11, 1
Chris Givens – 9, 0
Austin Pettis – 8, 3
Benny Cunningham – 8, 1
Zac Stacy – 7, 0
Tavon Austin – 4, 0 

The Rams were on bye last week, so nothing has really changed since Week 3. The really interesting player here is Quick. At 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, he can be a red-zone monster for Austin Davis. Expect them to get him more looks near the goal line in the future. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Vincent Jackson – 34, 6
Mike Evans – 28, 3
Brandon Myers – 16, 1
Bobby Rainey – 15, 1
Louis Murphy – 11, 3
Doug Martin – 4, 0
Austin Seferian-Jenkins – 7, 0 

Jackson has salvaged each of the last two games with red-zone touchdowns late in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, he has been one of the least productive projected WR2s this year. Evans was starting to break out last week, but will now be out 2-to-4 weeks with a groin injury. This could open the door for Seferian-Jenkins, who showed a lot of promise in his first significant game action last week. Keep an eye on what he does on Sunday.

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Tennessee Titans

Delanie Walker – 29, 6
Kendall Wright – 29, 2
Justin Hunter – 25, 3
Nate Washington – 19, 2
Dexter McCluster – 7, 1
Bishop Sankey – 3, 0
Shonn Greene – 0, 0 

Hunter has been his own worst enemy this year. He’s had plenty of opportunities to make plays, getting nine deep targets and three-red zone targets. Unfortunately for him, the Titans, and his fantasy owners, he’s tied for third in the league with four drops. Two of those have been on target of 20 yards or more. Drops have always been a problem for him, and they’re largely responsible for his disappointing performance through one-quarter of the season.

Washington Redskins

Pierre Garcon – 39, 1
Niles Paul – 27, 3
DeSean Jackson – 27, 3
Andre Roberts – 20, 4
Roy Helu – 12, 0
Logan Paulsen – 8, 0
Alfred Morris – 3, 0

Garcon has always been a big-play threat, but it’s criminal that he only has one red-zone target in four games. Washington has to get him more involved when they get inside the 20. If the fantasy community knows it, we can hope that Jay Gruden knows it, as well. If both Paul and Jordan Reed are forced to miss time, expect Garcon and Jackson to get even more attention in the passing game.

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