Target report: Mike Evans firmly in WR1 position after matchup with Cardinals
- A look at the target and snap numbers from Week 2 reveals why owners should feel confident in Mike Evans and Jeremy Maclin but nervous about Mark Ingram and the Atlanta running backs.
Week 1 no longer represents 100% of the data we have at our hands this season. That’s going to make the Week 2 edition of the Target and Snap Report that much more interesting. Even with just two weeks in the books, we’re starting to get a real feel for who all 32 teams are, and what roles all of their players inhabit. Time to start digging into the weeds.
In case there was any doubt, Mike Evans cements his WR1 status
Different factors go into making a WR1, but the two most important are consistency and ceiling. The best receivers rarely—if ever—put up a dud, and are going to win their owners’ weeks for them a handful of times per season. Evans showed why he belongs in that class last week.
Evans spent about half his time matched up with Patrick Peterson or Tyrann Mathieu, and the other half going against another of Arizona’s defensive backs. Peterson might get a little more credit than he deserves as an elite corner, while Mathieu is one of the best all-around defensive backs in the league. This was a tough matchup for Evans, and an even tougher one for Jameis Winston, who really struggled after lighting up the Falcons in Week 1. That, however, did not trickle down to his top receiver.
In what will likely be one of his toughest matchups of the season, Evans caught six passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Just as importantly, he got 17 targets, tops among all pass-catchers in Week 2. Evans average depth of target for the week was 21.4 yards, bringing his season average up to 20.4 yards. Among the 29 receivers with at least 15 targets, only Will Fuller’s 23.5-yard aDOT is higher (and we’ll have more on him shortly). Evans now leads the league with 24 targets this season.
Consistency and ceiling are key. Evans has both. Never doubt his WR1 status.
Don’t get too comfortable, Devonta Freeman owners
Freeman owners might get a comforting feeling just by looking at Atlanta’s box score from Week 2. Sure, Freeman didn’t score, but he racked up 93 yards on 17 carries. He had five more totes than Tevin Coleman and was clearly the more effective runner, gaining nearly two more yards per carry. It was Coleman, however, who had the team’s lone rushing touchdown, scoring from 13 yards out. That wasn’t the only bit of bad news for Freeman owners willing to dig a little deeper.
Once again, Freeman and Coleman split snaps nearly down the middle. The former was on the field for 34 of 64 plays, while the latter as out there for the remaining 30. After sharing the field for a few snaps in Week 1, just one was on the field for all 64 of Atlanta’s plays in Week 2. What’s more, Coleman had two targets while Freeman had zero. That makes two straight games in which Coleman was the better receiver.
Now, no matter how involved Coleman is in the offense, it’s going to be the exception, not the rule, for Freeman to have zero targets. Still, this is the luxury Atlanta has in rostering two athletic, explosive backs that both fit its offense. It doesn’t need to lean too heavily on either one, and Freeman became a fantasy star precisely because he shouldered the entire load last season.
Freeman isn’t going to fall out of the RB2 class. He’s too good, and the Atlanta offense is too fertile a ground for fantasy scoring, for that to happen. With Coleman in tow, however, he’s just not going to be an RB1, or even a high-end RB2. With his strong performance fresh in everyone’s minds, now is the perfect time to try to move Freeman.
No worries for Jeremy Maclin
The Texans defense did an excellent job on the Chiefs in Week 2, holding them to four field goals while stymieing Alex Smith through the air and Spencer Ware on the ground. Maclin felt the effects of that, catching six passes for 68 yards, with his longest catch going for just 17 yards. His owners should not be discouraged.
Maclin had 15 targets against the Texans last week, bringing his season total to 22. Unlike Evans, Maclin is not a WR1. He’s not going to will his way to a strong performance every week, even if the volume is there. That volume, however, cannot be ignored. The Chiefs have one of the narrowest usage trees in the league, with Maclin, Travis Kelce and whoever is starting at running back gobbling up nearly all the production. On top of that, it’s clear that Kelce is third in the pecking order, trailing Maclin and Ware or Jamaal Charles. Maclin is going to be right around 10 targets per game this season, and that’s going to help make him a surefire WR2. Now wouldn’t be a bad time to check in with his owner to gauge his trade value.
Is it time to worry about Mark Ingram?
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of running backs who have more carries than Ingram through two weeks: Justin Forsett, Terrance West, Christine Michael, Frank Gore, Doug Martin (despite missing three full quarters in Week 2), T.J. Yeldon, Isaiah Crowell and Rashad Jennings. LeGarrette Blount had eight more carries last week than Ingram does all year. Ingram’s owners certainly expected him to have more than 21 totes in the first two games of the season.
Ingram caught 50 passes on 60 targets in just 12 games last season, making himself a true dual threat for the Saints. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of backs who have more targets than him through two weeks: Darren Sproles, Josh Ferguson, Charcandrick West, Forsett again, Michael again, Shane Vereen and, most notably, teammate Travaris Cadet.
Ingram has played just half of the Saints snaps this season. That’s a slimmer snap share than Jay Ajayi in Miami or Chris Thompson in Washington. Saints backs have combined for 52 carries and targets this year. Ingram has just 27 of them. No one is threatening him for primacy in the backfield, but if he continues to barely earn a majority of the opportunities for Saints runners this year, he’s going to end up a real disappointment to his owners.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Ingram will be fine and this is just a blip on the radar, but the Saints do seem committed to Cadet as the primary pass-catching back. Meanwhile, Tim Hightower has earned exactly one-third of Ingram’s carries in both of the Saints games this year. If those trends continue, Ingram’s volume won’t be anywhere near what it was a season ago.
Jordan Howard gets his chance
Jeremy Langford hogged all the work out of the Chicago backfield in Week 1, earning 17 of the 18 carries and all four of the targets. That changed in Week 2, and while Langford was still clearly the leader of the backfield, he could continue ceding work to his primary backup.
Ka’Deem Carey began the game in that role, but he left with a hamstring injury. That opened the door for Howard, the fifth-round rookie out of Indiana. Howard played 11 snaps, picking up 22 yards on three carries and catching both of his targets for nine yards. Given that Langford ran for just 28 yards on 11 carries and also lost a fumble, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Howard earn a larger share of the touches against the Cowboys in Week 3.
Howard opened the summer as an interesting deep sleeper, but his star began to fade as it became clear Langford would open the season with a stranglehold on the Chicago backfield. Langford has scored in both of the Bears games this year, but has rushed for a paltry 85 yards on 28 carries, and now has 622 yards on 176 carries in his career. That translates to 3.53 yards per carry. Howard’s opportunity has arrived.
Will Fuller does it again
Fuller shined for the second straight week, catching four passes for 104 yards, making him the second receiver in NFL history to start his career with consecutive 100-yard games, joining DeSean Jackson in the exclusive club. Fuller got seven targets last week, giving him 18 on the season—tied with teammate DeAndre Hopkins.
In two short weeks, Fuller has turned into, at worst, a WR3 and regular flex option, as well as one of the most frequently seen receivers in the league. Fuller played 90% of Houston’s snaps last week, and is up to an 81% snap share on the season. As stated above, he leads the NFL in aDOT among receivers with at least 15 targets at 23.5 yards. Most important of all, he can do things like this.
Fuller is proving himself a significant deep threat, twice burning the Kansas City secondary. Had Brock Osweiler thrown the second one to the middle of the field, Fuller’s 4-104-0 day would have been 5-136-1, and he’d be second in fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues among receivers, trailing only Kelvin Benjamin. Not only is he legit, his emergence could put a slight damper on Hopkins’s ceiling. Hopkins’s owners, however, won’t mind that too much.
A developing headache in Philadelphia
I’m going to let the numbers do the talking to kick off this one.
Ryan Mathews: 37 snaps, 22 carries, zero targets
Darren Sproles: 38 snaps, five carries, five targets
Kenjon Barner: six snaps, six carries, zero targets
Mathews: 21 snaps, nine carries, one target
Sproles: 41 snaps, 12 carries, two targets
Barner: eight snaps, two carries, zero targets
What’s going on with the Eagles backfield? Forget about Monday night’s snap count for a second. Sproles simply looked like the team’s best back. He ran for 40 yards on his 12 carries, while Mathews picked up 32 on his nine. Neither was exactly efficient, but Sproles seemed to be the favored option in most parts of the field. Mathews scored two short-yardage touchdowns but did little else, getting stuffed repeatedly by a Bears defense that came in short-handed and then watched five players go down with injuries.
For our purposes, this has a lot more to do with Mathews. He has 109 yards and three touchdowns, and the Eagles are one of the surprise stories of the season’s first two weeks. In other words, there will never be a better time to sell him. He has needed 31 carries to get his 109 yards against a pair of teams in Cleveland and Chicago that appear ticketed for the top of the draft. Sproles’s role in the offense only makes matters worse. Divest yourself of Mathews while you still can.
Changing of the guard in the Giants backfield?
All summer Ben McAdoo insisted that the Giants wouldn’t toy around with some ridiculous four-back rotation, and instead would feature Rashad Jennings. Of course, that was entirely dependent on Jennings living up to his end of the bargain, proving himself worthy of being the lead back. It’s safe to say he has fallen short.
Jennings got 18 carries against the Cowboys in Week 1, running for a modest 75 yards. Shane Vereen, meanwhile, picked up 38 yards on six carries, good for nearly seven yards on an average tote. With Jennings plodding his way to 27 yards on 13 carries against the Saints, apparently McAdoo had seen enough. Vereen played six more snaps and got one more carry than Jennings, running for 42 yards on his 14 chances. He also caught all three of his targets for 24 yards.
Vereen was always going to be the primary pass-catching back for the Giants, and he has served capably in that role. Add in his Week 1 numbers, and he’s up to eight receptions, 10 targets and 71 yards on the season. Vereen has never been a leading runner on his team in his career, and whether or not this was just a one-week anomaly remains to be seen. If Vereen is able to log eight or nine carries to game, to go with what should be a meaty receiving role, he’ll be part of the flex discussion, especially with bye weeks looming in Week 4.
Shed a tear for Demaryius Thomas
The box score last week was certainly far kinder to Thomas, one-time hero in the fantasy community, than it was in Week 1. The ridiculously talented 28-year-old receiver, still right in the middle of his physical prime, caught five passes for 90 yards in Denver’s 34-20 win over Indianapolis. In the Broncos opening night win over the Panthers, he had four catches for 48 yards. So, yes, in a way, there was some progress.
If you watched the game, however, you saw a receiver having to work painfully hard for his 90 yards. Thomas’s aDOT was 9.8 yards against the Colts. His long catch of 44 yards was a screen that he broke, nearly getting into the end zone. Thomas also got just seven targets in the game, and has 13 on the season. His Week 2 was made all the more painful by the fact that the Colts secondary is subpar and banged up. Two years ago, Thomas would have hung something like a 12-180-2 day on this sort of secondary. Last Sunday, it was all he could do to muster 90 yards, a yeoman’s effort with Trevor Siemian under center.
Thomas’s aDOT for the season now sits at 8.3 yards, which ranks 82nd in the league and has him behind the likes of Pierre Garcon, Eli Rogers, Jermaine Kearse and Chris Conley. Even last year with the knock-off version Peyton Manning, Thomas’s aDOT was 10.8 yards. Siemian isn’t built to attack deep down the field with regularity. What’s worse for Thomas owners, the Broncos don’t need that to win games. They’ve proven they can do so with their defense, a heavy dose of C.J. Anderson, and just enough plays from the passing game. If Thomas could trade spots with Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, he, too, would be a top-three receiver. Instead, he looks more like an elite WR1 trapped in a WR3 situation.
Duke Johnson could be in trouble, but it’s not because of Isaiah Crowell
Crowell isn’t for real. I promise you he isn’t. In Week 1, 40 of his 62 yards came on the final three plays of the game with the Eagles up by 19 points and playing a “let’s-make-sure-no-one-gets-hurt” defense. He broke an 85-yard touchdown last week, and while no one can take that away from him, Crowell isn’t the kind of guy you want to count on busting big plays on a regular basis.
Still, Johnson has a real problem. He has six carries in Cleveland’s two games, running three times both weeks. Johnson had three or fewer carries in a game twice all of last year, and averaged 6.5 rushes per game. He has been active as a receiver, securing seven of his 10 targets for 72 yards, but he can’t live solely as a receiver. Johnson got 41.5% of his yards from scrimmage as a runner last season, and there isn’t much more room for him to grow his role as a receiver, especially with Josh Gordon on his way back. If Johnson gets just the token carry here and there, giving way completely to Crowell in the run game, he’s going to struggle to be a worthy flex play.
Oakland’s backfield is a mess, and yet Latavius Murray is producing
Murray played just 45 of Oakland’s 73 snaps in Week 1, with four other backs—DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Jamize Olawale and Taiwan Jones—all working into the mix. Last week, Murray was on the field even less frequently, playing 36 of 75 snaps, or just less than 50%. Washington logged 15 and Richard picked up 16, with the two primary backups combining for 13 carries.
Usually, that would be a major problem for the starter. It still could develop into one for Murray. Thus far, however, it hasn’t slowed him down much. Murray ran for 59 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, and one pass for 13 yards in Week 1. He got just eight carries against the Falcons in Week 2, but rushed for 57 yards and a score, while also catching six passes for 44 yards. Murray has averaged just more than one fantasy point per touch in standard-scoring leagues this season. To give you an idea of how efficient that is, during Devonta Freeman’s overall RB1 2015 campaign, he averaged 0.72 points per touch.
Murray’s efficiency can’t help but decrease as his sample size increases, but it’s crucial that he has played so well despite a limited workload, at least for a starter. He lived on volume last year, and it appears he won’t enjoy that same opportunity this season. That could help make him a sell-high candidate this week.
Emptying the notebook
Let’s wrap it up with a few quick-hitting facts that don’t need their own section, but are worth keeping in mind.
• Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker both got 13 targets against the Patriots last week, with Ryan Tannehill throwing for 389 yards and two touchdowns. If Parker is the No. 1 receiver the Dolphins drafted him to be, this can be a dangerous passing game.
• One week after Dez Bryant got just five targets, and days after Dak Prescott insisted he wasn’t going to force the ball in to any one receiver, Bryant had 12 passes thrown in his direction. He caught seven of them for 102 yards. Prescott seems to understand where his bread is buttered.
• Also in the 12-target club last week was Dennis Pitta. He hauled in nine of them for 102 yards of his own, notching his first 100-yard game since December 16, 2012. Injuries have limited Pitta to nine games since the end of that season, including two this year, but if he stays healthy he’s in line to be a significant part of the Baltimore offense.
• Josh Doctson saw a bit more of the field in Week 2, stepping up his snap rate to 28% from 21%, and getting five targets compared with one in his NFL debut. He caught one pass for 57 yards, but that would have gone for a long touchdown had Kirk Cousins not underthrown him. Additionally, three of Doctson’s four other targets were in the end zone. At 6’2” and 206 pounds, he gives Cousins size outside that neither DeSean Jackson nor Pierre Garcon can match. That could help him develop into a red-zone and jump-ball weapon.
• Jimmy Graham played one-fifth of Seattle’s snaps in Week 1. He played four-fifths of them in Week 2. Graham had just four targets, catching three of them for 42 yards, but the significant uptick in snap rate is a great sign.
• Jordan Matthews leads the NFL with three targets inside the 5-yard line. Tied for second place behind him with two are Odell Beckham, Eric Decker, Larry Fitzgerald and Mohamed Sanu. OBJ is about to explode.