Fantasy football target analysis: Amendola, Jones poised for success
Brandon Marshall posted a career year in 2012, putting up monster numbers across the board. He caught 118 passes and racked up 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns, setting new personal bests in all three categories. While none of those totals led the league, Marshall did top the leaderboard in one stat, which undoubtedly helped him reach those new heights last season: He was targeted on 38.4 percent of the Bears' passes. Andre Johnson was second at 36.6 percent; no one else in the league received more than one-third of his team's targets.
Yards, touchdowns and, in some leagues, receptions, may put points on the fantasy scoreboard, but targets are the lifeblood for any receiver. Receiving touchdowns are volatile, making them basically impossible to predict from year to year. Recall that Calvin Johnson had just five scores last season. Yards and receptions are pretty reliable, and they have a strong positive correlation with targets. While we can learn a lot from studying a player's reception and yardage totals, target percentage will provide a better handle on just how involved a player is in the offense.
Of course, prior results are not a guarantee of what will happen in the future. Teams add and subtract players, change schemes, hire new coordinators and go through a host of other changes that could affect how many times a receiver, tight end or running back is targeted. With that in mind, let's take a look at a few of the more interesting target situations for 2013.
• Colts' Reggie Wayne: 195 targets, 32.8 percent -- With a competent quarterback again under center, Wayne bounced back last season, catching 106 balls for 1,355 yards and five scores. He was third in the league with a 32.8-target percentage, and his 195 targets were second most behind Calvin Johnson's 204. Don't expect him to match that this season. First of all, Andrew Luck threw 627 passes last year, which ranked fifth and had him slinging the ball more often than Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. The Colts legitimized their run game during the offseason, adding Ahmad Bradshaw to go with Vick Ballard. They'll likely run more often. Secondly, T.Y. Hilton will likely take a larger bite out of Wayne's targets this season. He's the Colts' best option for stretching the field, though he has been working on more intermediate routes during training camp. Involving Hilton more heavily will fit the offense's natural progression. Finally, the team signed Darrius Heyward-Bey, giving Luck another big, fast target. It may make the passing attack more potent as a whole, but it'll cut into Wayne's stats a bit.
• Patriots' Danny Amendola: 101 targets, 29.6 percent -- Amendola was able to turn those 101 targets from Sam Bradford into 63 receptions, 666 yards and three touchdowns. This year, he upgrades to Tom Brady and an offense perfectly suited to his skills. When considering Amendola, it's instructive to take a look at Wes Welker's 2012 stats. Brady threw to Welker 27 percent of the time, good for 175 targets. Amendola will play the Welker role in the offense, but he can take the top off a defense more effectively than Welker. With Aaron Hernandez gone and Rob Gronkowski a question mark, the Patriots may lean on Amendola more than they ever did on Welker. Part of that Welker role includes being one of Brady's favorite weapons in the red zone. Welker had 18 targets in the red zone, 10 of which were inside the 10-yard-line. It's a safe bet that Amendola matches the 175 targets Welker got last year, and he could easily push past that number, too. If he stays healthy, Amendola will have a big year.
• Packers' James Jones: 98 targets, 21.6 percent -- With Greg Jennings injured and ineffective most of last season, Jones took advantage. He hit paydirt 14 times while hauling in 64 receptions for 784 yards. Jordy Nelson had to undergo surprise knee surgery last week, and will miss all of training camp. Week 1 is in doubt, as well. That means Jones will start alongside Randall Cobb, and will be in for a huge increase in targets this season. You can't really bet on him scoring 14 touchdowns again, but he absolutely will catch more passes for more yards. Randall Cobb remains a huge part of the passing game, and Nelson will be back, but this offense can support three fantasy-worthy receivers without a problem. Jones should get north of 1,000 yards this year thanks to the jump in targets.
• Steelers' Antonio Brown: 106 targets, 23.4 percent -- Brown was the targeted receiver on nearly one-quarter of Pittsburgh's pass attempts last season. That's nothing to sneeze at; he ranked 23rd in the league in target percentage. Former teammate Mike Wallace, however, was targeted 25.1 percent of the time. With Wallace now in Miami, Brown ascends to the top of the depth chart in the Steel City. Given that he won't have to deal with a second receiver as talented as he was, there's a strong chance he'll see even more than the 25.1 percent of targets Wallace got last season. In addition to that, nearly 30 percent of the Steelers' pass attempts in the red zone were thrown in Wallace's direction. Those will have to go elsewhere this season. With just 106 targets, Brown had 66 catches for 787 yards and five scores last year. Brown is one of my favorite breakout candidates this season, and I'm betting he'll rank among the league leaders in targets.
• Broncos' Eric Decker: 123 targets, 19 percent -- A rising tide lifts all ships, and the wave that Peyton Manning brought into Denver last season certainly did that for everyone on the offense. Decker caught 85 passes for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns. Of course, he had to compete for looks with Demaryius Thomas, whom Manning targeted 141 times. If that weren't enough, the Broncos went out and signed Wes Welker, giving Manning another weapon and Decker another competitor for his quarterback's affection. Decker did lead the league with 25 targets in the red zone last year, 11 of which were inside the 10. You'll remember from the section on Amendola that Welker was also high on that list, and has always done damage in the red zone. With all these mouths to feed, it's hard to imagine Decker getting 19 percent of the targets again this season. He remains a great option in fantasy leagues, but it's hard for me to imagine him measuring up to the numbers he posted last season.