Wide receivers are always inconsistent so learning how teams use their primary receiver can help make important decisions on valuing players. A primary receiver gets the most amount of pass targets thrown to him in a game. So in a similar vein to the running backs, I did some crunching to see which players were the primary receiver (wide receiver or tight end) in each of their games. With some teams it was a constantly changing job. For others, it mostly the same. Overall, there is more spreading the ball around than you might think since no wideout was the team primary receiver for more than 14 games and most were far below that number.
For the 16 game season of 2011, here are which receivers were thrown the most passes in a game for their team.
|Arizona Cardinals||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
No doubt that Larry Fitzgerald remains the primary wide receiver in Arizona with nearly the same results as 2010. But this year it could actually rise for him since these last two seasons lacked any credible #2 receiver to worry the defenses. That should change at least eventually with the addition of Michael Floyd with their 1.13 pick in the draft. As he improves it will actually help Fitzgerald though at some point he'll start to cut into his stats. Back when Anquan Boldin was with the Cards, he and Fitzgerald had nearly a split of games as the primary receiver. Then again, back then those two dominated the receiving stats as no other player really mattered in the passing scheme.
|Atlanta Falcons||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The addition of Julio Jones last year actually helped White who ticked up to 12 games as the primary instead of 11 like in 2010. But in 2009 he garnered 15 games before Tony Gonzalez showed up. This team is passing more and that "raises all boats" even if White has to share the ball. He has been a primary wideout since becoming the starter there and averages almost seven catches in those games. No changes this year other than possibly even more passing with an aging rushing game to rely on.
|Baltimore Ravens||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This was roughly the same breakdown as 2010 only Torrey Smith took over for Derrick Mason. Boldin will remain the possession receiver and therefore get the most receptions but Smith is a definite up and comer and will cut into Mason's action. Overall - the team is below average in passing anyway.
|Buffalo Bills||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Steve Johnson fell back a bit last year in all categories as the Bills just did not pass as well as they did in 2010. The success of the rushing game is somewhat culprit but that doesn't really explain why Johnson was unable to remain the primary target as much and why five other receivers took turn getting the most passes in a game. Almost none of them scored or had much notable yardage anyway.
|Carolina Panthers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This may be a small surprise and is indicative of how good Cam Newton really was. Steve Smith had all the stats but Newton did spread the ball around more than you might think and none of them had more than 37% of the targets in their game as the primary. They also capped out around five catches in a game though. This is good news for Newton but not as great for the wide outs. It was not a simple case of just targeting Steve Smith.
|Chicago Bears||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This is a mess and it was no better the year before. Mike Martz really flopped in Chicago and was sent packing but this team has never been much about passing and has tough conditions with weather as well. Bringing in Mike Tice to run the offense and adding Brandon Marshall should help focus the passing. You can be sure Marshall will be the primary in every game plan but who the #2 is will be a guess.
|Cincinnati Bengals||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Andy Dalton preferred A.J. Green - understandably - and that was forced a bit more when Jordan Shipley was out. Since both the quarterback and receiver were rookies, it is a safe assumption that they will only forge greater chemistry and Green will see an uptick in games as the primary. The Bengals did not add any new receivers other than the rookie Mohamed Sanu (3.20 pick) and lost Jerome SImpson. That means Green should easily be the primary here as long as he can consistently beat those tough AFC North defenses. At already at 85 yards per game as the primary, Green's upside is tremendous.
|Cleveland Browns||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Greg Little made as good of a splash as you could hope in Cleveland but quarterback woes made his rookie season a tougher gig than most. He's a safe assumption to remain the primary here in the new offense led by OC Brad Childress and he gets a hopeful upgrade in Brandon Weeden as quarterback but it's been a long time since any Brown's receivers have mattered - primary or not. Little should start to dominate the primary list more as long as Weeden can deliver.
|Dallas Cowboys||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
It has now been two full seasons passed since Miles Austin was the primary receiver and Jason Witten has the most games for the last two years. The Cowboys passing attack is generally above average if not one of the top unit and getting the primary receiver here - if there truly is one - can pay off nicely. Word is that Dez Bryant is supposed to emerge this year but the same was said for the last two seasons. In the games of last year, Austin was more productive than Bryant when the primary receiver in almost every category that counts.
|Denver Broncos||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Last year was no measuring stick with Brandon Lloyd sent packing and eventually Tim Tebow taking over despite paltry passing stats in most games. And yet it is all a significant issue this year with Peyton Manning showing up as he hopes to wind down his HOF career with a Mile High bang. There are only two options this year - Demaryius Thomas who is the highly drafted talent that never stays healthy or Eric Decker. They are the same size so no advantages there. Early word has Decker meshing better with Manning but that could change in training camp and Thomas was looking better at the end of last year. With Manning, even the #2 receiver should come to life though so who is the primary is of less worry.
|Detroit Lions||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Calvin Johnson went from only 7 games as the primary in 2010 to 11 last year thanks to Matthew Stafford hanging around all season. Brandon Pettigrew matched his stats from the previous season but Burleson was not needed as much. No question here - it is all Megatron when possible.
|Green Bay Packers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
What happened last year was Greg Jennings playing about the same as always but instead of spreading out the other half of games to James Jones or Donald Driver, it went to Jordy Nelson. Driver disappeared almost entirely and Jones made no progress. But Nelson showed up big especially in home games and had five games where he had the most targets and even ended with two touchdowns in each game. Elite quarterback in a pass heavy scheme means #1 and #2 become near equals eventually.
|Houston Texans||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Andre Johnson tumbled last year because of injury and that left Owen Daniels the preferred target. But in most years, Johnson is one of the most heavily used primary target and the Texans again have done nothing much to get a suitable #2 wideout aside from third round pick DeVier Posey. No problems here - Johnson rules when healthy.
|Indianapolis Colts||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Apparently the defense knows enough to load up against Reggie Wayne when Peyton Manning is not there and dare the Colts to find anyone else. That became Pierre Garcon in half the games but he's gone and a new offense is being ushered in for the rookie Andrew Luck. Wayne should remain the primary here but Luck brought his college buddy along in TE Coby Fleener. This is an entirely new team in scheme and many personnel and the primary will still likely be Wayne but no lock.
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This was a glorified mess in 2011 with the lowest passing stats in the entire NFL. The Jaguars drafted Justin Blackmon (1.05) and brought in Laurent Robinson so the primary receiver is probably going to be someone who was not on the team last year. Robinson seems more likely since the rookie has to learn the ropes but unless Blaine Gabbert improves significantly it is not going to matter that much.
|Kansas City Chiefs||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Think what you want but Dwayne Bowe has been one of the heaviest used primary targets for two seasons - both years saw him with 14 games as the primary target. Jonathon Baldwin enters his second season but he's no threat to take away Bowe's role, at least not this year. The coaching staff may be new but there's no chance that Bowe is not the primary receiver.
|Miami Dolphins||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This could be very hard to call and stands an excellent chance of being "so what" anyway. With Brandon Marshall gone and not replaced, either Davone Bess or Brian Hartline will take over as the primary. That's two sub-standard wideouts with one needing to emerge as a #1 (relative to the team only) while playing with the rookie Ryan Tannehill.
|Minnesota Vikings||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Percy Harvin has evolved into the primary wideout here and has marginal competition other than defenses that know who to cover first and foremost. Jerome Simpson joins the fold and could make some impact but Harvin remains the primary here. Of course this year with Christian Ponder the starter from week one so the stats for the primary may be less. But he looked decent in the half season of starts in 2011 so the impact to Harvin may not be bad.
|New England Patriots||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
These stats are not that different from past years but it is surprising to see Aaron Hernandez getting the most targets five times to only three for Rob Gronkowski. With prolific passing stats most every season, the primary receiver matters less here as shown by what Gronkowski produced. This does show that Hernandez is more involved than many might realize.
|New Orleans Saints||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Marques Colston show was shut down and the keys turned over to Jimmy Graham last year. Colston turned in 11 games as the primary in 2010 and no other receiver had more than one game as the lead receiver. But Drew Brees turned from being a master of spreading the wealth and instead relied on Graham and Colston far more than any other receiver. No reason to expect this to change and interesting how both Tom Brady and Drew Brees turned to their tight ends for historic returns last year.
|New York Giants||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The emergence of Victor Cruz last year means a split set of wide outs in terms of a primary receiver. Eli Manning is in top form now and the duo has allowed him to be highly productive without relying solely on one top receiver. This is another passing scheme that is productive enough for the #1 and #2 wideout that being the primary is less important.
|New York Jets||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Jets relied mostly on Dustin Keller last year despite having what was supposed to be a stacked set of receivers with Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason. Now that Burress and Mason are both gone, that doesn't necessarily mean that Holmes gets any uptick in use as the primary. Even when a player is the primary, he still rarely gets more than a third of the targets.
|Oakland Raiders||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Raiders left the tight-end heavy era when they lost primary receiver Zach Miller last year and with Carson Palmer at the lead take a more normal look. Darrius Heyward-Bey was much improved with a real quarterback it ends up and should become even more so for 2012. Denarius Moore offered a speedy complement and will be working on more than the fly pattern this year but Heyward-Bey should see a likely increase to his primary status again.
|Philadelphia Eagles||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Not much in the way of a primary receiver last year. Even in 2010 when Vick exploded, no receiver had more than 7 games as the primary (Jeremy Maclin). This represents the offense pretty well since it is a West Coast variant that spreads the ball around. Maclin was the closest to a primary that they had but the return of Brent Celek into the game plan has even affected Maclin.
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Surprised? Mike Wallace took the spotlight usually but Antonio Brown actually was the primary receiver in most games. The departure of Hines Ward should tighten this group up even more and Brown is in line to become a bigger factor yet if they will use him more near the goal line. Still, the bar is not that high to become the primary target in this offense since none had over 33%.
|San Diego Chargers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The departure of Vincent Jackson throws this offense into unknown territory. Robert Meachem was acquired and coaches contend that he will be the full package replacement for Jackson even though he's spent his career catching the occasional bomb from Drew Brees. Antonio Gates claims his foot is all healthy now and he could certainly take over the primary spot but there are more questions than answers on this team for 2012.
|Seattle Seahawks||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Not bad for an undrafted rookie though it may be as much about the dearth of talent for the Seahawks. Doug Baldwin was the primary receiver in most games though it was supposed to be Sidney Rice who missed half the season. Health willing, Rice should be the primary but he's proven to be nothing but an injury waiting to happen. A new quarterback in Matt Flynn will change things a bit but there's no one talented enough here to warrant constant targeting. Rice and Baldwin may see their numbers increase as the primary but it will be up to Flynn to see if they actually produce much more.
|San Francisco 49ers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||1||7.0||32%||38||23%||4.0||0.0|
Had Peyton Manning joined this team, it would be an interesting discussion. Problem for 2011 is that we still have Alex Smith as the starting quarterback and Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis has been joined by an apparently rejuvenated Randy Moss. That can only bring primary numbers down for a team that doesn't pass all that much or all that well anyway. It is the same offense but a shiny new target in Moss should only serve to bring the other's targets down.
|St. Louis Rams||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
While Brandon Lloyd was the primary receiver in most games, he only showed up in week seven so he was easily the primary in every game he played. And now he is gone. That leaves the door wide open for a new primary target for Sam Bradford. There are no real veterans in the receiving corps other than Danny Amendola returning from a dislocated elbow and a torn triceps. He could end up the primary in a Wes Welker sort of role but it could end up to be Brian Quick, the rookie second round pick by the Rams. Most likely it will eventually be Quick but Amendola could open the season as the primary if only because of his relationship with Bradford. A new offense brought in with Jeff Fisher and Brian Schottenheimer makes it even harder to call.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The addition of Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark could really shake this up. Kellen Winslow is gone and Williams was unimpressive last year. Josh Freeman was searching for targets last year and not finding many downfield or in the endzone. That should change this year with Jackson pairing up with Williams and Clark replacing Winslow in the new offense installed by Mike Sullivan previously QB coach of the NY Giants. That should bode better for Jackson than it does for Clark.
|Tennessee Titans||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Kenny Britt missed almost all of the 2011 season but even in 2010 he only was the lead receiver in five games as opposed to Nate Washington who had six that year. The new offense last year had to spread the ball around with Britt down and the result was predictable. It could be yet again a big mess to guess the primary receiver in any given game since Britt is slated to return, Williams and Washington are still there and the Titans added Kendall Wright with their first pick in the NFL draft. Hard to expect anyone to shine consistently in this offense.
|Washington Redskins||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Shanhans went to Washington and the results were that no real primary receivers were used from game to game. Pierre Garcon was added as if he is more than merely the product of playing with Peyton Manning and across from Reggie Wayne. Santana Moss is still hanging on but of this group Fred Davis is most likely to become more targeted. Adding in a rookie quarterback of Robert Griffin III means there will be more unknowns, but typically rookies like tight ends and Davis may be the best receiver the Skins have anyway.
As much as we think certain players are the primary receiver, none managed to go sixteen full games always getting the most amount of passing targets. It's also interesting to see the teams that only rely on two receivers compared to others that have multiple primary receivers seemingly with a new one each week. Below are the wideouts at the top of the categories who had at least four games as a primary receiver.
|In Games Where They Were the Primary Receiver...|
|Most Games||Most Targets||Highest % Targets||Most Catches|
|Dwayne Bowe||14||Wes Welker||13.6||Demaryius Thomas||46%||Wes Welker||9.8|
|Roddy White||12||Roddy White||12.2||Roddy White||43%||Jimmy Graham||6.9|
|Brandon Marshall||12||Brandon Lloyd||11.5||Brandon Lloyd||42%||Marques Colston||6.8|
|Larry Fitzgerald||11||Hakeem Nicks||11.1||Brandon Marshall||42%||Roddy White||6.7|
|Calvin Johnson||11||Calvin Johnson||11.0||Michael Crabtree||41%||Michael Crabtree||6.7|
|Steve Smith||10||Michael Crabtree||10.6||Larry Fitzgerald||41%||Hakeem Nicks||6.7|
|Percy Harvin||10||Larry Fitzgerald||10.5||Vincent Jackson||40%||Aaron Hernandez||6.6|
|Darrius Heyward-Bey||10||Aaron Hernandez||10.4||Dwayne Bowe||40%||Calvin Johnson||6.5|
|Brandon Lloyd||10||Jerome Simpson||10.2||Johnny Knox||39%||Percy Harvin||6.4|
|Steve Johnson||9||Darrius Heyward-Bey||10.1||Eric Decker||39%||Mike Wallace||6.2|
|Greg Jennings||9||Jimmy Graham||10.0||Wes Welker||38%||Greg Jennings||6.2|
|Jimmy Graham||9||Anquan Boldin||10.0||Anquan Boldin||38%||Fred Davis||6|
|Mike Williams||9||Vincent Jackson||10.0||Vernon Davis||38%||Jason Witten||6|