Pass-catchers tend to be inconsistent, in no small part because they have to rely on someone else to get the ball in their hands. Still, we can identify trends in how teams use their primary receivers to help us properly asses their fantasy value. For the purposes of this report, a team’s “primary receiver” is the player who sees the most passes thrown his direction in a game. With some teams it’s a role that changes hands (no pun intended) on a weekly basis; with others, there is a clear-cut go-to guy being fed regularly. Overall, however, there is more spreading the ball around than you might think: 126 different players—98 wideouts, 28 tight ends—were the most targeted receiver on their team for at least one game last year. Additionally, no player was his team’s top target in all 16 games, and only five were the leading target in as much as three-fourths of their teams’ games.
For the 2012 regular season, here is a rundown of which receivers were thrown the most passes in a game for their team.
|Arizona Cardinals||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The obvious question here is, only eight games as primary target for Larry Fitzgerald? Chalk it up to inaccurate quarterbacking and defenses dedicated to taking away Arizona’s top threat. Michael Floyd’s three games as top target bode well for him taking over WR2 duties, assuming he can beat out Andre Roberts for the gig. With Bruce Arians taking over in the desert and Carson Palmer replacing the previous flotsam and jetsam at quarterback, expect Fitz to return to double-digit games as primary receiver (Reggie Wayne had 12 last year in Indy). Also expect the Cards’ list to be tight-end free in 2013, much like the Colts’ list was under Arians in 2012.
|Atlanta Falcons||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Team Julio or Team Roddy? Even the stats are split, with White and Jones sharing primary receiver duties with the occasional bone thrown to Tony Gonzalez. And the productivity is similar as well, with White netting a few more yards as primary while Jones scoring a shade more frequently. With no real changes to the downfield aspects of the Atlanta passing game, it’s another season of pick your poison for both opposing defenses and fantasy owners.
|Baltimore Ravens||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Ravens are one of just five teams replacing their most-frequent primary receiver in 2013, as Anquan Boldin is now a 49er. Torry Smith and Dennis Pitta performed well in their turns as primary targets and should pick up the slack, with Ed Dickson as a standby option as well. Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss are expected to contend for Boldin’s starting spot; Jones is more of a deep threat, but Doss could emerge as a Boldin-like possession complement to Smith’s deep speed. However, with Smith, Pitta and Dickson still atop the pecking order opportunities for either Doss or Jones will be limited.
|Buffalo Bills||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
No receiver was more frequently his team’s top target than Steve Johnson; the only other Bill to lead the team in targets in a game was the now-departed Donald Jones. But that’s not the only passing-game change in Buffalo: there’s a new quarterback—perhaps rookie E.J. Manuel, otherwise Kevin Kolb—and three talented rookie receivers (Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Da’Rick Rogers) battling with T.J. Graham for wingman duties. Johnson remains the constant, but with so much change he’s hardly as reliable as in past years.
|Carolina Panthers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Just when you get used to the familiar—Steve Smith as the go-to guy in roughly 60 percent of the games, Rob Chudzinski’s tight end the focal point a quarter of the time, Brandon LaFell picking up the scraps—Chud leaves to become the Browns’ head coach. Smith is still the go-to guy, LaFell still the backup plan, but with the tight end whisperer now in Cleveland Olson’s looks may diminish. Nothing in the supporting cast—Ted Ginn, Domenik Hixon—suggests they’ll horn in on Smith and LaFell’s action, so what little passing Carolina projects to do looks to be a two-man show this year with Smith as the headliner once again.
|Chicago Bears||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
There were actually two games where Brandon Marshall wasn’t the Bears’ primary receiver, and only four games in which he didn’t see at least 10 targets (plan ahead: two of them were against Green Bay). Chicago’s new West Coast offense tends to spread things around a little more, so second-year receiver Alshon Jeffrey should see a significant uptick in looks. Without question, however, Marshall will still be Jay Cutler’s security blanket.
|Cincinnati Bengals||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
To the surprise of absolutely no one it was all A.J. Green all the time in Cincy last year, with everyone else fighting for table scraps. Notable by omission in this table is Mohamed Sanu, who threatened to take over as Green’s primary wingman until an injury prematurely ended his season. Factor in Jermaine Gresham and newly drafted Tyler Eifert and there’s a bevy of players all battling to be Andy Dalton’s secondary target—but no real threat to Green as alpha male.
|Cleveland Browns||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
It’s more than a little intriguing that a tight end led the Browns in games as primary target last year, and now they’re being coached by noted TE guru Rob Chudzinski. With Josh Gordon getting a late start on the season thanks to a league suspension, Greg Little is the only thing standing between Jordan Cameron and a whole lot of targets in Cleveland.
|Dallas Cowboys||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Big Three didn’t change much from 2012 to 2013, which is actually a bit surprising—especially with Miles Austin topping the list. Dez Bryant was significantly more effective when he was the primary target—twice the catches and yards, quadruple the touchdowns—which explains why he’s the vastly superior fantasy play. As for Jason Witten, he just keeps on keepin’ on; Jimmy Graham is the only tight end in the league who was his team’s primary target more frequently last season.
|Denver Broncos||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Demaryius Thomas widened the primary receiver gap over Eric Decker last season, but the question heading into 2013 is what exactly Wes Welker will do to that ratio. It’s unlikely the tight ends will remain as big a part of the offense as last year (it was a nice run, Jacob Tamme), and look for Welker to take a bigger bite out of Decker’s numbers than Thomas’. For what it’s worth, the last time Peyton Manning had such a trio of wideouts the distribution was Marvin Harrison six, Reggie Wayne five, and slot machine Brandon Stokley five.
|Detroit Lions||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Who else but Calvin Johnson would Matthew Stafford want to throw to? Brandon Pettigrew is a nice complementary target and the Lions are hoping Ryan Broyles can step up as Detroit’s WR2, but there’s no question Megatron is the main man every time Stafford drops back to pass.
|Green Bay Packers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
How Aaron Rodgers distributes the wealth is the million-dollar question for fantasy owners this year. There’s a half-season of data as to what Green Bay will do sans Greg Jennings, with Randall Cobb and James Jones (three games each as primary target) edging Jordy Nelson (two games as PT) for Rodgers’ affection. Unfortunately, there’s no real rhyme or reason; Rodgers simply finds who’s open and feeds them the ball. An example: Nelson missed four games last year; in those four games Cobb and Jones were each the primary target twice. Jermichael Finley has one game as primary target each of the past two seasons, but this feels like whichever Packer wideouts can stay healthy divvying up Jenning’s share. Also worth noting: Jennings was the primary target in seven of the last eight meetings with Minnesota, including both last year; you have to go back to 2009 to find a Packer who caught more balls in a game against the Vikings than Jennings—and that Packer was Jermichael Finley.
|Houston Texans||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Injury is the only thing that has prevented Andre Johnson from hitting double-digits on an annual basis; last year he was healthy and—what do you know?—he was the apple of Matt Schaub’s eye 11 times. Owen Daniels is the only real threat to AJ’s crown, but again that would only happen in the event of injury. The hope in Houston is that someday DeAndre Hopkins presents a challenge as well, but to do so this season would be asking a lot of a rookie on a run-first team.
|Indianapolis Colts||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Reggie Wayne was back in the driver’s seat in last year’s offense, but with Bruce Arians taking his scheme to Arizona things will look different in Indy. Pep Hamilton’s West Coast approach tended to both spread the ball around and feature tight ends, neither of which bode well for Wayne being so voluminously targeted again this season. Donnie Avery is gone, but TY Hilton and free-agent signee Darrius Heyward-Bey should easily compensate for that departure. Meanwhile, look for Hamilton, whose Stanford tight ends accounted for about 40 percent of the team’s receptions the past two seasons, to get more out of Duane Allen and Coby Fleener.
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
With Laurent Robinson gone and Justin Blackmon on the shelf for a month, it’ll be all about Cecil Shorts in Jacksonville. New offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch has worked as a receivers coach with the likes of Brandon Marshall and Derrick Mason, so he’ll know what to do with Shorts. Fisch also cites Mike Shanahan and Brian Billick as influences; since both coaches traditionally had productive tight ends, and given the craterous opening alongside Shorts in the passing game, Marcedes Lewis should see his targets tick back upwards as well.
|Kansas City Chiefs||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
You can say the West Coast offense tends to spread the ball around (we do, above in fact in case you haven’t noticed) or that Andy Reid is used to operating with a bunch of good receivers as opposed to one go-to guy. And then you see that last year Jeremy Maclin lead Philly receivers in targets nine times. That’s applicable here because with Reid at the helm there may be concern Dwayne Bowe won’t house all the looks. Maybe Donnie Avery steals a game or two, maybe the Chiefs’ conglomerate of tight ends steps up, but the current personnel gives us no reason to believe Bowe won’t make it to double-digit targets once again in 2013.
|Miami Dolphins||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Dolphins waved good-bye to Brandon Marshall prior to last season, hoping the existing roster could fill the void. Brian Hartline and Davonne Bess stepped up, and their performances were so compelling that Bess is now in Cleveland and the Dolphins backed up the Brinks truck to Mike Wallace’s house. There’s also Brandon Gibson and tight end Dustin Keller to feed, and Wallace wasn’t exactly a ball hog in Pittsburgh—he’s trailed Antonio Brown in games as primary target each of the past two seasons—so this could be a somewhat fractured passing game. And seeing as Miami quarterbacks haven’t finished in the top half of the league in fantasy production since 2001, it may not even matter.
|Minnesota Vikings||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Vikings force-fed Percy Harvin for as long as he was able to stay on the field; for the final seven, it was a hodge-podge of Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, and hey look who finally showed up Jerome Simpson. With Harvin gone you can expect Greg Jennings to walk right into that primary target role on a regular basis; the lone exception may be an occasional extra nod to Kyle Rudolph, as Vikings tight ends have squeezed two games of primary target duty out of each of the past two seasons. First-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson will be more about opportunity than volume.
|New England Patriots||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Well, this should be interesting. Tom Brady has already lost more than 60 percent of his receiving yards from last year in the departures of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and Danny Woodhead. If injury and the legal system claim Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez for the season, that number climbs to a whopping 85 percent of New England’s receiving yards no longer at Brady’s disposal. If Julian Edelm and his 235 yards don’t make the opening day roster, Shane Vereen (149) would enter the year as the Patriots’ top returning receiver. Before you panic, Brady has handled turnover before; Jason Lisk at the Big Lead did some digging to reveal that in 2006 and 2007 Brady lost 55 percent or more of his receiving yards from the previous year and still ranked seventh and first among fantasy quarterbacks. Of course, adding a motivated Randy Moss helped in 2007 and the Patriots are at least bringing Danny Amendola to the party. He’ll be expected to fill Welker’s shoes—maybe more, depending on the availability of Gronk and/or Hernandez. A healthy Jake Ballard could also factor into the mix if Gronk can’t play or Hernandez remains in legal limbo. The rest of the mix projects to be a hodge-podge of Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones, and rookie Aaron Dobson. Yep, this should be interesting.
|New Orleans Saints||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Everybody’s back, and while youngsters like Chris Givens, Joseph Morgan, Nick Toon, and Kenny Stills might push for roles at the lower end of the rotation this is still a three-man show. Jimmy Graham was targeted a little less frequently in 2013 (seven games as primary vs. nine in 2012), with Lance Moore (five last year, up from two in 2012) picking up the slack. Marques Colston remains the pseudo-WR1, and when he’s targeted heavily he’s productive—averaging more than 100 yards per game each of the past two seasons when he’s Drew Brees’ primary target. Still plenty of dumpoffs to Darren Sproles, of course, but when Brees is looking downfield it’s clearly with Graham in mind and either Colston or Moore as Plan B.
|New York Giants||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Victor Cruz remains the go-to guy in Gotham, so it’s no wonder he’d like to be compensated as such. Hakeem Nicks fell off in the target race due primarily to injury; the Giants used Reuben Randle and Ramses Barden to fill the void, as both of their primary target games came in Nicks’ absence. However, if both Cruz and Nicks are healthy and happy with their contracts they’re definitely WR1 and WR1A on Eli Manning’s radar. After seeing Martellus Bennett sneak in a primary target game—just the second such game for a Giants tight end in the past three seasons—it’s worth watching how Brandon Myers factors into the mix, as he was a top target in Oakland six times last year.
|New York Jets||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Seven different Jets led the team in targets last season, paced by Jeremy Kerley—who clocked in at a robust 48th among fantasy wideouts last year. Stephen Hill should assume a larger role this season, assuming his balky knee holds up, and Santonio Holmes is expected to be the franchise wideout if he’s recovered from his Lisfranc injury. Dustin Keller, who led Gang Green with seven games as a primary target in 2011 but failed to crack the list last season, is gone and the biggest addition to the New York receiving corps is a way-past-his-prime Kellen Winslow. So that’s the receivers; do we even need to talk about the quarterbacking?
|Oakland Raiders||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Two years ago Darrius Heyward-Bey led the Raiders with 10 games as the primary target; last year he couldn’t crack the list, and this year he’s in Indy. That doesn’t exactly bode well for Denarius Moore, who doubled his games as PT from four to eight last year. Tight end Brandon Myers, second on last year’s list, is now a Giant so there are openings to be filled. Jacoby Ford can’t stay healthy, so look for Rod Streater to be the uptick guy this season—a potential fantasy value if Matt Flynn or Tyler Wilson can deliver competent quarterback play in Oakland.
|Philadelphia Eagles||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The assumption has been that Andy Reid liked to spread the ball around, but last year Jeremy Maclin led the Eagles in targets more than the rest of the receiving corps combined. That’s a nice resume to drop on Chip Kelly’s desk, but who knows how much weight it will carry? Rookie tight end Zach Ertz is an intriguing addition, but unless and until Brent Celek is out of Philly they’ll be sharing looks and dividing up the fantasy production pie. DeSean Jackson has been the primary target in just six games over the past two seasons, but he’s such a fit for what Kelly likes to do that he may match that total this season alone.
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Emmanuel Sanders stepped into Hines Ward’s role and the Pittsburgh passing game barely missed a beat. This year things will be different, as the Steelers let Mike Wallace take his talents to South Beach. They’ll attempt to replace him with veterans Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton, but rest assured this will be a Sanders and Antonio Brown production. Heath Miller could make a minor impact, but he’ll have to prove he’s all the way back from last year’s ACL tear first.
|San Diego Chargers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
With Vincent Jackson gone and Antonio Gates running on fumes, the Chargers are in need of someone to step up. Danario Alexander is the perfect candidate, but he’s never played more than 10 games in a season. Vincent Brown also returns from injury and is expected to usurp Malcom Floyd’s role as the WR2 in San Diego. Floyd will fill in the gaps if—when—Alexander gets hurt, while Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem, and rookie Keenan Allen grapple for scraps.
|Seattle Seahawks||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Sidney Rice was Seattle’s top target half the time last year; the rest of the season they mixed and matched with bit parts like Ben Obomanu, Doug Baldwin, and Braylon Edwards. So the Seahawks went back to Minnesota for another go-to guy for Russell Wilson, acquiring—and paying—Percy Harvin, who was the Vikings’ primary target in every game in which he played last year. Rice is nice, but there’s no reason to think Harvin won’t be Wilson’s primary target for as long as he stays healthy.
|San Francisco 49ers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Over the past two seasons only Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis have been the 49ers’ primary target more than twice. With Crabtree on the shelf for at least the first two months of the season, the Niners are left with Davis and newly acquired Anquan Boldin, who is familiar with being a primary target from his days in Baltimore. There are unproven others—A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette, Quinton Patton, Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham if he’s recovered from last season’s ACL injury—but they’ll be largely secondary targets. Boldin won’t replace Crabtree’s numbers, but he’ll see the bulk of his targets; the rest are likely slated for Davis, who will also benefit from the departure of Delanie Walker.
|St. Louis Rams||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The departure of Brandon Lloyd prior to last season left St. Louis with a largely unproven receiving corps, but Danny Amendola stepped up and filled the void. Now Amendola is gone, leaving once again a collection of unproven talent. Chris Givens made a splash last year and could wind up as the most frequent primary target, but there’s little reason to favor him over Brian Quick, first-round pick Tavon Austin, or free-agent tight end Jared Cook. Sam Bradford has options, but no clear-cut favorite… yet.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Vincent Jackson made himself comfortable in Tampa Bay last season, taking over Mike Williams’ role as the most frequent primary target. Williams is a solid second option, and with a new contract in the balance he’ll press to capitalize on whatever opportunities come his way. With Jackson and Williams as the primaries, there’s not much left over for tertiary options—a good thing, since the Bucs’ roster doesn’t offer much for tertiary options anyway.
|Tennessee Titans||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Titans keep bringing in wide receivers, either to push Kenny Britt or to replace him in the event of the seemingly annual injury and/or off-the-field incident. Britt was heavily targeted but largely ineffective last year; with a contract in the balance he should once again be the former, and a surgery-free and so far incident free offseason he’s a strong candidate to rectify the latter. Yet Jake Locker has options, including last year’s first-rounder Kendall Wright and rookie Justin Hunter as well as ageless Nate Washington. Jared Cook’s looks are up for grabs as well, but free-agent signee Delanie Walker is the leading candidate to claim them.
|Washington Redskins||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
It’s not so much a question of “who?” in Washington as much as it is a question of “who’s healthy?”. All eyes will be on Robert Griffin III and his recovery, but the Redskins need Pierre Garçon and Fred Davis to get and stay healthy to ensure he has all targets at his disposal. Josh Morgan heads up the rest of the receiving corps, the most likely candidate to see a game or two as the primary target from a group that includes Santana Moss, Devery Henderson, Donte’ Stallworth, Leonard Hankerson, and Aldrick Robinson.
As much as we think certain players are the primary receiver, none managed to go sixteen full games always getting the most passing targets for their team. It's also interesting to see the teams that only rely on two receivers compared to others that have multiple primary receivers, seemingly busting out 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|
|Stevie Johnson||14||Aaron Hernandez||15.0||Dwayne Bowe||53%||Jason Witten||10.8|
|Brandon Marshall||14||Jason Witten||13.8||Brandon Marshall||52%||Dez Bryant||9.5|
|Calvin Johnson||14||Calvin Johnson||13.5||Todd Heap||47%||Wes Welker||9.1|
|A.J. Green||13||Reggie Wayne||13.3||Davone Bess||46%||Aaron Hernandez||9.0|
|Reggie Wayne||12||Brandon Marshall||13.1||Eddie Royal||44%||Jacob Tamme||9.0|
|Andre Johnson||11||Jacob Tamme||13.0||Kevin Ogletree||44%||Ramses Barden||9.0|
|Michael Crabtree||11||Wes Welker||12.7||Jonathan Baldwin||43%||Jordan Norwood||9.0|
|Dwayne Bowe||10||Dez Bryant||12.5||Doug Baldwin||43%||Titus Young||9.0|
|Vincent Jackson||10||Andre Johnson||12.3||Jimmy Graham||42%||Andre Johnson||8.9|
|Steve Smith||9||Larry Fitzgerald||12.1||Greg Olsen||41%||Tony Gonzalez||8.7|
|Demaryius Thomas||9||Donnie Avery||12.0||Dennis Pitta||41%||Brandon Marshall||8.1|
|Percy Harvin||9||Marques Colston||12.0||Brian Hartline||41%||Calvin Johnson||8.1|
|Wes Welker||9||Jared Cook||12.0||Jacob Tamme||41%||Kevin Ogletree||8.0|
|Victor Cruz||9||Mike Williams||11.6||Vincent Jackson||40%||Andre Roberts||7.7|
|Jeremy Maclin||9||A.J. Green||11.4||Michael Crabtree||40%||Jordy Nelson||7.7|
|Danny Amendola||9||Tony Gonzalez||11.3||Hakeem Nicks||40%||Eric Decker||7.5|