The importance of total targets to a receiver cannot be expressed enough when talking in terms of overall fantasy output. The base concept is pretty simple: if a receiver is not being heavily targeted, the odds of him producing relevant stat lines is significantly lower. Unfortunately, it is not that black and white. Take for example Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins: the fourth year product out of Clemson University saw a ridiculous 192 targets last season, which was third most in the NFL behind just Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. He turned those targets into 211 standard fantasy points, which was sixth at the position. That’s an elite group to be a part of.
Do not get me wrong, I am in no way knocking Hopkins’ talent either. Hopkins has made some catches during his professional career that had some people questioning if he was indeed actually human. That being said, expect a regression in terms of fantasy production from Houston’s number one wide out in 2016.
Consider this: the Texans threw the ball the ninth most times in the league last year. Hopkins received an astonishing 31.1 percent, or almost one-third of them. All of these targets came from a team that we have speculated to possess a “run first” mentality. Just as well, the Texans were fifth overall in terms of total rushing attempts. Something does not add up here.
Of the top ten teams in terms of total rushing attempts, nobody ran for fewer yards, fewer touchdowns, or a worse yards per carry average than the Texans. The team was without feature back Arian Foster for most of the season and were forced to use backups to fill the void. Houston found themselves on the losing end many a time because they struggled to establish their formally acclaimed ground and pound offense, hence the reason they have since dumped their injury prone former Pro Bowler in favor of former Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller. Miller is also a receiving back, likely to take some of the work in the passing game. Last year, Hopkins was all they had. That is no longer the case.
Hopkins has a career catch rate of 58.3 percent, so let us say his targets decline by 20 percent; ten percent because Houston uses their backfield more often with more success due to the addition of Miller, and an additional ten percent due to rookie first round pick Will Fuller likely being utilized as he should. We are looking at a decline of about 38 total targets. At his career catch rate, that would total out to about 89 receptions and 1,300 yards. Now, 89 receptions and 1,300 receiving yards is great production, but it is not first round production considering there are receivers more capable of catching 100-plus balls available where Hopkins is being drafted.
Two years ago, when the Texans had a respectable running game, Hopkins saw just 127 targets. He turned those into 76 receptions and 1,210 yards. With Houston’s new tailback to play with, fantasy players everywhere must hinder expectations for DeAndre Hopkins. I am not saying he is not going to produce good numbers. I am simply suggesting he is not going to produce what a first round pick should produce, solely because he will not see the targets he saw last season.
Take these stats for what they are. I am not suggesting Hopkins completely busts this season. I am merely suggesting that fantasy players should look elsewhere in the first round because his average draft position is too high for what he will likely produce. I have Hopkins outside my top five wide receivers due to the decrease in targets that is expected, but he still falls within my top ten. Players that must be off the board before Hopkins are as follows: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Odell Beckham Jr., Allen Robinson, AJ Green, Todd Gurley III, Adrian Peterson, Lamar Miller, David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, Jamaal Charles, and Ezekiel Elliot.
Mark Wemken is the Carolina Panthers staff writer, as well as a fantasy football analyst for EndZoneScore.com. Follow him on Twitter for fantasy insight and breaking news on all things Carolina football: @MarkWemkenLWOS