I wrote a column predicting Houston Texans’ wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins‘ fall from grace in fantasy football back in August of 2016. Nearly all of those predictions came true as Hopkins regressed in nearly every category from his juggernaut 2015 campaign. Here is how I started the article:
“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.”
That is still the case, at least in the fantasy football realm. Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receiver Mike Evans will be the biggest victim of target regression in 2017. The three year pro led the NFL this past season with 175 targets, which was six more than the league’s second highest target share (New York Giants’ receiver Odell Beckham Jr.).
The Buccaneers’ passing stats were somewhat inflated. Tampa Bay saw a 7.5 percent increase in total pass attempts compared to their previous season, thanks in part to a brutally battered running game. The backfield was without running backs Doug Martin, Charles Sims, and Jacquizz Rodgers for at least six games a piece. The offensive line was another issue. They finished 2016 with the tenth worst grade according to Pro Football Focus. Tampa Bay’s running game dropped from a top five attack in 2015 all the way down to 24th in 2016 as a result. The establishment of a lead back will help the Buccaneers return to their ground and pound style from 2015.
Evans flaunted numbers he is unlikely to replicate next season. To begin, he was targeted 11 times or more in ten of 16 contests. In five of those games, he was targeted at least 13 times. These high target share games were not consistent throughout the season. Seven of his ten performances with at least 11 targets came within the first eight weeks of the season.
As Evans’ target share declined, along with it came his fantasy production. The product of Texas A&M averaged exactly 12.5 standard fantasy points per game in 2016; he failed to reach that mark in six of his final eight games. Evans averaged 15 fantasy points per game through the first half of the season. He averaged a little over nine fantasy points per game over the latter eight games of 2016.
Chalk this sharp decline up to the emergence of tight end Cameron Brate as a reliable pass catcher. His increase in targets as the season went on was relative to Evans’ decline. Brate recorded four games during the first half of the season in which he was targeted four times or less. During the second half of the season, he only had two of such games.
Evans’ gross production was a testament to his unsustainable 30 percent target share in the Buccaneers’ offense. He was not able to maintain it for more than 50 percent of the season. Let us say Evans’ target share drops by just five percent in 2017. That would have him finish with roughly 145 targets. Based on career averages, Evans’ 2017 season would include 79 catches, 1,185 receiving yards, eight touchdowns, and 166.5 standard fantasy points. That would still be a top ten finish, but it would not be worth the first round pick Evans is going to warrant. The only wide receivers that should be drafted in the first round are Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown. Tread lightly on the 2016 WR1.
Mark Wemken is the Carolina Panthers staff writer and fantasy football analyst for EndZoneScore.com. Follow him on Twitter for fantasy insight and breaking news on all things Carolina football: @MarkWemkenEZS