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Fantasy football play selection analysis: Targets lost

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Fantasy football is all about the stats, right? You win by scoring more points than your opponent. It's not rocket science ... or even trying to remember the names of all the characters in the new Star Wars movies. NFL players score fantasy points when allowed opportunities. The more opportunities, the better the chance he'll help you compete for a championship.

As it pertains to wide receivers and tight ends, the biggest "opportunities" in the NFL's statistical world are targets and catches. The top five leaders in targets last season included Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr, Julian Edelman, T.Y. Hilton and Antonio Brown. It's not a coincidence that everyone in this quartet save Edelman finished in the top five in fantasy points at the position, with Evans and Brown coming in at numbers one and three (Edelman finished 22nd). After a hectic offseason that saw a number of notable pass-catchers change teams, target distributions are very likely to change as well.

Which teams had the biggest percentage of lost targets and catches heading into the 2017 campaign? And who figures to cash in on them?

Here's a look.

1. Los Angeles Rams (56.4 percent): The Rams lost a huge portion of targets/catches when Kenny Britt (111/68) left for the Browns. Brian Quick (77/41) and Lance Kendricks (87/50) are also out of the mix, so there will be a lot of opportunities for Tavon Austin, newcomer Robert Woods and rookie Cooper Kupp and deep sleeper Tyler Higbee. Lance Dunbar, a pass-catching running back, could also see chances in the backfield behind Todd Gurley. With that said, I still wouldn't take any of these receivers outside of the late rounds (if at all) in most seasonal fantasy drafts.

2. Cleveland Browns (50.6 percent): Cleveland lost Terrelle Pryor (140/77) to the Redskins and released Gary Barnidge (82/55) this offseason, so there are plenty of lost opportunities. Britt should eat up a good portion of the targets, but he's not going to be drafted as more than a No. 3/4 fantasy wideout. You might get better value with Corey Coleman, who missed six games as a rookie but has more upside. Rookie David Njoku is in a good position to see targets, but first-year tight ends rarely make a major fantasy impact. The quarterback position will affect these players as well.

3. San Francisco 49ers (45.6 percent): The Niners lost 218 targets, and most of them came at wide receiver (160) between Quinton Patton (63/37) and Torrey Smith (49/20). That's good news for Pierre Garcon, who should lead the team in targets and catches next season. He's a good bet to outperform his middle- to late-round price in re-draft leagues. Jeremy Kerley (115/64) could duplicate his 2016 totals, but he's still not worth more than a late flier. Marquise Goodwin figures to start opposite Garcon, but he's rarely been consistent enough to warrant serious consideration in drafts.

4. Buffalo Bills (45.8 percent): Buffalo lost a ton of wide receiver targets/catches with Woods (76/51) and Goodwin (68/29) no longer on the roster, which is the reason countless fantasy analysts like Zay Jones as a potential sleeper. The rookie projects to start opposite Sammy Watkins and could see 50-plus catches with Corey Brown and Andre Holmes behind him on the depth chart. As for Watkins, he should see a ton of opportunities in the pass attack as the team's No. 1 wideout ... if he can avoid injuries. I consider him a risk-reward No. 2 fantasy wideout during his contract year.

5. Baltimore Ravens (33.5 percent): When you lose a wideout like Steve Smith Sr. (101/70), you're going to have a lot of lost opportunities. That's the case in Baltimore, as Smith and Kamar Aiken (50/29) are out of the mix. That's good news for Mike Wallace, who finished 24th in points among wideouts last season and could be a nice late-round bargain. This could also be a do-or-die campaign for Breshad Perriman, who hasn't lived up to expectations but figures to see a major uptick in targets if he can avoid injuries. Consider Perriman a late-round sleeper in all re-draft leagues.

6. Washington Redskins (33.4 percent): The Redskins lost the fourth-most targets (215) and catches (136), which isn't a surprise with Garcon (114/79) and DeSean Jackson (100/56) both gone. Pryor could see a career-high in targets in coach Jay Gruden's offense as a result, so consider him a top-50 pick. Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed could see in excess of 100 targets as well, though the latter needs to avoid the bumps and bruises he's been prone to at the NFL level. Josh Doctson has some late sleeper appeal in re-drafts, but can he make an impact coming off an Achilles ailment?

7. Carolina Panthers (29.7 percent): The two big losses that the Panthers experienced in the offseason were Ted Ginn Jr. (95/54) and Corey Brown (53/27), so there are 100-plus targets out there to be had next season. Christian McCaffrey figures to eat up a good portion of them, making him a potential star in both standard and PPR leagues. Kelvin Benjamin should once again receive 120-plus targets, but he took a step backward after what was a nice rookie campaign. I'd take a chance on Curtis Samuel ahead of Devin Funchess, who has been slow to develop in the pros.

8. Minnesota Vikings (29.2 percent): The Vikings lost 176 targets from last year's roster, but 31 percent of those went to running backs (Matt Asiata, Ronnie Hillman, Adrian Peterson). Cordarelle Patterson (70/52) was the biggest loss at wide receiver during the offseason, but the two top options at that position will remain Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. The X-factor here will be Laquon Treadwell, a first-round pick in 2016 who saw a mere three targets during his rookie campaign. At this point, the Ole Miss product isn't worth more than a late-round flier in most seasonal drafts.

9. New York Giants (28.9 percent): The Giants lost 161 targets from a season ago, but less than half of that total went to a wide receiver. That wideout was Victor Cruz (72/39). So when you consider that Odell Beckham Jr. is guaranteed to see 150-plus targets once again, it's going to be tough to feed Sterling Shepard (105/65) and newcomers Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram on a consistent basis. That's why fantasy fans need to temper expectations on that trio. Marshall is the best of the bunch, but he'll be hard to trust as more than a No. 3 fantasy wideout in all seasonal drafts.

10. Chicago Bears (28.8 percent:) The departures of Alshon Jeffery (94/52) and Eddie Royal (43/33) open up over 100 targets for Bears pass-catchers next season. That's good news for Cameron Meredith, who figures to be the team's new No. 1 wideout and will be worth a middle- to late-round look. Kevin White should also see his share of opportunities, but it's tough to trust a player who has missed all but four games in his first two seasons due to injuries. He's worth a late flier. Newcomers Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright will battle for scraps, but neither has much appeal.

11. Detroit Lions (22.7 percent): The loss of Anquan Boldin (95/67) should open up more opportunities for Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, who should both see increases in their 2016 target totals. Detroit's third pass-catcher is a tight end, Eric Ebron, who should be considered a borderline No. 1 fantasy option. He should see an increase in the 85 targets he saw last season.

12. New York Jets (22.2 percent): The Jets lost 147 targets, 87 percent of which went to Marshall last season. Eric Decker could become a nice bargain as the team's No. 1 wideout, but injuries could be a real issue. Quincy Enunwa should start opposite Decker and is worth a late flier. Robby Anderson and rookie ArDarius Stewart aren't draftable in seasonal leagues for now.

13. New Orleans Saints (21.2 percent): The Saints lost 117 targets and 78 catches with the trade of Brandin Cooks, so Michael Thomas' stock has risen this offseason. He has second-round value. Willie Snead should see 100-plus targets once again, and Ginn could push for late-round appeal as the home-run threat for quarterback Drew Brees. Coby Fleener is worth a late-rounder.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (19.4 percent): The Bucs lost a combined 99 wideout targets between Russell Shepard, Vincent Jackson and Cecil Shorts, but added DeSean Jackson (100 targets) and rookie tight end O.J. Howard this offseason. With fantasy stud Mike Evans and Cameron Brate also in the mix, the team suddenly has a lot of mouths to feed. I'd temper expectations for Howard.

15. New England Patriots (17.9 percent): Speaking of too many mouths to feed, how about the Patriots? The addition of Cooks means the team now has three players who had 80-plus targets a season ago ... and one of them isn't Rob Gronkowski (38/25). He's going to see his targets upon his return, but Julian Edelman (159/98) has virtually no chance to duplicate his 2016 totals.

16. Oakland Raiders (17.2 percent): The Raiders lost a small portion (27 percent) of wideout targets, so Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree should see 130-plus targets apiece once again. Marshawn Lynch is not going to make up for Latavius Murray (43/33) in the pass attack, so don't be surprised to see Jalen Richard have some PPR appeal. Jared Cook is now worth a late flier.

17. Green Bay Packers (15.4 percent): The Packers lost 96 targets, and Cook made up 53 percent of them. Martellus Bennett should be able to produce low-end No. 1 tight end totals.
18. Miami Dolphins (15.2 percent): Dion Sims (35/26) left for the Bears, but newcomer Julius Thomas should eat up his chances (and then some). He'll be well worth a late selection.
19. Tennessee Titans (15 percent): Wright and Andre Johnson left a few targets (66) on the board, but rookie Corey Davis is going to eat into Rishard Matthews totals (108/65), too.
20. Atlanta Falcons (13.1 percent): Don't expect much to change in Atlanta's pass attack, although a healthy Julio Jones will see a big increase in his 129 targets from last year.
21. Arizona Cardinals (12.3 percent): The loss of Michael Floyd opens up targets for John Brown and J.J. Nelson, but Larry Fitzgerald will lead this team in receiving once again.
22. Denver Broncos (10.3 percent): Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders should be better both on the field and in fantasy with Mike McCoy back as the offensive leader.
23. Indianapolis Colts (9.7 percent): The departure of Dwayne Allen (52/35) will create more opportunities for Jack Doyle (75/59). He'll be drafted as a borderline No. 1 tight end.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (9.2 percent): The Jaguars lost 58 targets this offseason, and 88 percent came from the departure of Julius Thomas. I'm still not drafting Marcedes Lewis.

25. Seattle Seahawks (9 percent): The loss of Christine Michael (26/20) will create additional chances in the pass attack for C.J. Prosise, who could deliver PPR appeal.
26. Cincinnati Bengals (8.2 percent): The Bengals lost just 19 wideout targets but added John Ross to a team with A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell. Hmmmm ...
27. Dallas Cowboys (6.2 percent): Don't expect too much to change in the Dallas pass attack, as the team lost just eight tight end targets and added rookie wideout Ryan Switzer.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers (5.8 percent): The Steelers lost nine wideout targets (Wheaton), so Martavis Bryant will eat into the catch opportunities of Eli Rogers and Sammie Coates.
29. Los Angeles Chargers (5.7 percent): Los Angeles lost minimal wideout targets but added rookie Mike Williams and will get Keenan Allen back. There are a lot of mouths to feed.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (5 percent): The addition of veteran wideouts Jeffery and Torrey Smith could put a good dent into the targets of Jordan Matthews and maybe even Zach Ertz.
31. Houston Texans (4 percent): With no significant change to the pass catchers, let's hope DeAndre Hopkins can push back over 170 targets for either Tom Savage or DeShaun Watson.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1.9 percent): A healthy Jeremy Maclin will warrant more than the 76 targets he had last season, but Tyreek Hill will be the K.C. wideout to target first.


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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