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 on "Game of Thrones." NFL players score fantasy points when allowed opportunities ... the more chances received, the better the percentage that player will help you compete in fantasy land.
One of the biggest "opportunities" in the NFL's statistical world is targets, which is the number of times the football is thrown to a player. Guess who led the NFL in targets last season? That was Demaryius Thomas (184), who finished second in fantasy points among wide receivers. The top-scoring wideout, Antonio Brown, was second with 181 targets. The four most-targeted tight ends in 2014 were Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen. Each of those talented pass catchers ranked in the top five in fantasy points at the position.
That isn't a coincidence, friends.
Projecting targets, much like predicting anything in the National Football League these days, can sometimes be difficult. But one method is looking at the number of targets a team lost in the offseason (from players leaving in free agency, trades, retirement, etc), then projecting who might pick up those opportunities the following season. Case in point ... the Carolina Panthers lost almost their entire corps of wideouts during the 2014 offseason, leaving unclaimed chances to produce on the field and in fantasy football. Not surprisingly, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen both had breakout seasons because of talent and opportunities.
So, which teams had the biggest percentage of lost targets heading into the 2015 campaign, and who figures to cash in on them? Here's your in-depth look:
1. Miami Dolphins (57 percent): The Dolphins had a total of 592 targets last season, and almost 60 percent of them are gone after the departure of players like Mike Wallace (115 targets), Charles Clay (84) and Brian Hartline (63). With so many opportunities up for grabs, fantasy fans should expect Jarvis Landry and Jordan Cameron to see their numbers swell in 2015. This is good news for rookie DeVante Parker as well, at least when he returns from a surgical procedure on his foot.
2. New Orleans Saints (50 percent): This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, as the Saints traded Graham (124) and Kenny Stills (84). That's great news for breakout candidate Brandin Cooks, who could push high WR2 status as the top option for Drew Brees. Owners should also keep tabs on Josh Hill, who has deep sleeper appeal as Graham's replacement. The team also lost over 100 backfield targets with Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet gone, so C.J. Spiller could be a real PPR superstar.
3. San Francisco 49ers (45 percent): There have been a lot of changes in San Francisco, between retirements and player moves. With Michael Crabtree (108) and Steve Johnson (50) out of the mix, look for Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith to eat up a lot of wideout targets. Vernon Davis might even re-emerge into a useful asset. The backfield lost fewer than 25 targets in the absence of Gore, so Reggie Bush will also eat into some of those opportunities in the pass attack.
4. Oakland Raiders (44 percent): The more I hear about Amari Cooper, the more I like him as a breakout candidate in Oakland. The team had 619 targets a season ago, but the absence of players like James Jones (112) and Denarius Moore (27) will allow Cooper more than his share of chances to produce. In the backfield, the team lost 72 targets between Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden. That's good news for the appeal of Roy Helu, who has added value in PPR formats.
5. Indianapolis Colts (41 percent): The Colts had 647 targets last season, and over 40 percent of them will go to different players in 2015. That's good news for Andre Johnson, who should take over the Reggie Wayne (116) role. Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett should take the 68 targets that Hakeem Nicks left behind, but there might not be enough opportunities for either of them to become reliable options in fantasy leagues. Notably, the backfield lost 81 targets this offseason.
6. Cleveland Browns (38 percent): Here's the good news ... almost 40 percent of the total targets from last season are up for grabs in 2015. The bad news? Who the heck can you trust from a corps of wideouts that includes Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins? The answer is no one. The loss of Cameron (48) could open the door for Rob Housler, but he'll be hard pressed to make a significant impact among tight ends. The quarterback situation isn't a very good one either.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (37 percent): Most of the targets lost in the offseason come at wide receiver, where Bowe (95), Donnie Avery (26) and A.J. Jenkins (15) are out of the picture. That should bode well for Jeremy Maclin, though I don't love the situation he's entering in Kansas City. Most wideouts just don't produce huge numbers under coach Andy Reid. Anthony Fasano only saw 36 targets, but he did score four touchdowns. A lot of those chances will go to Travis Kelce next season.
8. Baltimore Ravens (36 percent): The Ravens lost over 100 targets at wide receiver last season, which is part of the reason rookie Breshad Perriman is considered such a viable deep sleeper. He just needs to improve on the case of the dropsies he had in college. Steve Smith Sr. is still the best fantasy wideout here, though. With Owen Daniels (79) out of the mix, look for Dennis Pitta (hip), Maxx Williams or Crockett Gillmore to see more opportunities among the tight end position.
9. Tennessee Titans (33 percent:) There's not a lot to like in the Titans pass attack, but there are some targets to be claimed among wide receivers in the absence of Nate Washington (72). The problem is that the position is crowded with Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham, Harry Douglas and Hakeem Nicks all in the mix, so finding one standout could be tough. With that said, Wright is still the best option of the bunch while Green-Beckham has the most potential.
T-10. Houston Texans (31 percent): The Texans had 480 targets as a team last season, 146 of which went to Andre Johnson. With the veteran now in Indianapolis, DeAndre Hopkins figures to build on his solid 2014 campaign and become a potential high-end WR2 next season. He's a virtual lock to see an increase in the 127 targets he saw a year ago. As for the second spot on the depth chart, Cecil Shorts and rookie Jaelen Strong figure to vie for those chances in training camp.
T-10. Philadelphia Eagles (31 percent): This one is notable, as the Eagles run more plays than any other team in the league due to coach Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense. The departure of Maclin (143) should mean more work for Jordan Matthews and rookie Nelson Agholor. Tight end Zach Ertz is also in line for a bigger role in 2015. The backfield lost just 40 targets, so it's difficult to see a scenario where DeMarco Murray duplicates the 57 catches he had in Dallas last season.
18. Buffalo Bills (22 percent)
19. San Diego Chargers (21 percent)
20. Minnesota Vikings (19 percent)
21. Arizona Cardinals (18 percent)
22. Dallas Cowboys (16 percent)
T-23. Carolina Panthers (15 percent)
T-23. New England Patriots (15 percent)
T-25. Seattle Seahawks (13 percent)
T-25. Washington Redskins (13 percent)
T-27. Detroit Lions (11 percent)
T-27. Pittsburgh Steelers (11 percent)
29. St. Louis Rams (8 percent)
30. New York Giants (6 percent)
31. Green Bay Packers (4 percent)
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0 percent)