Opportunity is king in fantasy football. Or, to put it another way, you catch none of the targets you don't see.
While player skill plays a critical part in analysis, the extent of a receiver's opportunity is something with which to familiarize yourself. Ability and preseason player performance will help a lot of that fall into place, but there are ways to measure the extent of the opportunity a player could potentially receive.
One of those is to examine each team's target totals from the previous season to see which of the players who accumulated them might've left the team during the offseason and therefore freed some up for others, as well as which players might've been brought in to soak up some of those left behind. This isn't a new concept; it has often been discussed in the fantasy football industry as "vacated targets."
This isn't an exact science. Injuries have a bearing on the past season's statistics. For example, Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Marqise Lee missed the entire 2018 season and therefore contributed nothing in the category after earning 103 and 96 targets the two previous seasons, but he will surely rejoin the team this season and absorb a significant amount.
Regression to the mean of a team's target total can also have an impact, such as with the Indianapolis Colts, who saw a 157-pass-attempt increase from 2017 to '18, which, while understandable to a degree with Andrew Luck back healthy and under center, still gave the team its largest total in the category in four years and second largest in any of Luck's six healthy seasons.
With that in mind, the following four team situations, with individual players highlighted, stand out as great opportunities for current receivers on the roster to benefit from greatly increased target totals. These teams have among the largest totals of vacated targets in the league entering 2019.
Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This is one of the reasons so many are bullish on Godwin this season, because in addition to the Buccaneers having brought in a pass-oriented head coach in Bruce Arians, they lost players during the offseason who totaled 229 of their 2018 targets, most of those via Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson (177 combined). Even if we assume the Buccaneers' total number of pass attempts regresses closer to the 2018 league average of 552 -- and that's quite the assumption considering Arians' teams averaged 616 pass attempts during the past 10 seasons in which he was either a head coach or offensive coordinator -- there are still nearly 100 targets left up for grabs in Tampa Bay. Godwin is the most logical benefactor, as the next most obvious choice would be tight end O.J. Howard, who has missed eight of 32 career games due to injury. Godwin has good odds of a 120-target campaign, which is plenty enough to propel him into the WR2 tier.
James Washington, Vance McDonald and Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown's departure alone opened up 170 Steelers targets, and free-agent signee Donte Moncrief's 90 for the Jaguars last season were already right in line with his career norms. As mentioned above, the Steelers seem among the most likely teams to regress in the pass-attempts department, but let's not forget that they still averaged 595 in the five seasons that preceded 2018, which would still mean more than 50 targets remain up for grabs in Pittsburgh this season. Maybe those vacated Brown targets get divided evenly between these three receivers -- and perhaps including others on the roster -- but knowing the potential opportunities facing each, they are all appealing upside plays at their current ADPs.
Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman and Carlos Hyde, Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs lost a total of 113 of their 2018 targets, primarily in the form of Chris Conley, Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware, and they didn't add much in the way of offseason thump to absorb that workload. That's before addressing the possibility that No. 1 wide receiver Tyreek Hill misses any time due to suspension, another factor that could open up a slew of opportunities for other receivers. Watkins might be the most logical benefactor, but he has struggled with both injuries and inconsistency during a five-year NFL career. Rookie Hardman might be more of a factor than expected, and Hyde did have 85 targets out of the backfield as recently as 2017. Considering these guys have cannon-armed Patrick Mahomes throwing them the football, each is well worth the extra buck at your draft table recognizing their potentially increased opportunities.
Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson, Washington Redskins: While there hasn't been much excitement surrounding the Redskins' passing game this offseason, someone has to catch the 300-plus passes -- and that's taking a conservative approach to passing success, being 60 percent of 500 total attempts -- seen in Washington in 2019. Jamison Crowder and Maurice Harris are now gone, leaving the team with 121 vacated targets, all of them from the wide receiver position. That's the third-highest total by any team at that position alone. So who's it going to be? Doctson? Richardson? Keep it in mind as you're scouring the lower tiers of the position late in your draft, because there could be more volume potential for each of them than for others.
Conversely, here are the "worry" players on three teams that added quite a lot of personnel to the passing game during the offseason, meaning their target shares might decrease significantly.
Jarvis Landry and David Njoku, Cleveland Browns: Totaling the 2018 targets of all members of the 2019 roster, the Browns possess an NFL-high 689, resulting in a similarly league-leading difference of 136 when compared to their 2018 team total in the category. In short, they have a multitude of receivers, so something's got to give. A Duke Johnson Jr. trade could free up some targets and Odell Beckham Jr.'s injury history could resurface to clear the clutter -- though his prospective fantasy managers most certainly are neither hoping nor planning on that happening -- but Landry, a target monster throughout his five-year NFL career, seems at risk for a drop in the category, as does Njoku. Here's the other problem: One cannot simply assume the Browns throw substantially more often to make up the difference, considering they have a quality running game that includes Nick Chubb and Johnson, with offseason addition Kareem Hunt eligible to join the mix come Week 10. By the way, Hunt will also cut into that team target share after that point.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills: Regression to the mean in terms of team pass attempts -- the Bills' 499 last season were fifth fewest in the league -- could solve some of the Bills' excess in the targets category, but this is still an offense centered around the running game and play-action passing that makes a significant rise unlikely. McCoy's fantasy utility in 2019 is already threatened by the additions of Frank Gore, Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon, and the target department could be particularly problematic for this veteran who has averaged 65 catches per 16 games in his NFL career. Yeldon, in particular, could steal a lot of McCoy's receiving work, as might tight end Tyler Kroft on short routes in the red zone.
Adam Humphries and Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans: Humphries' addition cluttered the Titans' receiver picture, and let's not overlook that he's coming off a career-best 105-target campaign that represented an increase of 22 over his 2016 and 2017 numbers. He picked up a $19 million guarantee during the offseason, so you can be sure the Titans will try to feature him as their top wideout, limiting the disappointing-to-this-point Davis' own target total. But what if Humphries isn't up to the task? It might be difficult to forecast which Titans receiver is the one to trust on a weekly basis, and none might see enough throws to be more than a WR4.
Full vacated targets report
The chart below shows each team's vacated targets for 2019, so you can identify your own such candidates. Included are the number of 2018 targets each team added to the roster during the offseason, the net difference between 2018 and 2019, and key roster additions and subtractions.