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The fantasy football production cocktail is a blend of talent, situation, and opportunity. They are connected like a triangle as talent can force their way into a prominent role regardless of being blocked or not. Even a baseline-level talent can be fantasy-viable on a great offense or with a wide open opportunity (as we see with multiple running backs being the last man standing in December due to injuries). Here is a look at the passing games around the NFL, including the departed wide receivers and tight ends of note, available targets, and potential benefactors in 2016:
2016 Passing Game Opportunities
|Team||2015 TGTs||Departed Targets||Available||Benefactor(s)|
|San Diego||668||Malcom Floyd, Ladarius Green||132||Travis Benjamin, Hunter Henry|
|New Orleans||667||Marques Colston, Ben Watson||177||Mike Thomas, Coby Fleener, Brandon Coleman|
|Detroit||632||Calvin Johnson||150||Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron|
|New England||629||Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler||116||Chris Hogan, Martellus Bennett|
|NY Giants||622||Rueben Randle||90||Sterling Shepard|
|Atlanta||621||Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson||116||Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy|
|Indianapolis||619||Andre Johnson, Coby Fleener||161||Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Dwayne Allen|
|Houston||617||Nate Washington||94||Jaelen Strong, Will Fuller|
|Cleveland||609||Travis Benjamin||125||Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins|
|Jacksonville||607||Bryan Walters||45||Marqise Lee, Rashad Greene Sr|
|Pittsburgh||589||Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller||173||Sammie Coates Jr, Markus Wheaton|
|Miami||589||Rishard Matthews||61||DeVante Parker, Leonte Carroo|
|Green Bay||573||James Jones||99||Jordy Nelson, Jared Cook|
|San Francisco||526||Anquan Boldin||111||Torrey Smith, DeAndre Smelter, Quinton Patton|
|Chicago||523||Martellus Bennett||80||Zach Miller|
|Cincinnati||504||Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu||152||Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Tyler Kroft|
|Carolina||503||Jericho Cotchery||55||Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess|
|LA Rams||468||Jared Cook||75||Lance Kendricks, Tyler Higbee|
|Buffalo||465||Chris Hogan, Percy Harvin||89||Sammy Watkins|
|Minnesota||454||Mike Wallace||72||Stefon Diggs, LaQuon Treadwell|
A regression downward as a Chargers passing game whole is a concern with 668 targets a year ago, but 132 targets are available between Malcom Floyd and Ladarius Green departed. Rookie tight ends are typically very slow starters, so Benjamin as the No.2 receiver to Keenan Allen's lead status is a solid bet for 100 targets or more.
Ben Watson was a revelation as a starting-caliber fantasy tight end a year ago, emerging for a career year. Coby Fleener heads to New Orleans after a generally underused rookie contract stint in Indianapolis. While Fleener will be more expensive than Watson was a year ago, 100+ targets make a tight end a top-8 to top-10 lock annually.
The Patriots have a poor history of drafting wide receivers, but the free agent signing results are much better. Chris Hogan was hand-selected by New England and the former Buffalo receiver has thickness, athleticism, and enough production to project a upside with a quarterback and offensive upgrade. Track Julian Edelman's recovery as his absence could unlock Chris Hogan's opportunity upside.
Moncrief more than doubled his rookie year targets to 105 in 2015. However, Moncrief's efficiency difference from Andrew Luck to Matt Hasselbeck was jarring. In addition to Andre Johnson soaking up targets early in the season, Moncrief's breakout was put on hold with Andrew Luck's extended absence. With Luck back in 2016, the Moncrief watch is on with prototypical traits and only missing sustained volume to-date.
With Martavis Bryant suspended in 2016 and Heath Miller retired, 173 targets are vacant from an explosive Pittsburgh passing game. Markus Wheaton has been largely inefficient compared to other Ben Roethlisberger targets over recent seasons, making Wheaton the ho-hum bet to see an uptick in the offense. Sammie Coates Jr (and Ladarius Green) are the high-upside leverage plays. Coates barely played in his rookie season, but has a well-rounded metric profile and athletic upside.
Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron
Like Coby Fleener, Eric Ebron is an easy breakout candidate at tight end in 2016. The tape for Ebron through two years has been inconsistent at best, but Round 1 drafted tight ends plain do not miss from a fantasy perspective. Ebron enters Year 3 and Calvin Johnson's retirement leaves a massive target vacancy. Marvin Jones stands to benefit as a slotted-in receiver starter, but Ebron's 70 targets from 2015 could easily surge by 50% or more.
Continuing the theme of undervalued tight ends with usage upside in 2016 is Zach Miller. A wild card is Kevin White as no wide receiver saw even 100 targets for the low-volume Chicago passing game a year ago, but Miller is yet another tight end with 100+ target potential. Miller had 46 targets last year and is actually the most efficient per-target weapon paired with Jay Cutler in recent years.
Without notable additions to the Buffalo passing game, Watkins is the logical benefactor with 89 targets gone between Chris Hogan and Percy Harvin. Watkins has been a high-efficient, but low-volume receiver with Tyrod Taylor under center. Robert Woods and Charles Clay are unlikely surging weapons as Watkins enters Year 3.