Three WRs With Larger Roles in 2013
By Jeff Brubach
This week, we continue looking at receiving target statistics from the 2012 season in order to determine which NFL players will see increases or decreases in their target numbers in 2013. As the new fantasy season approaches, many aspects including injuries, player movement, and new offensive schemes can impact the future prospects of the wide receivers that will shape the fantasy football season. The three wide receivers below deserve your utmost attention as draft season approaches, as they will be in line for healthy increases in targets this season.
Our first candidate for a healthy increase in targets is Mr. Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown’s inclusion on this list is fairly obvious, as the Steelers lost top wide receiver Mike Wallace, but it’s worth digging into what to actually expect from the fourth year receiver. In 2012, there were 574 targets to feed the Steelers running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. Of those possible pass recipients, Mike Wallace led the charge with 119 targets (21 percent) and tight end Heath Miller came in third with 101 targets (18 percent). This is where the good news comes in for our dear friend Antonio. Wallace jetted off to warmer climates and worse quarterback play, as he signed a free agent deal with the Miami Dolphins, and Heath Miller is in the midst of returning from a knee injury that will hold him out the first portion of the year. Throw in the fact that Pittsburgh’s top running back, Le’Veon Bell, is now down for the count with a foot injury, and Large Ben will be throwing the ball frequently with only Brown and fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders to make plays.
Now that we know Brown’s workload is a lock to increase, we need to dig through the numbers and see just how much to expect. By taking a surface glance at Pittsburgh’s 2012 receiving numbers, we can safely say that Wallace’s 119 targets and a good portion of Miller’s 101 targets (as we await his return) can be divided amongst the current Steelers wideouts. Rookie Markus Wheaton will likely see some game action this season, in addition to a possible uptick for Jerricho Cotchery, but Brown should be the largest beneficiary of the additional looks. Just this week, via Steelers.com, Roethlisberger stated that, “The sky is limit” for Brown and, “He has come along as a No. 1 guy.” Look for Brown to jump up from 105 to around 130 targets in 2013, as he flirts with Top 15-20 wide receiver production.
Floyd’s 2012 rookie season was nothing noteworthy, but the fantasy football world seems ready to give anyone associated with Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer a mulligan, and I wholeheartedly agree. The quarterback play in the desert last season was so putrid, even stallion wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was held to abnormally low receiving totals. Fast forward to 2013, and the Cardinals have new things brewing.
Arizona’s new head coach Bruce Arians is no stranger to throwing the football. Just last season, as offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, he let rookie quarterback Andrew Luck throw the ball 627 times, which led to some nice receiving numbers for the Colts receivers. Now, we happily plug Arians’ system in with the Cardinals alongside new quarterback Carson Palmer. While no Aaron Rodgers, Palmer is still a “Game Genie” type upgrade for Arizona, and this means big things for our guy Michael Floyd.
In 2012, Floyd saw the third most targets (86) among Arizona players behind Fitzgerald (153) and Andre Roberts (113). This pecking order, however, is a thing of the past. Currently, Floyd is running as a starter opposite Larry Fitzgerald and has the size and skills to erupt this season. Just picture a Ferrari that was running with a Prius engine in 2012. The big engine is back under the hood and ready to rip down the field. Expect Floyd to be on the other end of roughly 120 of Palmer’s 2013 targets, as he breaks onto the fantasy scene in a big way.
The 2012 Chicago passing attack can be summed up in two words: Brandon Marshall. As we noted last week, Marshall was Jay Cutler’s top option by an extremely large margin. While we can expect more of the same this season, there are two huge reasons to believe that Alshon Jeffery’s production will grow closer to Marshall’s in 2013.
First, much like Michael Floyd above, Jeffery’s team has a new head coach who favors the pass. New head coach Marc Trestman will look to move the ball through the air frequently this season, meaning there will be more targets available for Bears receivers than the 592 targets in 2012. While more passes doesn’t automatically turn a receiver into a fantasy football force, our second reason for believing in Jeffery this season should definitely help turn him into a formidable wideout.
Just this week Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, via ESPN Chicago, said about Jeffery, “He’s done a great job this offseason of getting better, getting physically stronger and gaining my trust. I love throwing it to him.” Those are very kind words coming from a quarterback who seemingly did not trust a single player on the field besides Marshall at times in 2012. The growing trust between Jeffery and Cutler, in addition to a spike in total passing attempts for the Chicago offense this season, means good things are on the horizon for Jeffery. Don’t expect another season of Alshon Jeffery being the fourth most targeted Bears WR. You can count on Jeffery to become a complimentary piece to stud Brandon Marshall as he sees between 90-110 targets.