Every year after the NFL Draft a great deal of time is spent trying to reflect on the incoming rookies, their roles on their new team, and where we should begin taking them in real fantasy drafts.

While talent and team fit are important in their own right, opportunity is still king when it comes to fantasy scoring. Without seeing the requisite targets necessary to survive, talent alone won’t score fantasy points. Raw targets—not efficiency—are routinely one of the best tools to help predict fantasy finishes.

So for this article, let’s take a look back at 2016 to help us look forward at the new league year upon us.

Thanks to Josh Hermsmeyer who introduced the fantasy community to Air Yards last year, I mined his site’s coffers and created a look at which teams have the most opportunity available for their incoming and veteran pass catchers. This exercise is rather simple, but incredibly powerful.

For those who are new to Air Yards, Hermsmeyer defines his statistic as, “The total number of yards thrown toward a receiver on a play in which he is targeted, both complete and incomplete. If you add them up over a game or a season, you get a receiver’s total Air Yards.”

Let’s look at some data. Here is all 32 NFL teams’ targets, target share (percentage of team targets), and percentage of Air Yards available:

Team

Available Targets

Target Share Available

Percentage of Air Yards Available

ARI

88

17%

24%

ATL

72

14%

12%

BAL

339

50%

47%

BUF

232

48%

62%

CAR

148

26%

31%

CHI

120

22%

26%

CIN

39

7%

5%

CLE

134

23%

14%

DAL

31

6%

2%

DEN

35

6%

6%

DET

148

25%

20%

GB

58

9%

10%

HOU

30

5%

2%

IND

58

10%

10%

JAX

90

14%

11%

KC

86

16

18%

LAC

25

4%

0%

LAR

296

55%

66%

MIA

66

13%

9%

MIN

168

28%

24%

NE

79

14%

10%

NO

117

17%

27%

NYG

94

16%

20%

NYJ

168

27%

36%

OAK

93

15%

10%

PHI

85

14%

17%

PIT

43

8%

10%

SEA

47

9%

3%

SF

177

36%

39%

TB

146

26%

29%

TEN

80

17%

17%

WAS

214

35%

50%

(Data sourced from AirYards.com).

Please note that I did not broadly adjust these statistics to account for new 2017 free agent signings. The data above is based on what is available from the 2016 regular season.

 

Teams Overflowing With Opportunity

Baltimore Ravens - 339 targets available (50% of team share); 47% of Air Yards Available

Despite losing Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken (now with the Colts), and Kyle Juszczyk (49 targets in 2016), the Ravens did not draft a single pass catcher in the NFL Draft. What’s more, outside of throwing a dart at former-Buccaneer Kenny Bell, the Ravens ignored receivers in free agency, too. That sound you hear in the background is Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman rejoicing and jumping for joy. Wallace was second on the Ravens in targets in 2016 (117) and accounted for 29% of the team’s Air Yards, leading to a WR30 performance in PPR points/game. Despite the Ravens’ failing to address receiver this offseason, Wallace is the WR55 in MFL10 average draft position. Breshad Perriman is the WR56 in current cost. With nearly 30% of the team’s target share up for grabs, sharp fantasy drafters should load up on both Wallace and Perriman at their cheap prices. Both players have the opportunity needed smash at their price points in 2017.

Update (7/1/2017): The Ravens' signed Jeremy Maclin to bolster their wide receiver ranks, which I wrote in-depth about here. Now that Dennis Pitta (hip) and Darren Waller (suspension) are both off of the roster, Baltimore's tight end corps is a complete mess. Maclin is probably the best bet to vacuum up a bunch of the Ravens' lost interior passing targets. Regardless, Baltimore will have to change their base passing offense to reflect their changed personnel by funneling targets to their receivers and Danny Woodhead

 Los Angeles Rams - 296 targets available (55% of team share); 66% of Air Yards Available

Wow. Kenny Britt (now with the Browns), Lance Kendricks (Packers), and Brian Quick’s (Redskins) departures have opened up a gaping hole in new HC-Sean McVay’s offense. The Rams finished last by a mile in offensive points scored per drive (1.16) in 2016 and they cleaned house this offseason to change their identity. In an attempt to fill the holes, the Rams’ threw money at Robert Woods in free agency and drafted three pass catchers in the NFL Draft: slot-man Cooper Kupp, 71st percentile SPARQ athlete from Texas A&M Josh Reynolds, and another size-adjusted freak from the 2017 tight end class that was selected #44 overall, Gerald Everett. The Rams’ still don’t have true perimeter threat and with Kupp in tow, it seems likely Tavon Austin will have to play more outside in 2016. Austin ran over half of his routes from the slot last season. Jared Goff remains the biggest question mark for the Rams, but at least Los Angeles has made a concerted effort to plug their gaping leaks on offense.

Buffalo Bills - 232 targets available (48% of team share); 62% of Air Yards Available

Hello, Sammy Watkins. It’s easy to be frustrated with Watkins’ foot issues, but he is certainly set to explode in 2017 if he can shake his unlucky injury history. Watkins has missed 11 games over the past two seasons dealing with a nagging Jones’ (foot) fracture that has required multiple surgeries, but if Watkins can get right for one year, he could be a target-monster in Buffalo. The Bills drafted ECU’s Zay Jones whom they plan to take over Robert Woods’ vacant role, but they are still severely lacking in depth. Free agent signee Andre Holmes fills a hole, but the Bills are really relying on Watkins to stay healthy in 2017. In the 22 games Sammy Watkins has been active over the past two years, Tyrod Taylor has averaged a meteoric 8.80 Yards/Attempt. When Watkins sits, Taylor’s Yards/Attempt average dips to a sub-par 6.27 yards. Taylor-to-Watkins may finally thrive in 2017.

Washington Redskins - 214 targets available (35% of team share); 50% of Air Yards Available

With DeSean Jackson in Tampa Bay and Pierre Garcon out west, the Redskins have one of the juiciest fantasy situations available. I wrote in-depth about new receiver Terrelle Pryor’s ceiling and floor in Washington during free agency, but it appears both Pryor and Josh Doctson are still both massive winners of the Redskins’ offseason moves. Washington only added one new receiver in the draft—Georgia State’s Robert Davis with a sixth-round selection—and they added Jeremy Sprinkle to an already deep tight end rotation. Doctson’s Achilles’ remains the lone concern for his availability, but Washington’s base three wide receiver set of Doctson, Pryor, and slot-man Jamison Crowder are walking into a heap of opportunity in 2017.

Room To Work

Carolina Panthers - 148 targets available (26% of team share); 31% of Air Yards Available

For all of the necessary discussion surrounding Cam Newton’s lack of touch and accuracy as a passer in the short/intermediate areas, newcomers Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel are at least walking into a pretty wide-open situation. Greg Olsen is always the mainstay over the middle, but the Panthers have not seen much of a return from Devin Funchess and with Kelvin Benjamin struggling with his weight once more, the Panthers’ passing attack is bound to look drastically different in 2017.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 146 targets available (26% of team share); 29% of Air Yards Available

Let’s keep this one simple: DeSean Jackson is in a beautiful spot. The Bucs’ made an effort this offseason to surround Jameis Winston with talent, and luckily for us, the Bucs’ have plenty of room to fill it. Tampa had one of the league’s shallowest receiver rotations last year, but Tampa has since plugged every hole on their depth chart. With two more additions of Reception Perception-favorite Chris Godwin and athletic-star O.J. Howard in the NFL Draft, the Bucs may now own one of the league’s most diverse and multi-dimensional attacks. It’s always tough for rookies to make an impact in Year One, but Howard should immediately play in two tight end sets and give Winston a splash-play threat over the middle of the field that he has sorely missed in his first two seasons with the Bucs’.

Chicago Bears - 120 targets available (22% of team share); 26% of Air Yards Available

With Alshon Jeffery now in Philadelphia, he leaves open 94 targets (17% of team share) for Cam Meredith and Kevin White to split amongst themselves. The Bears’ quarterback battle between Mike Glennon and Mitchell Trubisky will be an interesting storyline to monitor all offseason, but Chicago only took a low-probability stab at Markus Wheaton this offseason to bolster their wide receiver ranks. Newcomer Adam Shaheen complicates the Bears’ tight end target share with Zach Miller and Dion Sims already in tow, but at least one of Meredith and White have more than enough available opportunity to blow past their current re-draft costs. The most recent MFL10 average draft position data pegs Meredith as the WR41 and White as the WR51.

A Full House

Cincinnati Bengals - 39 targets available (7% of team share); 5% of Air Yards Available

From a football perspective, drafting John Ross made a ton of sense for the Bengals. Cincinnati has long needed a secondary receiver that has multiple dimensions to his game opposite alpha-dog A.J. Green and if Ross’ long list of medical issues stabilizes, he will be a perfect complement to the offense as a whole. Unfortunately for fantasy, there is not a ton of initial room for Ross to maneuver. Because of Green’s mid-season hamstring strain that cost him six games, Brandon LaFell actually led the Bengals in targets (107) in 2016. The Bengals will surely make sure that happen again and Ross may very well make quick work of LaFell’s spot on the depth chart come Week 1. Still, the Bengals already have a lead receiver, they just drafted slot-man Tyler Boyd in 2016 and Tyler Eifert, when healthy, is one of the league’s best tight ends in the red-zone. The Bengals’ are certainly not short on impact pass catchers. Based on their upgraded offensive personnel with top selections of Ross and Joe Mixon, Big Red Andy Dalton deserves a long look as a late-round quarterback favorite in 2017 drafts.

Los Angeles Chargers - 25 targets available (4% of team share); 0% of Air Yards Available

Similarly to the Bengals, early first-round selection Mike Williams does not have a ton of obvious room to make a splash. The Chargers are getting Keenan Allen back off of his ACL injury, Tyrell Williams broke out in 2017 and is deserving of a starting role still, the ‘Bolts still have Antonio Gates in tow and Hunter Henry has the makings of a stud tight end. Luckily for Phillip Rivers, the Chargers are loaded on offense. Unluckily for fantasy forecasters, the Chargers and the Patriots have two of the most convoluted pass-catching trees to narrow down.

An Obviously Special Note

Philadelphia Eagles - 85 targets available (14% of team share); 17% of Air Yards Available

This should go without saying, but the Eagles’ addition of Alshon Jeffery alone should toss both Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham to the back of the Eagles’ depth chart. I wrote about Jeffery’s addition in Philadelphia during free agency and noted that if we reduce Green-Beckham and Agholor’s roles entirely into dust, the Eagles effectively have 143 open targets (23% of team share) from the 2016 campaign. Jordan Matthews will remain in the slot, but the Eagles’ starting job opposite Jeffery is still up for grabs. Torrey Smith will likely have the first stab at the gig, but the Eagles also drafted Mack Hollins and lid-lifter Shelton Gibson to come in and compete for playing time.