Are Rookie Wide Receiver Targets Earned?

amon-ra st brown

Fantasy football circles have been abuzz all offseason about the future and fate of every player, but one soon-to-be sophomore wide receiver seems to be particularly rankling for the fantasy football cognoscenti, and that is Amon-Ra St. Brown. ASRB (as he will be known in this article to save my fingers from having to hit a period and a hyphen) finished 2021 with 119 targets, 90 receptions, and 912 receiving yards, but the manner in which he received them has his detractors yelling that he was a product of the Lions losing both T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift and that he didn’t produce all season long (and this is somehow a problem).

Here’s the thing about rookie wide receivers: they rarely produce throughout all four quarters of the season, with top-36 finishing WR rookies averaging 10.7 half-PPR points per game in the first quarter of the season, increasing every quarter, and finishing averaging 13.4 fantasy points per game. But, ARSB detractors say one thing: this is different, it’s different because T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift’s absence led to an uptick in targets for ARSB. And they’re not wrong. Amon-Ra St. Brown averaged 11 targets per game in the last five games of the year, which T.J. Hockenson missed.

They’re also not right; ARSB’s season-high in targets was 12 in week thirteen, a game in which Hockenson had eight targets. Prior to that point, it wasn’t like Amon-Ra was a slouch, either. He had at least four targets in nine-of-eleven games. Unfortunately, since the Lions had a new QB, a new coach, a new WR1, and an RB1 thrust into the role, the offense sputtered and struggled, and ARSB was unproductive with those targets. In the first eleven games of the season, wherein ARSB averaged just 4.7 targets per game, the Lions averaged 15.8 points per game, with prodigious garbage time in week one against San Francisco marking the only time they crossed the 20-point threshold.

In the last six weeks of the season, the Rams passed 20 points four times in six games and averaged 25.2 points per game. It’s clear that opening up the offense to ARSB opened up the offense as a whole. The Lions also failed to win a single game in their first eleven, then won three-of-six after opening up the offense with ARSB. But, this article isn’t really about Amon-Ra St. Brown, not really. It’s to answer a question: are targets earned?

First, let’s take a look at some arbitrary numbers: from 2016 to 2020, 15 rookie wide receivers ended the year with at least 90 targets (ARSB, again, had 119): Justin Jefferson, Michael Thomas, Cooper Kupp, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, Sterling Shepard, DK Metcalf, Darnell Mooney, Brandon Aiyuk, Terry McLaurin, Will Fuller, Diontae Johnson, and Calvin Ridley. Normally I wouldn’t list out the players but look at that list. Amon-Ra St. Brown joined that list in 2021. Those wide receivers averaged 103 targets in their rookie years.

Looking at their sophomore years proves… difficult. Jerry Jeudy, Sterling Shepard, Cooper Kupp, and Will Fuller all missed at least five games, so their targets obviously dropped down. There are two ways to address this: exclude those four, or pace them out over sixteen games. If we exclude those four from the total, then these fifteen wide receivers averaged 125 targets their sophomore year, a 22-target increase. If we pace their target totals out across sixteen games, the sophomores averaged a smidge under 120 targets per game. So, I suppose, targets are earned.

Even if good wide receivers earn targets, what about productive wide receivers? Is it as simple as a productive rookie year wide receiver will continue to be productive? Well, yes. ARSB finished his rookie season with nine 10+ PPR games, which tied him for the ninth-most among rookie wide receivers since 2016 (with Cooper Kupp, A.J. Brown, Chase Claypool, Sterling Shepard and Deebo Samuel). Of the eleven wide receivers to finish with at least 9 double-digit PPR games their rookie year, all of those who played more than 11 games their sophomore year (except one) finished with at least 11 double-digit fantasy point games; none finished with fewer than 8 (Chase Claypool). Among the finishers with fewer than 11 games played, all finished with double-digit fantasy days in at least half of their games, with Kupp hitting the total in six-of-eight games, Samuel in four-of-seven, and Shepard in 6-of-11.

So, if you’ve been paying attention: targets are earned, and doubly so if they reward teams with fantasy points. Amon-Ra St. Brown is #goodatfootball, and has a ton of targets headed his way in 2022. He currently has a FantasyPros Expert Consensus Rank of WR29 and pick 75 overall, and I am extremely happy to snag him at that price in drafts. Why? Because targets are earned, and production is rewarded, and he has both in spades.

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About Jeff Krisko

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