Receivers tend to be inconsistent, in no small part because they have to rely on someone else to get the ball in their hands while three or four other receivers also contend for the pass.. Still, we can identify trends in how teams use their primary receivers to help us properly asses their fantasy value. For the purposes of this report, a team’s “primary receiver” is the player who sees the most passes thrown his direction in a game. With some teams it’s a role that changes hands (no pun intended) on a weekly basis; with others, there is a clear-cut go-to guy being fed regularly. Overall, however, there is more spreading the ball around than you might think: 135 different players—101 wideouts, 34 tight ends—were the most targeted receiver on their team for at least one game last year. Additionally, no player was his team’s top target in all 16 games, and only two (A.J Green and Pierre Garcon) were the leading target in more than 12 of their team’s games.
For the 2013 regular season, here is a rundown of which receivers were thrown the most passes in a game for their team.
|Arizona Cardinals||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
There was a new offensive coordinator in Hank Goodwin and a new quarterback with Carson Palmer but the results were almost exactly the same for Larry Fitzgerald. The only change was that Michael Floyd stepped up from the three to six games as the primary wideout. He’s also been more productive when the primary than Fitzgerald who is starting to show his age and turns 32 this year. No reason to expect Fitzgerald’s share to increase unlike Floyd.
|Atlanta Falcons||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Same offense, coaches and players came into the year but it was a disaster thanks to injuries. Now there are still questions as to how well Julio Jones can return from his foot fracture since it is an older injury that appears to continue to be an issue. Roddy White has been the primary in Atlanta for many years but now he turns 34 this year and suffered through an injurious season all last year. The question this year is how healthy Jones and White can be this year. With Gonzalez sternly claiming retirement, it should play out for a 50/50 primary share between the two wideouts if they can just stay on the field.
|Baltimore Ravens||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Anquan Boldin was the most common primary receiver in 2012 and as expected Torrey Smith took his place. But he was less dominant than expected especially considering how much weaker the receiver corps were with Dennis Pitta missing most of the year and the rushing effort much less effective. Gary Kubiak was the first year offensive coordinator but just had little to work with and that should be cured in free agency and/or the draft.
|Buffalo Bills||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Stevie Johnson was the primary receiver for 14 games in 2012 but he suffered through a groin injury last year plus a much less effective quarterback situation since Ryan Fitzpatrick was gone and the rookie E.J. Manuel only played for ten games. Donald Jones was gone but the rookie Robert Woods showed some promise. The same offensive scheme remains but the quarterback situation needs to improve and the Bills are not completely sold on Manuel.
|Carolina Panthers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
|Ted Ginn Jr.||1||10.0||31%||11.0||7%||3.0||0.0|
For the first time, Steve Smith played a full season and yet did not have the majority of catches in most games. He tied with the tight end Greg Olsen and since he is 35-years-old it is likely that he won’t command the lead again. The Panthers languish with a marginal passing game each year and do little to improve. That is bound to change this year since Brandon LaFell has proven to not be up to the task and there is just no one else to turn to on the 2013 roster. Free agency and the draft has to deliver some help for this declining unit.
|Chicago Bears||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
An entirely new coaching staff was in place for 2013 with prolific results thanks to Aaron Kromer and Marc Trestman. In 2012 it was Brandon Marshall with 14 games as the primary receiver but Alshon Jeffery stepped up in a big way and nearly split the games as the most favored receiver. No reason to expect any different this year as this is the most prolific two-wideout set in the NFL.
|Cincinnati Bengals||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
As is the case every year, A.J. Green dominated the passing stats with a league high 14 games as the primary. A new offense comes in with Hue Jackson and the eternal claim that they need to run more. No reason to expect any changes here even with the new offensive coordinator.
|Cleveland Browns||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The expectation last year was that Jordan Cameron would really become the primary since both HC Rob Chudzinski and OC Norv Turner were tight end gurus but that didn’t take into account that Josh Gordon would sky rocket to the top of the wideout heap in only 14 games. And yet the coaching staff was all released yet again so it starts over. Cameron had a fine second season regardless but Gordon rules this team no matter what OC Kyle Shanahan comes up with.
|Dallas Cowboys||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This was the exact result from 2012 except Bryant went from only four games to nine as the primary while Miles Austin all but disappeared. Bryant will continue to dominate as the primary and Witten is likely to recede since he turns 32 year-old. The Cowboys will talk about wanting to run more and better but there is no pretense who is the primary here and Bryant should see an increase so long as he remains healthy.
|Denver Broncos||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Maybe the only surprise here was that nearly the exact same ratios repeated this year only the addition of Wes Welker resulted in both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker both gave up on game to Welker. But Welker only acted as the primary receiver in two games and had the lowest number of targets, catches and yards of any of other primary receivers. But this is such a prolific attack that even the #3 receiver in a game could end up with more fantasy points than the #1 receiver from many other teams.
|Detroit Lions||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Regardless of the endless quest to dredge up a suitable #2 wideout across from Calvin Johnson, there’s never a question about who will end up with the ball more and last year he added constant scoring to even further distance himself from all others. The only one to watch here is Joseph Fauria but regardless, Johnson will be Megatron again. Kyle Shanahan will be the new offensive coordinator but the talent difference between Johnson and all others means there’s never a question about the primary receiver here.
|Green Bay Packers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Every year there are five different players who end up as the primary in a game for the Packers since Aaron Rogers is so adept at spreading the ball around to all the receivers. No reason to look for any notable changes here in terms of which player gets the most passes in a game. They all will… just in different weeks.
|Houston Texans||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This will be one to watch. The Texans brought in the rookie DeAndre Hopkins and while he never had a primary role, his usage is bound to increase this season. Andre Johnson may be 33 years old but comes off a huge season where he caught 109 passes and was thrown 181 over the year. His role could be slightly reduced if Hopkins has the expected increase and Johnson is getting older but he’s hard to count out in any way.
|Indianapolis Colts||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Reggie Wayne was clearly the primary receiver in Indianapolis for the last several years but his injury knocked him off his perch and at the age of 36 it is fair to wonder if he will ever again be the primary there. He is rehabbing and hopes to return. T.Y. Hilton ended as the most used target b and when he was good he was very good. But the Colts will be either banking on Wayne returning to form or settling on a suitable #2 if only to take the pressure off of Hilton.
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Justin Blackmon era is not doing well. He started last year with a four game suspension and then ended it with an indefinite suspension for yet another violation of the drug policy. That left Cecil Shorts as the primary receiver most often and even he missed all or most of the final three weeks as well thanks to injury. The Jaguars want Blackmon back whenever he is reinstated and Shorts is in his final contract year with the Jags leery of signing him longer because he gets injured every year. Add on top that the Jaguars are always one of the weaker passing teams and the primary receiver has very marginal value anyway.
|Kansas City Chiefs||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Of all the positive improvements ushered in by HC Andy Reid, re-energizing the passing game really wasn’t one of them. Dwayne Bowe remains the only one with any fantasy value and that is even less than 2012. This remains a run-first team with a solid defense. Passing is rarely needed and not done all that well when it does happen.
|Miami Dolphins||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Bringing in Mike Wallace didn’t change a lot but he was the main target in most games for Ryan Tannehill. The chemistry between the two continues to be a problem and Brian Hartline has been the more productive and effective player when they are not throwing passes to Wallace just to justify his expense. The Fins changed to Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator and since he comes in after being the QB coach in Philly, the Fins should be at least incrementally better at passing.
|Minnesota Vikings||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
All the stats here are low because the Vikings prefer to run and they don’t throw particularly well. A new quarterback is likely in the making this year and that can only benefit Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. Problem here is that they prefer to run in touchdowns so even the primary receiver never has more than a one in three chance of scoring in a game when he is relied on the most. The addition of Norv Turner will help but only to the extent that he has a capable quarterback.
|New England Patriots||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Wes Welker was replaced by Julian Edelman and not Danny Amendola as expected. This was a minor surprise since Edelman was there all along and rarely used. Chances are that the Pats will be very active again in free agency and the draft to acquire a better set of receivers. The youth movement last year just never really worked out. Aaron Dobson had the occasional spark but remains very raw. The Pats should be a lock to upgrade here.
|New Orleans Saints||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Saints may want to get Jimmy Graham under contract without breaking the bank but he’s clearly the main cog of the offense. Lance Moore was a far bigger factor in 2012 but disappeared this last season. Marques Colston turns 32 years old but still provides a possession complement to Graham. Kenny Stills should improve but he’s going to remain more of a deep ball player that won’t detract from the volume of passes for both Colston and Graham.
|New York Giants||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The Giants offense suffered terribly from injuries to the blockers but it seemed bad even beyond that with Eli Manning throwing to the same set of receivers and yet it looked as if all chemistry was gone. The offense looked stale and so the Giants brought in Ben McAdoo in to be the new coordinator after having been the QB coach in Green Bay. Hakeem Nicks is likely to leave in free agency but Rueben Randall is ready to take his place. Besides, Victor Cruz remains the primary and should benefit the most by the new offensive scheme.
|New York Jets||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This crew looked plenty shaky coming into the season and nothing good developed. Santonio Holmes is likely to be gone and there’s just no one else on the team other than Jeremy kerley that did much last year. At best Kerley is a low-end #2 receiver being cast as a primary in a system that doesn’t pass well or often. No doubt free agency and the draft will be looked at for some help but the same offense scheme and quarterback returns. Another one of those teams where the primary receiver doesn’t even carry much fantasy value.
|Oakland Raiders||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Greg Olsen’s offense produced very similar stats to 2012 only Rod Streater and Denarius Moore swapped places as being the more targeted receiver and the tight end position was almost eliminated as a receiving position. Terrelle Pryor started the season well but later was injured and gave way to Matt McGloin. This offense spreads the ball around but mostly because there is no one receiver who merits that much more attention than the others. Barring a quarterback change or acquiring a talented veteran there’s no reason to expect much change here.
|Philadelphia Eagles||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This worked out differently than expected since Chip Kelly’s first season never used Jeremy Maclin thanks to a training camp injury. Maclin would seemingly have been a great fit as the possession receiver but DeSean Jackson did step up and turn in a career best year. With Maclin returning, the distribution of primary receivers should mostly shrink down to either him or Jackson. Maclin is a free agent but is expected to remain an Eagle.
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Antonio Brown was clearly the main man here and Emmanuel Sanders is expected to leave in free agency. That should make Brown even more important and remain a top ten receiver in volume of passes. The rookie Markus Wheaton made little progress last year but should be a bigger factor. Heath Miller turns 33 this year and is unlikely to repeat his career best season in 2012.
|San Diego Chargers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
That Antonio Gates was the primary in half of the games speaks to the problems the Chargers had in 2013 until the rookie Keenan Allen stepped up to make a major difference. Vincent Brown did nearly nothing and Eddie Royal made little difference. But Gates turns 34 and was able to last all 16 games for the first time in four seasons. His stats are bound to decline and Allen will hopefully improve and not suffer from a sophomore slump. The Chargers elevated Frank Reich from QB coach to offensive coordinator and should maintain the same basic offense.
|Seattle Seahawks||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
This is a run-first team and while Russell Wilson was able to throw when the need arose, he was adept at spreading the ball around. This is not an offense that is going to produce much fantasy value in the receivers and the stats above are little different than the previous year. Lower passing yards and catches will be split up thanks to Wilson.
|San Francisco 49ers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Michael Crabtree was the primary wideout in 11 games for 2012 but his injury ruined the regular season. Problem now is that Anquan Boldin is likely to remain – if they can figure out how – and that could dig into Crabtree’s business. Make no mistake, Crabtree is the preferred wideout here and should rebound nicely in 2014 but Boldin’s status could have at least minor impact.
|St. Louis Rams||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The team that covets a passing game and yet never seems to discover one. Losing Sam Bradford in week seven last year ruined what could have been an improving year. Bradford had thrown 14 touchdowns in those seven games but he’ll need to start over again thanks to a torn ACL. And that is assuming that the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year is welcomed back as there is at least some talk about the Rams looking for a new answer at quarterback. Givens was the most common target in games and yet had minimal catches and yardage in those games. Jared Cook may be primed to improved but there is no certainty here. Making Tavon Austin be the first wideout drafted seems pretty suspect so far since he was never much more than a few gimmick plays and deep catches.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
Mike Williams missed nine games last year and allowed Jackson to become the clear primary receiver in most games. That could slip back with Williams returning though there is also a chance he is released since he was a problem prior to his torn hamstring by missing meetings and in general calling his dedication into question. Jeff Tedford is taking the offensive reins after years as the Cal Bears head coach and that should help the passing game at least eventually. If Williams is released, Jackson remains almost guaranteed a high number of targets this season.
|Tennessee Titans||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
The coaching staff is all new here with Ken Whisenhunt taking over after an impressive year as the Chargers offensive coordinator. Nate Washington is 31 years old and less likely to matter in the new scheme. Kendall Wright already was the main man and the Titans finally gave up on Kenny Britt. The only change here should be Justin Hunter’s second season being better but he won’t cut into Wright’s action. This should be a career year for Wright.
|Washington Redskins||Gms||Targets||Target %||Yards||% of Yards||Catches||TDs|
And another total sweep of the coaching offices. Jay Gruden be the HC with a heavy influence on the offense having been successful in Cincinnati. Short of adding a new receiver which the Redskins have amazingly been slow to do, Pierre Garcon should remain the primary here with minimal challenge for most of the passes. Santana Moss is 35 and neither Josh Morgan nor Leonard Hankerson have any sense of untapped potential anymore. The only change might be an increased use of tight end Jordan Reed but Gruden has not had heavy use of the position as a receiver in the past.
As much as we think certain players are the primary receiver, none managed to go sixteen full games always getting the most passing targets for their team. It’s also interesting to see the teams that only rely on two receivers compared to others that have multiple primary receivers, seemingly busting out a new one each week. Below are the wideouts at the top of the categories who had at least four games as a primary receiver.
|In Games Where They Were the Primary Receiver…|
|Most Games||Most Targets||Highest % Team Targets||Most Catches|
|A.J. Green||14||Eric Decker||13.4||Vincent Jackson||47%||Julian Edelman||8.9|
|Pierre Garcon||13||Brian Hartline||13.3||Dwayne Bowe||42%||Eric Decker||8.6|
|Andre Johnson||12||Andre Johnson||12.8||Cecil Shorts||42%||Harry Douglas||8.2|
|Vincent Jackson||12||Julian Edelman||12.8||Julian Edelman||42%||Tony Gonzalez||8.2|
|Josh Gordon||11||Josh Gordon||12.5||Vernon Davis||42%||Alshon Jeffery||8.0|
|Calvin Johnson||11||Calvin Johnson||12.4||Denarius Moore||42%||Andre Johnson||7.5|
|Dwayne Bowe||11||Cecil Shorts||12.0||Calvin Johnson||42%||Antonio Brown||7.5|
|Jimmy Graham||11||A.J. Green||11.9||Anquan Boldin||41%||Brandon Marshall||7.3|
|Antonio Brown||11||Alshon Jeffery||11.9||Stevie Johnson||41%||Pierre Garcon||7.3|
|Kendall Wright||11||Harry Douglas||11.8||Brandon Marshall||41%||Brian Hartline||7.3|
|Anquan Boldin||10||Pierre Garcon||11.8||Victor Cruz||41%||Josh Gordon||7.1|
|Torrey Smith||9||Dez Bryant||11.7||Alshon Jeffery||40%||Keenan Allen||7.0|
|Brandon Marshall||9||Vincent Jackson||11.6||Antonio Brown||40%|
|Dez Bryant||9||Brandon Marshall||11.4||Greg Olsen||40%|