Every year, NFL managers go full-on Thanos with their rosters. They slide their hands into those gauntlets, snap their fingers, and then...POOF. Players vanish. And in the ashes of their absence, other players -- some holdovers and some new faces -- are left to pick up the pieces.
In football terms, we're talking about vacated targets. Despite what you may think, when a player is jettisoned, he's not allowed to take his target share with him. That'd be like taking your desk when you get fired from an office job. They frown on that. The next guy is going to need to use that desk. And it's the same thing with targets.
Remember: Targets = opportunities. And opportunities are so much more important in fantasy football than that ever-ephemeral "talent."
Oakland Raiders - Vacated Targets: 371
Notable Losses: Jared Cook, Jordy Nelson
Key Additions: Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Josh Jacobs
Who Benefits Most: Antonio Brown
Sometimes the most obvious answer is also the best answer. And this one's staring us right in the face. The Raiders paid a king's ransom to acquire the 30-year-old wide receiver, and they're going to make sure they squeeze every dime out of their investment.
Brown hasn't had fewer than 106 targets since his sophomore year, and he's averaged 172 targets over his last 5 seasons. And the man hasn't even played a full 16 game slate since 2015. Now, look around that Oakland roster. Who's his competition? Tyrell Williams? Ryan Grant? Josh Jacobs? Please. Derek Carr is going to force feed Antonio Brown like a grandmother trying to fatten up her skinny little grandson.
Baltimore Ravens - Vacated Targets: 296
Notable Losses: Michael Crabtree, John Brown
Key Additions: Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Justice Hill
Who Benefits Most: Miles Boykin
This time last year, we were talking about the Ravens as the team with the most vacated targets to redistribute. And wouldn't you know it, here we are again. The more things change, right...?
For a brief time, when Joe Flacco still ran the show, our hopes about those new pass catchers absorbing a high volume of targets were starting to be realized. Through 9 games with Flacco under center, Michael Crabtree was on pace for 133 targets, while John Brown and Willie Snead were both on pace for 117 a piece. But then, the fantasy sterilizer known as Lamar Jackson took over.
Of those 296 vacated targets mentioned above, only 58 of them came from Lamar Jackson's arm. Think about that. No really, THINK ABOUT THAT. Jackson started nearly half of last year's games, but less than 20% of the targets thrown to Baltimore's top guys came from the rookie quarterback.
There are a lot of bright young faces in Baltimore after the NFL draft, but unfortunately, they all have to catch passes from a struggling sophomore QB. Marquise Brown may have the higher draft capital, but Miles Boykin has the bigger catch radius of the group, which should help him haul in those inaccurate passes.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Vacated Targets: 257
Notable Losses: Donte Moncrief, T.J. Yeldon
Key Additions: Josh Oliver, Chris Conley
Who Benefits Most: Marqise Lee, Josh Oliver
The Jacksonville receiving corp is, coincidentally, loaded with a bunch of Jags in both sense of the word. There's no one that really stands out. Dede Westbrook looked like the team's most reliable pass-catcher last year, but that's not saying much. Moncrief, their No. 2, is onto greener pastures in Pittsburgh. Keelan Cole experienced a significant sophomore slump. Enter Marqise Lee.
Lee missed the 2018 season with a knee injury, but the year prior he led the team in targets. And in 2016 he came within a whisker of outproducing the team's supposed No. 1 receiver, Allen Robinson. All of the receiving options will have to start over with new quarterback Nick Foles in town, so any lost rapport won't have an effect on Lee.
Meanwhile, T.J. Yeldon had the 3rd most targets on the team, partially because the Jags lacked a respectable tight end presence in the middle of the field. That's not the case anymore, as rookie tight end/sleeper candidate Josh Oliver steps into that role. Oliver is one of the more athletic tight ends in this year's draft, with amazing body control and solid hands.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Vacated Targets: 234
Notable Losses: Adam Humphries, Desean Jackson
Key Additions: Breshad Perriman
Who Benefits Most: Chris Godwin
Tampa Bay lost a lot more than they gained over the offseason, adding just a couple of lower-end receivers through the draft and free agency. So the holes left by Humphries and Jackson should have fantasy owners frothing at the mouth.
Bruce Arians wants his quarterbacks to take shots down the field. He thrives on it. But what gets missed when talking about the coach whose become synonymous with "no risk it, no biscuit" is that he attacks the middle of the field with just as much enthusiasm. Unfortunately, two players who personified each of those traits just left town. Luckily, Arians has Chris Godwin there to split the difference.
We've already heard plenty of coachspeak about how Godwin is "never coming off the field" and can be "a 100 catch guy." But the more interesting quote is when he glows over Godwin's abilities in the slot. That, remember, is where Larry Fitzgerald bloomed in the latter years of Arians' Cardinals offense. Don't misconstrue that as me saying Godwin will be just as good as Larry Legend. It should be noted, however, that Fitzgerald saw 161 targets the last time Arians was his coach.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Vacated Targets: 226
Notable Losses: Antonio Brown, Jesse James
Key Additions: Donte Moncrief, Dionte Johnson
Who Benefits Most: James Washington
Is there a more interesting case study in football to explore that whole "addition by subtraction" theory than the Pittsburgh Steelers offense? Antonio Brown completed his Hollywood Hulk Hogan heel turn and fled to Oakland, leaving his quarterback to prove he's the true ringleader of the offense.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is a popular pick to take a step forward, though it's difficult to imagine JuJu increasing his target volume from 166. There are plenty of other intriguing wide receivers to consider, including sophomore James Washington, rookie Dionte Johnson, and transfer Donte Moncrief. And of course, Vance McDonald earned himself a decent bump in targets after his impressive 2018 showing. But he's unlikely to go over triple digits, so that caps his share of the vacated targets at around 30.
If forced to pick between a second-year receiver taken in the 2nd round, a first-year receiver taken in the 3rd round, or a journeyman receiver who's never cracked 64 receptions in a season...well frankly, I don't want to make that choice. But Washington is the lesser of all evils in this case.
Detroit Lions - Vacated Targets: 192
Notable Losses: Golden Tate
Key Additions: T.J. Hockenson, Danny Amendola
Who Benefits Most: T.J. Hockenson, Danny Amendola
I understand this is probably considered a cop out. But let me explain.
Marvin Jones averaged 104 targets in each of his previous 3 seasons, so a fully healthy Jones should absorb about 50 extra targets from what he saw last year. But that's his ceiling. The rest of those targets will likely head to the slot, which is technically where Danny Amendola earns his (admittedly modest) paycheck. But can he actually be a true target hog in Detroit? (Spoiler: No, he cannot.)
We saw how desperate Detroit was to work the middle of the field once Golden Tate left, though. In the brief, four-game span journeyman receiver Bruce Ellington played with the Lions, Matt Stafford peppered him with 30 targets. Prorated for a whole season, that's 120 targets. Surely, a lot of that had to do with the mishmash of tight ends they were trotting out there. Now they have the highest-rated all-around tight end from this year's draft to work with.
For as much as people like to point out Stafford's lack of tight end usage, Ebron ranked in the Top 10 for tight end targets in 2018. And it's not hard to argue Hockenson is a better player than Ebron. The only real concern is that he has more competition for targets than some of the other rookie tight ends out there. This is bound to be a split that will be tough to get excited about for fantasy.
Buffalo Bills - Vacated Targets: 183
Notable Losses: Kelvin Benjamin, Charles Clay
Who Benefits Most: Dawson Knox
There may not be a more undervalued offensive situation -- outside of perhaps Washington -- than the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen came on strong toward the end of 2018, and his receivers benefitted. More than half of Allen's passing attempts came in the last 5 games of the season, which is hopefully a taste of things to come.
There were some interesting additions to the Bills over the offseason, including burner John Brown, who appears to be everything Allen wants in a pass-catcher. 1) He's fast, 2) He gets open deep, and 3)...Did I mention how fast he is? The problem is, Allen already had a guy like that last year, and his name was Robert Foster. A quick perusal of the current roster shows that, yep, Foster is still there. How they coexist will be very interesting to follow, but taking a stab at either one of them right now would be purely speculative.
Dawson Knox, on the other hand, comes to Buffalo as one of the highest-rated tight ends prior to the NFL draft. At first blush, you may not like his landing spot -- and rookie tight ends are notoriously had to trust -- but there's a clear need for a player of his size and skill set. Kelvin Benjamin is basically a tight end trapped in a receiver's pay scale, so passing along the bulk of his targets to a more athletic Knox is the simplest kind of math.
I'm sure there are Jason Croom believers foaming at the mouth right now, but give me the rookie 3rd round pick over the undrafted sophomore any day.