Fantasy football players sit down every summer in order to dissect the viability of the high-end skill position players in the NFL. The major components’s of projecting a players fantasy draft position come down to past production, current health, and most importantly, their current projected target share. For the Rams, target share is just as important but for a different reason. If we take a look into the Rams target shares of the past seasons it allows us to see the direction that the passing offense is going philosophically.
In Sean McVay’s first two years in the league there were a couple of trends that the Rams offense followed. Those trends started to shift in 2019, especially the personnel groupings. In 2017 the Rams threw the ball to the tight end position 85 times–mainly using 11 personnel which is one tight end and one running back. That number stayed close in 2018 (88 times)– but exploded in 2019. With the Rams forced into more two-tight ends sets (12 personnel), Jared Goff ended up targeting the tight end’s 157 times. Tyler Higbee alone had more targets (89) than any Ram tight end has had seen since Jared Cook saw 98 targets in 2016.
These target share counts can be an indicator of the Rams’ plan to continue utilizing their tight end’s like never before under McVay. The Rams played some of their best offensive ball of the season after the multiple tight end set’s became a staple. Having multiple tight end’s on the field is also a plus to a young offensive line. The target counts can also be used to see which receivers on the team might be seeing the most touches and who may be on the outside looking in. In 2019 the Rams accumulated 613 targets from Jared Goff.
In his last 34 regular season games with the Rams, Robert Woods has been the definition of consistency. Woods has accumulated 285 targets in that span, most on the team. He turns those targets into catches as good as anyone in the NFL. He finished the 2019 season with just two drops on 140 targets. Woods has been Mr. reliable, and fans shouldn’t expect anything less out of Woods in 2020.
Somewhere at or above the average of 135 targets he has received the last two years should be his bar. Targets may be a little deflated because of the arrival of Van Jefferson, but Woods gets open too much and is too dynamic with the ball in his hands to have his targets reduced too much. Entering the prime of his athletic career at 28 years old, Woods is used to getting the ball in his hands and doing a lot with it.
Projection: 124 Targets
A knee injury wiped out the second half of his season in 2018, but in Cooper Kupp‘s last 24 games played he has had 190 targets. However, as a master at getting open out of the slot, his value became a bit limited at the end of the 2019 season. With the tight end’s taking up that space in the middle of the field, it gave Kupp less room to work with. This could be a sign of things to come, but it is more likely an aberration.
Yes, he was targeted four or fewer times in four of the last eight games of the year. In week 17, however, he really turned it around and he was able to see 10 targets. The slight hesitation here is because the snap count for the receivers will go down with the emphasis on 12 personnel. But All-in-all, being another year removed from major knee surgery, and the promise of a contract if he plays well–Kupp is a free agent at season’s end– should mean that he will be in his finest form this season.
Projection: 122 Targets
Over Tyler Higbee‘s last six games of 2019 his target numbers were 6,8,11,14,11, and 12. That is 62 targets in six games. To put that into context, in 2017 and 2018, Higbee was targeted a combined total of 78 times. The massive boost in targets was due to the emphasis that coach McVay put on getting the ball to his play makers in the middle of the field. Also, out of necessity due to the mediocre offensive line, the Rams had to use their tight end’s much more.
Some credit should also be given to second year tight end’s coach Wes Phillips, who Higbee is very fond of. The offense took off after the tight end’s started to be more involved and Phillips’ impact can’t be understated. Phillips had a say when the team drafted play-making tight end Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round. This is possibly a sign that McVay wants to continue getting the ball to the middle of the field. That’s great news for Higbee.
Projection: 120 Targets
Drafted in the second round over guys like Denzel Mims and Ezra Cleveland, Van Jefferson has a lot to prove. He needs to prove the Rams right for drafting a receiver who is very similar to the guys they already have. He also needs to prove to the doubters any concerns about his speed. Jefferson did not run at the combine, but was the fastest recorded player at the senior bowl.
Jefferson will also have to compete with Josh Reynolds to pick up the snaps left by Brandin Cooks. Reynolds has not yet shown he is anything more than a big body possession receiver with theoretical red-zone abilities. All of this hasn’t translated into much playing time for Reynolds. This leaves the door open for Jefferson to possibly have an impact as a rookie. Look for his Target total to be slightly less than Cooks’ amount from a year ago.
Projection: 64 Targets
When you are taking a running back in the NFL today, you want one who is ascending and not descending. Cam Akers is the definition of that, especially in the pass game. Every year in college his receiving production increased in all areas. Last season he brought in three catches a game in an offense that isn’t designed to do that. When at it’s best, the Rams are passing the ball to not just the tight end’s, but to the backs. In 2017 and 2018 the Rams passed to their running backs around 100 times a season. In 2019 that number dropped to 62.
The decrease in targets to the backs can be attributed to Todd Gurley‘s knee and a line that struggled on screens. Gurley could not be on the field for unnecessary snaps. Because of this, most team’s knew that when he was in he was either getting the ball or pass blocking. They knew he was not running routes where he wasn’t getting the ball because they the Rams couldn’t afford it. The Rams tried to get Darrell Henderson involved but he did not seem to grasp the offense very quickly. Don’t expect Henderson to completely disappear. He was a third round pick a year ago and has had more time than Akers to learn the offense. This slightly impacts Akers target projections, but not too much.
Projection: 60 Targets
The writing may be on the wall with regards to Gerald Everett. When the Rams drafted Brycen Hopkins in the fourth round, the window to re-sign Everett may have closed. He has been too inconsistent with his blocking, and with his health, to be a star player for the Rams. Not to mention the team won’t be able to afford him if he plays well this year– he is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The Rams certainly love his skill set, Sean Mcvay did wonders with Jordan Reed in Washington, but the Rams drafted what seems to be Everett’s replacement in Brycen Hopkins. Higbee and Hopkins are the future. I would expect Hopkins to pick up somewhere between 30-40 targets this season. Because of that, expect Everett’s playing time to take a hit and his targets to do the same.
Projection: 48 Targets
As much as the Rams have talked up Josh Reynolds as being a “Big-time part of the offense”, I am simply not buying it. If the team thought much of Reynolds, they would not have used a second round pick on a receiver. Maybe this shows just how much the Rams love Jefferson, but it is more likely an indictment on Reynolds. Despite having injuries to the Rams’ receiving corps each year he has been on the team (Woods in 2017, Kupp in 2018, and Cooks in 2019) Reynolds has never stepped in and produced much. Coach McVay told his scouts on the conference calls that were broadcast after the draft that he wants guys who know how to get open. Despite playing with Woods and Kupp–two of the best in the game at doing so– he has yet to show improvement in that vital aspect of his game.
Projection: 32 Targets
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