Snaps, targets, and opportunities (rushing attempts + targets) tell us a story. It’s up to us to decipher the meaning of that story. Anyone can just read data, and everyone has the same access to it, so we must interpret this data, add some context, and determine the meaning of the story told to us. Every week, that will be my goal with this article, and I’ll try to highlight the most critical takeaways from the week. All data below is pulled from either Dave Wright’s (@FFSpaceman) 2023 Weekly NFL Database, Fantasydata, Pro-Football-Reference, Sleeper, PFF, DLF, Playerprofiler, or ESPN. Before you go off the deep end with anything you saw last week, remember it’s only one week of data.
Wide Receiver/Tight Ends
Rookie wide receivers are fun, so let’s talk about them. Two rookie wide receivers had 40%+ target shares on Sunday. Zay Flowers led the way with a 47.6% share of Lamar Jackson’s targets, even without Mark Andrews on the field is truly impressive. Flowers led all rookies with a 93.3% route participation (percentage of routes run per team dropbacks) on Sunday. As an aside, Odell Beckham may have had a quiet day with just two receptions on three targets, but he did have 100% route participation, which bodes well for future weeks. The Ravens were primarily content to run the ball on Sunday, so Flowers’ insane target share “only” led to ten targets, but it’s still impressive.
Puka Nacua may have “only” secured a 40.5% target share, but his 15 targets led all rookies and tied Tyreek Hill for the most in Week 1. Nacua’s 43% targets per route run (percentage of targets per route run) was the highest among rookies with at least two targets (sorry, Derius Davis, one route and one target doesn’t make the cut). For reference purposes, Tyreek Hill led the league in TPRR last year with a 31.3% clip. I’m blowing a ton of FAAB on Nacua in redraft leagues, and in dynasty leagues, I’m willing to risk holding onto Nacua in the hopes he has another smash week and has his trade value continue to rise.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba only played on 58% of snaps, which isn’t great, but did pull in 20.8% of the Seahawks’ targets and put up a 26% TPPR. Jayden Reed had a healthy 18.5% target share, but I would like to see his targets when Christian Watson comes back from injury before I get overly excited. Josh Downs (17.9%) and Jonathan Mingo (16.1%) were their teams’ second-most targeted receivers.
Not every rookie wide receiver smashed in their debut. Quentin Johnston played on just 27.2% of snaps, was targeted three times (a 9.7% share), and converted just two targets into nine receiving yards. Marvin Mims was the new hotness after the Broncos lost K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy. The runway was wide open for Mims to impress in his rookie debut. Instead, he was out-snapped by Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who was just elevated from the practice squad on Saturday. Mims was able to match Humphrey with two targets, at least. One positive note is that Mims had a 20% TPPR on Sunday, so he was at least involved when he ran a route.
The Atlanta Falcons are a ball of fantasy sadness. Mack Hollins out-targeted Drake London four to one this week. Falcons running backs out-targeted the wide receivers nine to five. Desmond Ridder had more receptions than London (1-0).
Kyle Pitts had three targets. The Falcons won. If this is the recipe for NFL success for the Falcons, then fantasy managers of London and Pitts will be left with a bitter taste.
Amon-Ra St. Brown captured a 28% target share for the Lions with nine targets, and 2023 is likely to look like 2022 for him when he captured a 28% target share on the season. Josh Reynolds pulled in a 21% target share, but that’s likely an anomaly, considering he’s now in his seventh season and has never captured more than a 14% share in any season. Marvin Jones saw work with six targets and an 18.8% share but converted two targets into receptions.
Sam LaPorta had a very nice debut, with plenty of participation.
If there’s one bone to pick with LaPorta’s debut, it’s his 4.0 Air Yards per target, which was the third lowest among all Lions on Thursday. That could be a Jared Goff issue, though, as he didn’t have one deep pass out of 35 attempts Thursday night.
During the 2022 season, just three wide receivers captured a 30% (or higher) target share: Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and Cooper Kupp. In Week 1, 13 receivers hit that threshold, so expect some regression starting in Week 2.
Three rookie tight ends played on at least 75% of their team’s offensive snaps this week: Laporta (82.9%), Dalton Kincaid (79.7%), and Luke Musgarve (75%). Also, those three were the only rookie tight ends even to see a target this week. As a whole, it was a poor week for the tight-end position. The volume also didn’t correlate to fantasy production as only two of the top six target share leaders finished double-digit fantasy points, Hayden Hurst with 15.1 and T.J. Hockenson with 11.5. Just four tight ends total crested double-digit fantasy points, with Hunter Henry (16.6) and Donald Parham (11.1)joining Hurst and Hockenson.
Bijan Robinson’s six targets and receptions, including a receiving touchdown, led all Atlanta Falcons this week; Tyler Allgeier had three receptions and out-rushed Robinson 15 to ten, and had all four of the running back goal-line carries turning two into touchdowns. Allgeier had the higher opportunity share Sunday, 53% to Robinson’s 47%, and played on just four fewer snaps. It’s too early to hit the panic button. Still, if you drafted Robinson in the first round of your startup draft, you are hoping he monopolizes more of the touches in the future, especially the goal-line attempts where he was shut on Sunday.
The social media storm started after just one week over Jahmyr Gibbs’ usage in Week 1. He only saw a 30% opportunity share (rushing attempts + targets) and a 27% snap share (19 snaps), while David Montgomery accounted for 70% of the opportunities and played on 79% of Lions offensive plays. Relax. This happens every year. Breece Hall played 45% of snaps in his debut game last year, and Jonathan Taylor played 35% in his professional game. This feels like deja vu based on how the Lions utilized D’Andre Swift last season, but remember that the Dan Campbell regime didn’t draft Swift, and the Lions did spend a top-12 pick on Gibbs. Elite rookie running backs see their snaps and workload increase as the year goes on, and there’s no need to hit the panic button yet.
Entering the season, there was a bit of confusion on how the Eagles would handle the running back room of Kenny Gainwell, D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny, and Boston Scott. After Week 1, there are far fewer questions. Penny was a healthy inactive, then Gainwell garnered a 78% opportunity share while playing on 62% of snaps. Swift barely played (29% snap share) and was barely involved in the offense (13% opportunity share). One thing to note is that head coach Nick Sirianni didn’t seem thrilled with Swift’s lack of usage on Sunday.
“I don’t ever want to come out of a game where D’Andre Swift has only two touches,” Sirianni said.
Cam Akers was the listed starter for the Rams, but poor play led to him hanging out on the bench for most of the first half.
Things improved for Akers in the second half, as he played on 24 snaps (to Williams’ 27). If you’re looking for a positive to Akers’ day, it is that he touched the ball on 79% of his snaps (22 rushing attempts on 28 snaps), but he only averaged 1.32 yards per touch on those attempts while seeing zero targets in the passing game. Additionally, eight of Akers’ rushing attempts came while the Rams were killing the clock toward the end of the game. If Akers continues his hyper-inefficient ways, Kyren Williams could be there to steal his job.
The bell cow running back may not be dead! It’s only one week, but we had ten running backs with 20-25 touches (rushing attempts + receptions). The usual names on that list are Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, etc., but one name that may be a surprise that made the list is the Commanders’ Brian Robinson. Robinson not only had 19 rushing attempts, while Antonio Gibson had just three, as did rookie Chris Rodriguez, but Robinson also out-targeted Gibson two to one. Robinson’s 72.4% opportunity share ranked tenth for the week.
Kenneth Walker ranked eighth with a 73.9% opportunity share, which came as a slight surprise considering how good Zach Charbonnet looked in the pre-season. It’s also disappointing that Charbonnet could only muster a 23.5% snap share, but at least there’s nowhere to go but up.
While all volume is good volume, target volume is even more important than rushing volume. In 2022, nine running backs averaged five or more targets per game. In the first week of the 2023 season, 16 running backs saw at least five targets, with Ezekiel Elliott and Roschon Johnson tying for the most with seven each. Before we anoint Johnson, the next receiving savant, keep in mind that Khalil Herbert also saw five targets and now has nearly half of his 2022 total after one week. The Bears were in a negative game script for most of their loss to Green Bay, so I want to see them in a neutral game script before I go overboard on Johnson’s outlook.
Miles Sanders saw six targets this week, and that’s the most targets he’s seen in a game since the 2020 season. With Sanders also seeing heavy rushing volume (18 attempts), he’s a running back who could produce better than expected in 2023.
To reiterate, don’t panic after one week. Next week will bring us new data points on top of our existing data points, and then trends will begin to emerge. Thanks for reading. Please let me know in the comments any suggestions you have for what you want this article to cover weekly since this article is for you and not for me.