Understanding Team Passing Volume & WR Potential

When trying to evaluate the potential of an individual player, it is very helpful to understand the team situation they are in.

How will the team do overall?

So when I do my projections, I begin with team volumes: how often will a team throw the ball, how many passing/rushing yards/touchdowns will they rack up?

However, in fantasy football, a high team volume doesn’t always result in great player performances. In 2021, the Dallas Cowboys were the 3rd best passing offense in the NFL. Yet their best WR ranked #20, while not missing any time.

How many mouths are there to feed?

There is a factor that is even more important than team volume: the number of fantasy-relevant skill position players.

A fantasy-relevant pass catcher to me is a player who will claim at least close to 10% of the team passing volume.

And that’s what killed the 2021 Cowboys’ pass catchers. They had 6 players contributing to the passing game: CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Dalton Schultz, Cedrick Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott. And Tony Pollard got 8% of the passing volume, which still means 46 targets that were not available for anybody else.

Even a high-volume offense cannot support 6 or 7 pass catchers in fantasy. The only Dallas pass catcher who made his fantasy owners happy was Dalton Schultz. And only because he played on the TE position, where he was TE#3 in full PPR. Had he been listed as a WR, he’d have finished the season as WR#30.

Underwhelming passing offense, multiple great fantasy WRs?

On the other end of the spectrum, the 2021 Seattle Seahawks’ passing offense was nothing to write home about. They ranked 31st in terms of passing attempts, only 1 pass ahead of the Eagles on last place.

Yet still, they produced two low-end fantasy WR1s in Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Why? Because only 1 other player claimed over 10% of the passing volume: TE Gerald Everett.

So despite throwing 152 fewer passes than the Cowboys, the Seahawks produced 2 top-tier WRs, while the Cowboys, who threw 9 more passes every game, produced none.

The only team that had 2 WRs in the top 14 range was the team that threw the fewest passes. This perfectly illustrates how target distribution is more important than team volume.

Kupp’s stellar 2021 season

In 2021, Cooper Kupp was the best WR by a wide margin. The Rams were “only” the 9th best passing offense, but Kupp got an insanely big slice of the pie: 32% of targets, 42% of the passing yards, 39% of the passing TDs. Those shares are out of this world.

The Rams had 5 other players who got significant volume shares in the games they played, but 3 of them missed 5 games or more, while Kupp played all 17 games.

2022 Outlook

Seasons like Kupp’s are difficult to project. But it is worth taking a look at the expected team situations and how they affect the fantasy outlook of players on those teams.

Teams that currently seem to have very few pass catchers on their roster include:

Miami Dolphins: don’t throw the ball to RBs a lot, and have only 3 notable pass catchers in Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki. All 3 of them can finish top 12 on their positions, even if Cedrick Wilson can claim 10% or more of the passing volume.

Cincinnati Bengals: Another team where the backfield doesn’t soak up many passes. The only notable pass catchers here are Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Maybe Hayden Hurst can claim over 10% as well, but that’s still not many mouths to feed. The Bengals are the second team that I can see producing 2 fantasy WR1s.

Baltimore Ravens: I expect them to be the team with the lowest passing volume in 2022. But again, they are not known for throwing the ball to their RBs very often. And I see only 2 prominent pass catchers on that roster: Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman. Duvernay and Proche may be able to carve out good roles for themselves, which could relegate Bateman into WR2 territory. But Mark Andrews is my clear overall TE1 this season, and I think the race won’t be even close.

New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara commands a WR-like target share, but is expected to miss time. Michael Thomas hasn’t played in years. Jarvis Landry is no target hog, and neither is Marquez Callaway. Boy, am I high on Chris Olave this year! He comes with all the usual rookie risks, but could potentially find himself in a situation where he faces very little competition for targets. Gimme! Adam Trautman could make for a nice TE stash as well.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are teams that seem to have many pass catchers on their roster at the moment. Now, this can still change. But if you draft tomorrow and want to play it safe, I would fade pass catchers from these teams:

New York Jets: 2 pass catching backs, 2 new TEs that both had a 10+% share in their old teams last year, an elite rookie talent (Garrett Wilson), a sophomore WR who’s primed for a breakout (Elijah Moore), a former 1st round pick coming back from an injury (Corey Davis) and a WR who had a 12% share last year and whom they reportedly like a lot in New York (Braxton Berrios) - that are a lot of mouths to feed, even for an offense that could throw the ball 620+ times for 4,000+ yards. At this moment, I would not touch any Jets player in fantasy, despite being rather optimistic for the offense as a whole.

New England Patriots: This is not about Mac Jones at all. He was highly efficient in 2021 (5th highest completion rate among all QBs!), and could be even better this year. But a specialist for passing downs in the backfield (James White), 2 excellent TEs (Hunter Henry & Jonnu Smith), plus 3 WRs without a clear pecking order (DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne), plus a veteran (Nelson Agholor) and a 2nd round rookie (Tyquan Thornton) who will all call for targets - that’s pure fantasy poison.

Kansas City Chiefs: Call me nuts, but I’m not sure if I wanted shares right now in the best passing offense in recent years. And they don’t even have a pass-catching RB to worry about. Travis Kelce looks like a safe bet, but he’ll turn 33 this season. And the WR room has 4 names that nobody can put into a safe fantasy order right now: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman and Skyy Moore are all boom-or-bust candidates in 2022. With a chance that all 4 of them will be fantasy busts, if they split the volume more or less equally. Which could make the Chiefs a Super Bowl contender in the NFL, while the fantasy owners of their skill position players could struggle to reach the playoffs in their leagues.

Now again - the team situations can (and will) change. In the attractive teams, surprise players may emerge, damaging the fantasy production of the top assets. In the murky WR rooms, clear leaders may emerge and help their fantasy owners win their leagues. It’s the NFL. Things like this happen every year.

But drafting in fantasy football means taking chances. And your chances will be better if you focus on players with less competition on their rosters.

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The interesting side question here is: With Russell Wilson now in Denver, is it possible we see Denver become a top-heavy WR team? Will Jeudy and Sutton dominate, thereby leaving little target volume for the rest of Denver’s receivers? Since Wilson has always tended to favor his WR’s, I think it may be reasonable to expect such a result.

In addition to that, some good stuff to think about in that post. Thanks for sharing!

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Thank you for the kind words.

Many analysts say Courtland Sutton will be this year’s Cooper Kupp. While I do see where they are coming from, I wouldn’t go that far.

I gave the Broncos 600 pass attempts (+60), 4,100 yards (+500) and 28 TDs (+8). Numbers in brackets show the change compared to 2021.

I also gave Sutton a rich 30% passing volume share. My magic Excel table spit him out at WR#15.

He would need Kupp’s 2021 shares (29% targets /42% yards /39% TDs) AND Denver would have to add another 500 yards and 4 TDs for Sutton to become the overall WR#1. Unthinkable? No. But a bit too optimistic for me to buy into it. Especially since there is no guarantee that he will outscore Jeudy by a wide margin.

One thing is true, though: Russell isn’t known to target his RBs that often. We will see if that will change, now that he has 2 pretty efficient pass catchers in his backfield. But if he indeed focuses mostly on Sutton and Jeudy, both of them could shine. It indeed never occured to me to apply my 2021 Seahawks scenario to the 2022 Broncos, but it is certainly worth a thought.

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