Predicting the Target Leader on Every Team NFC

By Kyle Dvorchak
Kyle Dvorchak In this two-part series, we'll look at every team and give a quick rundown of the betting favorite to lead the team in targets plus one darkhorse who has a chance of usurping the leader. The darkhorse might not be the second-most-likely player to lead the team in targets. They're simply the player that is being slept on the most to take the throne.
This isn't just predictions for the sake of making them. Use this as a way to find inefficiencies in markets (season-long drafts, Week 1 DFS, and prop-betting) by checking our notions of which players are actually locked in as their team's top option and which may be getting too much credit from the public. Each team will fall into a tier of how confident we can be that their target leader is who we think it will be.

No Doubters +

There are a lot of teams with a heavy favorite at the top but these two separate themselves even beyond that. Injuries aside, there's simply no reason to even imagine scenarios that would see either of these players fall short of their target expectations.

New Orlean Saints

Favorite: Michael Thomas
Michael "Can't Guard Mike" Thomas set the NFL single-season record for receptions last season by hauling in 149 passes, six more than the previous record set by Marvin Harrison. Had Carolina been able to make their Week 17 campaign versus New Orleans competitive, the gulf between Thomas and Harrison would be even larger.

Darkhorse: Tre'Quan Smith
Tre'Quan Smith is the most under-appreciated pass-catcher in this unit. Smith was a standout in college posting 1,171 yards as a senior at UCF. Then, in his first NFL season, he dropped two 100-yard games in limited action. Sophomore-slump be damned, Smith has a resume worth considering in the final rounds.

Green Bay Packers

Favorite: Davante Adams
Davante Adams has led the Packers in receiving yards for four straight seasons and his team hasn't selected a wideout during the first two days of the draft in the past five years. He's posted a top-three target share in back-to-back seasons.

Darkhorse: Aaron Jones
If Adams gets injured the offense will likely shift from a balanced attack to one that is completely dominated by the running backs, even in the receiving game. Jones was second on the team with 68 targets in 2019.

No Doubters

Players with very little doubt that aren't named Davante or Michael.


Favorite: Terry McLaurin
Terry McLaurin was first in the league in contested catch rate and 12th in yards per target, all while reeling in ducks from Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum. His biggest competition will be from Steven Sims, a slot-only player who ran a 4.61 Forty.

Darkhorse: Antonio Gandy-Golden
AGG recorded three 1,000 yard seasons while burying small-school corners at Liberty University. At 6-feet 4-inches and 223 pounds, he has the size and production of an alpha receiver but no current path to No. 1 status on his team.

San Francisco 49ers

Favorite: George Kittle
George Kittle has led the 49ers in receiving yards for two years and Deebo Samuel, his only competition, is now in jeopardy of missing Week 1 due to a foot injury. If it weren't for a first-round rookie lurking in the wings, Kittle would be in the No Doubters + category.

Darkhorse: Jalen Hurd
Brandon Ayuik is the obvious No. 2 option but don't forget about 2019's preseason darling Jale Hurd. The swiss-army knife dominated as a running back and receiver in college and now finds himself coached by one of the most creative offensive minds in Kyle Shanahan.

Minnesota Vikings

Favorite: Adam Thielen
With Stefon Diggs out of town and Kyle Rudolph on the wrong side of 30, Adam Thielen is the only receiving option in Minnesota with a history of production and the talent to dominate the targets in 2020. Thielen briefly played this role in 2018 and it led him hitting the century mark in eight games to start the year.

Darkhorse: Justin Jefferson
The Vikings selected Justin Jefferson as the Diggs replacement but he profiles more similarly to Thielen. Jefferson secured nearly all of his 111 receptions at LSU from the slot and that where Thielen has traditionally taken the bulk of his snaps from.

Philadelphia Eagles

Favorite: Zach Ertz
Zach Ertz is in the same boat as Thielen: reliable but not explosive veteran with a first-round rookie and not much else on his heels.

Darkhorse: Dallas Godert
Jalen Reagor is scouted as a raw prospect and he'll get few reps this offseason. Dallas Godert has already been Ertz's understudy for two seasons and earned nine starts last year. He averaged 52.4 receiving yards per start, only 8.7 fewer than Ertz himself.

Detroit Lions

Favorite: Kenny Golladay
Babylon was on pace for 70 receptions, 1,280 yards, and a stunning 14 scores before Matthew Stafford went down last year. He'll feast once again with Stafford healthy.

Darkhorse: Marvin Jones
While Golladay was setting the world ablaze, Marvin Jones was quietly pacing for 80 catches, 1,070 yards, and 12 touchdowns. On the wrong side of 30, Jones will continue to operate as high-volume No. 2 option in Detroit.

Chicago Bears

Favorite: Allen Robinson
In the face of terrible QB play, Allen Robinson posted the second-best season of his career in every counting stat. He dominated physical defense in a stout NFC North division and showed no signs of a letdown this season.

Darkhorse: Tarik Cohen
The Bears have appeared beyond incapable of producing a second receiver to counterbalance Allen Robinson's greatness. The closest they have come in his two seasons on the team is Tarik Cohen's 725 yards two years ago. Anthony Miller is a worthy candidate to fill that role but both Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles are best suited to the check-down life that Cohen offers them.

Clear Favorites

These teams all have a clear top option but there are reasons to question that player's exact role.

Arizona Cardinals

Favorite: DeAndre Hopkins
The former Texan has a reasonable claim to the title of best receiver in the league but Odell Beckham Jr. was put in a similar situation last year after being traded to Cleveland and was a colossal flop. Wideouts moving to new teams have a sketchy track record casting some doubt onto the smoothness of Hopkins' transition.

Darkhorse: Christian Kirk
At 37 years old with a second-half of the season slump that has become an annual tradition, Larry Fitzgerald doesn't have enough in the tank to lead this offense. Christian Kirk, on the other hand, left Texas A&M after three productive seasons. He's since led the Cardinals in receiving yards per game in both of his NFL campaigns. If anyone were to profit from a Hopkins setback, it would be Kirk.

Atlanta Falcons

Favorite: Julio Jones
Julio Jones is a receiver who's beaten defenders with his dominant athleticism and is entering his age 31 season. He's all coming off a career-low 8.9 yards per target. Crazier things have happened than a Jones cliff.

Darkhorse: Calvin Ridley
Calvin Ridley was more efficient at generating yards and touchdowns than Jones last season by posting 9.3 yards per target and scoring once more than him on 64 fewer targets. We may be witnessing a changing of the guard in Atlanta.


There are two obvious choices but picking between them isn't easy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Favorite: Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin broke out all over the place in 2019 with 1,333 yards on 86 catches. He also led the Bucs with a dominant 11 yards per target mark. Tom Brady's rapport with his slot receivers over the years also points to another season of Godwin as the top dog in Tampa.

Darkhorse: Mike Evans
Brady isn't known for going deep often but Mike Evans isn't known for not putting up gaudy fantasy numbers. With 1,157 yards in 2019, Evans joined Randy Moss as the only players to start their respective careers with six straight seasons of 1,000 yards through the air. The ADP gulf between Evans and Godwin might be unwarranted.

Dallas Cowboys

Favorite: Amari Cooper
Amari Cooper has been able to truly flourish in Dallas. In 22 games with his new team, Cooper has posted 76.6 yards per game, a mark that would be good for 1,226 yards in a full season. He's also scored 14 times and will be just 26 at the start of this season.

Darkhorse: Michael Gallup
Cooper dealt with injuries for most of 2019 but that can't be used to excuse away Michael Gallup's breakout campaign. He recorded 1,107 yards and caught 66 passes in 14 games. On a per game basis, he led the Cowboys with a 28% air yards share and 21% target share. He was the top receiver in Dallas last year and has a very realistic shot at repeating that feat next year.

Seattle Seahawks

Favorite: D.K. Metcalf
The favorite on this team is largely a tossup but I'll err on the side of the alpha receiver who runs a 4.33 at 6'3" ad 228 pounds. Metcalf began the year mostly running deep go or fly routes but rounded out his route tree as the year progressed. If he continues on that trajectory he'll be a WR1 by the end of this season.

Darkhorse: Tyler Lockett
Tyler Lockett is an immensely talented player in his own right, he simply looks the part of a high-volume deep-ball receiver. He's five inches shorter and 45 pounds lighter than Metcalf. Both players possess blazing speed and have the most accurate passer in the league delivering them throws. This means that even if Lockett is upended by Metcalf, he'll still be a very valuable fantasy asset.

LA Rams

Favorite: Robert Woods
Fantasy drafters have this dichotomy backward based on Robert Woods's ADP being below Cooper Kupp. Woods easily led the Rams with a 25% air yards share and 23% target share. Those marks topped Kupp by four and two percent respectively.

Darkhorse: Cooper Kupp
The reason Kupp played second-fiddle to Woods was that he was a role-player in 2019. His 80.5% snap share was outside the top-40 receivers and fell from his 2018 snap share. If Brandin Cooks's departure puts Kupp on the field more often then he may end up as the top option in LA.

Carolina Panthers

Favorite: D.J. Moore
The greatness of D.J. Moore can only be contained for so long. He broke out at Maryland at the age of 18.4 and accounted for 53.3% of his team's receiving yards and scores in college. Both of those marks placed him above the 95th-percentile. With Teddy Bridgewater under center and the best coaching staff he's played under in town, a massive breakout is on the horizon for Moore.

Darkhorse: Christian McCaffrey
Based solely on the 2019 totals, CMC should be listed as the favorite as he led Carolina with 142 targets to Moore's 135. However, had Moore played in the final game of the season he would have finished ahead of CMC based on his nine targets per-game average. As the Panthers offense transforms into a modern NFL unit under their new regime, expect Moore to continue widening the gap between himself and CMC.

What is Even Going on Here?

Anyone who tells you they can predict the target-leader on these teams with any degree is a liar and you should cease communications with them at once. They will betray you sooner rather than later.

New York Giants

Favorite: Darius Slayton
Darius Slayton is the second-highest drafted receiver or tight end from the Giants, trailing only Evan Engram. Slayton's breakout in 2019 was one of the most underrated performances relative to expectation in the past two decades. His 740 yards were the second-most by a Day 3 receiver since the year 2,000. That type of historical outlier can't be ignored and his deep speed aligns well with most scouting reports of Daniel Jones that pegged him as a strong-armed project.

Darkhorse: Sterling Shepard
Despite playing under three different starting passers and multiple head coaches, Sterling Shepard has been a constant in New York for four seasons. He's often played the role of No. 2 receiver but he has produced when called upon. Despite a rash of injuries plaguing his four-year career, Shepard has recorded at least 50 receptions and 550 yards in all four seasons. His 2,682 receiving yards through four years are just behind Tyler Boyd and slightly ahead of Allen Robinson. Slow and steady could win him the top receiving role for New York in 2020.