My wondrous colleague Clark Barnes wrote an article a couple weeks ago listing a couple of NFL teams with breakout and bust potential in fantasy football based on their strength of schedule. I liked his idea of not just looking at players for fantasy football, but at an entire team. Knowing a certain team offers a better fantasy situation can help you make the correct decision in your drafts when you’re stuck on two or three players at your pick.
I took this team approach looking at available targets for 2021. Much like a diamond’s relationship to a girl, targets are a wide receiver/tight end’s best friend. More targets means more opportunities for catches, yards, and touchdowns, all things that are very important when it comes to fantasy football. When receivers leave teams, they leave their targets behind which creates openings in offenses for other players to step in and (hopefully) thrive.
With all the major moves of the offseason complete, I’ve complied a list of each team’s available targets and scoured it to find potential breakout and bust situations. This list is meant to highlight teams and players who you should break in favor for and away from in your fantasy drafts this year.
Breakout: Jacksonville Jaguars
Along with their brand new adonis of a quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Jaguars also have the second-most available targets heading into 2021. Keelan Cole, Chris Conley, and Tyler Eifert highlight the players who left in free agency, leaving behind 242 targets. That is a lot of available work for D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault, along with offseason additions Marvin Jones Jr., Chris Manhertz and Luke Farrell (and Tim Tebow) at tight end, and of course running back/wide receiver/not-Kadarius-Toney Travis Etienne.
All signs point to the Jaguars passing game being much more explosive with Lawrence under center and with plenty of available work to go around, there’s a lot of fantasy potential lurking in Jacksonville. Also draft D.J. Chark everywhere.
dj chark going as the WR31 in .5PPR is absolute theft pic.twitter.com/QDEBY2nxq6
— pete #hammonforheadcoach rogers (@petemrogers) June 1, 2021
Bust: Cleveland Browns
The Browns have only three available targets from last year. Three. Now given that the Browns didn’t go out and make any splashy signings at either the wide receiver or tight end position, you may wonder why I’m treating them as a potential bust spot.
While they didn’t sign anyone, the Browns are getting back a healthy Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell had 43 targets last year before getting injured after seeing 133 in his first year with Cleveland. His absence helped get other players on the roster involved, notably Rashard Higgins (52 targets), Harrison Bryant (38), and Kareem Hunt, whose 51 targets were the second-most in his career. With not a lot of room to take on a 100+ target receiver, the Browns offense is clearly going to have to shift around their priorities for 2021.
Maybe we see Baker Mayfield attempt 530+ passes this year like he did in 2019. That however puts a cap on the ground game as the Browns only had 393 rush attempts that year as compared to the 495 they had in 2020. This wouldn’t likely impact Nick Chubb—since Nick Chubb is and will always be a RB1—but it would impact Hunt’s ceiling. Or maybe the Browns stick with their two-headed backfield and instead reallocate the 480 attempts Mayfield had last year, which dampens Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, and makes any peripheral guys in Cleveland undraftable.
Breakout: Tennessee Titans (aka A.J. Brown)
The A.J. Brown WR1 SZN hypetrain has been picking up plenty of speed around the fantasy community. I won’t try and pretend like I’m the first to think that he could be in for a special season this year. One of the main sources of hype is the sheer volume Brown could see in Tennessee.
With Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith gone, the Titans have 181 available targets heading into 2021, which is the seventh most. Who did the Titans bring in to replace Davis and Smith? Josh Reynolds. No hate against Reynolds, but he’s not going to demand 100+ targets. That leaves a lot of work for Brown to step into.
Brown finished the WR11 in .5PPR on 106 targets and while missing two games. He could be in line for over 150 targets given the lack of depth at the position and a 17-game NFL season. Even if the Titans do go out and trade for Julio Jones, never fear. There’s still 181 targets for him to share with Brown.
Brown is in contention to finish the WR1 this year due to available targets and I low-key like Reynolds as a sexy late-round, boom-or-bust pick. Also if Julio ends up in Tennessee, he’s easy a top-14 wide receiver this year.
Bust: Baltimore Ravens
We all know by now that the Ravens do not throw the ball like the rest of the NFL with Lamar Jackson as their quarterback. Since Lamar has taken over, Baltimore has finished dead last in pass attempts each year: 440 in 2019 and just 406 in 2020. This makes Ravens wide receivers hard to confidently target in fantasy football.
Real football-wise, the additions of Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman should help this offense be less predictable and tougher to stop come NFL playoffs. Fantasy-wise, they just add more mouths to feed in an offense that already doesn’t throw the ball and only has 70 available targets coming into 2021 (8th worse).
I love Bateman as a prospect but I’ll be hard press to draft him in redraft leagues. Watkins could have been a solid sleeper candidate but I’m not sure he’ll see more than 40 targets this year. After all, Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown are the only players to see at least 50 targets in each of the last 2 seasons with the Ravens.
I likely will be avoiding Baltimore’s pass catchers this season.
Breakout: Carolina Panthers
A lot will come down to if head coach Matt Rhule can fix Sam Darnold, but if Darnold can consistently be the QB we’ve seen flashes of, this Panthers passing game could be a fantasy goldmine. With Teddy Bridgewater last year, Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore both finished WR2s despite neither catching over five touchdowns. The team also has the third-most available targets heading into 2021 with 198.
Unlike the Browns who are getting back Odell Beckham with no real room for his target share, the Panthers have plenty of room for running back Christian McCaffrey to rejoin the offense. This is good news for Anderson and Moore as they won’t likely see their target share drastically diminish with the return of Run CMC.
I’m particularly thrilled with the situation for rookie receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. I wrote about his potential earlier, but his connection with Joe Brady—Marshall’s wide receivers coach at LSU and now the offensive coordinator with the Panthers—and the open space in this offense has me thinking Marshall could be a great late-round sleeper who can make an immediate impact.