As we have mentioned on Buccaneers.com several times before, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are likely to be more relevant in fantasy football in 2011 than they've ever been before. With the likes of LeGarrette Blount and Josh Freeman leading the way, the Bucs could conceivably have a player crack the top 10 at every skill position (QB, RB, WR, TE) in some drafts.
On the other hand, a couple of Tampa Bay's fantasy stars are only on the cusp of the top 10 in the pre-draft rankings you'll find online. If you're going to jump on, say, Mike Williams or Kellen Winslow early in your own draft, you're going to need a good reason. And here it is: Targets.
As NFL Network fantasy guru Michael Fabiano points out on NFL.com (where he is also the fantasy editor), "success on the field and in fantasy football is based on opportunities." Fabiano recently looked at the wide receiver, running back and tight end positions from the standpoint of "targets" and "touches," and the results may make you feel better about putting your fantasy money on Bucs like Williams and Winslow.
As Fabiano points out in his run-down of the receivers, Williams was among the top 15 among all NFL receivers last year in the amount of times his quarterback threw the ball in his direction (targets). Of course, Fabiano also echoed the concerns he stated during his interview with Buccaneers.com in March that Williams could face a sophomore slump, but he does rank the Buc wideout seventh on this opportunity-based list, right between Brandon Marshall and Reggie Wayne.
Williams was indeed the most-targeted player in the Bucs' passing attack in 2010, with Freeman throwing it his way 129 times to Winslow's 98. Running back Cadillac Williams was third, but the next wide receiver on the list was Sammie Stroughter, with 40, or less than a third of Williams' targets. On the other hand, fellow 2010 rookie Arrelious Benn, who was fifth with 38 targets, only started to emerge as a force in the Bucs' passing attack later in the season. A more involved Benn could eat into Williams' targets to some extent, but Williams' team-record 11 touchdowns last year make it seem likely that he will remain the main man in the red zone.
Those stats also bode well for Winslow, who joined the Buccaneers at roughly the same time Freeman did and has formed a strong bond with his young quarterback over the past two years. Fabiano sees the same thing, noting that Winslow ranked fourth in the NFL among tight ends in percentage of his team's targets. Winslow's 98 targets were 19.8% of the team total, slotting him right between Washington's Chris Cooley and the New York Jets' Dustin Keller. Fabiano wants to see more red zone production from Winslow, however, before he jumps fully on-board.
Fabiano created a similar list for running backs, based on each player's percentage of his team's touches, but there is no Buccaneer in the top 10. There's an obvious reason for this, of course, as Blount didn't really become involved in a significant way in the Bucs' offense until the seventh game. As such, he finished with 206 touches, slotting him 21st on this list. However, that's right in a stretch of 2011 breakout candidates – he's sandwiched by Denver's Knowshon Moreno and the New York Jets' Shonn Greene – as all of these players are expected to see their workloads increase this year. In Blount's case, that's a virtual certainty, barring injury, as he will now go into the season as the undisputed lead back in the Bucs' attack.
There are no certainties in fantasy football, however, as owners who drafted Rice in the top three or four spots last year can attest. This year's biggest busts – and there will be several – could come from anywhere. All you can do is make your decisions as informed as possible and hope for the best. And knowing which players are likely to get the most opportunities is one way to be well informed.