With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Here we’ll look at who will benefit most now that the Washington Redskins have a new franchise quarterback.
Jay Gruden has amassed a lackluster 28-35-1 record since taking over the Redskins in 2014, though the offense has finished among the leagues’s top-12 scoring units in two of the last three seasons. This downfield-oriented system was successful enough to help earn Kirk Cousins the largest fully guaranteed contract in NFL history — with the Vikings.
Enter Alex Smith.
The Chiefs’ decision to move forward with the potentially electrifying Patrick Mahomes opened the door for the Redskins to send standout slot corner Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick to Kansas City for Smith’s services. Expectations for Smith are rightfully high, as the 34-year-old is coming off a career-best season in just about every passing metric.
Uncertainty can be a fantasy investor’s worst enemy at times. Still, there’s value to be had in Washington by studying both Smith and Gruden’s historical target distribution. Here are the candidates to lead the Redskins in targets in 2018, ordered from least to most likely.
RB Derrius Guice
There’s a lot to like about the frontrunner for lead-back duties in the Washington backfield. FantasyLabs’ Editor-in-Chief Matthew Freedman described Guice as, “Not Saquon Barkley, but … still one of the best running back prospects of the past five years.” Guice’s future looks bright — just not as a pass catcher. He caught only 32 balls during three years in LSU’s archaic offensive system, and he’ll lose passing-down work to shifty space back Chris Thompson.
RB Chris Thompson
Thompson expects to be ready for training camp after suffering a broken fibula last November. He won’t lead the Redskins in targets even if he stays healthy due to the team’s understandable hesitation to hand an undersized back a large workload. Still, smaller space backs have historically provided enhanced value and consistency in DFS, and Thompson ranked third among running backs in yards per route run last season. Since 2015, he’s averaged an additional 1.2 targets and 3.6 PPR points per game without Jordan Reed in the lineup.
TE Vernon Davis
Next season will be Davis’ 14th year in the league. He’s seen an average of 64 targets per season since joining the Redskins in 2016, but when Reed’s been in the lineup, he’s only drawn 3.4 targets per game. Of course, Smith and Davis enjoyed a fruitful relationship during their days with the 49ers:
Jordan Reed is currently the TE10 in PPR ADP
Alex Smith has been at his best targeting big/athletic tight ends throughout his career pic.twitter.com/gTKCHeCr0H
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 1, 2018
Smith fed Davis an average of 6.0 targets per game during their 64 games together, a mark that would’ve ranked second on the Redskins last season. It’s unlikely Davis leads the Redskins in targets even if Reed fails to play a snap in 2018, but his familiar rapport with Smith could make him an enticing handcuff or late round flyer.
Per our NFL Correlations Dashboard, quarterbacks have shared a relatively strong .40 positive correlation with their tight ends since 2014, but Kansas City and Washington have posted even better marks at .53 and .52, respectively. Consider using our Lineup Builder to stack Reed or Davis with Smith in tournaments.
WR Josh Doctson
Doctson posted a disappointing 35-502-6 line in 16 games in 2017. He possesses freakish athletic ability and was a first-round selection for a reason, but only Terrelle Pryor averaged fewer yards per route run among Washington’s receivers last season. The next game Doctson clears 85 yards or catches at least five passes will be his first.
However, it’d behoove the Redskins to not give up on Doctson just yet considering he missed all but two games of his rookie season due to Achilles injuries. He averaged seven targets per game as the team’s featured wide receiver last season in eight games without Pryor, though the team did go out of their way to upgrade the position group this offseason.
WR Paul Richardson
Other than Smith, the Redskins biggest offseason move was making Richardson one of just 19 receivers with a contract valued for at least $40 million. He’s managed to suit up for 15 of 16 games in three of his four seasons in the NFL while emerging as one of the position’s premier contested-catch artists.
37 seconds of ridiculous Paul Richardson catches pic.twitter.com/yS1NbzAz75
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 23, 2018
Richardson could be asked to serve the DeSean Jackson role in Gruden’s offense, which produced an average of 6.1 targets per game from 2014 to 2016. He’s plenty capable of taking advantage of Smith’s newfound ability to consistently burn defenses downfield, although the quarterback did rank 40th among 41 quarterbacks in percentage of passes into tight coverage last season (Next-Gen Stats).
Richardson’s current ADP of WR63 is a massive bargain considering he finished last season as the PPR WR39 while working alongside potential 2018 target monster Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham. Still, WR1 production might be a bit of a pipe dream, as neither Smith nor Gruden’s past offenses have ever featured their field-stretching receiver to an alarming extent.
TE Jordan Reed
It’s tough to understate how #good Reed has been when healthy since entering the league in 2013.
- Reed’s 76% catch rate is the highest mark among all wide receivers/tight ends over the past 25 years (minimum 300 targets).
- Among all tight ends since 2006, only Rob Gronkowski has averaged more yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus.
- Per our NFL Trends Tool, Reed has posted top-five marks in DraftKings and FanDuel points per game, Plus/Minus, and Upside Rating among all tight ends since 2014.
Of course, Reed’s laundry list of injuries have resulted in him playing in just 52 of a potential 80 games, though Gruden is optimistic that Reed would be ready for training camp. A healthy Reed could find his long-lost soulmate in the form of Smith, who consistently featured his top tight end during his time in both San Francisco and Kansas City.
Alex Smith's TE1 has finished among his team's top-two most-targeted players in 8 of the last 9 seasons
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 20, 2018
Reed has ranked among the league’s top five tight ends in fantasy points per snap during every season of his career. Even 12 games from Reed in 2018 could be enough to help swing the balance of fantasy leagues, and he’ll have tournament-winning upside every time he suits up. There isn’t a massive talent difference between Reed and Travis Kelce, and the latter averaged 114 targets from Smith over the past three seasons.
WR Jamison Crowder
Crowder is the public’s favorite for WR1 duties, and he’s the 34th receiver off the board in PPR formats at the time of this writing. His average target depth of 7.9 reflects his status as the offense’s underneath receiving option, something Smith utilized frequently in his career up until last season. As noted by Chris Raybon in The Action Network’s Fantasy Football WR Preview, Smith has ranked outside the top 30 in average target depth for five straight seasons and was second-to-last in rate of tight window throws in 2017 (12.7%, per Next Gen Stats).
Even without a check-down artist like Smith under center, Crowder has averaged a productive 64-746.7-4 line during his three-year career. Still, It remains to be seen if this type of production is Crowder’s floor or ceiling. He’s finished as the WR33, WR32, and WR52 dating back to his rookie season while never ranking among the top 25 receivers in yards per route run. The Redskins have easily invested the least among of draft/salary capital into Crowder among the team’s prevalent skill-position players.
There’s no doubt Crowder possesses reliable hands and pristine route running, but even as the favorite to lead Washington in targets, WR1 production might not be in the range of outcomes for an average athlete that stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 185 pounds.
Pictured above: Alex Smith (11)
Photo credit: Geoff Burke – Miami Herald