I want to focus on two players (Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis) and the targets they saw with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in 2012.
Let’s start with Smith and the first eight games of the regular season. In the first half of the season, Crabtree was targeted a total of 55 times (6.9 per game) and Davis was targeted a total of 45 times (4.5 per game). In the second half of the season (seven games) with Kaepernick at quarterback, we saw that Crabtree was thrown the football 65 times (9.3 per game) and Davis was thrown the football 19 times (2.7 per game). In total, once Kaepernick took over at the quarterback position, we saw that Crabtree got a bump of +2.4 targets and Davis saw a drop of -1.8 per game. Not only was the drop in targets a red flag for Davis, but how about the fact that he only scored two or fewer fantasy points in standard (ESPN) scoring in six of those games? Let’s just say that I was not planning to have Davis on any of my teams. But, that all changed when Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon. With Crabtree out of the picture, the only other viable option for targets was Anquan Boldin. This looked to be a huge boost for Davis and his fantasy value heading into 2013.
Let’s take a look into the game log for 2013:
Weeks 1-12 (10 games):
3.8 catches, 62.3 yards, .9 touchdowns with 6.1 targets per game.
Weeks 13-17 (five games):
2.8 catches, 45.4 yards, .8 touchdowns with 4.6 targets per game.
His final stat line in 15 games was 52 catches for 850 yards and 13 touchdowns with 84 targets. Those numbers earned him the second most fantasy points (156) among tight ends in standard (ESPN) scoring.
The first stat that comes jumping off the page for Davis are the touchdowns. He scored at least one touchdown in seven of his first 10 games. The pace at which he was finding the end zone was going to surpass his previous career best of 13 in 2009. The second major stat is the volume of footballs that was being thrown his way. Had you taken his targets from the first 10 games and used them over a full season, he would have seen 97 targets, and that would be the most since 2009 (129 targets). It also would have placed him eighth among all tight ends for targets. I want to bring to your attention the best game for Davis during this stretch. It was week six vs the Arizona Cardinals, where he caught eight passes for 180 yards with two touchdowns, and had the football thrown to him 11 times. That performance earned him 30 fantasy points, and not only the top spot among all tight ends, but a tie for first (Cam Newton) among all players in standard (ESPN) scoring. Overall, not only did he get the noticeable (additional) targets, but he also scored a lot of touchdowns. That is a perfect combination for any fantasy owner.
I wanted to bring to your attention the final fives games, because that’s when Crabtree returned to action. Even with his return, the rampage of touchdowns was not to be slowed down. He scored one touchdown in each of those four games. Also, if you start with week 11, he had a streak of five straight games with a touchdown. When it came to the football being throw his way, a reduction of those opportunities was smaller. In total, he saw 23 targets (-1.5 per game) over those five games. Even though he saw fewer targets, at least it was better then previous season (+1.9 per game). I also would like to note that out of the three main passing options:
Boldin: 9.4 targets per game.
Crabtree: 6.6 targets per game.
Davis: 4.6 targets per game.
As you can see, he was the least targeted player. During this stretch of games, he had three performances that earned him at least 10 fantasy points and four TE1 games (three in the top five) in standard (ESPN) scoring. Just like last year, he saw fewer targets with Crabtree on the field. But, this time, it was offset by his ability to keep finding the end zone.
I can’t forget to bring up the playoffs and the numbers (lack of) during his three games. In these games, he had a stat line of 1.7 catches, for 18 yards with .7 touchdowns and 4.7 targets. Again, you will first notice that he continued his torrid streak of touchdowns. But, the lack of targets finally caught up in the yards. He gained 37 of his 54 yards and seven of his 14 targets in the first playoff game vs. the Green Bay Packers. That means over his final two games, he gained a whopping 17 yards on seven targets. Also, Crabtree saw 28 targets (9.3 per game) and Boldin was targeted with 27 passes (9 per game) in the playoffs.
This was the type of season I had been hoping to see for a couple years now. Unfortunately, Crabtree is going to be fully healthy and the 49ers have resigned Boldin. With those two on the field and Kaepernick at quarterback, I do have to advise that you pause for caution going into next year.