2021 Fantasy Football Targets & Touches Week 8

by Cale Clinton
2021 Fantasy Football Targets & Touches Week 8

Welcome back to our Week 8 edition of Targets & Touches for the 2021 Fantasy Football season.

It was a quiet trade deadline, but it seems as though parts of the league have been completely flipped on their heads. A bevy of teams are fighting over the right to sign Odell Beckham Jr., with DeSean Jackson as colsolation prize.  The top running back in fantasy is out for the forseeable future. Henry Ruggs III is no longer with the franchise. Aaron Rodgers is out with COVID. Calvin Ridley is taking some time away from football to focus on mental health. Everything is upside down, and most of the deadline moves came on the defensive side of the ball, anyway.

Well, fret not, because we're here to help you make sense of it all. This week, we'll be walking through the running back situations in Tennessee and Philadelphia, along with some interesting situations that have arisen because of recent departures.

As always, let's state our sources up top. All metrics on run/pass frequency, yards/game or attempt, or attempts per game come from Team Rankings. All snap counts and target shares come from Fantasy Data. Any Fantasy rankings, ownership percentages, or target numbers come from FantasyPros in a Half-PPR scoring format. All references to EPA/play can be found on Ben Baldwin's Box Score plug-in on RBSDM. Anything else in the article will be directly linked to.

2021 Fantasy Football Targets & Touches Week 8

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Running Backs

Tennessee Titans

Adrian Peterson (42.0% rostered)
Jeremy McNichols (47.5%)

Apologies to any Derrick Henry owners who thought their fantasy championship was all but won. The top running back in fantasy football--by a wide margin--is out 6-10 weeks after undergoing foot surgery. While it sounds like he should be back just in time for the most important weeks of everyone's fantasy football season, you need to know what to do in the meantime. Your options? A 36-year-old running back who got picked up off the street, or Tennessee's backup running back who's taken SEVEN rushes this season. '

There's no replacing Derrick Henry's dominance in the run game. Henry has taken 219 of Tennessee's 237 non-quarterback rushing attempts. That's good for a 92.4% share in rushing attempts. Unless Tennessee significantly modifies its play-calling structure, the Titans run game will still be a necessary portion of their offense. Tennessee currently ranks 4th in the league in run percentage this season, rushing 47.36% of the time.

Let's weigh our options. Adrian Peterson remained unsigned through constant injuries to top running backs. He's 36 years old, last playing alongside D'Andre Swift on the Detroit Lions last year. Despite his age, Peterson managed to lead the team in carries, posting 604 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns on 3.9 yards per carry. Admittedly, there were moments last year where Peterson looked strong, even when playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. You can't rely on that, though. Peterson's 2020 game log falls off a cliff once Swift began taking starting back-level snaps.

McNichols, on the other hand, is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum in terms of experience. The in-house option for Tennesee has 56 carries in his 5 years in the league, 54 of which have come with Tennessee. This year, McNichols has just 7 carries for 38 yards. Yet he's also maintained a 25.1% snap count share. How does he do that? By being effective in the passing game. McNichols already has 27 targets this season, tied for second-most on the team. His target share has fallen from 10.6% on the season to 4.8% over the last three games.

However, he still sees considerably more volume in the passing game than Peterson has in the back half of his career. Since 2014, Peterson has only eclipsed that 27 target mark once. Peterson can be effective in the passing game, but McNichols has the experience and volume necessary to be a reliable fantasy running back in a pinch.

Philadelphia Eagles

Miles Sanders (79.3%)
Kenneth Gainwell (47.0%)
Boston Scott (43.9%)
Jordan Howard (6.7%)

The Philadelphia Eagles are another team that lost their lead back to injury. Miles Sanders was carted off the field with an ankle injury during Week 7, and his current IR status suggests that he'll be out until Week 11 at the earliest. Prior to the injury, Sanders commanded anywhere from a snap share of two-thirds all the way up to 82%. That's bellcow back material there. However, new assets have emerged in the Eagles run game.

Kenneth Gainwell saw decent returns early, but his best production has come in the passing game. Against the Detroit Lions, he ran a paltry 27 yards on 13 attempts. Boston Scott's 19 rushing attempts this season have only come in the last two games, but they've been extremely fruitful. Scott has 84 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns in that timeframe. Even Jordan Howard has managed to throw his hat into the ring against Detroit, rushing for 57 yards amd a pair of touchdowns on 12 attempts.

There is an embarrassment of riches at this point. Upon Sanders' return, Philadelphia may elect to hold onto four backs, all of whom would be effective in their own role. Yes, Sanders will certainly return to RB1 status. However, he may lose a bit of his workload, both as a precaution to his injury and an ability to supplement the Eagles run game.

Now, what should you do in the meantime? We have a two game sample size to work with, and the snap counts vary somewhat. Kenneth Gainwell outsnapped Boston Scott in Week 7, 35 to Scott's 23. In Week 8, however, Scott led the Eagles runnin backs. Scott finished with 29, Gainwell with 20, and Jordan Howard with 16.

Howard's game is an anomaly. He hadn't taken any snaps in 2021 prior to the Detroit game, and even then his longest gain was for 10 yards. In the short term, Boston Scott is my best bet. He's consistently gotten goalline carries in the last two games, serving as Philly's punch-in man in the red zone. The fact that he hadn't gotten a single rush this year scares me for when Sanders returns, but there's no denying Scott is who they turn to in short yardage.

Long term, Gainwell definitely has a role carved out on this team. He has 31 targets to Sanders' 24. Even with a game and a half of difference, that is a sizeable enough margin to suggest he'll have a role carved out for him going forward. What that role is and whether it has fantasy value remains to be seen. Those 31 targets amount to 164 yards and a touchdown on the year. Decent numbers, but enough to keep him rostered?

Wide Receivers

Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams (12.8%)

Don't let the DeSean Jackson release fool you. While Van Jefferson has now officially solified himself as WR3, Jackson's release wasn't the event that made that happen. Jefferson has slowly whittled that role out for himself over the last several weeks. On the season, Jackson had a 5.5% target share with the Rams on the season which whittled down to 1.9% over the last three weeks. Jefferson, on the other hand, saw his target share go up from 14.2% to 16.2% over the last 3 weeks.

The reason the Rams felt comfortable enough to cut Jackson was the sheer level of comfort they have with Jefferson in the WR3 spot. Jefferson has receiver as many or more targets than Robert Woods three times in the 8 games. His snap count over the last two weeks just ever-s0-slightly falls below Kupp and Woods, but it's right up there. If either happens to get hurt, Jefferson's value skyrockets as well. This is a guy you need to have around.

Atlanta Falcons

Russell Gage (14.5%)
Tajae Sharp (4.7%)
Olamide Zaccheaus, (0.7%)

It's great to hear that Calvin Ridley will be taking time to take care of his mental health, and I wish him nothing but the best. He should take all the time that he needs to get right so he can come back and be the best version of himself. That being said, we need to find a fill-in for Ridley's 15.2% target share.

Yeah, that 15.2% is lower than I would have thought, too. Ridley's 52 targets still lead the team, but the Atlanta Falcons have really figured out a passing offense that works well without too much help from the wide receivers. Kyle Pitts, Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, and Hayden Hurst all have more targets than the next highest wide receiver on the roster. This team isn't going to run 22 personnel and just rule wide receivers out of the equation. Someone will have to fill in Ridley's role.

Russell Gage feels like the easiest answer here. He notched 109 targets last year, second only to Ridley's 143. This year, however, things haven't looked as great. Gage missed three games with an ankle injury. Even when healthy, Gage hasn't impressed. He has just 9 catches for 95 a touchdown on 15 targets, and half those yards come on a 49-yard reception. Gage also failed to draw a single target in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers.

Olamide Zaccheaus has the second-highest target rate on the team at this point. His 11.4 yards per reception is also second to only Kyle Pitts among Atlanta's pass catchers. His usage in the passing offense, however, has tapered off. Since the Week 6 bye, Zaccheaus has seen one target in each of his last two games, good for a 3.0% target share. He cashed in while Gage missed time with injury, but I am unsure if Zaccheaus can step up to be WR1.

The player I'd like you to keep your eye out for, however, is Tajae Sharpe. Sharpe is currently 15-for-18 on the season for 158 yards and no scores. However, Sharpe has been receiving more and more opportunities as the year has gone on. His usage jumped in the absence of Russell Gage and has fluctuated a bit since. However, Sharpe's target share over the last three games is up to 12.1%, second-highest amongst Falcons receivers. 13 of his 18 targets have come in Atlanta's last three games. His usage is spiking at the right time, and if you're desperate enough to pick up an Atlanta receiver, Sharpe is your guy.

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