Could Alshon Jeffery Lead the League in Targets in 2015?

Alshon Jeffery's situation in Chicago could create the perfect storm for him to lead the league in targets this season.

There are quite a few players in the league capable of leading the NFL in targets this year.

Julio Jones is a popular candidate as the featured X-receiver in Kyle Shanahan's falsely led narrative of heavily targeting the top receiver.

DeAndre Hopkins, after taking some of the the vacated 146 targets left behind in Houston by Andre Johnson, certainly springs to mind, as he saw 127 targets last year even with Johnson's workload.

Take your pick from Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, or Odell Beckham Jr.. Any one of these wideouts could potentially lead the league in targets, but none of these receivers enter the unique situation that Chicago's Alshon Jeffery finds himself in.

Jeffery gets to take over an undisputed top-receiving role following the departure of Brandon Marshall. He gets a new offensive coordinator whose scheme last year predicated on feeding Demaryius Thomas to a league-high 184 targets. Jeffery is also the recipient of a freshly installed 3-4 defense that will likely struggle in its inaugural year, forcing Chicago to pass the ball to catch up in games.

Add it all up, and you have the sum of what may be the league's leading wide receiver in targets in fourth-year receiver Alshon Jeffery.

Jeffery's Career

2012's second-round pick out of South Carolina has quickly risen to the top echelon of wide receivers in the NFL. After following up a breakout sophomore year with another great season in 2014, Jeffery has solidified himself as one of the top receivers in the league from both an efficiency and volume viewpoint, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics.

For those unfamiliar with numberFire's metrics, Net Expected Points -- or NEP -- is our signature metric that measures a player's contributions to his team's chances of scoring above or below expectation. If a player improves the probability of his team scoring on a certain play, he receives a positive NEP; if he hinders their scoring chances, he receives a negative NEP. To learn more about it, check out our glossary.

Year Targets Target NEP Rec Rec NEP Rec Yard Rec TD's
2012 48 5.59 24 30.47 367 3
2013 149 60.32 89 117.41 1421 7
2014 145 52.40 85 105.26 1133 10

After a slow start to his rookie season, Jeffery caught on quickly as he and Brandon Marshall formed a very formidable duo for Jay Cutler. His overall efficiency numbers may have dipped in 2014, but he still finished last year with the 11th highest Reception NEP in the league and the 17th highest Target NEP.

What's remarkable about Jeffery's success is how he's been able to perform in tandem with Marshall without jeopardizing each other's efficiency. In 2013 when both receivers played all 16 games, both Marshall and Jeffery ranked in the top 12 in both Reception NEP and Target NEP.

With Marshall now in New York, Jeffery will take on more of a leading receiver role -- and the respective target market share that comes with it.

Year WR Targets Tgt MS% FP/G
2013 Brandon Marshall 164 28.3% 18.8
2014 Brandon Marshall 106 17.4% 13.9
2013 Alshon Jeffery 149 25.7% 17.7
2014 Alshon Jeffery 145 23.8% 16.4

Gone are the collective 270 targets from the last two years accrued by Marshall and his 28% market share of the offense's targets. Jeffery also gets to become the benefactor of some of the 37 red zone targets Marshall received the past two years. Jeffery's already scored the seventh-most touchdowns over the last two years, but sure, why not add a dollop of touchdowns to further increase Jeffery's fantasy points per game?

numberFire's Associate Editor Brandon Gdula noted in an earlier article about Marshall's departure that it could also leave Jeffery with some of Martellus Bennett's heavy red zone looks, as his 21 from last year (and only five touchdown receptions) showed he's a rather ineffective touchdown producer. Bennett also saw a career high 128 targets last season, well above his 90-plus looks he's received since joining Chicago. That could very likely return to his career average following the departure of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

Speaking of Trestman, it's also widely accepted that Matt Forte will see a decline in targets after his record-breaking 2014 season. Aside from his 130-target outlier from last year, Forte will likely regress somewhere near his career mean of 75 targets, leaving a healthy 55 to be spread out elsewhere among the offense. 

Between Marshall's departure and the likely decline in targets from Bennett and Forte, Jeffery and the rest of the wide receiver corps stand to benefit in new offensive coordinator Adam Gase's offense.

A Quick Stroll Through Target History

Last year's leading wide receiver in targets was none other than Gase's top receiver, Demaryius Thomas. Thomas paced the league last year en route to 184 targets while soaking up 30.3% of the team's target market share.

In 2013, Thomas ranked 12th in the league with 142 targets. Could Jeffery  -- who had 146 targets of his own on 2014 -- make the same kind of leap with Gase calling the shots?

It's not out of the realm of the possibility following the departure of Marshall. Cutler has shown a knack for locking onto "his guy"  when provided a legitimate outside weapon.

Year Leading Receiver Targets Target MS%
2007 Brandon Marshall 170 33.0%
2008 Brandon Marshall 183 29.5%
2009 Greg Olsen 108 19.2%
2010 Johnny Knox 100 17.2%
2012 Brandon Marshall 194 32.8%
2014 Alshon Jeffery 145 23.8%

Looking at the seasons in which Cutler played at least 15 games, you can't fault the Chicago front office for bringing in Marshall to reunite with his former Denver teammate. The two have had incredible chemistry over the years, averaging over 30% of the team's targets. If Alshon is able to corner this market -- and there's little reason to doubt so after seeing 23.8% of last year's targets -- he could see a huge spike in targets if he's able to surpass this 30% threshold. 

Last year, only two receivers -- Demaryius Thomas and Andre Johnson -- were able to hit this 30% mark and both finished in the top-five of target totals. 

Fantasy Outlook

Now to the good stuff -- how does it translate to fantasy football success?

While targets aren't solely a measure of fantasy success, they lead to opportunities which make these high-volume receivers so valuable.

As new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio works with John Fox installing a 3-4 defense, the Bears are likely to have difficulty keeping up with teams. Our power rankings have the Bears projected to have the fourth-worst defense in Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points. A roster with few playmakers, Chicago fans better hope that Gase can get the most out of Cutler to help keep this offense in games.

Rotoworld's Rich Hribar did a study looking at running and passing plays when teams are leading or trailing in games. His research found that teams trailing games passed the ball 66.5% of the time. That number rose to 70.1% when trailing in the second half of games and went up even further to 77.4% when trailing in the fourth quarter.

Gase's offenses have passed the ball 59% of the time over the past two years, ranking 13th most and 17th most in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This passing-focused play calling stands to increase in 2015 as Chicago fights to stay in late games, bringing with it the subsequent opportunity for the Bears' top playmaker -- Alshon Jeffery -- to accrue both targets and opportunity.

Over the past two years only four receivers have scored more PPR points than Jeffery. His 17 touchdowns over that span trail only six other receivers. He's picked up the fifth most receiving yards in that same time span. And now he's presented with a golden opportunity to likely see a higher target distribution going his way? Sign me up.

Coach Fox continues to remain vague on the status of Jeffery's calf injury, but Jeffery was still able to overcome a slow start last season and finish with the sixth most targets in the league. After totaling only 12 targets in his first two weeks combined, Jeffery finished the year with 145 targets on the season.

Even if a lingering calf injury slows his 2015 campaign, Jeffery should be able to make up for it quickly if he doesn't feature any additional setbacks.

As Chicago sees a major shift in its target distribution, Jeffery stands to be the biggest benefactor and could very likely end the season atop the ranks in targets.