by Ray Lin
If you’re like me, you probably play in a league where the flex spot is, well, very flexible. I’m talking about a spot where you can play either a Wide Receiver, Running Back or a Tight End. When deciding who to start, it’s natural to simply resort to flex rankings and just slot in the highest-ranked player, but what happens when we actually look at the stats blended across those three positions? I wanted to answer two questions specifically:
So, I went and crunched some numbers for players who are not the #1 option at their position on their given teams (which is typically the pool of players who end up in flex consideration). Then, I looked at their fantasy point production (standard scoring) per Touch Opportunity — calculated as the sum of their receiving targets and their rushing attempts. Touches are typically calculated as the sum of actual receptions and rushes, but I use targets here to help bridge the gap between total touches for a running back compared to the number of looks a receiver gets.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it takes 41 spots in the Fantasy Points Per Touch rankings before you get to a running back (Tevin Coleman). Aside from that, 80% of the Top-30 players in FPPT are receivers. However, it might surprise you even more than the top-ranked flex player in terms of FPPT is actually neither a running back nor wide receiver:
Martellus Bennett, TE – NE
21 rec, 28 tar, 75% catch
314 yards, 4 TD
1.9 FPPT (1st)
This guy isn’t even the #1 tight end on his own team! Bennett, who is fresh off an end zone hat trick last week in Tom Brady’s season debut, leads everyone with 1.9 fantasy points per touch. His 28 targets only rank 64th in the NFL, but he’s caught three-quarters of them and turned them into 314 yards and 4 scores.
Now that Brady is back, expect Bennett to be a Top-10 TE the rest of the way. I usually view overall target magnets as the true floor guys, but on a team like the Patriots and the way they play in the red zone with their dual tight end sets, Bennett sets his floor based on his red zone target potential.
Sammie Coates, WR – PIT
19 rec, 31 tar, 61% catch
421 yards, 2 TD
1.7 FPPT (4th)
Markus Wheaton carried the pre-season hype and Eli Rogers got some temporary attention before a recent turf toe injury, but it’s Coates who has firmly established himself as the #2 receiver in a dangerous Pittsburgh passing offense. The former 3rd round pick out of Auburn exploded for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Jets in Week 5, and has clearly become a favorite read for Ben Roethlisberger (11 targets last week).
He hasn’t played flawless football, however, as he’s also suffered from some drops. I’d view those as signs of more potential to come because the targets are definitely there and he’s flashed true home run ability (at least a 40-yard grab in all 5 games this season). He’s a solid flex option with a high ceiling.
Michael Crabtree, WR – PIT
29 rec, 44 tar, 67% catch
355 yards, 5 TD
1.6 FPPT (6th)
Yes, Crabtree has actually outscored teammate Amari Cooper through 5 weeks, but for all intents and purposes on the depth chart he’s still the #2 receiver in Oakland. All of the unfulfilled promise of Crabtree in San Francisco seems to have finally blossomed across the Bay Bridge.
You may not have realized this in 2015, but Crabtree actually led the Raiders in target share with nearly 25% of Derek Carr’s looks. It’s carried over to 2016, as Crabtree continues to see more targets than his more-heralded teammate and is looking like the better draft day bargain. Much of the consistent fantasy production can also be attributed to the scorching quarterback play from Carr, who has been the 4th-ranked fantasy signal caller through the first month.
Kenny Stills, WR – MIA
9 rec, 21 tar, 43% catch
205 yards, 2 TD
1.6 FPPT (7th)
Remember when Stills almost racked up 1,000 yards in New Orleans back in 2014? He’s flashed fantasy potential in each of his first three seasons, but wasn’t expected to do much in his second year in Miami. That’s mostly due to the fact that the hype train on first-round rookie DeVante Parker was spinning out of control.
So far the hype has not been justified, as Parker has battled injuries and less looks from QB Ryan Tannehill. Stills, meanwhile, has been the de facto #2 WR behind Jarvis Landry and has shown some big play ability despite catching only 9 balls. Stills is still unownable in PPR leagues, but in tough bye weeks for receivers owners in 12 and 14-team leagues can do much worse on a dart throw than Stills.
Chris Hogan, WR – NE
12 rec, 20 tar, 60% catch
236 yards, 1 TD
1.4 FPPT (10th)
Did we mention Brady is back and that all of his pass catchers should be respected the rest of the way? Hogan was only 5th on the team in targets in Brady’s return, but led the Patriots in receiving yardage. His consistent play has given him some solid footing in front of Danny Amendola on the depth chart.
With Rob Gronkowski healthy again, Hogan isn’t going to see the kind of target share he got from Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett, but any reliable target getting looks from Tom Brady will have fantasy value. I’ve liked Hogan ever since his days in Buffalo, and I think he’s a lock to set a new career-high in receiving yards and command PPR league attention by catching 65-70 passes.
Tyrell Williams, WR – SD
21 rec, 34 tar, 61% catch
358 yards, 2 TD
1.4 FPPT (13th)
Philip Rivers and Ken Whisenhunt have found a way to keep the Charger offense humming along even after suffering the devastating loss of Keenan Allen. They have a talented young receiving corps to thank for that, which starts with Travis Benjamin (394 yards) but Williams has been the most pleasant surprise of the group.
The undrafted free agent out of Western Oregon has been sneaking some target share away from Benjamin and Dontrelle Inman, which will give him plenty of fantasy upside on a weekly basis. He’s managed either 60+ yards receiving or 5 receptions in every game, giving him a nice floor in PPR leagues with some room for improvement in the TD department.
Adam Thielan, WR – MIN
20 rec, 25 tar, 80% catch
272 yards, 1 TD
1.3 FPPT (20th)
Nope, that’s not a typo — Thielan has caught 20-of-25 targets on a surprisingly effective offense led by Sam Bradford. Few could have predicted that the former Heisman winner (but to-date NFL bust) would be completing over 70% of his passes and put up a Top-5 QBRating through a month.
With Kyle Rudolph and Matt Asiata poaching most of the red zone opportunities on the Vikings, Thielan won’t have much scoring value. However, the hometown kid out of Minnesota State offers plenty of PPR appeal with at least 4 receptions in 3-of-5 games so far. Playing on a team with an elite defense means the offense will get plenty of opportunities, and Bradford is going to continue sticking with reliable targets (Thielan is exactly that). Minnesota’s receiving corps isn’t built for the long game, so don’t be fooled by Bradford’s career-high 7.9 yards per attempt so far. Expect that to regress closer to his career average of 6.5 YPA, which should favor the routes that Thielan will continue running.