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When addressing this topic, it is very important to discuss what the term “vacated targets” means, and where do these vacated targets come from. For each team, targets are just slightly different than the number of passing attempts that a quarterback has. As an example, if a quarterback simply throws the ball out of bounds to end the play, it would count as a pass attempt, but not a target. A target is a play in which the quarterback throws the ball towards an intended receiver.
As some teams are more run-heavy than others, targets will vary from team to team, and from season to season within the same organization. At the end of each season, players leave their previous team to go to another team via trade or free agency. The targets that these departed players had the previous season now become “vacated targets”. These vacated targets can come from the running back, wide receiver, and/or tight end positions.
Although vacated targets are important to analyze, so too are vacated rushing attempts. For my analysis, I always use targets for wide receivers and tight ends, and “total touches” (targets plus rushes) for running backs. So, to answer the question, vacated targets and touches are real. One must however realize that there is a degree of variance, which I will discuss below.
I would encourage anyone that has the time and energy to invest, to do their own projections. I did mine for the first time this year and, trust me, it gets easier with each team you do. Having done it this year, I am looking forward to doing it next year. One great site to obtain statistical data is Click here From this website, you can access several key pieces of data. This information includes: 1) total team plays; 2) passing attempts/yards/td’s/etc; 3) rushing attempts/yards/TDs and more.
I linked the Titans 2020 stats above. As one can tell, the Titans had 1031 plays for the season. The team completed 316-485 passes for 3653 yards and 33 TDs while rushing 521 times for 2630 yards and 26 TDs. In looking at this, the play's run appears to be 1006 (485 plus 521). The difference between this number and 1031 plays previously listed is the number of sacks-25. The important number to me here is the run/pass ratio (which varies from team to team). That ratio for rushing is 521 divided by 1006 (51.7 percent) and for passing, it would be the remaining 48.3 percent.
In all fairness, I do not feel that one year is a large enough sample size to determine a team’s run/pass preferences. I always use at least two years and, if one prefers, three is never a bad idea. In 2019, the Titans called 448 passes, 445 runs, and had 56 sacks. The total plays were 949 (448 plus 445 plus 56). For the run/pass ratio, the plays were 448 plus 445 which equals 893. The run percentage was 445 divided by 893 (49.8 percent) and the pass percentage was 50.2 percent. As you can tell, there is a slight difference in run/pass ratio, but enough similarity to give one a solid range.
For this coming season, the NFL changed the number of games played by each team to 17, from 16 last year. In looking at the Titans stats above, the number of non-sack plays was 1006 in 2020 and 893 in 2019. This large discrepancy in the number of plays run rarely exists, so I will use the number of 2020 plays (1006) as my baseline to figure out the 2021 plays. First, you must figure out the number of plays per game by dividing the number of plays (1006) by 16 (the number of games). This equals 62.87 plays per game. For a 17 game schedule, simply multiply the 62.87 by 17, which equals 1068.79 (rounded up to 1069).
As shown previously, the run ratio was 51.7 percent in 2020, and 49.8 percent in 2019. To me, I simply added the run plays from each season (521 plus 445) for a total of 966 rushes and divided by the total number of plays (1006 plus 893), to get a percentage. (521 plus 445) divided by (1006 plus 893). This equals 966 divided by 1899. As a percentage, this equates to 50.8. As mentioned above, the projected number of plays is 1069. To break this down, there will be 543 rushes (1069 times .508) and 526 passes (1069 minus 543).
From last year’s team, the Titans are missing three key players: 1) WR Corey Davis (92 targets); 2) TE Jonnu Smith (65 targets); and 3) WR Adam Humpries (35 Targets). Combined, this amounts to a missing 192 targets (41 percent of all targets). When taken as a percentage of 2021 pass plays (526), there would actually be 216 missing targets (.41 times 526). A similar exercise can be done with vacated rushes for any team that lost a running back.
One key question to answer is where do these extra targets go. These targets can go to newly acquired players (trade/draft/free agency) or players still on the roster from 2020. The Titans make an excellent example as they acquire Josh Reynolds (free agency-Rams), Julio Jones (trade-Falcons), and Dez Fitzpatrick (draft-Louisville) in each of these distinct formats.
As mentioned above, there are additional variables (besides run/pass ratios from year to year) that can affect the true number of vacated rushes. One of these key variables is the turnover that occurs within the head coaching/offensive coordinator and quarterback positions during the off-season.
This season we will see seven new head coaches, one offensive coordinator who was not already on the existing staff, and ten new quarterbacks. Depending on the mindset of head coaches and coordinators (as well as the talent of QB), these vacated targets can be even more unpredictable.
In closing, vacated targets and touches are real. Most teams (returning the same regime) have similar play-calling schemes from year to year, barring a really top-notch addition to the skill set. Najee Harris’s addition to the Steelers, for example, will likely cause an increase from a 37 percent rush in 2020 to a more balanced offense. Although the vacated touches are real, they are not always a direct linear effect(190 vacated targets does not always mean 190 true targets). It simply could be more or less, depending on the play scheme, the number of plays ran, etc. As fantasy owners, we are responsible to recognize the new opportunity and, within reason, gauge who on the team will benefit the most from it.