On Target 🎯 The luckiest (and most unlucky) fantasy football receivers this season

Quarterback play has been a major factor in Chris Olave being one of the most unlucky receivers this fantasy football season. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Quarterback play has been a major factor in Chris Olave being one of the most unlucky receivers this fantasy football season. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Nine-ball is rotation pool, the balls are pocketed in numbered order. The only ball that means anything, that wins it, is the 9. Now, the player can shoot eight trick shots in a row, blow the 9, and lose. On the other hand, the player can get the 9 in on the break, if the balls spread right, and win. Which is to say, that luck plays a part in nine-ball. But for some players, luck itself . . . is an art.

- Opening voiceover, "The Color of Money."

What is luck? How much is anyone in control of their own luck? Is it true that the harder we work, the luckier we get?

Sometimes I think luck in the NFL is being in the right context. Oh sure, a bounce here, an official's call there, that stuff can bail you out or steal a game. But maybe some team constructs get so messy, not even a star can survive there.

Randy Moss was a god on the Vikings and Patriots. He was just another player on the Raiders. Maybe Moss wasn't fully engaged by the end of the Oakland run, but that doesn't really dismiss the point. Context is critical in the NFL.

I was scanning some Fantasy Points data Tuesday morning as I got ready to write the fresh On Target, and I was messing around with the expected fantasy points metric that's listed on their data pages. What receivers, on a per-game basis, are scoring more or fewer points than expected?

The names that came to the surface were interesting, at least to me.

Unluckiest Fantasy Pass-Catchers, per-game under expected

  • Chris Olave, -3.6 points per game

  • Garrett Wilson, -3.5

  • Diontae Johnson, -3.5

  • Calvin Ridley, -3.4

  • Davante Adams, -3.2

  • Marquise Brown, -3.2

  • Tee Higgins, -3.2

  • Elijah Moore, -2.8

  • Michael Thomas, -2.6

  • Kyle Pitts, -2.2

  • Chris Godwin, -2.2

  • Amari Cooper, -2.0

  • Tyler Lockett, -1.9

  • DK Metcalf, 1.9

Luckiest Fantasy Pass Catchers, per-game over expected

  • Tyreek Hill, +4.5 points per game

  • D.J. Moore, 3.9

  • CeeDee Lamb, 3.7

  • George Kittle 3.6

  • Noah Brown, 3.3

  • Amon-Ra St. Brown, 3.2

  • A.J. Brown, 2.6

  • Nico Collins, 2.5

  • Stefon Diggs, 2.4

  • Keenan Allen, 2.3

  • Brandon Aiyuk, 2.3

  • Mark Andrews, 2.2

  • Rashee Rice, 2.2

  • DeVonta Smith, 1.9

  • Christian Kirk, 1.9

Additional fantasy football takeaways

  • Derek Carr and Chris Olave haven't had chemistry all year, and it's interesting that Andy Dalton had better efficiency stats last year than Carr had with the Raiders. Jameis Winston is a flawed player, but he peppered Olave with targets in the second half last week. If Winston is needed again (the Saints are on bye in Week 11), Olave's fantasy stock gets a bump. Otherwise, we have to manage expectations. That's never a satisfying answer, I grant you that.

  • Maybe there's no right answer in the Steelers' receiving room, and that makes me sad. But Pittsburgh is amazingly 6-3 despite a yardage deficit every week, and it seems to realize that the best chance of winning is to lean into defense and a running game that's helmed by two capable backs. Some weeks Kenny Pickett throws a touchdown pass, sometimes he doesn't. For his career, he's made 21 starts: one game with two touchdown passes, 11 games with one scoring toss and nine games with zero.

    No one is surprised to see Diontae Johnson on the unlucky list. I'll also note George Pickens and Calvin Austin are on the top 10 list for highest-uncatchable pass percentage, though their depth of target obviously plays into that.

  • Garrett Wilson's getting propped up by volume, but the Jets haven't scored a touchdown since the 1800s.

  • Davante Adams and Jimmy Garoppolo were never on the same page. At least Aidan O'Connell is willing to prioritize Adams, and perhaps with better anticipation. The Raiders openly say they want Josh Jacobs to be the foundation of the offense, but maybe that won't be possible against Miami this week.

  • A.J. Brown was a good fantasy player in Tennessee, but some meat was generally left on the bone, in part because Arthur Smith wouldn't fully commit the first two Brown seasons. He had a modest 84 targets as a rookie, then 106 in his second year (14 games). Brown had 145 targets last year in Philadelphia, and he's on pace for 174 this year.

    Brown won his post-Tennessee departure, Smith obviously has not. The Falcons are the most fantasy-frustrating offense in the league.

  • Maybe D.J. Moore is quarterback-proof. I hope he gets to play with an elite passer someday.

  • C.J. Stroud sure looks like a talent elevator, making the Texans an instant contender despite an offense that's still missing several pieces. Nico Collins and Noah Brown deserve a lot of credit for making this list, but it's also the Stroud Effect.

  • For whatever reason, Trevor Lawrence has a good thing going with Christian Kirk and a choppy connection with Calvin Ridley. To be fair, the routes Kirk wins at are generally easier throws and quicker to define. But Ridley's slump is puzzling. He's no longer an automatic starter.

  • Rashee Rice has all sorts of per-route and per-play metrics that pop. What he needs is the Chiefs to elevate him over a rotational role. He's yet to have a snap share or a route share over 70% this season.

  • Deshaun Watson came alive in the comeback at Baltimore, but mostly he has not helped Amari Cooper and Eljiah Moore. And the Browns also have one of the worst backup QB situations in the league, though most teams are in trouble if the backup has to play. It's interesting that the Browns had Joshua Dobbs earlier this year and didn't want to keep him. Was Dobbs' upside just unseeable, even if you have him in the building? Did they not want his presence to unsettle Watson? We'll never know.

  • Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs didn't click Monday in the Denver loss, but give Broncos ace Pat Surtain a lot of that credit. Buffalo's switching offensive coordinators, but Allen still knows where his bread is buttered.

  • Chris Godwin's bad luck has mostly been about a low touchdown count, despite a healthy share of red-zone targets. He's still one of the best buy-lows around. Tampa's passing tree is especially narrow. All of Baker Mayfield's indexed metrics are league average or above league average. Mayfield's not always the easiest watch, but he's been solid.

  • Geno Smith came alive last week, but Washington's defense is a dream draw. After the Rams this week, the Seattle schedule gets tricky: 49ers, Cowboys, 49ers again, Eagles. DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett still feel like forced starts, but I definitely trust them less than I did two months ago.

Data from Pro Football Reference and FantasyPros was used in this article.