Trendspotting: Good news for Royal
It would be easy to look at the Indianapolis Colts' box score and be unimpressed with the production that RB Joseph Addai managed on his 14 carries Sunday, as his 1.9 yards per carry average was downright awful. However, a closer look at the box score reveals 10 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. Most impressively, Addai's 10 catches came on an equal amount of targets. While most of those passes were screens, obviously, you need to realize that QB Peyton Manning is calling almost every play at the line, so those targets show how much Manning trusts Addai.
Closer looks into this weekend's box scores reveal the following items:
It should be of no surprise that WR Miles Austin won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award after his effort that resulted in 10 catches for 250 yards, including two touchdowns. What should surprise you is that the 15 targets Austin received were more than the combined total of 14 that Patrick Crayton (8) and Jason Witten (6) managed. While the Dallas Cowboys do have the toughest remaining passing schedule of any team in the NFL, Austin has every opportunity to become the team's No. 1 wide receiver the rest of the way.
Eddie Royal's 10-catch, 90-yard effort was likely wasted on many benches due to his relative invisibility during the first four weeks of the season. If you own Royal, he moves back into a must-start role in any league that uses at least three receivers. Coach Josh McDaniel was forced to open up the aerial attack as the Denver Broncos were trailing the New England Patriots for most of the second half. Thankfully for the Broncos, quarterback Kyle Orton delivered. Look for McDaniel to give Orton more responsibility in leading the offense, which means more opportunities for Royal.
While most would view WR Wes Welker's 15 targets on Sunday as proof that he and QB Tom Brady are back on the same page, Welker managed just eight receptions. Welker's reception/target ratio is only 63 percent this season, far below the 77 percent he averaged in 2007 with Brady and 75 percent he averaged in 2008 with Matt Cassel.
Those worried about a drop in performance by Kellen Winslow following the benching of Byron Leftwich can breathe easy. Josh Johnson is proving he can move the ball down the field, and Winslow's 12 targets tied him for the lead among tight ends.
After publicly proclaiming that he needed more opportunities, Michael Clayton (Winslow's teammate) proceeded to drop three of the 12 passes sent his way. Clayton will never be the receiver that most expected him to become after his impressive rookie season, but if he can begin to actually catch the ball, he'll be a usable receiver in deeper leagues.
Those of you in the deepest of leagues, pay close attention to WR Keenan Burton of the St. Louis Rams. Burton was targeted nine times this week and has converted two-thirds of his receptions so far this season into first downs. He can quickly become a security blanket for either Marc Bulger or Kyle Boller and grab some cheap fantasy points for you in the process.
Big plays and up close
The Wildcat offense has transformed Ronnie Brown from a very good back into an excellent back. Brown has converted 27 percent of his carries this season into first downs and has 10 big-play rushes as well. Most impressively, Brown has converted five of his 15 carries inside the opponent's 10-yard line into a touchdown.
If you own RB DeAngelo Williams and are wondering if Jonathan Stewart is eating into his value, consider this: With his three rushing attempts inside the opponent's 10-yard line this weekend, Stewart now has more rushing attempts this season in that type of situation that Williams does. Last season, each scored on about half their attempts in that area; this season, Williams has converted just once in five times.
The downside of the Wildcat is within Ricky Williams' value. Only one of seven carries inside the opponent's 10 found itself in Williams' hands on Monday. It's tough to compete for touches with another running back when the ball is snapped to that other player.
There's no truth to the rumor that the 12-year-olds who played flag football at Giants Stadium at halftime of the Oakland Raiders-New York Giants game played better defense than the Raiders. The fact is that the Raiders didn't play defense at all as evidenced by the five rushes of over 10 yards that Ahmad Bradshaw attained. Any running back playing against the Raiders is worth a start so long as that player is getting 30 percent of his team's carries.
Knowshon Moreno broke four runs of over 10 yards against a New England Patriots' defense that had been very productive against the run. Moreno has a very favorable matchup in Week 6 against the San Diego Chargers before going on a bye and two games against top-5 rush defenses.
The Dallas Cowboys might have the most talented trio of running backs in one backfield in recent memory. Tashard Choice, their third-string option, ripped off three big-play rushes en route to an eight-carry, 92-yard effort. Choice is pushing for significant playing time, and those with Marion Barber and Felix Jones slated as their starting running backs need to be concerned with Choice's productivity.
Those hoping that Fred Jackson would remain a focal point of the Buffalo Bills' offense when Marshawn Lynch returned from suspension have to be disappointed with how the team is utilizing Jackson. Jackson's dismal rushing performance against the Browns has the potential to push more carries into Lynch's capable hands, especially after he broke two runs for more than 10 yards on Sunday.
Ray Rice is now the only guy you want to start from the Baltimore Ravens' backfield. Rice has been dominant recently, as evidenced by his 4.9 yards-per-carry average against the Cincinnati Bengals; prior to this week, they had allowed just 4.2 yards per carry.
Sizing up the schedule
If you've read this column with any regularity this season, you know Nate Burleson has been mentioned regularly. With another solid performance posted this past weekend, Burleson is owned in over 50 percent of ESPN.com leagues. I wonder what the other half of leagues are thinking. Now, based on the Seattle Seahawks' upcoming schedule, I'm expanding my man-crush to Matt Hasselbeck as well because they don't play a top-15 pass defenses the rest of the way. If you want in on this schedule perk, jump on it right away as the Seahawks next four opponents all rank 27th or worse among pass defenses.
David Garrard's next three opponents all rank among the bottom-eight pass defenses. Garrard has been solid all season for the Jacksonville Jaguars and as long as Mike Sims-Walker doesn't continue to violate team rules, Garrard likely will be among the top 10 fantasy performers at quarterback during that stretch of time.
Five of the New York Jets' next eight games come against teams who are among the worst-eight rush defenders. Those hoping that Shonn Greene will supplant Thomas Jones at some point this season need to find another beacon of light. Jones remains a serviceable running back and the ease of his schedule in the upcoming weeks basically eliminates any reasonable expectation of an emergence by Greene.
Three of the Cincinnati Bengals' next four games come against teams that are among the 10 best in defending the run. While impatient owners may tend to sour on Cedric Benson during this time, Benson's six opponents that follow that stretch feature five teams that have no better than the 25th-best rush defense.
Finally, if you invested a very early pick in Steven Jackson and are hoping that his No. 20 ranking among running backs at this point in the season is an aberration, there's some bad news down the road as six of his remaining opponents are among the top 10 stingiest rush defenses.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: myespn.go.com/KenD17.
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