Commentary

Trend-spotting: Trust in Hightower

Updated: November 4, 2009, 5:33 PM ET
By Ken Daube | Special to ESPN.com

While Beanie Wells might be considered the back of the future for the Arizona Cardinals, Tim Hightower should still be viewed as the back you want for the rest of the season.

Hightower, while not as physically gifted as Wells, is the much better receiver of the duo. In Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, Hightower was targeted 10 times, an amazing stat for a running back. Equally as important were the three carries given to Hightower inside the Panthers' 10-yard line; Wells received no carries in that situation.

Going forward, Hightower will continue to hold the fantasy production edge as the Cardinals play an extremely favorable schedule when it comes to opponents' pass defense. During the six-game stretch in Weeks 11-16, the best pass defense the Cardinals will face currently ranks as 23rd-best in the league. Since Arizona's offense is already one of the better passing offenses, look for Hightower to be the beneficiary of a high number of screen plays in those games, as its opponents will be forced to aggressively pass rush, making the screen an extremely dangerous weapon.

On target

Over the past five weeks, here are the NFL leaders in terms of passing targets per game:

With those numbers in mind, and since one of the keys of winning fantasy football is to identify trends before everyone else does, here's a closer look into this weekend's box scores:

Reggie Wayne (20 targets; 12 receptions, 147 yards): In case you haven't figured out who the No. 1 receiver in the NFL this year is, Peyton Manning is trying to make it obvious.

Nate Burleson (12 targets; 6 receptions, 89 yards): When you consider that players generally perform better in the second season following ACL surgery, those of you in deep keeper leagues should be paying close attention to how good Burleson has been.

Vincent Jackson (12 targets; 8 receptions, 103 yards): If Jackson was a member of either the New York Giants or New York Jets, there'd be many columns written about how dominant he has been and that he's a top-5 talent.

Greg Jennings (12 targets; 8 receptions, 88 yards) and Donald Driver (10 targets; 6 receptions, 63 yards): The Green Bay Packers duo saw a relatively even number of opportunities, which should have you elevating Jennings and dropping Driver within your personal rankings.

Kevin Boss (9 targets; 3 receptions, 70 yards): Don't get too excited with Boss' production as a receiver, since catching only 33 percent of his targets is way below the average. Boss has had some memorable games, but he's far from consistent.

Michael Crabtree (9 targets; 6 receptions, 81 yards): Rookie wide receivers aren't traditionally good performers within fantasy. Luckily for his owners, Crabtree is anything but traditional. He is a must-start for any league that utilizes three wide receiver slots.

Donnie Avery (6 targets; 1 reception, 15 yards): If you are still holding out hope for Avery to ascend to your WR2 slot, it's time to pull that plug. Avery is a bye-week filler until he can prove he's healthy.

Big plays and up close

Ryan Moats, started by perhaps only his immediate family, posted the most annoying fantasy performance of the weekend. Steve Slaton has been besieged by fumbling issues, and head coach Gary Kubiak finally yanked him after Slaton lost a fumble for the fourth consecutive game. Those expecting Moats to settle back into a clear backup role should look closer at his performance Sunday. Moats broke three rushes for big plays (greater than 10 yards) and also converted two of his four carries inside his opponent's 10-yard line into touchdowns. If you fairly evaluate Moats' performance along with the fact that he has lost just one fumble in 150 career carries, you'll probably come to the conclusion that Moats is going to steal carries going forward.

If you still have Michael Bush on your roster, you aren't paying close enough attention to what's happening in Oakland, and really who could blame you? Justin Fargas received both of the carries that the Oakland Raiders executed inside their opponent's 10 and converted one for a score. If Bush isn't getting the rock there, he has no fantasy value.

File this under Keep an Eye On for Later: While Adrian Peterson converted one of his six "Up Close" carries into a score, he also lost yardage on three of those carries. "Purple Jesus" is still the best player in the game, but if opposing defenses continue to sell out to stop him, Peterson likely will lose some opportunities, as Brett Favre will be more than willing to audible into passing plays.

Sizing up the schedule

Kevin Smith has performed quite nicely this season, but with seven games remaining against teams ranked among the top 10 rush defenses, the clock is close to striking midnight.

While he might be a friend of the Fantasy Focus Football podcast, don't be too enticed by Matt Forte's performance this past week. Only one of his games between now and Week 16 is against a team in the bottom half of rush defenses. During that same period, he faces seven teams ranked in the top 12.

With seven games against teams ranked 22nd or lower in rush defense, whoever is the primary back for the New Orleans Saints is looking pretty. I still have my money on Pierre Thomas, and with Mike Bell almost fumbling away Monday night's game, I might even be inclined to double-down on that bet.

Mentioned it last week, but since the Dallas Cowboys are now challenging for the NFC East lead, I'll remind every Tony Romo and Miles Austin owner that seven of their remaining nine games come against teams ranked in the top 10 in pass defense.

Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin play that same schedule mentioned above in the Tim Hightower analysis. That's a good thing.

Finally, while Steve Smith of the Giants might be the best waiver-wire find of the year, his owners should note that between Weeks 12 and 16, he has only one game against a team not in the top 10 of passing defenses.

Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: myespn.go.com/KenD17.

Ken Daube

Fantasy Football
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Fantasy Football Now" with Dave Rothenberg on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET, which streams at ESPNNewYork.com, and can also be listened to via the ESPN Radio app.