Trend-spotting: Jennings or Driver?
Let's suppose you own Greg Jennings and one of your league mates comes knocking with an offer of Donald Driver for him, do you accept the offer? Based on their year-to-date performance, many would leap at the chance to grab Driver based on the fact that he has outscored Jennings by 20 points this season. Is that a wise decision?
First, let's agree that there's fantasy gold to be had here. The Green Bay Packers play one of the friendliest pass-schedules over the remaining portion of their season. Over their final eight games, the Packers don't draw any teams currently ranked in the top 10 against the pass, but they do draw three matchups against teams in the bottom 10. Then consider this as you decide which receiver you really want.
The majority of the scoring difference between Driver and Jennings can be traced to their Week 2 contest where Driver posted 15 fantasy points to Jennings' goose egg. Over the rest of the season, the difference is less than one fantasy point per week. As anyone who has ever played this game will realize, this is hardly noteworthy. Next consider that over the last four weeks, Jennings is averaging 23 percent more targets than Driver. You should note that this is in line with the ratio that existed in 2008, when Jennings received 21 percent more targets than Driver. Those two statistics taken together should help you come to the conclusion that it's extremely likely that Jennings will emerge as the better producer of the two from here on out.
Over the past five weeks, here are the NFL leaders in terms of passing targets per game:
|Player||Games||Targets||Targets per Game|
|Steve Smith (Giants)||5||43||8.6|
With those numbers in mind and since one of the keys to winning fantasy football is to identify trends before everyone else does, here's a closer look into this weekend's box scores:
Brandon Marshall (15 targets, 11 receptions, 112 yards): If Marshall can establish any level of consistency the rest of the way, he'll be in the conversation for a top-five ranking among wide receivers next year.
Derrick Mason (13 targets, 3 receptions, 31 yards): In case you were wondering why Mason seemed to disappear Sunday against the Bengals, fear not. Joe Flacco remained locked on Mason; they just didn't connect. Look for a bounce-back game against the Cleveland Browns.
Devin Hester (12 targets, 6 receptions, 94 yards) and Earl Bennett (11 targets, 7 receptions, 93 yards): The loss of Brian Urlacher appears to be catching up to the Chicago Bears' defense. They can't seem to stop anyone, which means more passing opportunities for Jay Cutler and whomever he feels like targeting. I still like Hester more than Bennett, but would find a starting slot for Bennett in any 12-team, three-receiver league.
Vernon Davis (11 targets, 10 receptions, 102 yards): Outside of Manning-to-Clark, Smith-to-Davis is arguably the most productive combo for tight end production right now.
Casey FitzSimmons (11 targets, 6 receptions, 41 yards): The Detroit Lions' offense was centered on its tight ends against the Seattle Seahawks, as both FitzSimmons and Brandon Pettigrew posted solid numbers. Don't expect this to become a trend.
Lance Long (11 targets, 8 receptions, 74 yards): Someone has to catch the ball in Kansas City, right? Those of you in extremely deep leagues should add him and hope he's the proverbial lightning in the bottle.
Joseph Addai (10 targets, 5 receptions, 49 yards): It's nice to see that he was substantially involved in the passing game; it wasn't nice to see that he converted only half of his targets into receptions. That's a very low rate for a running back and should be cause for concern if Donald Brown returns this week.
Reggie Bush (9 targets, 7 receptions, 37 yards): Remember last week when the debate was who you wanted between Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell? The answer is still Thomas, but the question should now include Bush over Bell. Bush looks like he's settling in to being a receiving threat, but won't eat into Thomas' production any more than any other Saints receiver.
Laveranues Coles (9 targets, 6 receptions, 72 yards): This isn't placed here just in case you were wondering if he still had a pulse. You need to know that seven of those targets came after Chris Henry left due to a season-ending arm injury.
Big plays and up close
Rashard Mendenhall's performance on Monday night all but put the final nail in the coffin of Willie Parker's fantasy relevance. Mendenhall tied for the NFL lead with four rushes of 10 yards or more (big play rushes). While he didn't find the end zone, he did receive two carries inside the opponent's 10.
How good is DeAngelo Williams? He was the other player with four big play rushes and did it against a New Orleans Saints team that ranked 11th in the league against the rush going into the game. Williams wasted no time shredding the Saints' defense when he took the second play from scrimmage for a 66-yard touchdown romp. He also dominated inside the Saints' 10-yard line, running twice for 13 yards and a touchdown.
You really have to wonder what it takes for Brandon Jacobs to get some love. Jacobs averaged 6.1 yards per carry, partly due to the two big play rushes he ripped off, but somehow he had his number called only 11 total times in a game where the New York Giants were trying to close out the San Diego Chargers.
As ESPN.com injury expert Stephania Bell pointed out in her most recent blog, Brian Westbrook was held out of practice last Friday due to swelling in his ankle before missing Sunday's game due to lingering effects from a concussion. LeSean McCoy filled in admirably, ripping off two big play rushes in only 13 carries. Since McCoy also delivers in the passing game (five catches for 61 yards on seven targets), he's a must-start in any game that Westbrook is inactive.
Wondering if Ladell Betts is startable if Clinton Portis misses a significant amount of time? Consider this: The Washington Redskins ran the ball four times inside the Atlanta Falcons' 10-yard line. Rock Cartwright received three of those carries.
Sizing up the schedule
Kevin Smith has six games remaining against teams ranked among the top 10 rush defenses. In leagues that reward a point per reception, Smith remains an every-week starter, but in other leagues you probably have a better option available.
On the opposite end of that spectrum is Pierre Thomas, who has six remaining games against teams that rank in the bottom 10 in rushing defense. Since he had 18 touches to Mike Bell's five, you should be warming to the thought that Thomas has a very good chance to be among the top five fantasy backs the rest of the way.
As mentioned in earlier columns, the prospects for Tony Romo and Matt Ryan to remain fantasy studs the rest of the way are extremely slim. Neither will play any team ranked in the bottom half of the pass defense rankings at any point during the rest of the season.
Wondering if Ben Roethlisberger can realistically challenge for a top-five quarterback ranking at the end of the year? Consider this: Roethlisberger faces the fifth-easiest schedule for a quarterback the rest of the way.
I threw this idea out earlier this season, but here goes again. If your team is desperate for running back help, try securing the services of both Carnell Williams and Laurence Maroney. By alternating them the rest of the way, you'll have one of the friendliest schedules a running back can see.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: myespn.go.com/KenD17.