Trendspotting: Good news for Matt Forte
Welcome to the 2010-2011 version of Trendspotting, a unique fantasy football advice column that aims to look at key performance indicators and factors that impact production rather than the end-result fantasy point totals. The goal of this column is not always to provide the reader with my opinion on why player A is better than player B, but rather to give you, the reader, more information so that you can make appropriate changes in player valuations.
Throughout the season, Trendspotting will focus on the number of targets that top receiving options are getting, the number of carries that running backs are getting inside their opponent's 10-yard line and the number of times a running back breaks a run for more than 10 yards. Eventually, as the season progresses, Trendspotting will also provide updates to which players have the most favorable schedules going forward, and of course, which ones have the most challenging ones. Obviously after one week of games, it's impossible to identify any "trends," so this week we'll focus just on the opportunities that your players had for success.
Receiving yardage is the most variable form of yardage, which makes sense because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. Because of this, variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback can greatly change a player's value. While your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to decide if it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If he had one target that he turned into a 40-yard touchdown, you need to realize that he was one quarterback decision away from posting a goose egg. Conversely, if your wideout had 12 targets and finished with 108 yards receiving, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater.
The following players finished as the top 50 most targeted players this past week:
Roddy White obviously benefited from Michael Jenkins' absence. While White is an elite receiver, he likely will not see 23 targets in a game again this season.
If you don't have depth at wide receiver, you need to put in a waiver claim on Mark Clayton. Clayton was a perennial disappointment for the Baltimore Ravens, but it's clear that Sam Bradford views Clayton as his best option at this time. Don't be distracted by Clayton's 11.9 yards per catch average, he also caught two passes that each went for more than 25 yards.
Welcome to the NFL, Dez Bryant and Jermaine Gresham. Bryant was clearly part of the Dallas Cowboys' game plan, while Gresham received the large majority of his targets after the Cincinnati Bengals fell behind the New England Patriots 24-0. Don't view these rookies' impressive number of targets in the same manner.
As much as I love Eddie Royal this season, don't be too quick to write off the possibility of Jabar Gaffney being the Denver Broncos receiver you want to own. Royal only out-targeted Gaffney by three, so until you see more evidence that Royal is finally going to be the receiver that everyone expected him to become last year, hedge your bets.
Matt Forte's seven targets are something to get excited about, especially in point-per-reception leagues. Mike Martz's offense hasn't traditionally been the most run-friendly system, but yardage is yardage, and seven targets is pretty much the statistical equivalent of 12 to 15 rush attempts.
The Baltimore Ravens used Todd Heap significantly against the aggressive defense of the New York Jets. Watch how the New England Patriots deploy Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez this weekend to see if John Harbaugh and his crew found a weakness that can be exploited by other teams.
Notably absent from the top 50 this week is San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. Gates likely will finish as a top-3 tight end, but because he managed only six targets while the top two wide receivers for the Chargers combined for 20 has to be a bit disconcerting, especially considering past couple of years the Kansas City Chiefs were one of the worst teams in the league when it came to preventing production by their opponents' tight ends.
Big plays and up close
Having already mildly praised the production of Forte, Trendspotting would also like to point out that he got five carries inside their opponent's 10-yard line (I-10), tied for best in the league in Week 1. Of course, he failed to score on each attempt, but it's still somewhat encouraging to see the possibility of goal line carries in his future.
Arian Foster's insane production came from both the scoring opportunities he was given (tied with Forte with five I-10 carries) and what he did with his other touches (six carries for more than 10 yards, best in the NFL this week). Ben Tate's preseason injury opened the door for Foster to be an every-down back and Foster is knocking the door off its hinges.
Knowing that Foster led the league in carries for more than 10 yards, you'd probably assume that Chris Johnson placed second. You'd be wrong. Three other backs had more carries of 10-plus yards than Johnson: Darren McFadden, Ronnie Brown and Knowshon Moreno. McFadden should catch your attention because many assumed that the starting gig for the Oakland Raiders would wind up being Michael Bush's once Bush returned. With McFadden being the most targeted running back and breaking four runs of more than 10 yards, he might finally be putting his awesome skill set to proper use. That being said, don't hold your breath until you see more evidence of the same.
Finally, if you own either of the New York Giants running backs, here's a point of information you may be interested in: Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs each had three runs for negative yardage. Those "stuffs" mean that almost 19 percent of the Giants' carries went for negative yardage. Because many are projecting the Carolina Panthers to have a down year, such a high stuff percentage should be extremely alarming and definitely something you should keep an eye on going forward. For comparison, the average stuff percentage among NFL running backs in 2009 was less than 10 percent.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: http://myespn.go.com/KenD17.