- Ken Daube, Fantasy Football
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The more you look at the statistics, the more you will be convinced: Cam Newton will be an elite quarterback in this league for a long, long time. Consider these statistics, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
Only eight NFL quarterbacks have completion percentages of at least 50 percent on passes that travel farther than 20 yards in the air. The other seven average fewer than seven of such completions each. Newton has 15 for 523 yards. That's 169 more yards than any other quarterback has amassed on similar throws.
Worried about how Newton performs against the blitz because he's a rookie? Only six NFL quarterbacks have attempted 25 or more passes when a defensive back is blitzing: Newton, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Sam Bradford and Jay Cutler. Newton owns both the highest completion rate (68 percent) among those quarterbacks in that situation and the highest NFL passer rating (137.5) as well.
When the Panthers are going to run the ball inside their opponent's 10-yard line, they turn to Newton. Newton has had 10 such carries. If you are wondering about how much the Carolina Panthers' running backs are used in those situations, the numbers are surprising. Jonathan Stewart has only two chances, and DeAngelo Williams' next carry inside the opponent's 10-yard line this season will be his first.
The one area where Newton is statistically the weakest, according to his Total QBR (27.7), is out of the shotgun. In 114 passing attempts from the shotgun formation, Newton has just three touchdowns versus four interceptions and five sacks. That's ironic because his 114 attempts from the shotgun are second in the league (Stafford), and those attempts have resulted in 921 of his 1,386 passing yards.
Receiving yardage is variable because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. The variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback may greatly alter a player's value. It's important to look at the underlying target metric on a weekly basis to determine which stud performances were flukes and which dud performances can be written off to a bad day.
With that in mind, the table below not only lists players who are averaging seven targets a game but also provides the standard deviation of the game numbers. Players with a low deviation have a similar number of targets each game, while players with larger deviations have larger swings in the number of targets seen on a game-to-game basis.
Season Leaders, Targets Per Game
General observations from Week 4 games:
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (17 targets, 11 receptions, 127 yards): In last week's observation about Jones, he was called a starter in all three-receiver leagues. Forget that. Start him in any league.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints (14 targets, 10 receptions, 132 yards): You'd probably have to pry Graham from the cold, dead hands of whoever owns him in your league, but if you own Antonio Gates, it's probably worth it to offer Gates for Graham. The chances of that getting accepted is probably around 10 percent, which speaks both to how good Graham has been and how scary Gates' injury is.
Legedu Naanee, Carolina Panthers (11 targets, 4 receptions, 27 yards): Don't get excited about Naanee's 11 targets, as he caught just 36 percent of the passes thrown his way. Of course, that was a marked improvement from the 29 percent of passes that he caught going into this game. With a season average below 33 percent, Naanee shouldn't be a blip on the fantasy radar.
Victor Cruz, New York Giants (9 targets, 6 receptions, 98 yards): Until Mario Manningham can show that he's healthy, Cruz will get enough looks to be a viable starter in deep leagues. If you own Manningham or even Hakeem Nicks, it's probably wise to roster Cruz.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons (9 targets, 7 receptions, 56 yards): If you still believe that Gonzalez can't be a top-five tight end, you aren't paying attention. The fewest number of targets that Gonzalez has received in a game this year is seven, and he already has four scores. It's safe to expect an average performance of five catches for 50 yards from here on out, and don't be surprised if he hauls in eight more touchdowns.
Danario Alexander, St. Louis Rams (8 targets, 3 receptions, 46 yards): Alexander's value is tied to Danny Amendola. If Amendola can return from his injury, Alexander can be dropped. If Amendola winds up on the injured reserve list, Alexander will become a viable No. 4 receiver.
Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions (8 targets, 2 receptions, 23 yards): Having six disconnects on running back targets in one game is really odd. A review of the game tape found that only one of these six targets was a non-high-percentage route (crossing route). All other attempts were screens, short passes or passes to the flat. Keep an eye on Best's receiving opportunities, because if he can't get in sync with Matthew Stafford, Best's value will be negatively affected.
Greg Little, Cleveland Browns (8 targets, 6 receptions, 57 yards): If Colt McCoy winds up being a serviceable fantasy quarterback, Little will be worth owning and OK to use as a spot starter. Unfortunately, by the time you'll feel comfortable plugging him into your lineup, most of the NFL bye weeks will have passed.
Big plays, up close
Ten NFL players totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each: Matt Forte (6), Frank Gore (4), Willis McGahee (4), Stevan Ridley (4), Cedric Benson (3), LeGarrette Blount (3), Percy Harvin (3), Darren Sproles (3), Ryan Torain (3) and Michael Vick (3).
Ridley's appearance on this list should concern owners of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as the Law Firm has only five such carries in the New England Patriots' first four games. Ridley looked impressive during the preseason and is showing a similar burst now.
How good is Matt Forte? Among all running backs, his 26 receptions are tied for first, his 310 receiving yards lead the league and he sits in seventh in rushing yardage. If he can find the end zone more frequently, he'll become a top-three fantasy back.
Eight NFL players were given three or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line: Beanie Wells (5), Green-Ellis (4), Michael Bush (3), Lex Hilliard (3), Cam Newton (3), Adrian Peterson (3), Mike Tolbert (3) and Michael Turner (3).
Of that bunch, only Peterson failed to score from that range. Of course, there's no reason to worry, as entering this week, Peterson had scored on 50 percent of such carries this season (three of six).
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. For game-day insights, follow him on twitter @KenDaubeESPNFF.