Time to give up on Chris Johnson
It's no secret that Chris Johnson is moments away from being labeled the bust of 2011. After holding out for most of the preseason in a power play so that he could renegotiate his contract, Johnson was rewarded with a four-year contract extension worth $53 million despite the fact that his 2010 season represented a serious decline from his remarkable 2009 campaign.
In 2009, Chris Johnson set the world on fire when he rushed for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns. Contributing to those absurd numbers were the 49 rushes that Johnson broke for 10 or more yards. In 2010, the total number of rushes that Johnson gained 10 or more yards dropped by almost 25 percent to 37 such gains. While that seems somewhat significant, it's also important to note that Johnson's total number of carries dropped from 358 in 2009 to 316 in 2010, so a portion of the drop in big-play rushes can be attributed to the fact that he received fewer opportunities. Fast forward to this year
Johnson has only 93 rushes in six games, good for an average of 15.5 rushes per game. That is down from 19.8 last season and 22.4 in 2009. In terms of big-play rushes, Johnson has just three such rushes for the whole season. To put that into better perspective, Johnson has had 14 games in his NFL career in which he had at least three rushes that went for 10 or more yards.
Based on this information, it's time to sell Chris Johnson for whatever you can get. If you own him, you feel obligated to start him, because he was your first-round pick. Because his performance has been so pitiful, he's likely dragged your whole team into the gutter. Some might feel as if the only way they can overcome Johnson's horribleness so far this year is to hope someone on their team puts up the monster numbers that Johnson was thought to be capable of posting. As they look at their rosters the memory of Johnson posting those types of numbers can easily cloud their judgment. If you are one of those people, you need to come to grips with the fact that Johnson is a bust.
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 those players who are averaging seven targets a game during the past four weeks, but also provides the standard deviation of the game numbers. Players with a low deviation have a similar number of targets each game, where players with larger deviations have larger swings in the number of targets seen on a game-to-game basis.
The following is a list of players who are averaging seven or more targets per game during the past four weeks. An "N/A" designation in the standard deviation column simply means the player's data set does not have enough points to have a standard deviation determined.
Most Targets, Past 4 Weeks
|YTD Targets||Avg. Past 4 Wks||Std. Dev.|
|Aaron Hernandez (NE)||41||11.5||3.5|
|Jimmy Graham (NO)||66||11.0||2.9|
|Wes Welker (NE)||75||10.7||3.1|
|Julio Jones (Atl)||42||10.5||9.2|
|Mike Williams (TB)||63||10.3||2.2|
|Brandon Marshall (Mia)||61||10.0||2.6|
|Dwayne Bowe (KC)||52||10.0||1.0|
|Demaryius Thomas (Den)||10||10.0||N/A|
|Calvin Johnson (Det)||67||9.8||3.0|
|Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oak)||49||9.8||2.2|
|Larry Fitzgerald (Ari)||53||9.7||1.5|
|Michael Crabtree (SF)||37||9.7||5.0|
|Hakeem Nicks (NYG)||52||9.3||4.0|
|Kellen Winslow (TB)||58||9.3||2.5|
|Early Doucet (Ari)||42||9.0||6.1|
|Greg Little (Cle)||40||9.0||2.6|
|Brandon Lloyd (Den/StL)||44||9.0||4.4|
|Roddy White (Atl)||69||8.8||2.6|
|Jeremy Maclin (Phi)||51||8.7||2.1|
|Brandon Pettigrew (Det)||56||8.5||4.0|
|A.J. Green (Cin)||48||8.3||1.5|
|Fred Davis (Was)||41||8.3||2.5|
|Steve Smith (Car)||64||8.3||1.5|
|Pierre Garcon (Ind)||54||8.3||2.1|
|Greg Jennings (GB)||58||8.0||2.4|
|Danario Alexander (StL)||39||8.0||2.0|
|Victor Cruz (NYG)||33||8.0||3.6|
|Darren Sproles (NO)||59||7.8||2.2|
|Anquan Boldin (Bal)||51||7.7||5.1|
|DeSean Jackson (Phi)||44||7.7||1.2|
|Miles Austin (Dal)||39||7.5||3.5|
|Jabar Gaffney (Was)||43||7.3||3.1|
|Jason Avant (Phi)||38||7.3||3.1|
|Mario Manningham (NYG)||36||7.3||2.1|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (Min)||39||7.3||1.0|
|Tony Gonzalez (Atl)||52||7.0||2.7|
|Steve Johnson (Buf)||51||7.0||2.6|
|Plaxico Burress (NYJ)||45||7.0||2.0|
|Benjamin Watson (Cle)||42||7.0||2.6|
|Jason Hill (Jac)||38||7.0||2.7|
|Dez Bryant (Dal)||33||7.0||1.7|
|Arian Foster (Hou)||30||7.0||2.8|
|Antonio Gates (SD)||21||7.0||N/A|
|Austin Pettis (StL)||9||7.0||N/A|
Some general observations from Week 7 games:
Davone Bess, Miami Dolphins (12 targets, 7 receptions, 52 yards): Somehow, Bess flies under the radar. If you are in a point-per-reception league, Bess is steady as can be and makes a fine third receiver. In non-PPR leagues, Bess is a worthy bye-week filler.
Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis Rams (12 targets, 6 receptions, 74 yards): For a player that had a relatively short period of time to adjust to not just a new team, but its backup quarterback, Lloyd's performance this Sunday was remarkable. When Sam Bradford returns, Lloyd can be viewed as a No. 1 receiver.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland Raiders (11 targets, 5 receptions, 89 yards): Heyward-Bey is owned in only 56.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues. That number should be closer to 90 percent. He's averaging 10.5 fantasy points per game during the Raiders' past four games and is being consistently targeted between eight and 12 times per game in that span.
Dezmon Briscoe, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10 targets, 6 receptions, 73 yards): Briscoe's 10 targets on Sunday matched the total number of targets he had for the whole season prior to Sunday. As he's available in almost 100 percent of ESPN.com leagues, there's not an immediate need to do anything more than put him on your radar. That being said, if he receives seven or more targets in his next game, his ownership percentage will skyrocket.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (10 targets, 3 receptions, 27 yards): While many will be quick to view Thomas' 10 targets and equate that to immediate value, don't be too quick to elevate him to being worthy of anything more than holding a bench spot on your roster. Seven of Thomas' 10 targets came in the fourth quarter, when the Broncos were forced to throw the ball.
Fred Davis, Washington Redskins (8 targets, 6 receptions, 80 yards): With Chris Cooley being shut down for the year, Davis is now a definite starter-quality tight end for the rest of the season. Davis is still available in 18.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues and that number should be at zero percent immediately.
Jason Hill, Jacksonville Jaguars (8 targets, 4 receptions, 62 yards): If you are in a very deep league and need a wide receiver, take a good look at Hill. He's owned in only 1.6 percent of ESPN.com leagues and as Blaine Gabbert matures, Hill's production should increase.
Marques Colston (7 targets, 7 receptions, 98 yards), Jimmy Graham (7 targets, 6 receptions, 54 yards), Darren Sproles (6 targets, 6 receptions, 19 yards) and Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints (6 targets, 5 receptions, 68 yards): The fact that the Colts-Saints game wasn't competitive wasn't that surprising. The level of the lack of competitiveness was. Drew Brees had all day to throw to receivers that were wide open, as is indicated by the fact that the four most-targeted receivers combined to miss just two catch opportunities in the 26 targets that came their way.
Harry Douglas, Atlanta Falcons (7 targets, 4 receptions, 62 yards): For as long as Julio Jones is out, Douglas can be slotted as a third wide receiver or flex play for your fantasy squads. He has big-play speed, which means that he could easily turn seven targets into a 120-yard day.
Jeremy Kerley, New York Jets (7 targets, 4 receptions, 29 yards): If the New York Jets are truly moving to a more conservative approach, Kerley could become a player who averages 45 yards per game over the rest of the season. While those numbers won't strike fear in the hearts of your fantasy opponent, if you are super-desperate, Kerley could be worth a Hail Mary play.
Eric Decker, Denver Broncos (3 targets, 2 receptions, 21 yards): Decker was virtually invisible in Tim Tebow's first start of the year. While this obviously isn't encouraging for Decker's fantasy value going forward, it's a good idea to send Decker to your bench for a couple of weeks and evaluate how Decker fits into a Tebow offense.
Big plays, up close
There were 11 NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that attained 10 or more yards each: Adrian Peterson (5), Darren Sproles (5), Ben Tate (5), Matt Forte (4), Arian Foster (4), Shonn Greene (4), DeMarco Murray (4), James Starks (4), Michael Bush (3), Tim Hightower (3) and Tim Tebow (3).
The Tennessee Titans had given up just nine big-play rushes in the first six weeks of the season before turning into Swiss cheese against the Houston Texans rushing attack. Don't take this game as an indicator of how poor the Titans defense is, but rather take it as an indicator of just how good Foster and Tate are.
There were 12 NFL players who were given two or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line: Michael Bush (4), Shonn Greene (4), Jonathan Stewart (4), Mike Tolbert (4), Arian Foster (3), Cam Newton (3), Ryan Grant (2), Steven Jackson (2), Maurice Jones-Drew (2), DeMarco Murray (2), Adrian Peterson (2) and Alfonso Smith (2).
The inclusion of Stewart on this list is pretty surprising. Going into the game, the Carolina Panthers had run the ball 17 times inside their opponent's 10-yard line, and Cam Newton's number had been called on 13 of those runs.
If you are wondering who Alfonso Smith is, he'll be the goal-line back for the Arizona Cardinals for as long as Beanie Wells is out. For those of you wondering about LaRod Stevens-Howling's potential to fill that role, know that Stevens-Howling has just one carry inside his opponent's 10-yard line in the past three seasons combined.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. For game-day insights, follow him on Twitter @KenDaubeESPNFF.
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