Brandon Lloyd ready to break out
Last season, Brandon Lloyd came from nowhere to finish as the top-rated fantasy wide receiver. He produced in Josh McDaniels' version of the Denver Broncos' offense and did so by amassing at least 70 yards receiving in 10 of 16 games. Throw in his 11 touchdowns and it isn't hard to see how dominant Lloyd was last season.
When McDaniels' tenure with the Broncos ended following the season, new coach John Fox turned to a more conservative approach to play-calling. This left many wondering how Lloyd, who before being placed under McDaniels' tutelage could only be labeled as a bust, would respond. Despite a limited offseason program, Lloyd continued to produce during the first four weeks, posting yardage totals of 89, 38 and 136 in the three games in which he played. As the trade deadline began to inch closer, the combination of the Broncos' record and Lloyd's upcoming free agency led the Broncos' upper-management team to put Lloyd on the market. That presented the opportunity for Lloyd and McDaniels, now the St. Louis Rams' offensive coordinator, to be reunited.
Since being traded to the Rams, Lloyd has been relatively quiet. However, the target indicator statistic shows more production can be expected. In his three games with the Rams, Lloyd is averaging 12.7 targets per game. That average is 17 percent higher than any other player in the NFL during the past four weeks (Lloyd was on bye with the Broncos during Week 6). While his targets with the Rams haven't turned into monster production, it's safe to attribute the lack of big-time production to unfamiliarity with his quarterback. With Sam Bradford back and healthy, it's safe to expect Lloyd to return to an elite level of production. Based on that, there might not be a better buy-low candidate in fantasy right now than Lloyd.
Receiving yardage is a 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 can greatly impact 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 as bad days. With that in mind, the table below not only lists players who are averaging seven targets a game in recent weeks, but also provides the standard deviation of the game numbers. Players with a low deviation have a similar number of targets each game, whereas 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 Avs. Past 4 Wks Std. Dev. Brandon Lloyd (Den-StL) 70 12.7 0.6 Anquan Boldin (Bal) 73 10.8 1.5 Mike Williams (TB) 71 10.7 2.5 Dwayne Bowe (KC) 73 10.3 0.6 Rob Gronkowski (NE) 62 10.3 4.2 Brandon Marshall (Mia) 78 9.8 3.0 Michael Crabtree (SF) 51 9.7 5.0 Pierre Garcon (Ind) 75 9.5 4.4 Greg Little (Cle) 59 9.5 2.4 Wes Welker (NE) 93 9.3 1.2 Greg Jennings (GB) 66 9.3 1.2 Kellen Winslow (TB) 64 9.3 3.1 Vincent Jackson (SD) 64 9.3 2.3 Antonio Brown (Pit) 74 9.3 5.4 Calvin Johnson (Det) 74 9.0 2.0 Larry Fitzgerald (Ari) 70 9.0 3.6 Sidney Rice (Sea) 48 9.0 4.6 Brent Celek (Phi) 48 9.0 0.0 Fred Davis (Was) 57 8.8 1.7 Jimmy Graham (NO) 82 8.5 1.7 Hakeem Nicks (NYG) 62 8.5 2.1 Steve Smith (Car) 73 8.3 1.2 Steve Johnson (Buf) 66 8.3 2.1 Antonio Gates (SD) 39 8.3 2.3 Roddy White (Atl) 78 8.0 2.6 A.J. Green (Cin) 65 8.0 1.7 Brandon Pettigrew (Det) 60 8.0 5.3 Victor Cruz (NYG) 53 8.0 3.6 Mario Manningham (NYG) 52 8.0 1.0 Steve Breaston (KC) 44 8.0 3.6 Jahvid Best (Det) 40 8.0 N/A Danario Alexander (StL) 39 8.0 2.8 Ray Rice (Bal) 56 7.8 1.0 Aaron Hernandez (NE) 50 7.7 5.5 Reggie Wayne (Ind) 77 7.5 4.4 Darren Sproles (NO) 72 7.5 2.4 Dez Bryant (Dal) 47 7.5 1.7 Dallas Clark (Ind) 50 7.3 2.5 Eddie Royal (Den) 31 7.3 4.9 Jason Witten (Dal) 71 7.3 3.4 Marques Colston (NO) 47 7.3 2.6 Jerome Simpson (Cin) 53 7.0 4.4 Jabar Gaffney (Was) 53 7.0 2.4 Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oak) 50 7.0 5.3 Devin Hester (Chi) 49 7.0 2.0 Denarius Moore (Oak) 47 7.0 4.4 Torrey Smith (Bal) 43 7.0 2.3 Brandon Gibson (StL) 42 7.0 2.6 Bernard Berrian (Min) 23 7.0 N/A Kregg Lumpkin (TB) 20 7.0 1.4
Some general observations from the Week 9 games:
Roy Helu, Washington Redskins (17 targets, 14 receptions, 105 yards): Here's a rather amazing statistic: Helu gained 112 yards after the catch Sunday. Reading further into it, that means that, on average, Helu caught each pass one-half yard behind the line of scrimmage. Only one other player in the NFL this season amassed over 100 receiving yards despite having his average catch position located behind his the line of scrimmage: Arian Foster (Week 5 versus Oakland Raiders). If Helu had achieved this with just three or four catches for the day, it would be fair to wonder if he was playing over his head. Because he did it over the course of 14 catches, it's time to accept Helu as a player who can really help your fantasy squad.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (12 targets, 4 receptions, 43 yards): It's such a shame that Fitzgerald finds his skill set being wasted in Arizona. With Kurt Warner retired and Kevin Kolb playing like Rick Mirer, Fitzgerald needs to be viewed as nothing more than a No. 2 wide receiver on your fantasy squad.[+] EnlargeChristopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireWith more friendly defenses in his future, Vincent Jackson should have some big games ahead.
Vincent Jackson (12 targets, 7 receptions, 141 yards) and Antonio Gates (11 targets, 8 receptions, 96 yards), San Diego Chargers: Much has been written about the struggles of Philip Rivers this season, with many people writing about the loss of Darren Sproles being a major factor in Rivers' regression. Don't buy into the Sproles talk. The real reason was the time lost to injury for Gates and level of corner play that Jackson was seeing. Jackson has favorable matchups in upcoming weeks, and that should allow for Rivers to play at a much higher level.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (11 targets, 5 receptions, 109 yards): With Emmanuel Sanders out for the next few weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery, Brown is in line to continue to see an increased level of targets versus what he would if the Steelers were healthy. Brown has been making the most of his opportunities, so feel free to start him as a third receiver or flex option for as long as Sanders is out.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens (9 targets, 5 receptions, 71 yards): Smith's performance against the Steelers might seem more impressive because of the timing of his last-second touchdown. Had that touchdown occurred in the first two minutes of the game, Smith's performance would probably be viewed similarly to Lavelle Hawkins' output of five receptions for 63 yards and a score. One of the hardest things to do in fantasy is to separate the more widely reported good performances from those that don't reach the headlines. In this case, the timing of Smith's score is likely to result in an overvaluation of Smith's importance. Don't make that mistake.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (9 targets, 4 receptions, 76 yards): While Julio Jones had the highlight-reel plays, including two touchdowns, White was still targeted three times more often Sunday. Jones is a must start for his big-play ability, but for the rest of the season expect White to reclaim his role as a No. 1 fantasy wide receiver.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans (7 targets, 5 receptions, 26 yards): If Foster wasn't such a threat in the passing game, his owners would have cause for concern due to how productive Ben Tate has been. If you own Foster in a keeper or dynasty league, you need to keep an eye on whether Tate begins to see some of Foster's touches. If that happens, it'll likely signal that the Texans are planning on moving to a true time-share next season, which would mean that Foster's value would plummet.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals (7 targets, 7 receptions, 83 yards): This might seem overly simplistic, but at this point of the season Green, a rookie wide receiver, is playing like a true stud despite playing in an offense run by a rookie quarterback. The Bengals' schedule over the next five weeks features five games against teams that all rank in the top five in terms of passing yardage allowed per game. If you can trade Green now for a player that has produced at a comparable level, it would be a wise move.
Big plays, up close
There were 15 players who totaled three or more rushes that attained 10 or more yards each in Week 9: Tim Tebow (5), Cedric Benson (4), Matt Forte (4), Arian Foster (4), Frank Gore (4), Steven Jackson (4), Willis McGahee (4), DeMarco Murray (4), Ben Tate (4), Donald Brown (3), Michael Bush (3), Reggie Bush (3), Chris Johnson (3), Marshawn Lynch (3) and LeSean McCoy (3).
For how lousy he's supposed to be, Tim Tebow is 3-3 in his six career games as a starting quarterback, which gives him one more win than Cam Newton has at this point. Granted, it did take a minor miracle to win versus the Miami Dolphins three weeks ago, but as Bill Parcells once so eloquently put it, "You are what your record is." Tebow is definitely not a typical quarterback, but his ability to run with power is something that is unique and, therefore, dangerous. For as long as Tebow is a starter, he's worthy of starting in almost all formats because the 40 yards rushing he's sure to accumulate is worth 100 passing yards.
Along those same lines, the level of productivity at which the Broncos were able to run the option play against eight-man fronts should be viewed as a huge positive for Willis McGahee owners. Broncos coach John Fox took what should have been a strength for the Raiders and turned it into a huge weakness. Facing the option against eight-man fronts, the defenders were forced to attempt to read and react against plays that were designed to confuse and therefore stunt that reaction time. It will be extremely interesting to see if the Broncos' upcoming opponents attempt to crowd the box and, if so, what level of success the Broncos' option attack has.[+] EnlargeJohn Grieshop/Getty ImagesDonald Brown has 16 fantasy points in the past two weeks in standard formats.
For as much as a perennial disappointment as he has been, Donald Brown has actually been the Colts' best runner on a yards-per-carry basis. His 4.6 yards per carry would rank as tied for 16th best in the league if he had enough carries to qualify among the league leaders. While this information may be viewed as utterly meaningless for most, those of you in dynasty leagues should take note because there's a chance, albeit very small, that he could be given the chance to start for another team next season.
There were only eight players who were given two or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line in Week 9: Matt Forte (4), Michael Turner (4), Ray Rice (3), Marion Barber (2), Marshawn Lynch (2), Dexter McCluster (2), DeMarco Murray (2) and D.J. Ware (2). Of that group, only Turner, Rice, Barber and Lynch scored.
Forte's lack of success on his four carries inside the Eagles' 10-yard line shouldn't be a surprise. For the season, Forte has nine such carries but has gained only three yards on those attempts. Inside the opponent's 4-yard line, Forte has two carries for minus-3 yards.
McCluster's heavy usage this weekend was likely due to the Kansas City Chiefs attempting to overcome a significant point differential. Ignore his name on this list, because he won't be part of the Chiefs' base packages going forward.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. For game-day insights, follow him on twitter @KenDaubeESPNFF.
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