Welcome to the 2012-13 version of Trendspotting, a unique fantasy football advice column that, based on data provided by ESPN Stats and Information, 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 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. Trendspotting will initially focus on the following metrics: the number of targets that top receiving options are getting, the number of carries that running backs are receiving near their opponent's goal line and the number of times a running back breaks a run for more than 10 yards. As the season progresses, the column can morph into other statistical analysis, and I'd love to involve the readers of the column in selecting which other stats they'd like to see, so if you have a request, post it in the comments section below each weekly column and we'll see what can be done.
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. So while your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to know 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.
Below, you'll see all the players who received eight or more targets in Week 1 and how many of them were on plays that began in the red zone.
Note: Targets are not an official NFL statistic. Based on the methodology that stat services use, the number of targets listed may be different than target values listed elsewhere. ESPN Stats and Information's philosophy is to count a target when the analyst thinks the pass was actually intended for the player. Therefore, if a quarterback is obviously throwing a ball away, the analyst will not record a target for that pass. This gives a truer representation of what a target is, a pass thrown to a particular player with the intent for that player to catch the ball, and therefore should be more helpful to the fantasy community.
Most Targets, Week 1
Top storylines from Week 1
• Julio Jones finished Week 1 with the second-highest fantasy point total among wide receivers, behind only Kevin Ogletree. There will be plenty of analysts who view Jones' two-touchdown day as indicative of the fact that Jones has now emerged as the clear No. 1 option for Matt Ryan. Don't be one of those people. While Jones did indeed finish with the better stat line, Roddy White finished with the same number of red zone targets and only one fewer total target. That variance usually won't amount to a significant difference in production, especially 14 fantasy points, so don't even think of considering adjusting either player's value yet.
• Darren McFadden's 13 catches on Monday were a total abnormality. In his previous four seasons, his total reception count was 29, 21, 47 and 19. While it would appear McFadden is likely to be more involved in the passing game, making a huge valuation move on McFadden is extremely difficult, as Monday's game was an obvious statistical outlier.
• The preseason love that was bestowed upon Jonathan Baldwin needs to be redirected in Dexter McCluster's direction. McCluster has game-breaking abilities, and to see this level of involvement is a big lift to his value.
• Randall Cobb is owned in just 13 percent of ESPN.com leagues. That number will jump dramatically this week because of his performance against the San Francisco 49ers. Those of you in keeper leagues should be all over Cobb. Greg Jennings is a free agent at the end of the season, and with a weapon like Cobb available for significantly less money than Jennings will demand, it's not unreasonable to project Cobb as one of the top two options for the passing game in Green Bay next season.
• Reggie Wayne was clearly Andrew Luck's favorite target in the rookie's debut, but don't overlook the eight targets that Donnie Avery received. Avery was a very popular sleeper for a couple of years but was held back by injuries. While the casual observer may point to Austin Collie's absence in Sunday's game as the reason Avery got an opportunity, remember that there's a completely new coaching regime in Indianapolis and therefore no built-in loyalty to Collie.
• Newcomer Brandon Lloyd led the New England Patriots in targets with eight and Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 13 targets at the tight end position. Throw in only four targets for the usually high-targeted Wes Welker and it's clear that Tom Brady may not be keying in on anyone in particular. I wouldn't make a major value adjustment to anyone just yet, but this could be a formula that works for the Patriots but becomes very frustrating for fantasy owners.
• Danny Amendola of the St. Louis Rams is owned in only 9 percent of ESPN.com leagues. He's going to be the top yardage receiver for the Rams and is worthy of a roster spot. A lot of people had Amendola as a sleeper in point-per-reception leagues and they will be vindicated.
• For those of you in very deep leagues, Rod Streater and Andrew Hawkins are very interesting candidates for roster spots. Streater was an undrafted free agent who really impressed during the Oakland Raiders' training camp. Hawkins is a second-year player for the Cincinnati Bengals who was listed as A.J. Green's primary backup, but operated primarily out of the slot against the Ravens. If you don't have a ton of receiving depth and are in a league with 14 or more teams, you should definitely have these two on your radar.
Big plays and up close
There were 12 NFL players who had at least three rushes that gained 10 or more yards each: Stevan Ridley (6), Frank Gore (4), LeSean McCoy (4), Donald Brown (3), Reggie Bush (3), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), Maurice Jones-Drew (3), Doug Martin (3), Alfred Morris (3), Adrian Peterson (3), Ray Rice (3) and C.J. Spiller (3).
Meanwhile, the nine players with at least two carries inside their opponent's 5-yard line were Arian Foster (4), Adrian Peterson (3), Michael Bush (3), Ahmad Bradshaw (2), Alfred Morris (2), Doug Martin (2), Kevin Smith (2), Rashad Jennings (2) and Tashard Choice (2). Of these players, only Bradshaw, Martin, Jennings and Choice failed to score.
Ridley's six rushes of 10 or more yards led the league in this metric during the first week of the season and was half his total that he amassed last season. While he also tied for first by having four rushes stuffed for negative yardage, it's not something that should be viewed as a negative at this point, because those four rushes accounted for only 19 percent of his total rushing attempts.
Morris obviously rewarded those with the moxie to start him, but there definitely are some red flags that should go up regarding his performance. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and just 17.9 percent of his rushing attempts resulted in a first down (or touchdown). Throw in the fact that Mike Shanahan isn't exactly known for being extremely loyal to his starting backs, and there's a recipe for disaster.