Opportunity in the NFL can translate to success in fantasy football. While a wide receiver or tight end may have caught a few passes in a given week, his target total might have been double or triple that. Those looks may not have turned into receptions one week but might in the future.
Whose involvement is worth watching? Are these target numbers a trend in the making or an aberration?
We shared in last week's Fantasy Football Insider that Roddy White asked the Atlanta Falcons to line him up in various spots and put him in motion more before the snap in an effort to get him open. Safe to say that started in his seven-catch, 147-yard affair in Week 11. This development will open more things up for White even after Julio Jones (hamstring) returns. He's on his way up.
Top Week 11 wide receivers
- Simpson, who has 27 targets over his last three games, took control with A.J. Green (knee) inactive last Sunday. The Cincinnati Bengals will wait and see on Green's status for this week. If Green plays, he'd likely draw Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden, which would help Simpson anyway. Looking ahead: Weeks 13 (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Week 14 (Houston Texans) are tough matchups, but Cincy faces the weak secondaries of the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals in Weeks 15 and 16. Even with Green back, Simpson will still have flex value when you'll likely need him most.
- Cooper was the direct sub for Jeremy Maclin (shoulder, hamstring) in Week 11. Fill-in Philadelphia Eagles slinger Vince Young leaned on him. Would Michael Vick (ribs) do the same if he's active and Maclin isn't? Young probably had some chemistry with Cooper in backup workouts. Though a capable flex play, Cooper is risky, especially since Philly still divvyed targets to Steve E. Smith and Jason Avant, along with typical look loads for DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. Plus, Maclin's prognosis got a little better; he returned to practice Wednesday and is day-to-day. Luckily, if Cooper has to go this week, he'd face a generous New England Patriots defense.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Williams has logged at least eight looks in seven of his last eight games and five catches in six of those eight. The targets alone have been enough to play him, especially in PPR leagues, but MWTB hit paydirt for the first time since Week 1. Maybe Raheem Morris was right about the labor dispute holding his team back; or maybe it was just that they were facing a receiver-friendly Green Bay Packers defense last week. Williams' 10.0 yards-per-catch average reminds you that he doesn't break loose often and leans on target volume for production.
- Gaffney might not be the 1A to Fred Davis for the Washington Redskins for much longer. Santana Moss (hand) could return this week. This would open up more space for Davis to work. Gaffney is reliable, but his involvement won't be at his Week 11 level for as long as Moss is active.
- KFFLer Nicholas Minnix noted that Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Blaine Gabbert looked a bit crisper in his passing last weekend. Thomas' three catches on 11 targets don't show that. Neither did a poor route in the end zone on the final play of the game that went incomplete. For all of Gabbert's issues, his wideouts haven't exactly been helping, either. None are promising fantasy starts.
- Crabtree's breakthrough performance in Week 11 saw better after-the-catch work and a better connection with Alex Smith. The San Francisco 49ers' passing game is hardly one to be excited about. Crabs had nine combined targets in Weeks 9 and 10, but altogether in Weeks 6, 8 and 11, he marked 34. He's giving you more reason to start him, especially against the receiver-friendly defensive backfields of the Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals over the next three weeks.
- Cruz' 41 targets over the last four weeks are second only to Lloyd. Hakeem Nicks is commanding plenty of attention. Mario Manningham has been inconsistent. Just a reminder Cruz is the New York Giants' top wideout.
Top Week 11 tight ends
- Just like Mike Williams, Winslow paid off on his frequent looks thanks to a suspect opposing secondary and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' need to ramp up their offensive pace. As usual, K2 is a low-end No. 1 PPR play.
- No Jacksonville Jaguars wideout is alluring. Lewis could easily retake his place atop this passing perch; he has logged at least seven targets in a game on four occasions and has registered 12 catches in his last three games. Bad fantasy timing, though, since byes are over and there likely plenty of better options available. If you have to dig here, at least he's more worthy of a dice roll.
- Another weak opposing pass rush (Arizona Cardinals), another reminder of how big Vernon Davis can be. The San Francisco 49ers face the Baltimore Ravens Thursday, though, so more blocking duties appear to be in his future. He should be a decent play versus the St. Louis Rams (their weak secondary balances out their steady QB attackers) in Week 13 and another dance with the Cards the following weekend. Avoid him in Week 15 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Ballard had a few key drops for the New York Giants. His elbow injury has his Week 12 status up in the air, but if healthy, he'll still log enough work to be a flex play.
Cutler cut out
Last week, the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs were among the first wave of QB casualties. Now, Jay Cutler (thumb) will undergo surgery Wednesday to repair his painful Bennett's fracture. The Chicago Bears think he'll play again this season, but fantasy owners shouldn't be as optimistic.
They're running with Caleb Hanie as their starting snap grabber. Hanie at least he knows this system well. Plus, this Martz O has been reined in to include more max protect and rushes anyway, so the foundation to give extra protection to Hanie is there.
Washington tops again
A Bennett fracture, indeed, for this offense sans Cutler: Earl Bennett still might be safest receiving option in Chicago thanks to his propensity for midrange routes, but it won't be the same comfort and first-instinct connection he had with No. 6. Roy Williams had been ascending the target ladder (16 over the last three weeks, including eight in Week 11) and could be in line for such workloads gain. Of course, if Devin Hester regains his place in the offensive rotation, that'll limit Roy Dubs' impact.
Johnny Knox might have seen plenty of work in backup practice with Hanie, so maybe this is a chance for the big-play threat to get going. Hanie's arm is strong enough to play to the wideout's downfield strength.
It looks like Matt Hasselbeck (forearm) will start in Week 12, but it's still interesting to see how rookie Jake Locker distributed the ball fairly evenly after replacing him last week: Damian Williams had six targets, Nate Washington four, Jared Cook five. Washington, however, had nine targets on the day and caught all of them - including two touchdowns. This likely propelled him back into the team's No. 1 wideout spot. Williams only snared one of his 11. Poor timing to try to gain ground.
Even if Locker has to step in this week, don't expect the hierarchy to change.
(Week 11 targets)
|Percy Harvin (8)
|With Adrian Peterson (ankle) likely out for Week 12 and beyond, Harvin should see more carries, on top of his developing connection with Christian Ponder. Getting the ball in this playmaker's hands sooner bodes well for his production.
|Kevin Boss (6)
|Most targets since Week 3. Carson Palmer might be developing a rapport with him. Darrius Heyward-Bey (neck) and Jacoby Ford (foot) could both be inactive this week. His Week 12 matchup is worth a test run if you're scrounging.
- Reports say Antonio Gates' burst isn't the same as it has been in the past. Gates has three touchdowns over his last five games and has caught nearly 70 percent of his targets on the season. Plus, Philip Rivers is rebounding, which is restoring the San Diego Chargers' potency. He's still a safe TE1 this year as long as he doesn't have a setback with his foot. Maybe next year we'll start re-examining his place on the fantasy hierarchy.
- As startable as Jordy Nelson has been this year, remember the Green Bay Packers were without Greg Jennings (knee) for most of Week 11 thanks to his in-game injury. Either way, Nelson is still receiving plenty of single coverage and should continue serving as a reliable WR2.
- The New England Patriots wideouts were double teamed frequently Monday night, but aren't their tight ends becoming the bigger weapons? Still, Wes Welker owners have to be irked right now, but he has beatable opponents through Week 16 in the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. Stick with him.
- Dwayne Bowe saw a lot of work with Tyler Palko, and there is mild reason to be excited about the potential with Kyle Orton. Steve Breaston looks like a more reliable play than Jonathan Baldwin, for what it's worth. Orton will need a few weeks to get up to speed. Expect to see Palko in Week 12, but Orton could relieve him during the game.
- With Donald Jones (ankle) on Injured Reserve, David Nelson will once again move to the outside, presumably with Naaman Roosevelt sliding back into the slot. Nelson is much more comfortable inside. No one in this Bills offense is complacent at the moment, though. This move knocks down his value once again, making him droppable in many formats.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous publications, and recognized as a finalist in FSWA's awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he's on The Reality Check with Glenn Clark every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. He hits the airwaves every Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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