Opportunity in the NFL can translate to success in fantasy football. Are these target numbers a trend or an aberration for these players' fantasy football value? Do they deserve attention on fantasy football waiver wires?
Note: Last three weeks of touches (running backs) and targets (wide receivers and tight ends) for each player listed in parentheses. "X" means player was inactive for game.
RB: DeMarco Murray (16-22-18), Felix Jones (6-3-1)
WR/TE: Dez Bryant (7-8-13), Miles Austin (10-9-6), Jason Witten (10-6-14), Kevin Ogletree (2-7-6)
Williams flying ... kinda low
Perhaps no player could use the bye week more than quarterback Tony Romo, who, coming off five interceptions on Monday night, now has committed 10 turnovers in four games. Since tallying three touchdowns in the season opener, Romo has only managed to add two scores the last three weeks.
The one positive for the Cowboys was Witten, who appears to be over a preseason spleen injury. Even though nearly half of his yardage and touchdown came on four passes during final drive from backup quarterback Kyle Orton, Witten held onto everything thrown his way after dropping a total of six passes in the first three games of the season.
Bryant has yet to find the end zone this season but is coming off his best statistical game with eight catches and 105 yards. However, he had a pair of embarrassing drops and cost his quarterback a pick six on a bad route. His erratic play hasn't removed him from Romo's circle of trust yet, and it probably won't cut him off entirely. But with Witten getting healthier, it puts more pressure on Bryant to clean up his game to keep from losing looks.
A career-high seven catches and 57 yards saved Murray's overall production but he's now failed to break 45 yards on the ground in any of the last three games while averaging just 2.6 yards per carry in that time. Dallas says they want to feature Murray in the passing game more, though, and Jones isn't a threat to his every-down duty. The offensive line carries plenty of blame.
In Week 6, the Cowboys will head to Baltimore, a defense that's allowed the fourth most passing yards per game and a half-dozen rushing touchdowns. Despite the MNF meltdown, the Boys have a chance to make a pleasant rebound with the extra prep time. Don't let the Ravens' inflated reputation on defense force you into benching one of your Cowboys automatically.
RB: Willis McGahee (24-14-25), Lance Ball (3-10-8), Ronnie Hillman (X-3-12)
WR/TE: Eric Decker (8-11-9), Demaryius Thomas (11-11-6), Jacob Tamme (4-10-6), Brandon Stokley (6-6-2), Joel Dreessen (2-5-3)
Is the Broncos offense, and perhaps more importantly Peyton Manning, an elite unit? Following an early ugly hat trick of picks in Week 2, Manning has posted 300-yard, multi-TD efforts in back-to-back weeks. Much of the production in Week 3 came in the fourth quarter after several near interceptions. Last week, Manning had his way against a toothless Oakland Raiders pass rush and will see a lot of other favorable matchups going forward. This week Manning will face his archenemies, the Patriots, who have allowed an average of 366 passing yards and a total of seven touchdowns the last two weeks.
Manning has targeted Decker and Thomas 35 times apiece this season as their production has basically mirrored each other, including a combined nine drops between the two. Tamme's sleeper buzz has quickly cooled off as Dreessen cuts into his targets while scoring a touchdown in the last two games. Even though Manning isn't throwing deep and his arm strength is still suspect, this is a passing attack that should continue to produce as they jell and face a favorable slate of opponents.
Meanwhile, Hillman looks poised to take over the Broncos' No. 2 back gig. McGahee has little to worry about in the coming weeks, but Denver may choose to rest his soon-to-be 31-year-old legs a tad while working in Hillman more often as the season wears on.
RB: Ryan Williams (12-15-15), LaRod Stephens-Howling INJ (4-8-X), William Powell (X-X-4)
WR/TE: Larry Fitzgerald (5-9-15), Andre Roberts (1-6-9), Michael Floyd (0-2-8), Early Doucet (4-1-7),
With Beanie Wells (toe) on the return-eligible injured reserve, Williams failed to capitalize as the starter facing a stout Miami Dolphins run defense. Even though the performance was a complete dud as he only averaged two yards per carry on 13 attempts, Williams is still the No. 1 rusher in the desert and worth hanging onto. He'll face a St. Louis Rams defense on Thursday night that just allowed a season-high 165 rushing yards to the Seahawks.
However, Powell was heavily involved Sunday in the no-huddle offense, with which Kevin Kolb is guiding Arizona to early success; Williams isn't yet up to speed on those playbook pages. They'll run that as often as possible, meaning Williams' touch load may be capped for the near future despite his status as top backfield bird.
Roberts, meanwhile, found himself on the other end of two scores and finished with six catches and 118 yards. While top target Fitzgerald played every offensive snap, Roberts only left the field four times and is cementing himself as the No. 2 WR.
Jackie Battle cut in on Ryan Mathews' territory in Week 4, starting and scoring two touchdowns. There are plenty of reasons to believe Mathews will regain favor eventually, but the San Diego Chargers have listed Battle as the starter on their official depth chart. His running isn't special, but his ball security was apparently valuable to Norv Turner. This looks like a split backfield for the near future, and Battle is the better red-zone bet. But your money should be on Mathews to win out eventually, even it's a few more weeks down the road. He's the more talented carrier.
Hankering for Hankerson
- Heading into their bye week, the Oakland Raiders will be looking to get their offense and running back Darren McFadden back on track. Over the last two games, DMC has only received three targets in the passing game while fullback Marcel Reece has been thrown at 13 times. Keep in mind McFadden is adjusting to a new zone-blocking scheme and has spent time on the sideline due to the Raiders' deficit this past weekend. Oakland will continue working Mike Goodson into action, especially on passing downs, but McFadden remains an elite talent that should get things turned around much sooner than later. Frustrated owners might be looking to move him right now.
- Give the Buffalo Bills backfield a pass, at least for now. Both Fred Jackson (knee) and C.J. Spiller (shoulder) were able to play, but each failed to exceed 35 rushing yards. A lot of blame can be directed at quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who couldn't stop turning the ball over while playing catch-up. Unfortunately, the Bills could catch another whoopin' this week on the road against the San Francisco 49ers. It's going to take time to see how this spilt finally shakes out, but Jackson appears to be in a slim workload lead for the moment.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are another team that will use the bye week to sort out their issues on offense. Running back LeGarrette Blount appears to have taken over as the red zone back, while rookie Doug Martin only received eight carries last week after the team fell behind early. The Bucs draw friendly matchups at home against the Chiefs and Saints following their week off, and Blount now looks like a sneaky free-agent pickup.
- The New England Patriots had a pair of 100-yard rushers in Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden against a Bills defense that gave up 45 points in the second half. The Pats let Bolden carry much of the post-halftime load as they pulled away. Ridley has broken the century mark twice this season, and New England may accommodate their busy backfield by focusing on the run this year more than recent seasons because of their pass-protection questions. But Bolden's strong performance only gives the coaching staff more reason to spread the carries around going forward based on game situations. Ridley looks like a sell-high candidate if there ever was one.
- Don't forget about Miami Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess as owners flock to the waiver wire to check on Brian Hartline following his epic performance. Bess caught seven passes for a season-high 123 yards and has been targeted at least six times in each game thus far. He may not be a long-term addition, but Bess is a deep plug-and-play option when the matchup is favorable, especially in point-per-reception formats.
- Swelling in the knee of New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has him in jeopardy of missing another game. If so, expect Domenik Hixon to get the start after muscling past Ramses Barden (concussion). After Barden made nine catches for 138 yards in Week 3, Hixon answered with half a dozen grabs for 114 yards Sunday night. Barden still has some limited value that's tied directly to Nicks and how quickly he can recover from his head shake-up.
- Cleveland Browns wide receiver Greg Little posted a mediocre line of four catches for 77 yards but dropped three passes, including a touchdown. Heading into the game here had been talk of benching Little if the drops continued, but without Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) the Browns had no choice but to stick with Little. Even when Massaquoi returns, Jordan Norwood warrants playing time. He converted four of his 10 targets into four receptions and 57 yards. This hierarchy might be corrupted soon by Josh Gordon, though, so don't commit heavily to any of these options.
- With Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Laurent Robinson (concussion) likely out for Week 5, Justin Blackmon will be the focal point of their limited passing offense. Last week the rookie paced the team in every receiving category with 10 targets, six catches and 48 yards. If you make a move to pick up Blackmon, don't get too carried away. The Jaguars face a strong Chicago Bears secondary before heading into their bye week.
- The return of Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon (foot) didn't hurt Leonard Hankerson, who recently bumped Joshua Morgan out of a starting role. Hankerson led the team with 11 targets and seven catches while playing the most snaps of any 'Skins wideout. Things will change as Garcon works his way back into form, but Hankerson figures to retain value regardless assuming he holds onto his new starting gig.
- It looks like New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes (foot) is done for the season. Once Stephen Hill (hamstring) is ready to go, he's the most intriguing Jets receiver, and Jeremy Kerley could have occasional PPR use. But the awful play of quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Shonn Greene puts very strict limits on what this offense can do. Tim Tebow Time might be the only thing capable of breathing life into the flatlining Gang Green, and maybe Greene and Bilal Powell would be slightly stronger plays in that case, but for the passing game, that's hardly a guarantee.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.