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, not including byes, of touches (running backs) and targets (wide receivers and tight ends) for each player listed in parentheses. X means player was inactive. A listing of zero means he was active but not targeted.
RB: Darren Sproles INJ (13-X-X), Mark Ingram (3-9-17), Pierre Thomas (10-9-7), Chris Ivory (X-11-8)
WR/TE: Jimmy Graham (10-11-8), Marques Colston (10-4-6), Lance Moore (6-2-9), Devery Henderson (4-3-2)
Brown-out coming for Bradshaw?
Not only are the Saints winning games since Joe Vitt has returned to the sideline, but they are running the football well. Without Sproles (hand) for the last two games, Ingram has become the primary ball carrier, totaling 23 carries for 111 yards.
However, the scoring and highlights have come from Ivory with his two touchdowns and more yards gained, despite getting fewer carries than Ingram. Ivory was only activated when needed in his three seasons as a Saint despite the fact he keeps outperforming last year's first-rounder.
Thomas is still on the field more often than Ingram and Ivory because he is trusted a lot more on passing downs, even though he's rarely targeted.
When Sproles returns, Ivory is in danger of returning to being a weekly inactive unless he keeps working this well in the power running game. Moore could also lose targets, particularly short passes, but he has shown he is capable of posting WR3 numbers with or without Sproles. Maybe Thomas will lose reps, though, because his skills are redundant as long as Sproles is on the field.
RB: Ahmad Bradshaw INJ (22-15-14), Andre Brown (5-7-13)
WR/TE: Victor Cruz (8-11-4), Hakeem Nicks (7-4-14), Martellus Bennett (6-4-9), Domenik Hixon (3-1-2)
It's been three straight games without a touchdown pass for quarterback Eli Manning, who hasn't thrown for multiple scores since Week 5. Manning has denied rumors of a tired arm after having major pass protection issues last week. Thankfully, he'll have a bye this week to get things figured out, so you should remain optimistic.
Cruz was targeted a season-low four times and has two poor games during Manning's touchdown drought. The G-Men's slot machine has struggled with physical play and press coverage lately while the opposition has successfully focused on limiting his yards after the catch. Better offensive line play might allow Cruz to get the most out of his routes from here on out.
Nicks had his best performance since missing three games early in the season. He hasn't always looked 100 percent, but as long has his knee reacts positively and doesn't swell up like it did coming into this game, Nicks should be in the clear moving forward.
The always fragile Bradshaw will have his neck, hand and foot looked at during the bye. Before getting the start over Bradshaw last week, Brown had already been on the rise and now has a touchdown in four straight games; he's become the preferred option near the goal line. He ended up with fewer carries than Bradshaw, but the aforementioned ailments favor Brown's playing time. Rookie David Wilson is a big factor as a kickoff returner but has been too raw to trust on offense and has seen his maturity questioned by the coaching staff.
RB: Steven Jackson (12-9-32), Daryl Richardson (11-11-9)
WR/TE: Danny Amendola (X-X-12), Brandon Gibson (7-3-6), Chris Givens (6-4-X), Lance Kendricks (4-4-6), Austin Pettis (3-5-4)
Amendola caught 11 of the 12 passes thrown at him for 102 yards in his return after missing three games due to a shoulder injury. His strong chemistry with quarterback Sam Bradford picked up exactly where it left off and now leaves very little left for the other Rams receivers.
Givens was a healthy scratch for violating curfew despite him recently setting an NFL record of five straight games with a reception of 50 or more yards. He'll have to connect on one of the limited big-play opportunities he gets each week to offer any fantasy production.
It took 10 games and a season-high 29 carries for Jackson to finally break the century mark in a game this season. In addition to resting during blowouts, S-Jax was nearing a timeshare with Richardson. But coming off a bye week against the class of the division, Jackson was allowed to play the work horse once again. The reduced playing time may have also been part of an effort to keep Jackson healthy for trade purposes. With the deadline now past, it's possible Jackson stays the featured back when the team is competitive, but keep in mind the remaining schedule is extremely brutal against the run.
The quarterback must go down hard
Last week saw a number of quarterbacks go down with injuries. The early reports on San Francisco 49ers game manager Alex Smith (concussion) are very positive, and there's hope that he'll play. The already limited Niners passing attack should be dialed down a little further if Colin Kaepernick gets the start. He made suspect decisions throwing the ball in relief of Smith, while his best plays came on designed runs and read option plays.
Things can only get better with rookie Nick Foles for the receivers of the Philadelphia Eagles. He showed some flashes but also made some backbreaking errors after being thrown into action, however. It sounds like the Eagles would have no issue shutting down Michael Vick (concussion) and going back to a more basic pocket passing approach as Foles gets seasoned for 2013.
Riley Cooper saw the most playing time of the season and made an impressive catch for a score in the red zone. He'll get a big opportunity to step up with Jason Avant (hamstring) expected to miss at least one game and Jeremy Maclin (back) possibly hindered or inactive. Cooper is only a desperation pickup, though; more targets will instead probably go to tight end Brent Celek.
Brandon Marshall is third in league with 103 targets and had been the only Chicago Bears receiver worth owning, but he could take a big hit with Jay Cutler (concussion) doubtful this week against a rough San Fran D. If he's out, Jason Campbell would take snaps. His slow release is a bad fit behind a poor offensive line, but if Campbell can find strikes to Marshall he might keep his star receiver's fantasy value afloat. Maybe this means slightly more looks for Earl Bennett or Devin Hester, but there's no rush to add them.
Slow motion thrower Byron Leftwich could be in line for a number of starts with Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) feared lost for a significant amount of time. Mike Wallace already saw shaky production when Big Ben was healthy and becomes even riskier with him out; midrange specialist Heath Miller's production could survive, at least to a degree. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery should see a boost, but to bring aboard the latter, you'd have to be quite desperate.
Backfields in motion
- Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens scored but struggled for yardage against a venerable Oakland Raiders defense before being rested in a blowout. Rice received a season-high 25 carries the week before, so the choice to keep him fresh was an easy one. Thankfully the touchdown salvaged his production for fantasy purposes, and Rice's touches should normalize quickly.
- The Oakland Raiders made it clear that they prefer Marcel Reece to carry the ball, a duty that should continue for at least another week. Despite only modest performance on the ground, Reece is an asset as a receiver with 15 catches over the last two games. As for Reece's backup, Jeremy Stewart got seven carries to just the pair of attempt rookie Taiwan Jones received; neither deserves your attention, especially with the possibility of Darren McFadden and/or Mike Goodson returning soon from the high ankle sprains.
Laurent Robinson (15) and Cecil Shorts (13) each had a season high in targets, but the latter is playing a lot more snaps. Shorts has double-digit targets in three of the last four games with a pair of 100-yard efforts during that span. Robinson continues to outplay Blackmon, but the team has yet to move him past their No. 1 pick on the depth chart.
Coming up Shorts?
- With 19 targets and 12 catches over the last two weeks, Donald Jones leads the Buffalo Bills in both categories. Stevie Johnson played last week without an issue after a thigh injury. The Bills can't get much out of their receivers, but the opportunities should continue for Jones, especially since Chan Gailey praised him to the media.
- In the last two games, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate of the Seattle Seahawks have combined for six touchdowns on just 12 catches. Also, neither receiver cracked 55 yards, so it's hard to sustain this type of efficiency. Russell Wilson has looked a lot better in his home starts but has just two of those contests remaining on the fantasy schedule.
- The Cincinnati Bengals gave rookie wide receiver Mohamed Sanu his most playing time of the season on Sunday. Sanu was second on the team with seven targets as he now competes with Andrew Hawkins as the No. 2 WR. Cincy had the game in hand when Sanu scored, so his extra playing time may be a result of the score, but he's an intriguing young player to keep an eye on.
- In need of a wide receiver to step up, the San Diego Chargers have given Danario Alexander a chance over the last two games. He caught five catches for 134 yards, highlighted by an 80-yard touchdown, in his first game as a starter. Even when Robert Meachem is healthy, he's offering very little, so Alexander will continue to play a lot of snaps and have an opportunity to build on this surprising performance.
- After three weeks of disappearing, tight end Kyle Rudolph roared back with a season-high seven catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. Without Percy Harvin (ankle), it made sense to get the rookie matchup problem back in the game plan, and Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier emphasized the need to keep him involved going forward.
- The Tennessee Titans' Jake Locker was a dreadful 9 of 21 passing in his return to action following a shoulder injury. With the defense feasting on turnovers and Chris Johnson averaging 5.5 yards per carry, Locker's services weren't really needed. He targeted Kenny Britt six times while no other receiver got more than three looks.
- The Titans have wanted to get Britt more involved, but he continues to be slowed down by knee and ankle issues. They'll get a bye week to help Britt heal up, but with the running game working so well, the Titans receivers may not see a lot of heavy lifting.
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.