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?
After getting off to a quick start throwing the ball, rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley imploded in his first career start. Despite 52 pass attempts, the only passes Lindley got into the end zone came as a result when two of his four interceptions were taken back to the house.
Dwyer's job hardly in steel
Lindley was able find Roberts and Housler (season-high 11 targets, eight catches and 82 yards) fairly often but could only connect with Fitzgerald three times despite a dozen targets.
Wells made a bit of a splash in his return with two scores on 17 rushing attempts for 48 yards. Powell actually played more snaps and was the preferred back for receiving purposes. Despite Wells' performance, it's too early to write off Stephens-Howling (ribs) as he was banged up heading into the game, and he even left and did not return.
If LSH is able to play this week, he'll likely have a similar role to Powell's while coaxing a few carries away from Wells, who admitted his stamina isn't all the way there just yet.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs) is questionable, but the Steelers need him to stay in the playoff hunt after becoming a turnover ATM last week with Charlie Batch under center. Also, each of the four running backs lost at least one fumble a piece.
Brown (ankle) is expected to play and could be in line for a lot of targets following the demotion of Wallace, who keeps dropping passes when he's not outright invisible. Sanders, who has 75 or more receiving yards in the last two games, will get a chance to move past Wallace and is currently listed as the co-starter opposite Brown with Wallace.
The running backs aren't immune to the depth chart changes either. Dwyer has been named the starter and should see the bulk of the carries. Redman is next in line while Mendenhall has tumbled to the No. 3 back.
There are clearly a lot of things in flux for the Steelers right now, but the expanded opportunities for Brown and Sanders won't mean much unless Roethlisberger gets back on the field and is able to play effectively.
One week after reemerging with eight catches, 83 yards and a touchdown in Week 11, Davis was only targeted once last week as Colin Kaepernick looked at nine different receivers in the passing game. Kaepernick has been a far more aggressive passer than Alex Smith, so it's surprising Davis didn't get much of a shot. Davis, of course, often gets lost in game plans or becomes the focus of opposing defenses.
Despite this disappointment, owners invested in the San Fran passing game will certainly prefer Kaepernick over Smith going forward.
Season-ending injuries to Kyle Williams (knee) and Kendall Hunter (Achilles') may lead to rookies A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James finally getting to play for the first time this season. However, it's far more likely Manningham and Moss each get more snaps at wide receiver while Jacobs and Dixon take Hunter's rushing attempts.
Dixon commented that James is being used like Percy Harvin on the scout team as a hybrid player. Given the 49ers' extremely creative offensive schemes, this new wrinkle is fascinating to say the least, but we'll need to see James finally get activated and see what materializes on game day.
Backfields in motion
Bully for Britt, Titans
Following an explosion on Monday night, Bryce Brown of the Philadelphia Eagles will be highly sought after on the waiver wire, especially with LeSean McCoy unlikely to play in Week 13. Philly's remaining schedule isn't ideal, particularly Week 14 on the road against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that's allowing a league-low 81.5 rushing yards per game. The rookie also lost two fumbles in his first career start. Brown will continue to dominate the snap count and be something of a factor in the passing game, which just added wide receiver DeSean Jackson (ribs) to the mounting list of injured Philly stars. Brown abused a soft run defense in this one, so keep in mind that the upcoming slate makes a repeat, except maybe outside of the Dallas Cowboys this weekend, really hard to imagine.
- Pass protection and practice effort were the reasons the Denver Broncos tabbed Knowshon Moreno to start at running back over speedy rook Ronnie Hillman. Moreno tallied 111 yards on 24 touches in his first action since playing sparingly in the first two games of the season. The Broncos draw the aforementioned Bucs this week but have smooth sailing from there. Willis McGahee (knee) typically received 20 touches a game, so this kind of volume is logical for Moreno. Durability has been an issue for Moreno in the past, but it's his job to lose right now.
- The Oakland Raiders are optimistic that Darren McFadden (ankle) will be able to practice this week. Whenever the return comes, Marcel Reece said that that he fully expects McFadden to take over the vast majority of the carries. Even if DMC does see the practice field this week, his injury history and desire to keep him as the workhorse makes it wise for the team sit him for at least another game or two. Reece hasn't found the end zone in his three games as the starter but has combined for more than 100 yards each week. Until the lease runs out, Reece will continue to be an attractive PPR option, but closing time could be nearing quite soon.
- Matt Forte (ankle) of the Chicago Bears avoided a serious ankle injury but looks shaky for Week 13. In his absence, Michael Bush averaged 2.9 yards per carry on his 21 attempts and scored on two goal line runs. Volume is the key to Bush's production, and third-stringer Armando Allen shouldn't cause him to lose much, if any, playing time.
- The return of Darren Sproles eliminates any remaining relevance for Pierre Thomas in the New Orleans Saints backfield. Sproles didn't receive a carry, however. Those duties were predictably split between Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory. Thankfully, the Saints won't face a defensive juggernaut like the 49ers again but face very solid run D's the rest of the fantasy schedule. With Sproles on the field, which is typically around half the time, there's just not enough opportunity going around for Ingram and Ivory to make them worth starting or, in many cases, hanging onto.
- C.J. Spiller has finally taken over as the rightful starting running back of the Buffalo Bills, but issues with pass protection will keep Fred Jackson in the mix. F-Jax hasn't broken a 15-yard run all season and is now seeing his touches really start to dry up, however. Jackson's decline in work makes it really tough to believe he can battle his way back into a timeshare, so Spiller owners can breathe easy.
- Shonn Greene hasn't found the end zone since Week 7 but has averaged 4.4 yards per carry over the last four games on 15.5 attempts a game. Bilal Powell has been the preferred option in the red zone with three touchdowns in the last two games, combining for 82 yards on 23 carries. Joe McKnight got some chances in Week 11 but is now taking reps at wide receiver given all the injuries the team has at that position. Even with a position change, he offers no value. Greene is a borderline flex option, and since he's making the case for more touches, Powell makes for a desperate play in deeper formats.
- With Andre Brown (broken leg) done for the year, the New York Giants have signed Ryan Torain and Kregg Lumpkin. The injury also gives David Wilson another shot to carry the ball, while Ahmad Bradshaw might see goal line carries once again, a situation not suited for Wilson. There's a chance Torain gets the red zone looks that had been going to Brown, but it may not happen right away. Assuming he can hang onto the football this time around Wilson has an outside chance of breaking off a big run in limited duty. Lumpkin, meanwhile, is a good pass protector who actually might steal reps from Wilson.
- The Washington Redskins kept Pierre Garcon off the field for more than half the snaps on offense, but he led the team across the board with five catches, 93 yards and a touchdown on seven targets. Garcon was concerned about playing on the artificial turf in Dallas on Thanksgiving and is still dealing with pain in his foot. However, he didn't experience any setbacks and plays on grass or the softer FieldTurf for rest of the season. Robert Griffin III isn't putting the ball in the air a ton but is looking for big plays when he does. Garcon is best suited for those targets, so he is a high-reward WR3 at least until his foot fully heals, which may not happen this season.
- Over the last three games, it's become clear that the Cincinnati Bengals are developing a lot of trust in rookie Mohamed Sanu to be the No. 2 WR. Sanu hasn't broken off a big gainer as a starter but has scored in three straight and is now playing equal time with A.J. Green. Unless he keeps finding the end zone, Sanu is a minimal fantasy contributor, but more opportunities could be on the horizon, especially with defenses selling out to stop the Green machine.
- Greg Jennings (hernia) is expected back this week, but what the Green Bay Packers really need to show up is the offensive line. The lack of time in the pocket has given more targets to Randall Cobb and, to a lesser extent, Jermichael Finley. Downfield options like Jordy Nelson and James Jones have been erratic as deep-ball chances have been harder to find. Jennings has a more well-rounded game and will likely be eased into action his first game or two back.
- The Tennessee Titans' new offensive direction - ditching the bland Chris Palmer, installing Dowell Loggains as coordinator - aims to open up downfield shots for Jake Locker to Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Jared Cook. They'll have more freedom to adjust their vertical routes off the coverage and situation, instead of following a strict route blueprint. The stock of each option gets a relative bump, and Locker earns a bit more intrigue down the fantasy stretch.
- Titus Young was inactive for the Turkey Day game in Week 12 and still hasn't returned to practice. The Detroit Lions appear willing to keep him away with no rush on getting him back. In his absence, rookie Ryan Broyles caught six of the dozen targets sent his way for 126 yards. Even if Young comes back, he might not have enough time to get out of the doghouse, especially if Broyles continues to play well, given how far his poor behavior has set him back.
With several teams creating distance in their respective divisions, it's worth checking out the players that are most likely to gain value if starters begin to see some extra rest down the stretch.
Vereen dancing late in 2012?
Roddy White only leaves the field a few plays per game, and Julio Jones just came back from an ankle injury. If either player is selected to rest more frequently Harry Douglas, a respectable slot receiver, would fill in.
Depending on game situations, Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers are now playing nearly equal time. Jason Snelling is a decent runner and receiver and could fill either role if the Dirty Birds want to park their backs in the final weeks, particularly the aging Turner.
Jacoby Jones is making highlights in the return game while making the occasional big catch as a receiver. He would be a logical deep target replacement for Torrey Smith as the Ravens look to wrap up their division early. Look out for Tandon Doss, as well.
Bernard Pierce has received seven or more carries in three of the last four games. With the extremely high number of snaps Ray Rice is on the field for, he's an important player for the Ravens to consider resting should that opportunity present itself.
Will Peyton Manning submit to resting? Would Brock Osweiler or Caleb Hanie make Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker owners confident? Unlikely either way. Plus, not sure that they'd care enough to rest Moreno, considering how fresh he is at this point in the year.
They're saying they're not worried about his tote load, but Arian Foster leads the league in carries and would yield to Justin Forsett and the returning Ben Tate if and when the Texans clinch home field throughout the playoffs.
Owen Daniels has been banged up lately, and with one big game under his belt Garrett Graham has proven capable of filling in as the lead tight end.
In 2010, Wes Welker tore is ACL and MCL in a meaningless game at the end of the year. Julian Edelman would take over in the slot if the team elects to play it safe with their starters this time. Maybe Greg Salas, too. This would more realistically mean more targets for Brandon Lloyd, though.
Stevan Ridley is currently seventh in carries and has never seen this type of workload before. Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead would likely spilt touches in his absence, with Brandon Bolden mixed in whenever he returns from suspension and his knee injury.
Michael Hoomanawanui, Visanthe Shiancoe and Daniel Fells are more so long shots, but the Pats use their tight ends so well and can ill afford to be without both Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm) heading into the postseason.
Gore could use rest as much as possible, but San Fran has been conserving him when necessary in the regular season. They're not in as good postseason shape as the others listed, but the Niners could deploy more James, Jacobs and Dixon from the backfield, which would be a fantasy mess. James has the most upside, but Jacobs and Dixon could hog goal line attempts.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.