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?
Thomas the target engine?
Demaryius Thomas and Tim Tebow are cooking. Thomas' seven-catch, 78-yard, one-touchdown output in Week 14 followed a 4-144-2 effort. The Denver Broncos faced the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears - two Cover 2 defenses that were probably preoccupied with keeping deep threat Eric Decker (seven targets, three snares Sunday) at bay. He was stifled; Thomas flourished.
Either way, as Tebow grows into taking more downfield chances, this passing game becomes slightly more trustworthy. Despite showing more signs of discipline over the last few weeks thanks to a better pass rush, the New England Patriots' pass defense remains vulnerable. If Decker can get free more often, this could bring Thomas' production down a peg, at least for this weekend. Still, DT is the better play because he's more likely to run midrange routes, which should open up his after-the-catch abilities against a secondary that has had trouble wrapping up opponents.
Top Week 14 wide receivers
- Will the Minnesota Vikings continue to give Harvin - and Aromashodu, for that matter - this many looks if Adrian Peterson (ankle) returns? Count on Harvin keeping his given his ascension in the last few games. DA has seen more attention with Michael Jenkins (knee) on Injured Reserve, but the fact that he has only caught 10 of his 25 looks over the past two weeks shouldn't make him a must-play.
- Same skepticism goes for Darrius Heyward-Bey, especially with him fighting a heel injury and possibly facing the return of Denarius Moore (foot) and Jacoby Ford (foot) in Week 15. Just as DHB was getting a connection with Carson Palmer, he'll have more competition for Oakland Raiders looks. Any short-term PT gains for Louis Murphy (nine targets Sunday) would go poof, as well.
- Victor Cruz hasn't been a slouch, but Nicks has looked more like his elite self over the last three contests: seven or eight catches in each for a combined 338 yards and two scores. He has been in more single coverage recently and is making teams pay. The New York Giants' troika of wideouts (including Mario Manningham) is one of the most dangerous in the league; all three are viable fantasy plays.
- With Andre Johnson (hamstring) out, Walter took advantage. The Houston Texans hope AJ can come back for Week 15, but even if he's out, Walter probably won't see more looks than he did this past Sunday with Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen remaining favorites of T.J. Yates. Walter's TD came in the final seconds during a successful comeback drive. If Houston doesn't have to play hurry-up versus the Carolina Panthers this week, Yates won't be chucking it much.
- The Kansas City Chiefs challenged Darrelle Revis with Bowe on at least three occasions; regardless of who's covering him, Bowe will be KC's top receiving target. Could Kyle Orton (finger) or Ricky Stanzi take better advantage of his skills if either starts ahead of Tyler Palko? Stay tuned, but start Bowe anyway in most cases merely for the look load.
Top Week 14 tight ends
- Gates has looked fresher each week since returning from his foot-fueled sideline stint for the San Diego Chargers. His burst is back. Ride him.
- Daniels continues to be a favorite of T.J. Yates but once again had a red zone score vultured by Joel Dreessen. That's his caveat, but he remains a low-end TE1.
More cheese to go around
Greg Jennings (knee) is expected to miss the rest of the regular season, leaving a Green Bay Packers target vacuum. Jordy Nelson is GB's new fantasy WR1. Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Donald Driver and Randall Cobb could all see an increase, but since Aaron Rodgers divvies his targets so randomly, pinpointing a single beneficiary is difficult.
Jones and Cobb (in three-wide sets) will see more snaps, so they're the best bets. Finley should see a similar workload, but they might actually throw to him more often and cut down his decoy routes.
GB will survive sans Jennings
With tailback DeMarco Murray (ankle) out for the season, the Dallas Cowboys should lean heavily on Felix Jones ... and three-wide sets, which would keep Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson as playable wideouts. L-Rob was still a favorite target of Tony Romo, especially in the red zone, despite getting just four looks and playing far fewer snaps than the other two.
Robinson will lean on big plays and inside-the-20 looks. Bryant is the likeliest to be the focus of opposing defenses, but if the Cowboys make an effort to put him in motion more often, he could see more single coverage and become more involved, even in this crowded corps.
While the production output could be frustrating for this trio, each is worth starting, especially with Dallas expected to lean more on the pass.
- Larry Fitzgerald can beat tough cornerbacks and make shaky QBs look competent. Still, he appreciated the Arizona Cardinals moving him around and allowing him to run slot routes. It helped beat some double teams on his impressive 7-149-1 day. Expect more of this, especially if John Skelton starts in place of Kevin Kolb (concussion).
- Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate are the top two plays in the Seattle Seahawks' wideout group. Baldwin bookended a stinker in Week 13 with a 10-target, five-catch Week 12 and an eight-look, seven-grab Week 14. He's the much better PPR play of the two, and it seems like he's a safety valve against big pass rushes. Tate has a little more big-play ability in him but still has issues with consistency, especially in his routes. He's getting better, but he's more of a dice roll than Baldwin. Still, Baldwin carries risk of putting up a dud depending on game flow. Marshawn Lynch is this offense.
- Braylon Edwards could gain more snaps as his knee heals, but it looks like the San Francisco 49ers favor looking to Kyle Williams, who has six catches, 108 yards and a score on eight looks over the last two games. Williams, however, remains little more than a deep-league desperation flier.
- For those trying to pry something from the Washington Redskins' wideout corps outside of Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, it looks like Donte' Stallworth is locking up the WR3 job. Unless you're playing in a cavernous league, you're unlikely to get much from him outside of a last-ditch play. At least he's facing a weak New York Giants secondary Sunday.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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