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?
Detroit Lions wideouts Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Titus Young all ranked in the top 10 for WR targets. Matthew Stafford was heaving because the Lions were down big. Though Stafford said he's trusting Young more now than he did earlier, it's safer to bet on Burleson and Young cannibalizing each other's looks than for both to be consistently involved. The latter could happen this week against the San Diego Chargers, but do you really want to bank on what has been a see-saw for targets during your championship week?
Top Week 15 wide receivers
- Thomas is Tim Tebow's No. 1 target for the Denver Broncos, with 13 targets in each of the last two weeks. As Tebow becomes more comfortable throwing - baby steps - he's looking more toward putting the ball in Thomas' hands for a big play. Eric Decker is too hit-or-miss to count on.
- Even after Jake Locker replaced Matt Hasselbeck under center for the Tennessee Titans during their Week 16 comeback attempt, Washington didn't suffer, seeing five looks from the rookie, including a touchdown grab. If anything, Washington has been better with Locker at the helm. With Damian Williams failing to capitalize on his frequently high look totals and Hawkins merely involved because they were trying not to lose to the Indianapolis Colts, Washington remains a safe play for your championship week, especially with Tennessee facing a depleted Jacksonville Jaguars defense.
- Wallace and Brown probably would've done more with their targets if Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) wasn't gimpy on Monday Night Football. The Pittsburgh Steelers are uncertain whether Big Ben can go on Saturday. If Charlie Batch goes, drop both wideouts down your rankings; they might try to get the ball in their hands sooner to avoid putting too much pressure on Batch. Brown would probably be the safer play since he's more accustomed to being the midrange target in Bruce Arians' offense.
- Roberts, however, deserves a look regardless of whether John Skelton or Kevin Kolb (concussion) starts for the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16. Roberts has 47 targets since Week 8, much of that encompassing Skelton's tenure behind center.
Top Week 15 tight ends
- Rob Gronkowski faced Denver Broncos double coverage, at minimum, on many occasions and had to deal with being chipped at the line in Week 15, allowing Hernandez to slip free in the New England Patriots' "take what you give us" offense. This shouldn't deter you from playing him in Week 16, against the Miami Dolphins, with your title hopes on the line.
- For Cook's performance, see the circumstances in Nate Washington's writeup in the wide receivers section. For what it's worth, the Tennessee Titans say they want Cook more involved as their "move" tight end. He's an intriguing flex play against the Jacksonville Jaguars this week.
- Davis has logged at least eight targets and five catches in three of his last five outings and has caught 55 of his 78 looks (70.5 percent) on the season. He's being freed up as a receiver more; it probably helped that he didn't have to stay in to block James Harrison on Monday night. Play him with confidence.
- Finley dropped anywhere from one to four passes in Week 15, per reports. The talented member of the Green Bay Packers has increased opportunities with Greg Jennings (knee) sidelined, and you should play him for the increased look load, but know that a lineup spot comes with the risk of him having days like this.
- You can't be jumping on the Heap bandwagon in Week 16, especially due to his erratic time with Jeff King and Robert Housler also involved at tight end.
As noted in the Jermichael Finley writeup in the TE section, the Green Bay Packers divvied up the targets in Week 15 without Greg Jennings (knee): Finley led all options with 10. Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, James Jones and Randall Cobb each had four. Cobb hauled in all his looks; the other three caught just two. The Pack's offensive line woes and comeback mode made this a weird game all around for those used to this aerial juggernaut. Nelson might be slipping because he's receiving more attention, and the other non-Finley options are shaky fantasy plays. At least their matchup with the Chicago Bears on Christmas opens up the possibility of breaking more big plays.
Don't shay away from Gronk
- Too bad the Cleveland Browns face the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16; against many other opponents, Greg Little would have a better chance on building on his nine-target, 5-131-1 Week 15 against the Arizona Cardinals, which included a 76-yard touchdown play. Little has scored both of his 2011 touchdowns in the last month, and this breakthrough game came with Seneca Wallace at QB, not Colt McCoy (concussion).
Cleveland faces the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 17, an unfavorable matchup versus shutdown cornerback Ike Taylor. These two punishing defenses - including the one that gave McCoy the concussion in the first place - probably wouldn't be good times to bring No. 12 back, but they might want to have another look at him before they decide on drafting another QB. Either way, Little is the safest play among Browns receiving options.
- Even with the apparent switch from Josh McCown to Caleb Hanie, don't count on any Chicago Bears receiving option stepping up to replace the production and involvement of Injured Reserve inhabitant Johnny Knox (back). Roy Williams, Earl Bennett, Dane Sanzenbacher, Devin Hester can't be trusted; Kahlil Bell is probably the Bears' best pass catcher at the moment.
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, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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