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 simply an aberration?
Mike Thomas wasn't affected by the Jacksonville Jaguars' QB change; Luke McCown should continue to value his short-range presence.
Table 1: Top 10 Week 1 Wide Receivers
The Carolina Panthers ... have a passing game? Cam Newton's early connection with Steve Smith was encouraging for the wideout's long-term value, even if it was partially fueled by the Arizona Cardinals' scuffling secondary. Brandon LaFell could even sneak into fantasy value later this season if this keeps up.
Table 2: Top 10 Week 1 Tight Ends
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez probably won't have this much dual success every week for the New England Patriots. The Miami Dolphins' weak pass resistance helped. But Hernandez's continued use outside a stationary TE position increases the likelihood of his production being independent of Gronk's. However, another factor, noted in the Misses section, could hamper Hernandez's value later on.
Return of the Maclin
If Derrick Mason can't cement his safety valve role, the talented Dustin Keller could have this workload each week for the New York Jets. Tasty.
Jermaine Gresham was targeted six times by Andy Dalton and only twice by Bruce Gradkowski, who should push the ball downfield more effectively if he has to start for the Cincinnati Bengals. That would give a slight bump to A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson. (Jordan Shipley? Three targets, and not worthy of fantasy attention yet.)
Sure, Benjamin Watson saw seven targets, but Evan Moore received six, including one that led to a TD. He's comfortable in the system and has a rapport with Colt McCoy. Along with the New England Patriots and Washington Redskins, the Cleveland Browns might have two playable tight ends for deep leaguers all season.
Speaking of Washington, Chris Cooley is still working his way back, and Fred Davis (six Week 1 targets) looks like the better offensive weapon. He's one of fantasy football's hottest pickups.
With Marques Colston (collarbone) out for about a month, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson see fantasy boosts. If the New Orleans Saints must head into Week 2 sans Lance Moore (groin), Darren Sproles and maybe Adrian Arrington would see more short-range receiving chances. Meachem and Henderson are fantasy must-adds.
Cleveland's Mohamed Massaquoi: seven targets, three catches, 77 yards (including a 56-yarder). He should continue to be heavily involved in a passing attack that should vastly improve, especially with Greg Little slow to catch on and Brian Robiskie and Joshua Cribbs not making much noise yet.
Indianapolis Colts offense - They looked like rocking horses Sunday, thanks to Kerry Collins trying and failing to replace Peyton Manning (neck). Dallas Clark earned just five targets and probably did the most blocking of his career. Austin Collie (three looks) didn't register a catch; don't count on abundant three-wide sets with Collins at the helm. Expect Clark to recover as a fantasy chip sooner than Collie, who'll have fewer opportunities to make an impact as long as Manning is shelved.
As noted in Table 1, Reggie Wayne remained an offensive focus, and he'll be a borderline fantasy WR1 as long as Collins has some shot at getting off throws. Deep threat Pierre Garcon, being on the outside, could be a sneaky beneficiary if Collins can eventually get comfortable and let loose his sometimes-potent cannon.
Chad Ochocinco (New England Patriots) - Ocho logged just three targets compared to Deion Branch's nine. He still needs to refine his understanding of the playbook, and Tom Brady probably won't force it to him. The Pats have enough weapons to get by while Chad earns his keep. Consider Branch a WR3 option for the next few weeks, and Ocho owners should find alternatives for at least the near future.
Percy Harvin (Minnesota Vikings) - Four targets, two catches - hopefully, Bill Musgrave can find more ways to put the ball in Harvin's hands and let him do the playmaking. Maybe he'll do more on offense if the Norse face a team with worse QB pressure, but counting on Donovan McNabb will be a scary proposition.
Vincent Jackson (San Diego Chargers) - V-Jax was surprisingly quiet against the typically receiver-friendly Minnesota Vikings, who frequently kept two safeties deep. Even then, he just missed a diving TD catch on a deep route. Start V-Jax as you usually would.
Jags still Miked up
Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles) - The third-year wideout caught just one of his three targets. Michael Vick often ran when blitzed Sunday, contributing to Maclin's quiet day. Philly's weak O-line could exacerbate this problem and keep Maclin quiet, but teams probably won't blitz Philly as much as the St. Louis Rams did. Plus, Maclin indicated he felt fine after Week 1 despite his limited preseason work and recent health scare. Against a helpless Atlanta Falcons secondary this Sunday, Maclin deserves your faith for a fantasy start.
Owen Daniels (Houston Texans) - He'll see more than two targets and one catch this weekend. In the opener, Houston trampled the Colts on the ground and hardly used the tight end position. Kevin Walter (collarbone) might miss at least Week 2 (also look Jacoby Jones' way, FA seekers). Also, Matt Schaub will throw more than 24 times, his Week 1 total, against the Miami Dolphins (steady run D, susceptible secondary).
Early Doucet (Arizona Cardinals) - His three-target day was defined by a 70-yard touchdown grab-and-run. Not to say he won't be a valuable depth piece, but don't forget that the Arizona Cardinals probably will rotate him with Andre Roberts across from Larry Fitzgerald, limiting the former pair's upside.
- If Danny Amendola (elbow) has to miss Week 2, maybe beyond, expect tight end Lance Kendricks to see more short-range St. Louis Rams targets, which should boost his PPR value. An early-game drop, an aggressive Philadelphia Eagles D and a stint by A.J. Feeley under center sapped Kendricks' Week 1 potential. Expect Josh McDaniels to continue using creative ways to get the rookie open.
- Doug Baldwin followed in fellow rookie Cam Newton's footsteps a bit. The 5-foot-10 wideout carried over his productive preseason play to Week 1. He could be given a frequent shot to contribute as a slot safety valve.
Sidney Rice (shoulder) missed the opener and could sit out Week 2, as well. But the Seattle Seahawks' aerial game rests on Jackson's erratic arm, and they have Mike X. Williams, Ben Obomanu and Golden Tate also pining for more attention. Baldwin is worth a PPR shot, but not your utter confidence.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were throwing a bunch in their Sunday comeback attempt. They prefer to run more often than pass. Of course, their Week 1 issues could turn into chronic problems that will have Josh Freeman unleashing the leather a bit more.
Thus, Preston Parker could become a legit part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense. He's a capable slot man who's tough in traffic and after the catch. With Sammie Stroughter (foot) likely out a few weeks at minimum, Parker could have more six-look games, to the delight of PPR sleeper seekers. Arrelious Benn (seven looks) also has upside for the long term, especially in standard scoring leagues.
- The Antonio Brown-Emmanuel Sanders saga will captivate - and frustrate - fantasy owners of these Pittsburgh Steelers. The first week of target battles went to Brown, nine to three, but Sanders hit the end zone. Pitt was airing it out to catch up to the rival Baltimore Ravens. Bet on these two swapping roles in many weeks based on game tempo; each is a solid stash with WR3 potential but shouldn't be relied on weekly.
- Darrius Heyward-Bey led Oakland Raiders receivers with seven targets while notching four catches for 44 yards. Progress, but it was against a scatterbrained Denver Broncos D. Either way, if Jacoby Ford (hamstring) can't play in Week 2, DHB could continue as the top WR target. He'll be facing a Buffalo Bills D that has been tough versus wideouts, though. Don't commit just yet.
- James Jones (Green Bay Packers) had one target Week 1; his involvement, like that of the Steelers' pair, will be determined by game flow and is worth only fantasy backup status.
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.
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