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Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Fantasy hint: Brandon Marshall and targets

By Kevin Seifert

My general approach to fantasy football is to leave the analysis and recommendations to the experts, of which ESPN has an entire staff. Occasionally, however, I'll try to pass along information that might be of use to you and your team.

In checking out how often the Chicago Bears have thrown to receiver Brandon Marshall, I stumbled across league-wide target numbers. The chart displays each NFC North team's top two targets, via ESPN's Stats & Information, and also provides percentages to put those figures in better perspective. (The Green Bay Packers have two players tied for the second-most targets.)

Use that information as you will. It probably doesn't reveal anything that close observers didn't realize. The most interesting point to take, be it from a fantasy or conventional standpoint, is how heavily Marshall is involved relative to his teammates and other receivers around the NFL.

The Bears threw in Marshall's direction on 17 passes last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, bringing his season total to 121 targets. That's the third-most in the NFL and second in the NFC North behind the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson (122). But it's important to note that the Lions (501 attempts) have thrown 173 more passes this season than the Bears (328) this season. As the chart shows, Marshall has been the target of more than a third of the Bears' passes.

For context, consider that the NFL's leader in targets, the Indianapolis Colts' Reggie Wayne, has seen 29.6 percent of his team's passes (133 of 449).

So all told, Marshall has had the NFL's third-most passes thrown his way even though his team has thrown the league's fourth-fewest number of passes. The differential between Marshall and the Bears' next-most targeted receiver, Earl Bennett, is 82 passes. That is by far the biggest discrepancy in the NFL. The next-largest is the gap between Wayne and Donnie Avery, who has been targeted 83 times.

For the most part, I see no problem with the Bears' approach. One of the most popular NFL criticisms is of teams who don't or can't emphasize their playmakers. Marshall is one of the league's best receivers, and the Bears are finding more ways to get him the ball on a percentage basis than any other team is with their top receiver.

It has resulted in 81 receptions, 1,017 yards and eight touchdowns. Those figures rank second, fifth and second in the NFL, respectively, among wide receivers.

You have to assume the Bears will at some point face a situation where defenses take Marshall out of the game, forcing them to rely more heavily on Bennett and others. But that's a secondary criticism at best. Suffice it to say, the Bears are getting their money's worth from Marshall in their first season together.