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Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Why Brandon Marshall is not top-20 WR

By Ken Daube
Special to

Among the top 20 players in the NFL in terms of receiving yardage, only two players have not scored more than once this season: Reggie Wayne and Brandon Marshall. Wayne's inclusion on this list shouldn't be that surprising considering the transition that the Indianapolis Colts are undergoing, and although the Miami Dolphins have been forced to make the transition from Chad Henne to Matt Moore at quarterback, the Dolphins haven't made as drastic a change to their offensive philosophy as the Colts did.

The one touchdown Marshall has scored so far is one of the biggest statistical anomalies in the NFL this year. Consider this statistic: According to ESPN Stats & Information, there are 28 NFL players who have been targeted four or more times in the end zone this year. Of those 28, only two players have yet to record a reception and, therefore, the corresponding touchdown: Legedu Naanee and Marshall.

Although the choice of using four end zone targets as the cutoff line might seem arbitrary, it shouldn't be viewed as such. That number was chosen specifically because it represents the first whole number that is less than one-third of the total amount of end zone targets Marshall (13) has seen so far this season.

In fact, of the 22 players who have been targeted between four and six times in the end zone, the average player has 1.9 touchdowns in that area. For the five players who have been targeted between seven and nine times in the end zone, the average player has 2.8 touchdowns. If one simply projected the growth from those two ranges to Marshall's 13 end zone targets, it's not unreasonable to expect that Marshall should have almost four touchdowns from those targets. Those missing scores are the reason Marshall is sitting as the 23rd-highest-scoring wide receiver instead of being in the top six.

On target

Receiving yardage is variable because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. The variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback might alter a player's value greatly. It's important to look at the underlying target metric on a weekly basis to determine which stud performances were flukes and which dud performances can be written off to a bad day. With that in mind, the table below not only lists those players who are averaging at least seven targets a game but also provides the standard deviation of the game numbers. Players with a low deviation have a similar number of targets each game, and players with larger deviations have larger swings in the number of targets seen on a game-to-game basis.

Some general observations from Week 6 games:

Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers (15 targets, 9 receptions, 77 yards): Crabtree's remarkable Week 6 vaulted him among the league leaders in targets per game in the past four weeks. The question on Crabtree isn't whether he is good enough to be an elite receiver but only whether Crabtree can remain healthy and whether Alex Smith is good enough to allow Crabtree to be a stud.

Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions (14 targets, 8 receptions, 42 yards): If Pettigrew's rise to prominence has surprised you, it shouldn't have. Pettigrew was long regarded as a physical mismatch, but injuries both him and to Matthew Stafford derailed Pettigrew's value for his first couple of years. With both healthy, Pettigrew should be regarded as a top-10 tight end.

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13 targets, 6 receptions, 59 yards): For the season, Williams has caught less than 50 percent of the passes thrown his way, and only one player in the NFL has dropped more passes thrown his way than Williams has. Although Josh Freeman did have a decent day against the New Orleans Saints, Freeman doesn't appear to be playing at the same level he did last season. If you can deal Williams for suitable value, do so.

Fred Davis, Washington Redskins (11 targets, 6 receptions, 95 yards): With Chris Cooley facing surgery (and a potential trip to the Injured Reserve list), Davis should be picked up in every fantasy league. From this point forward, Davis will compete to be in the second tier of tight ends.

Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Colts (11 targets, 8 receptions, 52 yards): His hands of stone notwithstanding, Garcon is getting it done since Curtis Painter has taken over for aged Kerry Collins. You should feel comfortable using Garcon as a third wide receiver almost any week from here on out.

Danario Alexander, St. Louis Rams (10 targets, 6 receptions, 91 yards) and Greg Salas, St. Louis Rams (10 targets, 8 receptions, 77 yards): Although most would figure the good numbers put up by Alexander and Salas were the product of trailing the Green Bay Packers for most of the game, don't make that same mistake, as they were targeted in similar manners to the way they have been recently. That being said, the acquisition of Brandon Lloyd changes that dynamic in a major way. Expect Lloyd to take more away from Alexander than from Salas, but both will be affected.

Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati Bengals (9 targets, 6 receptions, 101 yards): Through six games, the Bengals have played only one game against a team in the top 10 against the pass, and Simpson was a nonfactor in that game. The Bengals have five more games against their AFC North rivals, all of which rank in the top seven, so feel free to ignore Simpson's good week unless you are really short on wide receiver talent.

Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions (8 targets, 6 receptions, 73 yards): Best's stats are included here to demonstrate the level at which he is involved in the passing game. Because of this, Maurice Morris, Keiland Williams and recently acquired Ronnie Brown need to be owned immediately in deeper leagues. Although it's a crapshoot to guess who would become the starter if Best misses significant time, I'd handicap Williams as the player most likely to emerge from the three backups.

Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts (7 targets, 6 receptions, 53 yards): Unlike Garcon, Clark's good game this past Sunday should not be looked upon as the beginning of a resurgence. The seven targets he received this week marked a season high. When you realize that he had only five games of fewer than seven targets in the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined, it's apparent that Painter just isn't using Clark like Peyton Manning did.

Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans (7 targets, 4 receptions, 76 yards): Last week, I wrote that Jones was capable of filling Andre Johnson's role in the Texans' offense in a manner that would make him a useful fantasy option despite having only one catch on 11 targets the previous game. Seventy-six yards and a touchdown later, the point is proven. If he's still available on your league's waiver wire, claim him.

Jake Ballard, New York Giants (5 targets, 5 receptions, 81 yards): In case you need a tight end for an upcoming bye, you could do worse than taking a flier on Ballard, who has been a decent part of the Giants' passing game the past couple of weeks.

Big plays, up close

There were 10 NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that attained 10 or more yards each in Week 6: LeSean McCoy (6), Michael Turner (6), Matt Forte (4), Earnest Graham (4), Ahmad Bradshaw (3), Frank Gore (3), Rashard Mendenhall (3), Cam Newton (3), Ray Rice (3) and Jonathan Stewart (3).

Mendenhall's inclusion on this list is very encouraging. The last time he had three big-play rushes in a game was Nov. 28, 2010. If the Steelers' offensive line can continue to jell, Mendenhall will have the opportunity to finish as a top-10 back again this year. That being said, use this week's game against the Arizona Cardinals as a barometer of that possibility. If Mendenhall doesn't produce big numbers in that game, you should trade him immediately, as his schedule will get pretty tough right after that game.

The four big-play rushes Graham had Sunday equaled the total number of big-play rushes he compiled in the 2009 and 2010 seasons combined. Graham is a suitable play against teams with weak run defenses for as long as LeGarrette Blount is sidelined, but don't start him against anyone decent.

There were 12 NFL players who were given two or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line: Ahmad Bradshaw (7), Michael Turner (6), Cedric Benson (4), LeSean McCoy (4), Darren McFadden (4), Ray Rice (3), Marion Barber (2), Andy Dalton (2), Frank Gore (2), Rashard Mendenhall (2), Curtis Painter (2) and Daniel Thomas (2). Of that group, the only two running backs who failed to find the goal line were Rice and Thomas.

Bradshaw's proficiency in this area should be very disconcerting for those still stashing injured Brandon Jacobs on their squads. Bradshaw's three touchdowns all came on rushes from 1 yard out. That typically would have been Jacobs' territory.

Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for For game-day insights, follow him on Twitter @KenDaubeESPNFF.