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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Trendspotting: Moss gaining targets

By Ken Daube
Special to ESPN.com

Perhaps you find yourself with a gaping hole at wide receiver entering the first week of the playoffs due to Andre Johnson's second hamstring injury of the year. You may have even covered your backside by picking up Jacoby Jones earlier this season but you realize that with T.J. Yates throwing the football for the Houston Texans, you really are hoping for a better option this week. Based on the matchups and recent trends, here are some comments on a few guys you may be considering:

Santana Moss
Santana Moss has easily seized back the Redskins' No. 1 receiver job after coming back from injury.

Santana Moss: He's been targeted 19 times in the past two weeks, including 12 targets this past Sunday. The Washington Redskins lose Fred Davis to suspension and don't really have a suitable tight end to step in and take the 7.8 targets per game Davis has averaged over the past four weeks. That means more looks for the wide receivers from Rex Grossman. Add to that the fact that the Redskins play the New England Patriots, who allow a league-high 27.6 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers, and you probably come to the conclusion that Moss is as close to one-week waiver-wire gold as someone who is available in approximately 40 percent of ESPN.com leagues can be.

Darrius Heyward-Bey: With a promising contest against the Green Bay Packers on the horizon, Heyward-Bey, who is owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues, should be on your radar. He's averaging 7.7 targets over his last four games, and the Packers allow 24.6 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers. I don't expect the Oakland Raiders to be the team that takes down the Packers, but garbage-time yards are a distinct possibility, and that makes Heyward-Bey a sneaky start this week.

Torrey Smith: Looking at the Indianapolis Colts on the schedule may find you wanting to be cute and start Smith. Don't follow that thought. Despite being targeted 8.3 times per game between Weeks 8 and 11, Smith was targeted just seven times combined in the Baltimore Ravens' past two games. Couple that information with the fact that the Colts have allowed just 370 yards receiving and one touchdown to opponents' wide receivers over their past three games, and you'll realize that there's no reason to gamble on Smith.

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 may greatly alter a player's value. 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 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, where players with larger deviations have larger swings in the number of targets seen on a game-to-game basis.

The following is a list of players who are averaging seven or more targets per game over the last four weeks:

Some general observations on Week 13 games:

Devin Aromashodu, Minnesota Vikings (15 targets, 6 receptions, 90 yards): Look beyond Aromashodu's 90 receiving yards and realize that he was targeted a ridiculously high 15 times in the Vikings' game against the Denver Broncos. There's nothing to see here, even if you are desperate for an injury replacement.

Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (15 targets, 4 receptions, 51 yards): White's season has been extremely frustrating, but it is rewarding those who stuck with him. He's produced at least 11 fantasy points in each of the past three games and his playoff schedule is very encouraging.

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (14 targets, 8 receptions, 86 yards): For the season, Bryant has caught just 56.8 percent of the passes thrown his way. While he has as much talent as any receiver in the league, thoughts of him joining the top five receivers are premature. The top five fantasy wideouts (Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Greg Jennings, Victor Cruz and Mike Wallace) combine to catch 66.7 percent of their targets. As long as there are other quality receiving options around him, Bryant is nothing more than a No. 2 fantasy wide receiver.

Fred Davis, Washington Redskins (13 targets, 6 receptions, 99 yards): Davis was just suspended for the rest of the regular season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Just remember to file his name in the right area of your 2012 tight end rankings, probably around 15th for the time being.

Pierre Garcon (12 targets, 9 receptions, 150 yards) and Austin Collie, Indianapolis Colts (8 targets, 7 receptions, 70 yards): Garcon's production this season all but ensures that Reggie Wayne will find himself on another team next year. Garcon has earned a shot at being a go-to guy via his production this season. With the Colts likely to tie up a significant portion of their 2012 salary cap between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, they'll need to be economical in other areas, and a receiving corps of Garcon, Austin Collie and Dallas Clark would allow that to happen.

Wes Welker
Wes Welker's dream season continues as he caught all 11 of his targets against the Colts.

Wes Welker, New England Patriots (11 targets, 11 receptions, 110 yards): How good is Welker? Consider this: There have been 220 instances of players who were targeted at least 10 times in a game this season. The only time a player converted all of his chances into receptions was Welker on Sunday. Welker is unbenchable.

Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles (10 targets, 5 receptions, 94 yards): As weird as this may sound, Cooper is a must-start as long as Jeremy Maclin remains sidelined. If Andy Reid continues to be disappointed in DeSean Jackson, Cooper will likely be given a chance to start the rest of the season. If that happens, you could do a lot worse than to start Cooper.

Brad Smith, Buffalo Bills (10 targets, 7 receptions, 72 yards): As a starter this weekend, Smith turned that opportunity into real production against the Tennessee Titans. Since David Nelson appears to be remaining as the slot receiver, Smith looks likely to continue to see a fair share of opportunities come his way.

Victor Cruz, New York Giants (9 targets, 7 receptions, 119 yards): Although overshadowed by Hakeem Nicks' big game, Cruz is on pace to shatter the Giants' single-season receiving yardage record, which is currently held by Amani Toomer (1,343 in 2002). Cruz's run has been improbable to say the least. Had it not been for injuries to Steve Smith and Mario Manningham, Cruz likely would have been used primarily as a special-teamer and fourth receiver this year. Instead, he's in the conversation for one of the top five wide receivers for the season.

Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions (7 targets, 6 receptions, 46 yards): In case you weren't watching, Smith is involved enough in the Lions' passing attack to warrant being started every week from here on out (as long as he's healthy). If the Lions ever realized that he's averaging almost six yards per carry, they might even make a more concerted effort to give him a decent number of rushing attempts too.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (7 targets, 4 receptions, 144 yards): I'm a true believer that you can win with Tim Tebow as your starting quarterback in the NFL. I'm not a believer in starting any of Tebow's receiving options until he can average 180-plus yards passing. Despite Thomas' prototypical size and speed, he needs to remain on your bench.

Brandon Saine, Green Bay Packers (6 targets, 4 receptions, 29 yards): For the record, while it appeared that Saine only got opportunities because of an injury to James Starks, Starks only had two games where he reached six targets in a game. Usually rookie running backs don't find themselves as key components in a team's passing attack. That's not the case for this undrafted free agent, who finds himself in a nice spot.

Big plays, up close

Johnson
Chris Johnson has three 100-yard games over the past four weeks, taking advantage of very favorable matchups.

There were 12 NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that went for at least 10 yards last week: Arian Foster (5), Chris Johnson (5), Marshawn Lynch (5), Ryan Mathews (5), Ray Rice (5), LeSean McCoy (4), Willis McGahee (4), Jonathan Stewart (4), Reggie Bush (3), Roy Helu (3), Brandon Jacobs (3) and Maurice Jones-Drew (3).

I'm still not buying into Chris Johnson's amazing resurgence. Sure, he has three 100-yard games in his last four contests, but the teams he excelled against -- the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Buffalo Bills -- rank 29th, 27th and 24th respectively in terms of rushing defense. The one good defense he faced, the Atlanta Falcons, bottled him up completely.

There were 17 NFL players who got two or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line this past week: Arian Foster (5), Cam Newton (5), Shonn Greene (4), LeSean McCoy (4), Frank Gore (3), Rashard Mendenhall (3), Joseph Addai (2), Lance Ball (2), Donald Brown (2), Reggie Bush (2), Roy Helu (2), Isaac Redman (2), Ray Rice (2), Jonathan Stewart (2), Beanie Wells (2), DeAngelo Williams (2) and Ricky Williams (2).

Of the group of runners with at least three such attempts, only Frank Gore failed to convert at least one attempt into a touchdown.

Donald Brown continues to produce very nicely in this area, even if his attempts came when the game was virtually out of reach. Regardless, he's made my deep sleeper list for 2012 based on his production over the past couple of weeks.

Cam Newton is a beast. For the season, he has converted nine of his 22 rushing attempts inside the 10 into touchdowns. For comparison, he has only attempted 13 pass attempts from the same range. Taking that one step further, Tom Brady has 36 passing attempts from this area. As most leagues reward more points for rushing touchdowns, Newton's opportunities from this field position are better for fantasy owners than the chances that Brady gets.

There were 67 rushes attempted inside the opponent's 10-yard line this past week. That is in line with the historical expectation for average number of rushes per game from this area of the field.

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