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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Harvin, Gonzalez gaining in targets

By Ken Daube
Special to ESPN.com

While it's certainly my goal to be right as often as possible, it's quite impossible to achieve such performance in the fantasy football world. Throughout the year, I've tried to present my opinions alongside some informational nuggets that hopefully allowed you to better understand my logic for the recommendations. If you agreed, awesome, and if not, well, that's mighty cool, as well.

The further into the schedule that this season becomes, the less impactful this type of column can be. NFL players are now very much defined into their roles and those players who do experience changes in their roles get mentioned in columns like Matthew Berry's weekly column, so continuing this column past this point in the season becomes overkill. Therefore it should come as no surprise that today's column will mark the final Trendspotting of the season.

It's been an awesome ride taking you through the regular season by trying to at least make you aware of some of the statistical variations. As early as Week 2, this column went against the grain and recommended placing your eggs in Ryan Mathews' basket as opposed to the one carried by Mike Tolbert. At the time Tolbert was the eighth-highest-scoring running back in the league, but this column correctly predicted that you wanted Mathews. Tolbert has plummeted to 22nd overall, while Mathews is now a top-10 back.

Please allow me to extend my gratitude that you've allowed me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you on a weekly basis. It's been an honor, and one that I don't take lightly.

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 as 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, while 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 14 games:

Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings (15 targets, 10 receptions, 69 yards): Since the Vikings' Week 9 bye, Harvin has been targeted eight times or more in every game. The only other players in the NFL to be targeted that much in each game during the same time period are Jimmy Graham and Victor Cruz. That's impressive company.

Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos (13 targets, 7 receptions, 78 yards): In games in which he has been targeted at least seven times, Thomas is averaging almost 16 fantasy points per game. He looks clearly to be Tim Tebow's No. 1 passing option, which may just be worth something.

Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez is third among tight ends in yards, touchdowns and fantasy points even though he was drafted 12th at the position on average entering the year.

Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons (11 targets, 7 receptions, 82 yards): Thought to be over the proverbial hill, Gonzalez has re-emerged as a legitimate top-tier option at tight end. With Julio Jones and Roddy White able to stretch the field, the Falcons are finding that Gonzalez can still dominate over the middle. His production isn't all about the number of targets he's been getting. Younger tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Kellen Winslow have been targeted almost as much as Gonzalez but are approximately 50 fantasy points behind Gonzalez's production.

Hakeem Nicks (11 targets, 8 receptions, 163 yards) and Victor Cruz, New York Giants (8 targets, 6 receptions, 74 yards): If you started or played against either, you should double-check your box score. A catch that was originally credited to Cruz has been changed to Nicks.

Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (10 targets, 6 receptions, 69 yards): You may be tempted to bench him based on the quality of play from the quarterback position for the Chiefs. Have no such reservations; Bowe is getting his chances, which should continue throughout the rest of the season.

Owen Daniels, Houston Texans (10 targets, 7 receptions, 100 yards): For as long as Andre Johnson is sidelined this time, Daniels will be the Texans' primary receiving option. He's likely rostered as a backup tight end, but should be started over any tight end whose last name doesn't begin with the letter G.

Wes Welker, New England Patriots (10 targets, 7 receptions, 86 yards): Amazingly, Welker is no longer the most targeted player in the NFL; that honor now belongs to Roddy White.

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons (8 targets, 3 receptions, 104 yards): It almost appeared as if Matt Ryan was forcing throws to Jones for most of the day. Considering how productive Gonzalez and White were, maybe it's time to really question Ryan's decision making.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland Raiders (7 targets, 5 receptions, 78 yards): Heyward-Bey should be moving up in status from good bench player to sleeper for next year. DHB now has seven or more fantasy points in six of his past eight games.

Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints (7 targets, 6 receptions, 35 yards): Don't view Thomas' receiving production as indicative of an increase in value. He's still not getting enough touches to warrant a place in your starting lineup.

Big plays, up close

There were 11 NFL players who had three or more rushes of at least 10 yards: Reggie Bush (5), Marshawn Lynch (5), Toby Gerhart (4), Roy Helu (4), Felix Jones (4), Ryan Grant (3), Steven Jackson (3), Brandon Jacobs (3), Ryan Mathews (3), Rashard Mendenhall (3) and Ben Tate (3).

Ben Tate
Ben Tate's big-play ability could lead to bigger things fantasy-wise next year.

Take a look at your league's draft results. Other than Jackson, Mendenhall and Jones, it's highly unlikely that anyone else was drafted in the first five rounds of your league's draft.

Ben Tate now has turned 21.9 percent of his rush attempts into gains of 10 or more yards. That's not only the highest percentage in the league among players with at least 6.25 attempts per game; it's the highest rate for any running back since 1991. The only other players above 20 percent in this metric are quarterbacks Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. LeSean McCoy is the next-highest back, coming in at 18.2 percent. Tate's teammate Arian Foster gains at least 10 yards on 10.2 percent of his carries. Don't be surprised to see Tate's role grow next season, especially if he can minimize his propensity to fumble.

There were 12 NFL players who were given two or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line this past week: Roy Helu (5), Maurice Jones-Drew (5), Brandon Jacobs (4), Rashard Mendenhall (4), Michael Bush (3), Shonn Greene (3), LeSean McCoy (3), Donald Brown (2), Peyton Hillis (2), Steven Jackson (2), Mark Sanchez (2) and Mike Tolbert (2). Of this group, Helu, Mendenhall, Brown and Hillis failed to score from this range.

Through Week 11, Shonn Greene accounted for 71 percent of the New York Jets' carries inside the opponent's 10-yard line that were given to running backs. Over the last two weeks, that number has grown to 88 percent and he averaged 15.5 fantasy points per game over that span.

There were just 58 rushes attempted inside the opponent's 10-yard line this past week. That is significantly below 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.