There's a commonality that exists among elite wide receivers that you may not be aware of: yards after the catch (YAC). In fact, the top five wide receivers in terms of fantasy points scored so far this season (Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Steve Smith, Jordy Nelson and Mike Wallace) all fall in the top six for wide receivers in YAC. Of course, this makes sense, because the more yards attained after a catch, the more likely a player is to score a touchdown.
Knowing that the top five fantasy wideouts occupy five of the six spots in the YAC rankings, the questions that beg to be answered are: Who is the other receiver in the top six, and should he be considered an elite fantasy option? The answer to those questions: Victor Cruz and absolutely.
Despite not being consistently featured in two-receiver sets until recently, Cruz has quietly morphed into the best receiving option on the New York Giants. Considering the presence of Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, that really is saying something. Consider these facts:
1. The Giants are 30th of the 32 NFL teams in terms of percentage of receiving yardage attained after the catch with just 40.5 percent.
2. Hakeem Nicks is averaging 4.0 yards per reception after the catch.
3. Mario Manningham comes in at just 1.6 yards for the same metric.
4. Cruz's performance in this metric is 6.7 yards (67.5 percent higher than Nicks, 318.8 percent higher than Manningham).
It's evident that Cruz is on everyone's radar just because he's currently ninth in terms of fantasy points scored so far this year. However, for those of you with late trade deadlines, it's possible you could buy him for less than what he is really worth. Those of you in keeper leagues need to make sure you make the appropriate adjustments in Cruz's value, because what these stats should be telling you is simple, even if it seems unbelievable: Victor Cruz is a top-five fantasy receiver.
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 per game during the past four weeks, 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.
Following is a list of players who are averaging seven or more targets per game during the past four weeks. An "N/A" designation in the standard deviation column simply means the player's data set does not have enough points to have a standard deviation determined.
Most Targets, Past 4 Weeks
Some general observations from Week 11 games:
Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati Bengals (13 targets, 8 receptions, 152 yards): No A.J. Green meant no worry for Andy Dalton, but the fact remains that the rest of the fantasy regular season is riddled with tough matchups for the Bengals' passing game. Fantasy playoffs present a much easier road, but by then Green should be back, which eliminates any real value for Simpson the rest of the way.
Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles (12 targets, 5 receptions, 75 yards): With the Eagles essentially in do-or-die mode for the rest of the season, Cooper stepped in admirably for the injured Jeremy Maclin. For as long as Maclin is out, Cooper is start-worthy in leagues with 12 or more teams.
Laurent Robinson, Dallas Cowboys (11 targets, 4 receptions, 34 yards): One week after flashing the potential that made him a deep sleeper for many years, Robinson reminded us that there's still work to be done. His touchdown in Week 11 notwithstanding, the need for Robinson to be on a roster is smaller than his ownership percentage dictates.
Damian Williams, Tennessee Titans (11 targets, 1 reception, 16 yards): Williams got an insane number of targets and Nate Washington was clearly the Titans' best receiver. That doesn't bode well for Williams' chances going forward.
Mike Williams (11 targets, 7 receptions, 83 yards) and Kellen Winslow, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11 targets, 9 receptions, 132 yards): You know how everyone has been killing the New England Patriots for how poorly their pass defense has been? The Green Bay Packers rank 31st in passing yardage allowed per game, just 10 yards better than the Patriots. With that in mind, view Williams and Winslow's production with a grain of skepticism before thinking they are going to be productive the rest of the way.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers (10 targets, 7 receptions, 120 yards): While not passing for a ton of yards, Alex Smith is posting top-10 numbers in terms of completion percentage and passer rating. If Crabtree can stay healthy, he may finally make the leap to being a valuable fantasy commodity.
Jake Ballard, New York Giants (7 targets, 1 reception, 13 yards): As good as Cruz has been the past two weeks for the Giants, Ballard has been the opposite. Despite being targeted 11 times in the past two games, Ballard has just 48 yards in those contests. Ballard has moved from waiver wire to must start to backup. Adjust your lineups accordingly.
Rob Gronkowski (7 targets, 4 receptions, 96 yards) and Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots (7 targets, 4 receptions, 44 yards): As much as the NFL is a copycat league, teams will be hard-pressed to copy the Patriots' offense, as Gronkowski and Hernandez are among the most athletic players at their position. Use both as every-week starters without hesitation.
Joe McKnight, New York Jets (7 targets, 6 receptions, 62 yards): All of the AFC teams that are .500 or better have .500 or better records in the conference as well, except the Jets. That doesn't bode well for potential wild-card tiebreakers for the Jets. As the season comes to an end, McKnight, and to a lesser extent Bilal Powell, could find themselves being given additional opportunities if the Jets decide to move away from Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson.
Big plays, up close
• Seven NFL players totaled three or more rushes that attained 10 or more yards each in Week 11: Kevin Smith (5), Christian Ponder (4), LeGarrette Blount (3), Michael Bush (3), LeSean McCoy (3), Marcel Reece (3) and Michael Turner (3).
Much has been written about how good Smith was against the Carolina Panthers, but I'm not buying it. The Panthers' run defense is among the league's worst in terms of average yards per run (27th in league) and rushes that go for 10 or more yards (28th). In addition, the Panthers have allowed eight different running backs to have at least three "big-play rushes" in a game this season.
Don't find any value in Marcel Reece's appearance on this list. It's a fluke that's attributable to how well the Oakland Raiders run block; it isn't indicative of any value Reece could have.
While it might be tempting to believe that Christian Ponder's rushing productivity came when the Raiders were playing prevent defense in the fourth quarter, that thought is completely wrong. Three of Ponder's big runs came in the game's first 23 minutes.
• Only eight NFL players were given three or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line in Week 11: Ray Rice (5), Michael Turner (5), Cedric Benson (3), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), Maurice Jones-Drew (3), Chris Ogbonnaya (3), Shane Vereen (3) and Vince Young (3). Of this group, only Green-Ellis and Young failed to score.
Vereen may be passing fellow rookie Stevan Ridley on the New England Patriots' depth chart. With Green-Ellis headed to free agency, don't be surprised if each of the two rookies gets an extended chance to perform down the stretch.
When looking at Ogbonnaya's 6-foot, 200-pound frame, many would assume that he's nothing more than a bruising running back who fits the role of Peyton Hillis very well. He does, but not in the manner you might be thinking. Last season, Hillis caught 3.8 passes per game. In his past five games, Ogbonnaya is averaging three catches per game.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. For game-day insights, follow him on twitter @KenDaubeESPNFF.