Yards after the catch are crucial not only to a receiver's value but to the value of a quarterback as well. Through seven weeks of the NFL season, there is a pretty good gauge of how quarterbacks are being affected by their receivers' ability to bust a short pass into a long play, so it's prudent to evaluate the effect wide receivers are having on quarterback production.
It probably comes as no surprise that the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots are three of seven teams that average more than 70 yards after the catch from their wide receivers each week. Care to take a guess at the other four teams? They might just surprise you. They are the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Looking at that information, I recommend giving each of those teams' starting quarterbacks a minor incremental bump in value for the rest of the year. When you consider that the Redskins have been without their projected No. 1 receiver, Pierre Garcon, for most of the season, Robert Griffin III's performance is that much more impressive.
On the other hand, it's time to devalue quarterbacks who aren't getting the support from their wide receivers that the rest of the league is getting. The bottom seven teams in YAC are the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs.
I don't know about you, but I was absolutely shocked to see the Eagles in this category. Entering this season, it was expected that the Eagles receiving corps would be a source of strength on a team that many projected to challenge the New York Giants for NFC East supremacy. While it is easy to pick apart Michael Vick's performance -- particularly the large number of turnovers he is responsible for -- the lack of support he is getting from Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson is borderline criminal.
Similarly, finding Matt Schaub in this group was surprising, but it's a great indicator as to why he is behind Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill in terms of passing yards per game. Andre Johnson averaging his lowest yards per catch since 2006 doesn't exactly help.
Most Targets, Week 7
Receiving yardage is the most variable form of yardage, which makes sense because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. Because of this, variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback can greatly change a player's value. While your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to know if it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If he had one target that he turned into a 40-yard touchdown, you need to realize that he was one quarterback decision away from posting a goose egg. Conversely, if your wideout had 12 targets and finished with 108 yards receiving, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater.
Here are the players who received seven or more targets in Week 7, what their average number of targets is per game and how many of them were on plays that began in the red zone.
Note: Targets are not an official NFL statistic. Based on the methodology that stat services use, the number of targets listed may be different than target values listed elsewhere. ESPN Stats & Information's philosophy is to count a target when the analyst thinks the pass was intended for the player. Therefore, if a quarterback is obviously throwing a ball away, the analyst will not record a target for that pass. This gives a truer representation of what a target is -- a pass thrown to a particular player with the intent for that player to catch the ball -- and should be more helpful to the fantasy community.
Most Targets, Week 7
• Seventeen players have at least eight red zone targets this season. Among those 17, just one is without multiple receiving touchdowns: Calvin Johnson. Forget about things like the Madden Curse; Johnson's lack of touchdowns is a fluke. If anyone is selling him shorter than his draft-day valuation, you should pounce on the ability to acquire Megatron.
• Martellus Bennett shares the league lead in drops in the red zone this season with the two players who finished first and third respectively in receiving touchdowns last season, Rob Gronkowski and Jordy Nelson.
• Shonn Greene's eight targets this week represent 62 percent of his season total, and there's no doubt in my mind that Tony Sparano had planned that usage. New York Jets wide receivers managed only 14 yards after the catch against the Patriots, so it seems that Sparano designed the wide receiver routes so the Patriots defensive backs would follow and vacate space for Greene to exploit. It will be interesting to see if the St. Louis Rams follow suit.
• Brandon Lloyd produced an almost empty box score, but Tom Brady looked his way pretty often against the Jets. After being an elite receiver the past two seasons, Lloyd is relegated to the fourth option in the Patriots' passing attack. Those of you needing help in keeper leagues should target Lloyd, as his value will increase if Wes Welker leaves the Patriots after the season.
• Heath Miller had another three red zone targets this week and is tied with Marques Colston for the league lead with 13. Take a guess which receiver trails them only one in that category? Hint: He was targeted only nine times in the red zone all of last season. The answer can be found at the end of the column.
Big plays and up close
Ten players totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each (five more than the previous week): Jonathan Dwyer (5), Frank Gore (5), Adrian Peterson (5), Chris Johnson (4), Robert Griffin III (3), Fred Jackson (3), Mikel Leshoure (3), Doug Martin (3), Cam Newton (3) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (3).
Seven players were given at least two carries inside their opponent's 5-yard line (down from nine last week): Arian Foster (3), LeGarrette Blount (3), Andrew Luck (2), Jamie Harper (2), LaRod Stephens-Howling (2), Shonn Greene (2) and Trent Richardson (2). Of this group, only Blount and Richardson failed to score from this range.
Stephens-Howling gets welcomed to both lists for the first time this season. With the Arizona Cardinals' porous offensive line, it's tough to gauge whether this is for real or a one-game fluke. However, if you just lost Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings is already on another roster, you can probably trade for Stephens-Howling at a better price than what it will cost to secure Jennings.
Mikel Leshoure's presence on the big-play rush list might look encouraging, but it isn't. For the season, Leshoure has only six rushes that have resulted in gains of 10 or more yards. Four of those six have come when the Detroit Lions were trailing by at least eight points. Of course, the way the Lions are playing, they might be finding themselves in that position more than we initially anticipated.
The New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the only teams in the NFL that allow more than 70 yards after the catch per game to opposing wide receivers. No other team in the league allows more than 62 YAC per game to opposing wide receivers. If you own any Steelers or Broncos wide receivers, they become an automatic start this week. Even with the favorable matchup against the Redskins, I don't think you can start a Vikings wide receiver not named Percy Harvin. I mean, seriously, Michael Jenkins? How desperate can you be?
Only three teams permit fewer than 40 yards after the catch per game to opposing wide receivers: the Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks. Is anyone else shocked that the Panthers are best in the league in this metric? If you take a look at their performance this season, you might view Brandon Marshall versus the Panthers this week as a prime matchup. These numbers don't support that premise. For the season, Marshall is averaging just over 26 yards after the catch per game, which represents 78 percent of the average total yards after the catch per game that the Panthers allow to opposing wide receivers. Based on this, I'd likely rank Marshall just inside the top 30 wide receivers for this week.
The Patriots have brought five or more pass-rushers on only three occasions this season while they held a lead. On the two occasions where there were at least 10 yards to go, their opponents converted first downs against the Patriots' blitz. Maybe this is why Bill Belichick's squad doesn't blitz that often.
The answer to the trivia question posted earlier in the column is Victor Cruz. Until next week, thanks for reading!
Note: Statistical information used within this column was compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.