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Fantasy hints from next-level data

Shane Vereen had eight catches for 65 yards in his return to the field in Week 11. AP Photo/Bob Leverone

Last week, this column offered rankings for each fantasy football offensive position, by team, based on strength of fantasy schedule (SOFS) remaining.

This week, we'll take it a step further and give a breakdown for Weeks 12 to 13 -- which encompasses the remainder of most regular seasons -- as well as breakdowns for Weeks 14 to 17 and 14 to 16, as they represent the periods for most fantasy playoffs. This information is most useful as a tiebreaker when evaluating last-minute trade, lineup or waiver decisions.

The number in each column represents the average fantasy points being allowed by that team's opponents to each respective position group in the relevant weeks.

On target

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. So while your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to know whether it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If a receiver 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.

Below, you'll see all of the players who are averaging eight or more targets in their past four games, and how many of those targets were on plays that began in the red zone during Week 11.

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 actually 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 therefore should be more helpful to the fantasy community.

Fantasy insights based on data through Week 11

Shane Vereen is obviously the reason the New England Patriots didn't make a stronger attempt to re-sign Danny Woodhead. Vereen has played only two games this season, but he has racked up 21 targets in those two contests. Look for Vereen to be a valuable flex play, especially in PPR leagues, through the end of the season.

Juron Criner and Justin Blackmon will be dropping off the targets list in the next column. Neither is fantasy relevant. Blackmon is done for the year because of a suspension, and Criner is dealing with a serious shoulder injury.

• You might think the 17 targets that Andre Johnson received Sunday were related to the change at quarterback made during the game. That isn't the case. Johnson was targeted on nine of Matt Schaub's 25 attempts and eight times by Case Keenum, who threw 24 passes. The identity of the man slinging the pigskin won't affect Johnson's value.

• The Indianapolis Colts' top three receiving options this season -- Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener -- have combined for just 94 yards after contact. To put that into perspective, 13 players have more by themselves, led by Calvin Johnson's 178 yards after contact. Can you imagine how good Andrew Luck would be if his top options fought for additional yardage?

Matt Forte leads all running backs in terms of fantasy points per game scored since Week 7. The two running backs that are second and third might surprise you: Rashad Jennings and Chris Johnson. Earlier in the year, I thought Johnson was pretty much done. His recent performance has forced me to reevaluate that conclusion.

• How good is Calvin Johnson? The second-highest scoring wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas, has played one more game than Johnson, yet Johnson has outscored him by 24 fantasy points. It would require almost two more full games of average production from Thomas to catch Johnson. That means that Johnson is essentially three games better than the next best wide receiver. If you are looking for a fantasy MVP, Johnson's differential from other wide receivers establishes him as one of the front-runners.

Big plays and up close

There were eight NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each. They were: Bobby Rainey (5), Ben Tate (4), Ray Rice (3), Forte (3), LeSean McCoy (3), Donald Brown (3), Cam Newton (3) and Andre Brown (3).

Meanwhile, there were seven players with at least two carries from their opponent's 5-yard line or closer. They were: Rice (4), Marshawn Lynch (4), Maurice Jones-Drew (2), McCoy (2), Le'Veon Bell (2), Jamaal Charles (2) and Chris Ivory (2). Of this group, only Bell and Charles failed to score on at least one of these attempts.

While Rainey did not make the second group of players listed above, that's solely because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran the ball only once from inside the 5. Rainey got that carry and converted it for a 3-yard touchdown. While you might attribute a great deal of Rainey's performance to his playing against the Atlanta Falcons, that would be an oversimplification. Coming into the game, the Falcons gave up just half a fantasy point more per game to opposing running backs than the league average, so it's not as if it was an amazing matchup.

Don't be too discouraged by Andre Brown's single-digit production against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Brown still has the third-friendliest schedule for running backs remaining. If Brown's owner in your league is wavering on him, take advantage of that mistake.

Donald Brown is clearly the back to own in the Indianapolis Colts backfield, and it's simply because he's much quicker to the hole than Trent Richardson. Want proof? Brown has gained just 40.6 percent of his rushing yardage after contact (which is 31st among those with at least 50 rush attempts), while Richardson gains 51.4 percent of his yards after contact. That might make you think that Brown is easier to bring down, but the fact is that he outgains Richardson by almost a full yard per carry after contact (2.38 to 1.53).

Ray Rice's season has been defined by a complete lack of burst, but Rice appeared to reverse that with four rushes of 10 yards or more in Week 11. Don't think too much of it. Rice has only nine such rushes this year, which places him on pace for 14 for the entire season. His previous low in this metric was 23 in 2010, so even the resurgence this past week shouldn't be enough to lead anyone to believe that he has turned a corner.

Red zone play-calling chart

Below is a listing of the percentage of run/pass plays each team has executed this season in the red zone. Pass plays are defined as any play in which the quarterback attempted a pass or was sacked, and all other plays are deemed as a rush.

Ken Daube (@ESPNKenD) is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. He also hosts "Fantasy Football Now" with ESPNNewYork.com's Dave Rothenberg (@RothenbergESPN) on Sundays between 7 and 9 a.m. ET. The show, which answers phone calls and tweets, streams online at ESPNNewYork.com, or can be listened to live via the ESPN Radio app.