Next-level data provides fantasy hints

Tips for owners who are still alive in the final weeks of the fantasy playoffs

Updated: December 11, 2013, 10:22 AM ET
By Ken Daube | Special to ESPN.com

BroncosJohn Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning and the Broncos have been wildly productive this season, by any measure.

Welcome to this season's final installment of Trendspotting. I hope that you have enjoyed the fantasy season as much as I have, and that you are reading this column looking forward to competing for a fantasy championship next week. Throughout the season, we have explored next-level data in an attempt to gain tactical advantages, usually by identifying players who were significantly over- or under-valued. This week, I wanted to take the opportunity to first thank you for reading the column, while also providing some statistics regarding just how impressive the Denver Broncos' offense has been in 2013.

Here are some fun statistics regarding Denver's offense (and some of their less successful counterparts elsewhere in the NFL):

• The Broncos have run 163 plays in the red zone
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets have combined for a total of 159 red-zone snaps so far this season
• The Broncos have run 105 snaps in the red zone since Week 6
• Fifteen NFL teams don't have 105 red zone snaps for the year
Peyton Manning has eight games in which he posted a Total QBR above 80
Drew Brees (6) is the only other quarterback with more than five such games
• The Broncos' offense has scored 16 touchdowns on plays that originated outside of the red zone
• The Baltimore Ravens have two such touchdowns
• Four Broncos players have scored at least ten touchdowns
• There are only 12 players in the NFL with at least that many scores
Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland and Chris Ivory share the lead for touchdowns scored for the Jets, with three scores each

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 14.

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 14

Shane Vereen is an absolute must-start for the remainder of the season. He is the No. 1 receiving option for the New England Patriots. This does not detract from Julian Edelman's value, as Edelman will be very playable from here on out, but is rather a statement about how valuable Vereen's presence is, especially now that Rob Gronkowski is done for the year.

Da'Rick Rogers played on 40 of the 58 snaps that Andrew Luck's Indianapolis Colts offense was on the field on Sunday. Rogers went undrafted due to concerns about his character, and was subsequently cut by both the receiver-needy Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins earlier this year. However, Rogers has the measurables to be a productive wide receiver in the NFL, and is worth a flier in keeper leagues.

• Don't look now, but Dwayne Bowe has been useful of late. The Kansas City Chiefs have a favorable matchup for their wide receivers this week against the Oakland Raiders, and have the third-friendliest schedule for receivers for the rest of the season.

• After being targeted 36 times in his first eight games (4.5 per game), Roddy White has been targeted 24 times in the last two weeks (12.0 per game). If you had White on your roster throughout all that pain, the good times are here.

Big plays and up close

There were nine NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each in Week 14. They were: DeMarco Murray (7), LeSean McCoy (6), Matt Forte (5), Jamaal Charles (5), Giovani Bernard (5), Toby Gerhart (3), Ryan Mathews (3), Montee Ball (3) and Andre Brown (3).

Meanwhile, there were ten players with at least two carries from their opponent's 5-yard line or closer. They were: Mathews (4), Charles (3), Ball (3), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2), Bernard Pierce (2), McCoy (2), Marcel Reece (2), Peyton Hillis (2), Rashard Mendenhall (2) and Zac Stacy (2). Pierce, McCoy and Reece all failed to convert at least one of these carries into six points; the others were successful at least once.

Seeing that McCoy didn't convert his chances from in close probably doesn't bother too many of his owners, especially since he ran for two long touchdowns.

McCoy, Charles, Matt Forte, Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson all have 30 rushes that resulted in 10 yards or more over the course of the season. Lynch and Charles are the only two running backs in the league with more than 15 carries from inside the opponent's 5-yard line. That's exactly what you want from your first-round selection, and it's why their owners are likely still alive in the playoffs.

Montee Ball is quickly moving up my running back ranks for next season. His blocking skills continue to improve, and he has been the more effective running back in Denver for the past several weeks. While Knowshon Moreno is still a strong fantasy commodity, if he were a stock, I would short it and buy low on Ball.

Joique Bell and Stevan Ridley each have eight carries inside the 5. Both have converted six of those opportunities into touchdowns. With Reggie Bush likely limited and Gronkowski out, both players will have their roles elevated in the coming weeks. That's some decent luck for their owners.

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.

As I conclude this week's column, I want to thank Hank Gargiulo from ESPN Stats & Analysis for the support he lends to this column on a weekly basis. I am truly appreciative of his work, and he deserves recognition for those contributions. Without his efforts, the column would not have been as effective, as it could not provide nearly as much information.

Thanks again to everyone for reading and good luck for the remainder of the season.

Ken Daube

Fantasy Football
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Fantasy Football Now" with Dave Rothenberg on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET, which streams at ESPNNewYork.com, and can also be listened to via the ESPN Radio app.

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