Opportunity in the NFL can translate to success in fantasy football. Are these target numbers a trend or an aberration for these players' fantasy football value? Do they deserve attention on fantasy football waiver wires?
Note: Last three weeks, not including byes, of utilizations (running backs) and targets (wide receivers and tight ends) for each player listed in parentheses. X means player was inactive. A listing of zero means he was active but not targeted.
Once again the New England passing landscape gets reshaped, this time as a result of Gronkowski's broken forearm, leaving the team with a large void to fill in the red zone. Gronk tallied a league-best eight scores from inside the 20 but is expected to miss multiple games. With Hernandez (ankle) due back on Thanksgiving, he becomes an obvious beneficiary here. This holiday return follows a three-game absence for Hernandez. As the fantasy playoffs are rapidly approaching look for imaginary dollar bills to replace Gronking when the Pats find the end zone.
Cobb salad tasty
The wide receiver position is also getting shaken up. After cutting into Welker's snaps the first three games of the season, Edelman supplanted Lloyd in two-receiver sets this week. The threat to Lloyd is legitimate after Edelman posted numerous highlights: catching his second touchdown of the season while adding a 47-yard run and a punt return for another score.
Of course, Edelman's best skill on offense is run blocking, so maybe that's where he'll return for his top plays. If Lloyd was cut, scoop him up on the off-chance he gets back in their good graces. The Patriots' backup tight ends will rotate too much to deserve your fantasy pursuit.
Weekly Saturday meetings with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a bye week to work on their lukewarm connection paid off for Finley in Week 11 (3-66-1). Despite talk of an expanded role for him, Finley is still playing about half the snaps on offense and has received just five targets over the last two games.
In addition to 21 targets, Cobb has been credited with five rushing attempts in the last two games as the Packers give their playmaker additional opportunities. Clearly, Nelson's return doesn't hurt Cobb in the least, but Jones got a season-low four targets and remains in slight danger of being bumped down another peg if Finley keeps improving.
It may look like Starks is pulling away after his second straight start at running back after Green struggled when he was asked to carry the load. However, Starks hasn't been all that exciting either, leaving head coach Mike McCarthy state he regretted not getting Green involved. Benson (foot) hopes to be ready to return on Dec. 9 for Week 14, perfect timing to crush the value if either of these backs manages to become viable options.
Parmelee has parked slumping Jennings on the sideline as he takes over as the Jags' lead back. However, Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) recently talked about a return in Week 13 so Parmelee might be a very short term lease.
Facing a vaunted Houston Texans defense in their building, quarterback Chad Henne dropped four touchdowns in relief of Blaine Gabbert (elbow). Henne will take over with Gabbert being placed on Injured Reserve; next up, he'll start against a bad Tennessee Titans defense.
Blackmon looked like he was back at O.K. State, connecting on deep throws all day from Henne. He'll be a top addition after an otherwise forgettable start to his rookie season, but Shorts and Lewis are also winners. Shorts scored and recorded a reception of 50-plus yards for the second straight game. Aside from a pair of touchdowns, Lewis posted his typical mediocre stat line in terms of catches and yards.
The Jags did a good job of exploiting cornerbacks Brice McCain and Kareem Jackson while avoiding Johnathon Joseph. If they can continue to exploit generous defenders and matchups like this, the remaining schedule looks very favorable.
Backfields in motion
Ronnie Hillman's value just shot a mile high after the Denver Broncos put Willis McGahee (knee) on Injured Reserve. Hillman recorded a 21-yard run but averaged just two yards per carry on his 11 other attempts. Lance Ball received half a dozen carries of his own and played a healthy number of snaps despite losing a fumble early in the second quarter. This looks like a timeshare, at least for starters, with Ball likely getting work on third down and some passing situations. Hillman's pass protection has improved, though, which is a key in sticking in a Peyton Manning-led lineup. Who knows: Maybe that Knowshon Moreno guy will get involved again.
Hillman won't run away with it
- In what has become a lost season, the Philadelphia Eagles have no reason to rush LeSean McCoy (concussion) back onto the field. Rookie Bryce Brown would take over if Shady is shut down for any amount of time, but the ceiling isn't too high. Crippled by a poor offensive line, the Birds are settling for short stuff to get rid of the ball, meaning Brown could offer a little PPR value.
- Without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ribs, shoulder), the running game of the Pittsburgh Steelers was unable to carry the offense against the venerable run defense of the Baltimore Ravens. Backup Byron Leftwich (ribs), who made the team's only highlight carrying the ball, will be replaced by 37-year-old Charlie Batch, further handicapping the chances of this offense. Jonathan Dwyer hasn't looked the same since his quadriceps injury. Rashard Mendenhall couldn't muster a run longer than five yards on his 11 carries. The coaching staff thinks Isaac Redman (concussion) will play in Week 12, but the situation is cloudy at the moment. If all the RBs are healthy, a three-headed backfield would limit consistent fantasy production.
- The playing time between Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory remains similar, but Ingram is the guy the New Orleans Saints trust to run the ball. Over the last two games, he's averaging 4.8 yards per carry on 28 totes. Just keep in mind that Ingram got a lot of his action when the Saints began to take command shortly after halftime, and they have stronger competition on the horizon. They aren't feeding Ingram a ton, but if he continues posting these respectable numbers, he should keep this role when Darren Sproles (hand) is ready to go, which could be this week.
- The Arizona Cardinals will get Beanie Wells (toe) back this week after the toter missed seven games. LaRod Stephens-Howling has done better than expected as the starter with two 100-yard games and three touchdowns in the last five games. LSH is a better fit for a team that struggles to stay in ball games, but Wells could force a timeshare if he shows that he has something to offer. Arizona is hoping he'll eventually carry the load, so they may force the issue.
- The New York Jets said they plan to stick with their three-man committee of Shonn Greene, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. Powell played two more snaps than the sluggish Greene and scored twice but can't be trusted in a busy platoon. The Jets offense couldn't be more inconsistent, so Powell's emergence is likely just a death knell for whatever value Greene still had.
- Despite a bad performance in relief of John Skelton, it appears that Ryan Lindley will remain the starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald headed into the bye week with a solid performance, but the abysmal nature of the Birds' quarterbacks and offensive line will make such games a rarity. Hopefully Lindley improves with a week of practice, but Fitz is a difficult player to start right now despite his elite talents.
- On the flip side, those invested in Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis, who was on fantasy life support with Alex Smith (concussion), are hoping the team decides to stick with Colin Kaepernick after he dressed down the Chicago Bears defense on Monday night. Even with Kaepernick, the team will run often, so Frank Gore appears unaffected while Kendall Hunter continues to get mixed in.
- When Donnie Avery (concussion) leaves the game, T.Y. Hilton blows up. After a hip injury in Week 9 and a concussion in Week 11 caused early exits for Avery, Hilton registered 100-yard efforts in each game, totaling a pair of touchdowns. Hilton failed to catch a pass in the contest in between those two, so he could offer up another head-scratcher if Avery is able to suit up.
- A solid game in Week 10 and an injury to Andrew Hawkins (knee) kept Mohamed Sanu on the field frequently. The passing game still goes through A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, but the scraps for Sanu, sometimes including a rushing attempt, give him relevance in the right matchup.
- With quarterback Matt Schaub taking to the air 55 times for the Houston Texans, his secondary tight end Garrett Graham converted eight of his nine targets into catches for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The team doesn't want to throw anywhere near that much, so this type of performance is unlikely to recur. It's still good to know Graham's name should Owen Daniels (hip) be forced to miss another game.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.
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