It would surprise almost nobody that since Week 11 of last season, no team has amassed more rushing yards than the New York Jets. Ask people to guess which team finished second over that time period, and it's unlikely that you'll find anyone who can give you the correct answer. I give you this little tidbit of information to challenge your evaluation of a particular player.
Last week, I recommended selling high on Frank Gore because of the abnormally high number of targets he was receiving and his lack of production within the San Francisco 49ers' running attack. In the comments section, there were a few readers who challenged me on that call and asked me to name player I would target if I traded Gore. Obvious names would populate everyone's list, but Peyton Hillis is among the group of players that would make my list. It may seem crazy, but consider the facts.
• The Cleveland Browns rank second to the New York Jets in average rushing yards per game since Week 11 of last season.
• Hillis is tied for 10th in the league for carries that gained 10 or more yards.
• No running back with six or more rushes inside his opponent's 10-yard line (I-10) has converted a higher percentage of those rushes into touchdowns than Hillis (Mike Tolbert and Rashard Mendenhall tie Hillis at 50 percent).
• The Browns' remaining schedule features three games against teams ranked among the 10 best run defenders (twice against the Pittsburgh Steelers, once vesus the New York Jets).
Returning to Gore, my dislike for him isn't related solely to how many targets he is receiving, it's also because he hasn't shown the same level of explosiveness in the carries he has received. Consider this: Last season, Gore broke a run of at least 10 yards on 10 percent of his carries. This year, that number is down to just 6.8 percent. While that drop may not seem significant, it is. Through four games, Gore's longest run went for 20 yards. In 2009, Gore produced at least one rush for at least 25 yards in half of his games. That statistic is the prime reason why Gore's average yards per carry has dropped from the impressive 4.9 yards last season to the pedestrian 3.7 yards this season.
Targets per game through Week 4
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts (19 targets in Week 4, 15 receptions): Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Wayne has faced the Jacksonville Jaguars three times. During those games, Wayne has amassed 162, 132 and 196 receiving yards, respectively. In his other 17 games during the same time period, Wayne has broken the 100-yard mark three times (against the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals).
Mark Clayton, St. Louis Rams (14 targets, 5 receptions): If you picked up Clayton after his Week 1 breakout performance, you might question whether he's in a position to ever make his way into your lineup. There's no need to do so. The St. Louis Rams could have easily buttoned up their offense at any point on Sunday, but they continued to allow rookie quarterback Sam Bradford to try to air it out. Clayton remains Bradford's favorite receiver, which leaves Clayton as a viable fourth wide receiver on your fantasy team.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (11 targets, 7 receptions): If you own Fitzgerald, you likely spent an early second-round selection to grab him. With the possibility that rookie Max Hall becomes the Cardinals' starter, it's imperative that you watch Fitzgerald's targets over the next two weeks. If Fitzgerald fails to attain double-digit targets in both of those games, bail on him as quickly as possible.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions (11 targets, 8 receptions): While the Lions were playing catchup most of the day Sunday, a closer look at the box score shows that Pettigrew's opportunities were part of the game plan. The second-year tight end received seven targets in the first half and should be owned in leagues with at least 12 teams.
Devery Henderson (9 targets, 6 receptions); Marques Colston (8 targets, 4 receptions); Lance Moore (8 targets, 5 receptions); Jeremy Shockey (8 targets, 6 receptions), New Orleans Saints: The targets listed here demonstrate why Colston's ceiling this year is as a second wide receiver for your fantasy squad.
Braylon Edwards, New York Jets (7 targets, 4 receptions): Edwards has enjoyed a mini-resurgence early this season. Don't expect it to last. Santonio Holmes will become the Jets' first option in their aerial attack, and Dustin Keller will be their primary red-zone mismatch. That leaves Edwards as the third-best receiving option on a team that is best when it runs the ball.
Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills (6 targets, 1 reception): The one reception Sunday is an indicator that Antonio Cromartie is playing really well. If Darrelle Revis returns from injury as a dominant lockdown corner, the New York Jets are going to start living up to the high opinion their head coach has of them.
Big Plays and Up Close
The following is the list of NFL players who had three or more rushes that went for at least 10 yards this week: Ahmad Bradshaw (5), Mike Tolbert (5), Cedric Benson (3), Ryan Fitzpatrick (3), Chris Ivory (3), Steven Jackson (3), LaDainian Tomlinson (3), Ryan Torain (3) and Ricky Williams (3). Other than Jackson and Benson, none of those players were drafted in the first four rounds of any fantasy draft. Tolbert, Ivory and Torain were all undrafted in most leagues.
Ladell Betts did something quite amazing this weekend. He received two carries inside the opponent's I-10 and produced a net loss of nine yards. On his best I-10 carry, he lost three yards. In short, he basically flushed away his chance to be a touchdown vulture in the future.
If Brandon Jacobs has any chance of being fantasy relevant, he has to become the sole option for the New York Giants once they get close to the goal line. Unfortunately for Jacobs, he and Bradshaw each received one I-10 carry. While Jacobs scored, so did Bradshaw, which means Bradshaw should continue to receive a share of those opportunities. To solidify this finding, Bradshaw's carry came on first down from the Chicago Bears' 3-yard line.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: http://myespn.go.com/KenD17.