Based on average fantasy points per game, New England Patriots third-down running back Kevin Faulk finished as a top-50 running back in points-per-reception leagues last season. The year prior to that, he finished in the top 20. While what happened in 2008 and 2009 isn't completely applicable to this season, the role that Faulk had most definitely is.
Since Bill Belichick became the Patriots' head coach, the team has used a specific back as its primary third-down back. Now with Faulk on injured reserve, it appears that New York Jets cast-off Danny Woodhead has stepped forward and earned those responsibilities based on the seven targets he received this past week. While Woodhead won't finish among the top-20 backs this season, his potential to emerge as a legitimate third running back should not be overlooked, especially considering the only thing standing in the way of an even larger role is BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who coincidentally had fewer carries than Woodhead versus the Ravens. More carries for Woodhead than "Law Firm" is probably an abnormality, as five of Woodhead's carries came when the Patriots mounted their comeback while in a two-minute offense formation. Still, if Woodhead is available in your league, you should change that immediately.
The following players are averaging seven targets per game or more over the last four weeks:
Note: Reader arjoseph suggested that I include the standard deviation for the range of number of targets for each receiver and it's a fantastic idea. For those of you not familiar with the best way to interpret this data, all you have to know is players with large standard deviations (e.g., Danny Amendola) likely have at least one game with more or less targets, significantly altering their average, whereas those with small standard deviations (e.g., Brent Celek) have received a similar number of targets in each game. Finally, standard deviation can only be determined for data sets of two or greater, so if a player has only played in one game his standard deviation is listed as N/A for not applicable.
A look inside some of this week's receiving performances:
Mike Williams, Seattle Seahawks (15 targets; 10 receptions for 123 yards): Williams finished behind on Brandon Marshall (17) for most targets this past weekend and may still be available on some waiver wires. He has the physical attributes to become a solid fourth wideout in 10-team leagues.
Deion Branch, New England Patriots (12 targets; 9 receptions for 98 yards) and Wes Welker, New England Patriots (11 targets; 7 receptions for 53 yards): Much has been made on Branch's return to New England, and while it was impressive don't downgrade Welker because of it. Welker will be the more productive receiver in this duo because his role hasn't changed even with Randy Moss gone and the ball being spread around more.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions (12 targets; 7 receptions for 61 yards): If you are looking for the player who could deliver what you lost when Jermichael Finley was injured, Pettigrew is your guy. He's got similar physical attributes, and the Lions coaching staff loves him. Pettigrew has a strong chance to finish as a top-7 tight end this year.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (9 targets; 6 receptions for 108 yards): Bowe needed to have that kind of game against the Houston Texans to remain fantasy relevant. If you can sell him based on this past week for any level of value you feel acceptable, do it. Players I would target in trading Bowe away would include Derrick Mason and Santonio Holmes.
Mike Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars (9 targets; 8 receptions for 88 yards): Thomas has been a quiet producer over the past three weeks, scoring at least seven fantasy points in those games. He needs to break the goal line once or twice before he's startable, but with the number of targets he's been getting that might not be too far off.
Benjamin Watson, Cleveland Browns (9 targets; 6 receptions for 88 yards): For those of you who have lost Dallas Clark for an indefinite period of time, take a look at Watson to fill your need. While he was generally considered a fantasy bust with the Patriots, his level of receiving production in Foxborough was greatly affected by his use in the blocking game. With the Browns, he's receiving a solid amount of targets each week and has become a viable fantasy tight end.
Buster Davis, San Diego Chargers (8 targets; 3 receptions for 39 yards): With the real possibility that Antonio Gates, Legedu Naanee and Malcom Floyd will all miss the Chargers' Week 7 game against the Patriots, Davis and Patrick Crayton will be asked to step up. For those of you with bye issues this week, Davis is certainly worth a flier as a bye week fill-in.
Anthony Armstrong, Washington Redskins (7 targets; 5 receptions for 46 yards): Armstrong overtook veteran Joey Galloway as the second receiver in the Redskins offense Sunday. With the way Donovan McNabb likes to spread the ball around, Armstong should be owned in leagues with 12 or more teams immediately.
Big Plays and Up Close
The following players had three or more rushes that went for 10 or more yards this week: Ahmad Bradshaw (5), Chris Ivory (5), Frank Gore (4), Chris Johnson (4), Ryan Torain (4), Joseph Addai (3), Ronnie Brown (3), Jamaal Charles (3), Justin Forsett (3) and Thomas Jones (3).
Torain's performance should be all that you need to see to know that it's safe to start any running back against the Indianapolis Colts this season. In the past, you knew the defensive vulnerability for the Colts was versus the run, but their offense was so good that there were some games that teams had no choice but to choose to pass against them. This season while their offense still ranks among the league's best, the Colts have only one blowout, which is permitting teams to run deep into the fourth quarter.
While the Giants split their carries inside the 10 between Brandon Jacobs (4) and Ahmad Bradshaw (2), all of Jacobs' carries came from the Detroit Lions' 6-yard line or closer and none of Bradshaw's came inside the 5.
In the first four games of the season, Arian Foster had 16 carries that gained 10 or more yards. In his past two games, he has one. I'm not saying that Foster can't remain an elite back, but this should be at least a little bit disconcerting for his owners. Of course his next game is against the Colts, so you can expect a huge game there, but beyond that it may not be wise to project him as a top-5 back.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. His ESPN.com fan profile is available at: http://myespn.go.com/KenD17.