One of the biggest things fantasy owners must face each season is the ability to change their opinion on a player.
Those owners who appropriately change their opinions on players' values in a timely fashion usually walk away with some sort of hardware after the season. With that in mind, I present a player for whom I believe a change in valuation is desperately necessary: Mark Ingram.
When Ingram was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, many fantasy footballers reveled in the theory that the Saints selected him to be their primary rushing weapon and almost definite goal-line back for their high-powered attack. In fantasy drafts, those expectations helped Ingram become the 68th player selected, on average, in ESPN standard leagues, and, based on his current 100 percent ownership rate, it looks as if the preseason hype and expectations are adversely influencing fantasy owners at this point.
Through five games this season, Ingram has amassed just 233 total yards. He has just three runs of 10 yards or longer. The supposed goal-line beast has converted just one of his 10 carries inside his opponent's 10-yard line into a score. To put those numbers into perspective: Of the top 25 running backs in terms of carries this season, Ingram is 24th in terms of percentage of rushes that have gone for 10 or more yards (4.8 percent). Although conventional wisdom might suggest that Ingram's low number of rushes for 10-plus yards likely is caused by the high number of short-yardage situations he is used in, the numbers don't entirely bear that out. Fifteen of Ingram's 62 carries have come in 2-yards-or-less-to-go situations, and, if you were to discount those carries, Ingram would have just two carries that went for 10 yards or more in 47 carries, which would reduce his big-play success to just 4.3 percent.
So if Ingram isn't going to be a yardage monster, he needs to be a goal-line specialist to be starter-worthy in fantasy. Once again, Ingram has converted just one carry inside the opponent's 10-yard line into six points for the Saints. Of the players with at least 10 carries inside the opponent's 10-yard line, none has a lower touchdown success ratio than Ingram's 10 percent. If you want some perspective on just how futile Ingram has been in this category, consider this: The other six players with at least 10 such carries combine to average a 30.5 percent touchdown success rate on those carries.
Receiving yardage is variable because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. The variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback may greatly alter a player's value. It's important to look at the underlying target metric on a weekly basis to determine which stud performances were flukes and which dud performances can be written off to a bad day.
With that in mind, the table below not only lists players who are averaging at least seven targets a game but also provides the standard deviation of the game numbers. Players with a low deviation have a similar number of targets each game, and players with larger deviations have larger swings in the number of targets seen on a game-to-game basis.
Season Leaders, Targets Per Game
General observations from Week 5 games:
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland Raiders (12 targets, 7 receptions, 99 yards): If you ignore his game versus the New York Jets, which is reasonable considering he was returning from a knee injury and the Raiders were running the ball down the Jets' throats, Heyward-Bey is averaging 8.7 targets per game this season. Although you shouldn't feel comfortable starting him on a week-to-week basis, he makes for a solid option as a bye-week filler, especially in deeper leagues.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs (11 targets, 7 receptions, 128 yards): There might not be a more frustrating receiver to own than Bowe, but he's on a hot streak right now that cannot be ignored. Bowe is capable of being a top-five receiver in the league for a short period of time, but know that it's a good idea to trade him while his stock is highest because of the potential for his production to fall off a cliff.
Jacoby Jones, Houston Texans (11 targets, 1 reception, 9 yards): Jones' stat line from Sunday would allow for the casual player to easily miss the fact that the Texans gave the chances that normally would fall to Andre Johnson to Jones. Jones is capable of filling that role in a way that makes him a solid fantasy option.
Dane Sanzenbacher, Chicago Bears (10 targets, 6 receptions, 64 yards): Those of you in deeper leagues should take note of Sanzenbacher. He has seven or more targets in three of his five games and has been targeted on five of Jay Cutler's 16 throws inside the red zone.
Aaron Hernandez, New England Patriots (9 targets, 5 receptions, 56 yards): Hernandez has played three games this season. In all three games, he has been targeted eight or more times. On most teams, having two receiving tight ends would be suicidal for fantasy productivity, but Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez complement each other so well that they actually are positive influences on each other's fantasy value.
Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (9 targets, 6 receptions, 50 yards): Those who selected White as one of the top three receivers off the board no doubt are disappointed with his year-to-date performance. Well, don't be. Matt Ryan has been nothing but awful on passes that have traveled more than 19 yards in the air. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan is just 2-of-14 this season on that type of pass. Ryan has been known as one of the more accurate downfield passers in his brief career, so expect him to rebound, which would in turn raise White's value.
Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9 targets, 4 receptions, 28 yards): I was alone on an island when I picked Josh Freeman as my bust quarterback this year. My logic was simple: His completion percentage and TD/INT ratio last season were far removed from what he had posted in college. Williams' drop in fantasy production is tied completely to Freeman's reverting to the form he displayed before last season.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles (8 targets, 6 receptions, 54 yards): If it weren't for the two-point performance Maclin posted in Week 1 while he was still getting into game shape, we'd be looking at Maclin as a top-10 receiver. Maclin's value is wrongly depressed because of DeSean Jackson being his teammate. Don't worry about Jackson's presence because Maclin is a stud, and he should be valued as such.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans (7 targets, 5 receptions, 116 yards): A big part of Foster's amazing run to "most valuable fantasy player" status last season was his involvement in the Texans' passing game. This Sunday, the Texans seemed to make a conscious effort to get him involved in that manner. While Foster was out, Ben Tate was targeted only eight times.
Marques Colston, Saints (6 targets, 5 receptions, 69 yards): Although picking which Saints receiver is going to score is difficult because of the way Drew Brees spreads the football around, Colston's performance Sunday showed that he is back to full health and can be counted on to be the most consistent wide receiver option on one of the NFL's premier passing attacks.
Denarius Moore, Raiders (6 targets, 0 receptions, 0 yards): Chalk up this performance to growing pains and keep him on your roster because of the number of targets he received. This bagel should be attributed to Johnathan Joseph's coverage of Moore, but if something similar happens again in the next two games, feel free to bail on him.
Big plays, up close
Fourteen NFL players totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each: Jahvid Best (5), Matt Forte (5), Frank Gore (5), Ryan Mathews (5), Willis McGahee (5), Adrian Peterson (5), Jackie Battle (4), LeSean McCoy (4), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), Fred Jackson (3), Maurice Jones-Drew (3), Marshawn Lynch (3), Michael Vick (3) and DeAngelo Williams (3).
Regardless of your situation, Battle is worthy of the first waiver slot in your league. Ignore the ineptness of the Indianapolis Colts' defense and focus on the facts that Thomas Jones has been a nonfactor and that Matt Cassel is showing signs of life. Battle is going to be given every chance to be the primary ball carrier for the Chiefs, and, based on early returns, whoever owns him in your league is going to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Last week's column highlighted how Cam Newton is the primary running weapon for the Carolina Panthers once they are inside their opponent's 10-yard line. The only way Williams or Jonathan Stewart is going to have fantasy value is if either one can break big plays. Well, Williams' tally of three big-play carries this week gives him five in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, Stewart has just two in those same two weeks. If this continues, Stewart should be relegated to the waiver wire in ESPN.com standard leagues.
Thirteen NFL players were given two or more rushes inside their opponent's 10-yard line: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (4), Isaac Redman (4), Cam Newton (3), Adrian Peterson (3), Michael Robinson (3), Delone Carter (2), Arian Foster (2), Frank Gore (2), Shonn Greene (2), Mark Ingram (2), Fred Jackson (2), Maurice Jones-Drew (2) and Mike Tolbert (2). Of that group, only Redman, Robinson, Foster and Tolbert failed to score.
Thirty-three of Green-Ellis' 77 carries have come when the Patriots are winning by seven or fewer points. In those carries, Green-Ellis is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. That success is likely to keep Green-Ellis as the Patriots' closer, much like the way he was used this past Sunday against the Jets.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. For game-day insights, follow him on twitter @KenDaubeESPNFF.