Welcome to the 2013-14 version of Trendspotting, a unique fantasy football advice column that, based on data provided by ESPN Stats & Information, aims to look at key performance indicators and other factors that impact production rather than the end-result fantasy point totals.
For those familiar with this column -- welcome back.I am excited to return after the effects of Hurricane Sandy prevented me from writing this column for the second half of 2012, and grateful to be blessed with an ESPN.com managerial staff that allowed me to step away and still take me back. For those of you finding this column for the first time -- know that the goal of this column is not always to provide my opinion on why Player A is better than Player B, but rather to give you more information so you can make appropriate changes in player valuations.
Trendspotting will initially focus on the following metrics: the number of targets that top receiving options are getting, the number of carries that running backs are receiving near the opponent's goal line, and the number of times a running back breaks a run for more than 10 yards. As the season progresses, the column can morph into other statistical analysis, and I'd love to involve readers in selecting which other stats they'd like to see -- so if you have a request, post it in the comments section below and we'll see what can be done.
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 in Week 1, you need to know if it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If he 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 receiving yards, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater. In the chart below, you'll see all the players who received eight or more targets in Week 1, and how many of those targets were on plays that began in the red zone.
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. The philosophy of ESPN Stats & Information 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 -- i.e., 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 Week 1
• Julian Edelman is getting much love this week after he admirably filled in for the temporarily sidelined Danny Amendola, but it's important to realize that Tom Brady wasn't shy in giving opportunities to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. With Amendola likely out this week, it's not unreasonable to expect the New York Jets to cover Edelman with Antonio Cromartie, leaving Thompkins as a good desperation play.
• Much has been written about how old Dallas Clark looked Thursday night against the Denver Broncos. While I will agree that he didn't get great separation, he is still the third-best receiving option -- behind Torrey Smith and Ray Rice -- that Joe Flacco has until Jacoby Jones returns. Look for Clark to still receive a steady diet of targets until that happens.
• Kellen Winslow is a very sneaky fantasy play this week against the New England Patriots. With limited talent at wide receiver, Geno Smith threw to Winslow on 21 percent of his pass attempts in Week 1. Last season, the Patriots allowed 8.2 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, and while Scott Chandler didn't do much in Week 1, a lot of that was because rookie quarterback EJ Manuel passed for only 150 yards.
• If you don't know who Travis Benjamin is, don't worry. He's starting at wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns opposite Greg Little while Josh Gordon is serving a suspension. Gordon will return to relevance once that suspension is over. Jordan Cameron, however, is a completely different story. Despite not really having much of a collegiate career (16 catches in three years at USC), Cameron was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft and was selected as a sleeper by so many fantasy analysts that he wound up losing his sleeper status as drafts progressed. If he's somehow on your league's waiver wire, he's the top tight end free agent. Yes, ahead of Julius Thomas.
• Reggie Wayne, Julio Jones, Jerome Simpson and Doug Baldwin were the only wide receivers with at least eight targets and with reception percentages of 85 percent or better. While Wayne and Jones really can't drive more opportunities to themselves based on how involved they already are, Simpson and Baldwin are another story. Simpson has shown to be incredibly athletic in the past, and with Cordarrelle Patterson being limited due to injury, Simpson had an opportunity to shine. Baldwin, on the other hand, is behind established receivers in Seattle and will have to continue to have a significant impact with limited opportunities.
• The Patriots lost Shane Vereen to an injury that caused them to move him to injured reserve with the "designated to return" label, so look for the Pats to utilize Leon Washington as their backfield receiving threat. Stevan Ridley may seem safer with Vereen out of the picture, but don't discount Bill Belichick's willingness to bench a player for making significant mental errors, even if a comparably skilled alternative isn't available.
Big plays and up close
There were eight NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each. They were: LeSean McCoy (6), Vereen (4), Reggie Bush (4), Terrelle Pryor (3), Jamaal Charles (3), Geno Smith (3), DeMarco Murray (3) and DeAngelo Williams (3).
Meanwhile, there were seven players who had at least two carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), Rashad Jennings (2), Michael Vick (2), Matt Forte (2), Joique Bell (2), Charles (2) and Adrian Peterson (2). Of this second group, only Jennings failed to score at least once.
Last season, Forte had eight rushes from the opponent's 5-yard line or closer, including six in Weeks 15 through 17 when Michael Bush was out. That being said, the idea that Forte is going to be replaced near the goal line might be outdated based on this week's usage, and I will move on this theory by adjusting my personal ranking of Forte if the theory is supported next week.
While Jennings' two goal-area rush attempts might concern Darren McFadden's owners, realize that McFadden got his touchdown immediately following Jennings' failure to take advantage of those back-to-back opportunities. So the Raiders were quick to abandon Jennings as an option.
McCoy's fantasy prospects appear to have improved by Andy Reid's leaving Philadelphia, while Charles' prospects improved by having Reid arrive in Kansas City. It will be interesting to see if McCoy can stay healthy running in the fast-paced scheme that Chip Kelly employs. Early returns were positive, but past performance is not always a good predictor of future results.
Until next week, thanks for reading ...