Fantasy tips from next-level data

Sam Bradford is finally delivering production like a franchise QB. Should fantasy owners buy in? Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

Due in part to the fact that he currently ranks seventh among NFL quarterbacks in fantasy points scored, Sam Bradford is now owned in over 83 percent of ESPN.com leagues. Some owners are likely making the jump to Bradford based upon the fact that he's a former No. 1 overall NFL draft choice, and the top-flight production was bound to happen at some point. If you are one of those fine folks, please take a minute to reconsider.

First, Bradford's completion percentage -- 59.5 percent -- is the exact same rate he attained last year, while his yards per attempt has dropped from a career high of 6.7 last year to his career average of 6.2 this season. With those two metrics not improving, it's imperative that we establish what the catalyst is behind the change.

In this case, it's rather simple, as Bradford is performing much more efficiently in the red zone this season. Last season, Bradford threw one touchdown for every five dropbacks in the red zone. This season, that rate has improved to one in three. Based on the fact that the other metrics aren't showing an improvement to explain this increased production, that's one reason to believe that the red zone change is a statistical outlier, and therefore not likely to be continued.

Want another reason to avoid falling into the Bradford trap? He has the single toughest remaining schedule in terms of opponent's average fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs. With an average point total of 12.2 fantasy points per game, Bradford doesn't just have the toughest schedule; it's 12 percent harder than the second-hardest schedule (Joe Flacco, 13.71 points per game) and 53 percent harder than the easiest schedule in the league (Robert Griffin III, 18.59 points per game). In fact, based upon those numbers, Griffin makes an intriguing buy-low candidate right now.

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 this weekend, you need to know whether it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If a receiver 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 yards receiving, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater.

Below, you'll see all the players who are averaging eight or more targets in their past four games, and how many of those targets were on plays that began in the red zone during Week 6.

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. ESPN Stats & Information's philosophy 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 -- 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 data through Week 6

• With all the injuries to elite wide receivers, I don't know if there is a wide receiver not named Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green who I would trade for Justin Blackmon. The Jaguars played the Denver Broncos surprisingly tough this past Sunday and the main focus of the Jaguars attack was Blackmon. Look for the Jaguars to continue to rely on Blackmon and for those of you who stashed Blackmon to be handsomely rewarded.

• If you are wondering who Stephen Burton is, and why he's on the targets list, you can stop wondering. Burton has been inactive for the Jaguars each of the past three weeks and made this list as he received nine targets while the Seattle Seahawks were blowing out the Jaguars in Week 3. Burton will most likely fall off of this chart next week.

• While the Buffalo Bills' quarterback situation is best described as abysmal, Robert Woods maintains usefulness in deeper leagues. With almost nine targets per game, Woods has attained over 60 receiving yards in half of the Bills' games. Keep him on your bench and when EJ Manuel returns, there's a possibility that he becomes a viable fantasy starter.

• If you want to know what is behind Antonio Gates' resurgence, look no further than his yards after the catch. Last season, he totaled 140 yards after the catch in 15 games. This season, he already gained 228 such yards in just six games. This is a clear indication that foot injuries that have limited his production the past couple of season are behind him, so if you are thinking about selling high on Gates, there's no need for that course of action.

• If you don't know who Jordan Reed is, get to know him immediately. He's an athletic tight end for the Washington Redskins who has made Fred Davis irrelevant. Reed is available in most leagues and makes a nice value as a waiver wire tight end who you can plug in each week.

• While Joseph Fauria might have some of the coolest end zone celebrations since Chad Johnson's prime, don't be fooled into thinking that he's a fantasy commodity. Much like Eddie Royal earlier this season, Fauria is fool's gold, as he is nothing more than a statistical anomaly. Don't be the chump and waste a roster spot on past production that is not going the be duplicated anytime soon.

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: Brandon Jacobs (5), Arian Foster (5), Russell Wilson (3), Griffin (3), Marshawn Lynch (3), LeSean McCoy (3), Frank Gore (3) and Eddie Lacy (3).

Meanwhile, there were 11 players (down from 14 last week) with at least two carries from their opponent's 5-yard line or closer. They were Ben Tate (6), Knowshon Moreno (6), Lynch (4), Fred Jackson (3), Ray Rice (3), Jacobs (2), DeAngelo Williams (2), Joseph Randle (2), Matt Forte (2), Mike Tolbert (2) and Stevan Ridley (2). Of this group, Jackson, Rice, Williams and Forte failed to score on at least one of these attempts.

Those expecting Randle to be usable in DeMarco Murray's absence should rethink their assessment. Five of Randle's 11 carries did not gain positive yardage, and he averaged just 0.28 yards per carry before contact. For perspective, Murray is averaging 3.47 yards per carry before contact this season.

When Jacobs said the San Francisco 49ers were scared to cut him, most of us dismissed it, as it was coming from a washed-up veteran who couldn't accept his time was over. Jacobs is attempting to prove everyone wrong this season, and with David Wilson on the shelf for three to four weeks, Jacobs becomes usable in non-PPR leagues.

The talent disparity between Foster and Tate isn't as great as most people think. Tate leads Foster in several measurables, including yards per carry and yards per carry after contact. The fact that Tate has lost two fumbles on 51 carries is likely what prevents him from becoming a "1B" instead of the clear second option in the Houston Texans backfield. That being said, Tate will be a commodity for rush-deprived teams during this offseason and therefore he has solid keeper value.

The use of Williams and Tolbert inside the opponent's 5-yard line, and their corresponding success, is a blow to Cam Newton's value, even if Newton just had his best game of the season. A substantial part of Newton's fantasy value is grabbing some cheap touchdowns, so make the necessary adjustment to your valuation of Newton.

The loss of Randall Cobb and James Jones is likely a boost for Lacy's value in the short term. The Packers currently rank fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, after finishing 20th last season and 27th the year before. View Lacy as a solid RB2 in all formats.

Red zone play-calling chart

Below is a listing of the percentage of run/pass plays each team has executed so far this season in the red zone. Pass plays are defined as any play where the quarterback attempted a pass or was sacked and all other plays are deemed as a rush.

In closing, some shameless self-promotion.

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