It can be extremely difficult to separate emerging players from fluke performers. It gets even tougher when a single player can fall into both categories. With the waiver wire for wide receivers becoming sparser because of some significant injuries, let's review some next-level data to evaluate a particular young receiver who is likely on your fantasy radar.
No player is going to light up the waiver wire this week like Marvin Jones. That doesn't mean you should view Jones as fantasy gold. While Jones obviously made the most of his opportunities Sunday, most fans are going to be shocked to learn that Jones was on the field for only 18 snaps. That's only four more than Dane Sanzenbacher and five more than Brandon Tate, his fellow Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers.
It's very likely that Jones will see the field more often after his historic day Sunday, but we also should realize that there was an element of luck that led to his breakout performance. In fact, the 13 routes that Jones ran during his 18 snaps Sunday represented his second-lowest number of routes run this season (he ran just 10 routes in Week 1) and Jones was barely on the fantasy radar before Sunday.
Want an idea of how abnormal Jones' performance was? Since the opening of the 2007 season, there have been 493 games where an NFL player scored two or more receiving touchdowns. On only four of those instances were multiple touchdowns scored by a wide receiver who had run 13 or fewer routes, a group that Jones joined Sunday. With the exception of Michael Crabtree, the others in that group -- Chris Chambers, Michael Jenkins and Sinorice Moss -- don't exactly instill fear into the hearts of anyone.
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 of 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 8.
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 8
• If veteran wideout Nate Burleson was dropped in your league, execute a waiver claim on him. Ryan Broyles is out for the year, and Burleson was being targeted 7.7 times per game before his unfortunate, pizza-based accident. With Burleson close to returning, you'll be adding some nice depth to your receiving corps at a very low cost.
• It's amazing how irrelevant Kyle Rudolph is despite his high number of targets. In four of seven games this season, Rudolph has failed to score more than two fantasy points. To say that Rudolph's fantasy relevance is touchdown-dependent would be completely appropriate.
• Remember when Joseph Fauria was a hot pickup candidate because of his fluky three-touchdown game? In the two games since, he had one catch for 15 yards. In Week 8, he ran only seven routes, despite the Detroit Lions playing from behind for most the of the game. If you picked him up, feel free to reverse that move at your leisure.
• Darius Johnson had nine targets for the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8, including two in the red zone. Granted, the Falcons were trailing for a significant portion of the game, but Matt Ryan needs a secondary receiving threat opposite Harry Douglas. Until Roddy White returns, Johnson has some value in that role.
• While you might feel that the New England Patriots are running more than normal once they get into the red zone, you would be wrong. The Patriots are actually running slightly less often this year (56 percent of their snaps) than they did last season (58 percent). Look for that rate to drop further in the weeks ahead, as Tom Brady's favorite red zone receiving option, Rob Gronkowski, missed several weeks and therefore the data is skewed.
Big plays and up close
There were seven NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each, up from five in Week 7. They were: Zac Stacy (6), Lamar Miller (4), Andre Ellington (4), Reggie Bush (3), James Starks (3), DeAngelo Williams (3) and Alfred Morris (3).
Meanwhile, there were eight players with at least two carries from their opponent's 5-yard line or closer, down from 13 in Week 7. They were Bush (4), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3), Darren McFadden (3), Fred Jackson (3), Montee Ball (3), Eddie Lacy (2), Frank Gore (2) and Russell Wilson (2). Of this group, only Green-Ellis and Wilson failed to score on at least one of these attempts.
Stacy and Daryl Richardson combined for eight big rushes against the Seattle Seahawks. That amounts to one-third of the big rushes allowed by the Seahawks for the season. With Kellen Clemens as the starting quarterback for the foreseeable future, the St. Louis Rams need that level of rushing dominance to remain competitive.
This is probably the last chance you'll get to jump on the Eddie Lacy bandwagon. The Green Bay Packers face the second-best schedule for fantasy running backs for the remainder of the season. Opponents that the Packers will face allow 16.7 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.
Ball's 30 snaps played Sunday surpassed the total number of snaps he played in the previous four games combined (27). While that might sound good, Ball was on the field for 14 of Peyton Manning's pass attempts. Manning completed just 42.9 percent of those 14 attempts. While Knowshon Moreno was on the field, Manning completed 20 of 22 attempts (90.9 percent). It doesn't take a math whiz to figure out the Denver Broncos' offense is more effective with Moreno than Ball.
While Bush did score a touchdown from up close, his other three carries in that zone totaled minus-6 yards. The last time Bush had a carry inside the opponent's 5-yard line was Week 1. If Bush continues to get these types of carries, adjust his value accordingly.
Ellington's four big rushes against the Atlanta Falcons were extremely impressive. To put his performance in perspective: No other rusher has attained more than one rush of 10 or more yards against them this year. Look for Ellington to force Rashard Mendenhall to the bench.
Red zone play-calling chart
Below is a listing of the percentage of run/pass plays each team has executed 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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