Each week, we present target data in this space because it is an effective way to evaluate whether a receiver's production is in line with the opportunities he received. This column called out waiver wire favorites Eddie Royal, Marvin Jones and Joseph Fauria as statistical anomalies unlikely to repeat the performances that raised their fantasy profiles. It recommended looking elsewhere while your opponents wasted waiver wire priority on those flashes in the pan.
This week, the column offers insight into recent performances by running backs by qualifying the total opportunities (rush attempts plus targets) they have received since Week 9. A quick look at the data finds some surprising results:
• Knowshon Moreno leads all running backs in opportunities per game over the past four weeks.
• Three of the top 10 backs in opportunities per game over the past four weeks are rookies (Zac Stacy, Le'Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy).
• At least three of the top 10 backs in this metric went undrafted in many leagues (Moreno, Stacy, Rashad Jennings).
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 12.
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 12
• Since Week 5, Keenan Allen has scored more total fantasy points than Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker and Torrey Smith. Over that period, only 12 wide receivers have scored more fantasy points than the rookie, who has only two drops in 73 targets for the season. Allen is available in more than a third of ESPN.com leagues and is a must-add if he's available in your league.
• Nate Burleson returned after a multiple-week injury, and immediately reclaimed his spot as Matthew Stafford's best receiving option not named Calvin Johnson. Burleson is a solid WR3 or Flex play for the remainder of the season. He's available in more than 96 percent of ESPN.com leagues, though that number should change immediately.
• While his fumbling propensity may be the root cause of what sent Stevan Ridley to the bench, Shane Vereen's play is going to keep him there. Vereen is a gifted receiver and solid in pass protection. Want proof? Tom Brady has completed 66.7 percent of his passes with a Total QBR of 63.9 with Vereen on the field, compared to posting a 57.8 completion percentage and 56.6 Total QBR without him. As Brady goes, so go the New England Patriots, so look for more playing time for Vereen in the near future.
• Dwayne Bowe has a touchdown in each of his past two games, including four catches for 57 yards against this week's opponent, the Denver Broncos, which might have you thinking he's worthy of being started. Before you make that mistake, you should know that Bowe was targeted 14 times in his previous game versus the Broncos. That means he didn't catch 10 passes intended for him in that game. With Champ Bailey -- who missed that game -- expected back this Sunday, don't expect Bowe to receive enough targets to make him anything more than a desperation play this week.
• Jordy Nelson continues to produce regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. How good is Nelson? He's one of only three wide receivers to score at least five fantasy points in each contest this year (Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown).
• After averaging 12.2 fantasy points per game over the first six weeks of the season, Denarius Moore has managed just 5.5 fantasy points per game since then. Moore missed last week with a shoulder injury and is uncertain for Week 13. That being said, Moore has a nice schedule remaining, so if you are in one of the 10 percent of ESPN.com leagues where he is available, you should definitely stash him on your roster.
Big plays and up close
There were 13 NFL players who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each. They were: Andre Brown (7), Knowshon Moreno (6), Toby Gerhart (5), Benny Cunningham (5), Adrian Peterson (5), Pierre Thomas (4), Matt Forte (4), Jamaal Charles (4), Zac Stacy (3), Maurice Jones-Drew (3), Eddie Lacy (3), DeMarco Murray (3) and Andre Ellington (3).
Meanwhile, there were only three players with at least two carries from their opponent's 5-yard line or closer. They were: Michael Bush (5), Peterson (3) and Lacy (2). All three scored on at least one of their attempts from this range.
Vikings running backs Peterson and Gerhart combined to gut the Packers defense for 10 rushes of 10 yards or more. That ties for the largest number of big-play rushes given up by a defense in a single game this season. Coming into the game, the Packers had allowed only 29 such rushes or just less than three per game.
St. Louis Rams rookie running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham similarly gashed the Chicago Bears defense. While that might surprise you, the Bears defense is a shell of its former self, and is not living up to its reputation. No team in the NFL allows more big-play rushes than the Bears.
Speaking of the Bears, you have to wonder how Bush is still considered a reasonable option near the goal line. For the season, Bush has nine carries from the opponent's 5-yard line or closer. He has converted only two of those carries for touchdowns, and each of those came from the 1-yard line. Meanwhile, Forte has eight carries in that area of the field and has converted half of those into touchdowns. Simply put, Forte has been more productive in that area of the field and he deserves those chances.
While he did have a productive day running the ball Sunday, MJD's rushing stats still fall below what you'd like to see in order to trust him as a rusher. That being said, after catching only 10 balls in his first seven games, Jones-Drew is averaging five catches per game over his past four contests. That elevates Jones-Drew to being a viable option in PPR leagues.
With Moreno suffering a bone bruise, Montee Ball needs to be owned in all leagues. He's still available in about one quarter of ESPN.com leagues and is a must start if Moreno is a no-go in any upcoming contest.
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 in which the quarterback attempted a pass or was sacked, and all other plays are deemed as a rush.
Ken Daube (@ESPNKenD) is a fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. He also hosts "Fantasy Football Now" with ESPNNewYork.com's Dave Rothenberg (@RothenbergESPN) on Sundays between 7 and 9 a.m. ET. The show, which answers phone calls and tweets, streams online at ESPNNewYork.com, or can be listened to live via the ESPN Radio app.