Key stat trends entering Week 12

Despite a number of great targets, Jay Cutler seems poised for a downturn. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's extremely easy to evaluate the fantasy value of players such as Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. For others, their value is relative to the opportunities they receive, where on the field they occur and the outcome of those chances. In an attempt to help you gauge values of players, here are some secondary statistics that will help you better evaluate their future value.


Jay Cutler has a QBR of 59.0 but is averaging 17.5 fantasy points per game. Since 2008, quarterbacks who have a QBR between 56 and 62 average just 14.4 fantasy points per game. He has been lucky this year to have performed so well in fantasy and you should expect his fantasy production to return to the norm, which means his value needs to be lowered immediately.

Similarly, Kyle Orton's QBR is 38.7, but he's averaging 14.3 fantasy points per game. Since 2008, quarterbacks within three points of his QBR post just 11.0 fantasy points per game. Based on this, and a tougher schedule ahead of him, Orton is not even worth a roster spot in the deepest of leagues.

Ryan Tannehill's 16.3 fantasy points per game appear to make him startable in deeper leagues, but at 5.8 passing yards per dropback, he's better than only Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater and Geno Smith in that metric. The fact of the matter is that Tannehill only became useful once he started to run. In Weeks 4 through 9, he averaged 45 rushing yards per game. In his other five games, his rushing total is less than 7 yards per game. The four fantasy points per game that were derived from rushing yardage are what made him fantasy-worthy. Considering he only has 16 rushing yards over the past two games, he's a bench option only.

Brian Hoyer averages 7.12 yards per dropback, but has managed only 12.9 fantasy points per game. Among all quarterbacks with at least 7.0 yards per dropback, Hoyer's fantasy production is easily the worst. In fact, quarterbacks averaging between 6.0 and 7.0 yards per dropback are scoring 15.5 fantasy points per game and the three NFL quarterbacks who are right behind Hoyer in yards per dropback (Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers) average 17.5 fantasy points per game. Bearing in mind that Josh Gordon was just reinstated, Hoyer is significantly undervalued.

Running backs

Matt Forte has had six targets or more in all 10 of his games this season. The rest of NFL running backs have combined to manage just 76 other games with six or more targets. Because of his usage in the passing game, Forte is as safe as they come. If you are concerned about others scoring more touchdowns, don't be because Forte's usage as a receiver is extremely valuable.

If you have Frank Gore, you likely believe that Carlos Hyde's usage close to the goal line is a major reason why Gore hasn't scored as many touchdowns as you'd like. The fact is the San Francisco 49ers have had only six running back rush attempts inside the opponent's 5-yard line, with Hyde scoring on one of his four chances, and Gore being successful once during his two tries. Last season, the 49ers had 20 such attempts for the season. Look for more opportunities in this area of the field going forward, which is good for Gore.

Many analysts point to Marshawn Lynch's fantasy value being driven by touchdowns, which are somewhat unpredictable. For Lynch, those scores aren't unpredictable. After leading the NFL with 20 rushes inside the opponent's 5-yard line last season, he's is atop the leaderboard again this year. Last season, he converted 10 of his 22 rush attempts from that range into scores; this year he's been successful on five of 13 tries.

From Week 9 on, the only running backs with more rushes of 10 yards or more than Tre Mason are Marshawn Lynch, Jeremy Hill, Jamaal Charles and Le'Veon Bell. That's some nice company for Mason, who has taken such command of the power back role in the St. Louis Rams' backfield that Zac Stacy isn't even ownable in the deepest of fantasy leagues. While Mason won't catch many passes, he's a solid RB3 going forward.

Jonas Gray may have dominated the Indianapolis Colts for 201 rushing yards Sunday night, but he's definitely not worth starting against the Detroit Lions this week. Don't forget that in last season's playoffs, LeGarrette Blount rushed for 166 yards against the Colts and then managed just 6 yards on five carries against the Denver Broncos in the next game. Because only one player, Chris Ivory, has been able to rush for more than 60 yards against the Lions, starting Gray this week is a recipe for disaster.

Wide receivers

Since the start of Week 3, only three NFL receivers have been targeted at least nine times in each game they have participated. The first two, Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas, probably won't surprise you; the third is Rueben Randle. While Odell Beckham Jr. is getting all the publicity, Randle is flying under the radar. Since Week 3, Randle ranks 48th in wide receiver scoring. That ranking is affected by him scoring only one touchdown over that span. If you compare him to other wide receivers with a similar number of receptions during that window (Nos. 41-49), you'll find that they have averaged four touchdowns during this period. If Randle had managed that average, he'd be 26th in WR scoring. He's undervalued and is a great waiver-wire addition.

Over the first six weeks of the season, DeAndre Hopkins was targeted just 5.5 times per game. Over the past five weeks, that number is up to 9.8. The result? During that later period, Hopkins is 21st in wide receiver scoring, despite having scored just one touchdown. As Ryan Mallett targeted Hopkins eight times Sunday, look for Hopkins to get better as the season goes on.

Since Week 5, there are only three receivers in the NFL taller than 6-foot-2 with at least three red zone targets who have not yet scored a touchdown in the red zone: Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald. Not coincidentally, all are generally considered as underperformers this season. Look for all three veterans to bounce back and become usable flex options.

Brandin Cooks averaged 6.6 targets per game this season and many people are projecting that other New Orleans Saints wide receivers such as Kenny Stills or Marques Colston will receive Cooks' opportunities now that the rookie is done for the year with a broken thumb. Unfortunately, nobody on the Saints' roster has been used in a similar fashion as Cooks this year. Both Stills and Colston have average depth of targets near the 12- to 13-yard mark, whereas Cooks' average depth was closer to 9 yards. What this means is that neither Stills nor Colston is the obvious replacement and while either or both may get more opportunities, they will come only if the Saints change their offensive game planning.

Tight ends

You have to wonder why Zach Ertz isn't utilized more in the receiving game. Since the start of 2001, no tight end has had a further depth of target than Ertz's 13.1 yards. With only one drop on the season and a reception rate of almost 64 percent, Ertz's measurables align with the elite in the league. He's not getting enough targets to be a fantasy starter, but is still a good bet to emerge in future seasons.

Much was made of Travis Kelce finally getting a chance to be a full-time player with Anthony Fasano out for last Sunday's game versus the Seattle Seahawks. Kelce drew just five targets despite playing on 44 of 46 offensive snaps for the Kansas City Chiefs. Look for Kelce to remain a low-end starting option, with decent upside.

Kyle Rudolph returned for the Minnesota Vikings but played only 13 snaps. Look for Rudolph to become a more reliable option over the next couple of weeks as he had averaged just under six targets per game before getting hurt earlier this season.

Finally, for those of you that love the target data and red zone play statistics, you can find them below:

Targets Report (Past four weeks):

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.

Red Zone Breakdown