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On Target: Taking Advantage in SF

Howard Bender

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog RotobuzzGuy.com or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com.

With respect to targets and target percentage, there's a catch-22 that fantasy owners continuously face when making final decision as to which players to start each week and which to bench. On one hand, a player with a high target percentage is obviously afforded greater opportunities to put points up on the fantasy scoreboard. On the other, it means there are fewer alternatives for the quarterback and defenses will start to key in on said receiver. A high number of opportunities eventually leads to tighter coverage. While you think you may be increasing your odds of scoring bigger points, you may actually be running a higher risk of being shut out as defenses begin to wise up and take that receiver out of the offensive equation with more blanket coverage.

Take Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green, for example. He has a 32.7-percent target rate, which leads all receivers in the NFL and is vastly higher than any other receiver on the team. And while he was likely one of the first five (and that's being conservative) wide receivers off the board in your drafts, he's been held to 61 or fewer yards in four of six games and has been held out of the endzone in three of those. That means, in standard scoring leagues, he's scored six points or fewer in half his games. Scoring in PPR formats doesn't really help much either.

Meanwhile, if you look at teams with quarterbacks who like to spread the ball around, you'll notice a number of receivers have comparable fantasy point totals to the "elite" wideouts, simply because the defensive coverage cannot be so concentrated. Jordan Cameron continues to score big for his fantasy owners as Josh Gordon is pulling coverage away from him and vice versa. In Denver, Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have all seen similar target numbers and because of that, or maybe even as a result of that, each has been productive enough. It actually doesn't matter if it's the chicken or the egg coming first; the fact remains that guys like Welker, Thomas, Cameron and even Gordon have all scored similarly to Green despite not being as highly targeted by their respective quarterbacks because of fewer double-teams and lighter coverage.

So is it better to go with receivers who have a lower target percentage? Sometimes. Sometimes not. As we said, a higher target percentage usually means more opportunities to score, so if you're using receivers in a lower grouping of target percentage, you may get more consistent scoring, but with a lower ceiling and with less potential for that explosive 150-plus yard, multi-touchdown game. It's probably a safer route, but really ... no guts, no glory.

That's why, in leagues that start three receivers, I like to own one who sees a much higher percentage of targets on his team and then complement him with a pair of receivers who share the looks fairly evenly on their respective teams. It's all the potential for those big games from your high-end wideout with the consistency from the other two in case your top receiver gets blanketed by coverage. That, to me, is the safer route than having, say, Green and Calvin Johnson on your team as both continuously see the double-teams and, so far, it's worked out pretty well.

A little more than just two cents, but hey, that's why you subscribe, isn't it?

Now let's hit the target leaderboards.

Week 6 Target Leaders

(Click column headings to sort.)

PLAYERPOSYARDSTDPASS ATTTARGETSRECRZ TRGTRZ TRG%CATCH%TARGET%
Justin Blackmon, JACWR1900292014650.070.069.0
Pierre Garcon, WASWR69039156133.340.038.5
Vincent Jackson, TBWR1142431495100.064.332.6
Kris Durham, DETWR8304313800.061.530.2
Keenan Allen, SDWR107133129340.075.036.4
Chris Ogbonnaya, CLERB61134127316.758.335.3
Darren Sproles, NORB58036126337.550.033.3
Larry Fitzgerald, ARIWR117141126133.350.029.3
Vernon Davis, SFTE180229118220.072.737.9
Antonio Brown, PITWR86031119250.081.835.5
A.J. Green, CINWR103136116328.654.530.6
Brandon Marshall, CHIWR87236119775.081.830.6
Julian Edelman, NEWR57043115125.045.525.6
Kyle Rudolph, MINTE97144119350.081.825.0
Jordy Nelson, GBWR113132104150.040.031.3
Denarius Moore, OAKWR8213410500.050.029.4
Knowshon Moreno, DENRB6203810700.070.026.3
Aaron Dobson, NEWR63043106450.060.023.3
Greg Jennings, MINWR34044106350.060.022.7
Jamaal Charles, KCRB5003195133.355.629.0
Josh Gordon, CLEWR12603497116.777.826.5

Justin Blackmon, WR JAC -
Obviously, the Cecil Shorts injury helped pave the way for 20 targets to Blackmon, but let's face it ... since returning from his suspension, he's been the most-targeted receiver on that team. Still, should this rib/sternum injury keep Shorts on the sidelines, Blackmon will likely start to suffer the same fate as those high-target rate players we just discussed above. With both in the lineup, each should remain productive, but take one out, and they both suffer.

Kris Durham, WR DET -
That's now three consecutive weeks that Durham's targets have increased and that's more than enough for me to label him as the regular No. 2 wideout in Detroit and recommend his use. With Megatron absorbing most of Joe Haden's attention last week, Durham was freed up for a season high in both targets and receptions. Given Johnson's reputation and abilities, that's a pattern you should consistently see now, which makes Durham a strong play against some of the less spectacular pass defenses.

Keenan Allen, WR SD -
Also standing tall on the consistency front is Allen, who is the new top banana in the San Diego receiving corps. Three strong weeks in a row, increasing targets and back-to-back 100-plus yard games could very well be sitting out there on your waiver wire staring you right in the face. And considering the resurgence we've seen from Philip Rivers, you can bet that Allen's ascension in the overall rankings is going to continue.

Chris Ogbonnaya, RB CLE -
One of the reasons we like to look at the target leaders each week alongside the overall targets leaderboard is to help identify the random receiver who may epitomize the expression of the sun shining down on a dog's backside at least once. And that dog's backside this week just happens to be Ogbonnaya. Thanks to the Lions' complete inability to contain the running back on passing plays, Ogbonnaya saw as many targets Sunday as he did in the three games prior, combined. Is that going to happen every week? No. You have to study the match-ups and specifically look for whether it's a favorable one for him, and even then, there's still plenty of risk as he is not, nor has he ever been, the go-to guy for the Browns.

Vernon Davis, TE SF -
Did you see what Davis did Sunday? Thanks to the excessive double-teams that Anquan Boldin sees each week, Davis has posted increasingly better numbers since he returned from his hamstring issue. He's the Durham to Detroit's Megatron, but we'll hit on that a little later.

Kyle Rudolph, TE MIN -
We'll have to keep an eye on Rudolph now as his big week poses the question of whether this was a one-time thing or if it's indicative of what's to come. Matt Cassel may be a whole world of blah to most, but he's still a better passer than Christian Ponder. With Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson out there, targets could be spread out enough that Rudolph could start producing on a more consistent basis. Given his touchdown total from last season (nine), he's certainly worth a look if you're lacking at the position.

Overall Targets Leaderboard

(Click column headings to sort.)

PLAYERPOSYARDSTDPASS ATTTARGETSRECRZ TRGTRZ TRG%CATCH%TARGET%
A.J. Green, CINWR464421169371747.453.632.7
Andre Johnson, HOUWR49502556544410.367.725.5
Cecil Shorts, JACWR411121063311621.249.230.0
Julian Edelman, NEWR411223961411429.067.225.5
Victor Cruz, NYGWR54142336035629.458.325.8
Pierre Garcon, WASWR408220959351640.959.328.2
Julio Jones, ATLWR580221959411719.169.526.9
Jimmy Graham, NOTE593623759371021.962.724.9
Brandon Marshall, CHIWR465521858401622.969.026.6
Vincent Jackson, TBWR40621805526528.647.330.6
DeSean Jackson, PHIWR58951935534930.861.828.5
Torrey Smith, BALWR56812355528517.250.923.4
Dez Bryant, DALWR459621854341925.863.024.8
Jordan Cameron, CLETE460524554382043.370.422.0
Antonio Brown, PITWR49821945341929.277.427.3
Jamaal Charles, KCRB300221653331731.062.324.5
Larry Fitzgerald, ARIWR40542225230933.357.723.4
Anquan Boldin, SFWR42121615029731.658.031.1
Reggie Wayne, INDWR453219150331130.066.026.2
Alshon Jeffery, CHIWR456221850291625.758.022.9
Wes Welker, DENWR378823950372532.574.020.9
Kenbrell Thompkins, NEWR318423950211832.342.020.9
Eric Decker, DENWR477223950341617.568.020.9
Demaryius Thomas, DENWR52842394937915.075.520.5
Antonio Gates, SDTE46622484936911.473.519.8
Jason Witten, DALTE340321848311225.864.622.0
Calvin Johnson, DETWR337423948242041.950.020.1
Tony Gonzalez, ATLTE339321947332029.870.221.5
Kendall Wright, TENWR33511894631825.067.424.3
Randall Cobb, GBWR378218445291532.164.424.5
Robert Woods, BUFWR27422024518628.640.022.3
Hakeem Nicks, NYGWR44202334525417.655.619.3
Denarius Moore, OAKWR399417344251535.056.825.4
Mike Wallace, MIAWR28111824422731.350.024.2
Emmanuel Sanders, PITWR30111944423516.752.322.7
Martellus Bennett, CHITE349321844311728.670.520.2
Steve Smith, CARWR224215343231642.153.528.1
T.Y. Hilton, INDWR3852191432515.058.122.5
Darren Sproles, NORB36612374332515.674.418.1
Julius Thomas, DENTE381723943311725.072.118.0
Josh Gordon, CLEWR4292245432526.758.117.6
Nate Washington, TENWR37721894223410.054.822.2
Michael Floyd, ARIWR34512224226633.361.918.9
Greg Little, CLEWR161124542161020.038.117.1
Davone Bess, CLEWR22302454223716.754.817.1
Tavon Austin, STLWR159223341241220.058.517.6
Rueben Randle, NYGWR33332334120311.848.817.6
Danny Woodhead, SDRB267324841361425.087.816.5
Owen Daniels, HOUTE25232554124917.258.516.1
Golden Tate, SEAWR26911664023320.057.524.1
Jordy Nelson, GBWR48441844027825.067.521.7

Target Percentage Leaders

Once again, A.J. Green and Anquan Boldin sit atop the target-percentage leaderboard. We discussed Green and the double-teams he's endured because Andy Dalton looks for him more than anyone else on that Bengals team, and the situation is no different in San Francisco with Boldin. He claims that he's now seen more double-teams this year than he has at any other point in his professional career. And like Green, his numbers are suffering because of it. With back-to-back games of less than 30 receiving yards and zero touchdowns, Boldin's owners are dying for a second wideout to start drawing away some of the coverage.

And while Cecil Shorts, the man who made up the third part of the target-rate triumvirate, is still plenty high up, Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson has pushed his way up thanks to four double-digit target games in the five he's played. Jackson was high up here last year as neither Mike Williams nor Dallas Clark, the Bucs tight end last season, pulled enough focus away from him to cut down his actual targets and now that Williams is hurt and there's simply no other worthwhile option at the tight-end position, Jackson should continue to stay atop this list.

Keep an eye on DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon as both could find themselves suffering from the same fate as Green and Boldin.

Red Zone Target Leaders

Wes Welker, WR NE (25) -
That's now four weeks in a row atop this section, and while his overall target percentage is nearly identical to that of fellow wideouts Decker and Thomas, it's the extensive red-zone looks that push his value past so many others. His yardage totals may not be all that great, but he certainly makes up for it with a league-leading eight touchdown grabs.

Jordan Cameron, TE CLE (20) -
He's been an animal this entire season, and while his numbers have suffered a bit these last two weeks, things should definitely smooth out once he's done adjusting to the transition back to Brandon Weeden. And as we've seen, the presence of Josh Gordon is only going to help his game.

Calvin Johnson, WR DET (20) -
It's been a tough season for Johnson so far as he's yet to show what he's really capable of doing thanks to the abundance of blanket coverage. However, if he's now going to see the majority of red-zone targets for that team, his value should quickly rise back to a level to which we've all grown accustomed.

Tony Gonzalez, TE ATL (20) -
If staying atop the red-zone targets leaderboard after a bye week doesn't tell you all you need to know, just check back with last week's column headline. Yes, the old man's still got it, and no, it's not going away any time soon.

Other Notables

Danny Woodhead, RB SD -
The scrappy, little running back made a name for himself during the Jets' tranining camp aired on HBO's "Hard Knocks" as he ended up getting cut and picked up by the Patriots. He succeeded in New England in a limited role, but has fully blossomed this season as a go-to option for Philip Rivers. Yes, Keenan Allen is the new No. 1, but when he's being covered, Rivers is more inclined to dump it off to Woodhead than he is to wait and see if Vincent Brown can finagle his way into open field. The reliable 87.8-percent catch rate isn't hurting either.

Jordy Nelson, WR GB -
He's been on and off the overall leaderboard with Aaron Rodgers having so many targets from which to choose, but now that Randall Cobb is out for several weeks, Nelson should see a serious increase in targets. James Jones will also see a potential increase, but he's also been dealing with recent injuries, so the heavy overflow should land Nelson's way.

Potential Risers
(those who failed to make the overall leaderboard)

Brian Hartline
Jerome Simpson
Vernon Davis
Greg Olsen
Aaron Dobson

Potential Fallers

Randall Cobb
Julio Jones
Tavon Austin
Greg Little
Hakeem Nicks

Week 7 Matchup to Watch

San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars -
Highlighting the Cowboys/Eagles game is far too much of a no-brainer and given the abundance of fantasy points we've seen from both teams, there's no need to tell you to start almost everyone involved. So instead, I turn to some of the lesser must-starts, and that's here with the Chargers vs the Jags. The Chargers pass defense is lukewarm at best and gives up a ton of yards each week. Chad Henne will regularly find Blackmon, Shorts is going to try to play and if he doesn't, look for Ace Sanders to make a splash. I'd throw Marcedes Lewis in there as a possible sleeper, but that's still low end. Maurice Jones-Drew stands a better chance given the fact that the Chargers play the running back on passing downs just like Detroit. On the other side, Antonio Gates should be a hot start, and while Keenan Allen has been money in the bank these last couple weeks, I'm going to say that Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown just might be the ones to shine instead.