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On Target: Houston, We Have a QB

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 or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at

The brutality that comes with a six-team bye week has finally passed and fantasy owners in deeper leagues couldn't be happier. With so many options taken off the board for the week, the waiver wire was looking ridiculously barren in leagues of 14 teams or more. Even in 12-team leagues, the options were pretty limited for the most part, especially with the way owners have been stockpiling receivers now that the running back position has officially become its own fantasy wasteland. But by tracking targets, the task of finding someone who could end up a legitimate short-term replacement becomes a little easier. Not much, but a little.

For example, if you look at the Week 9 targets leaderboard just below, you'll see Doug Baldwin, who fared reasonably well with six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. Not many owners saw that coming, but if you were tracking the targets for each of the Seattle receivers, you would have seen that, throughout the season, Baldwin has been a highly targeted player and was about to see increased opportunity. Golden Tate was the No. 1 receiver in terms of targets (53 targets prior to Week 9) with Sidney Rice as the No. 2 with 35 targets. Baldwin had 30 prior to last weekend, Jermaine Kearse was picking up the rear with 15. With Percy Harvin not ready to return, Rice hurt and Tate about to be blanketed by Darrelle Revis, all that was left for Russell Wilson was Baldwin. Wilson looked Baldwin's way a team-high 10 times in this one and while he may never see double-digit targets again, Baldwin was a natural fit for the week for owners in need of some replacement help.

As you scroll down the list, there are few unfamiliar names on the targets list. Quarterbacks obviously stick with what they know and who they trust, so deviating from the choice of receiver doesn't happen too often. As a result, I've actually extended the Week 9 targets list this week just to give us a look at a few more names we don't often get a chance, or even have a need most times, to discuss. Let's look at how everything played out in Week 9.

Week 9 Target Leaders

(Click column headings to sort.)

A.J. Green, CINWR1280531911542.957.935.8
Andre Johnson, HOUWR2293341392100.069.238.2
Brandon Marshall, CHIWR107141137233.353.831.7
Dwayne Bowe, KCWR67029127133.358.341.4
T.Y. Hilton, INDWR121340127540.058.330.0
Danny Woodhead, SDRB77046129220.075.026.1
Jimmy Graham, NOTE116251129150.075.023.5
Pierre Garcon, WASWR17203211700.063.634.4
Keenan Allen, SDWR128146118440.072.723.9
Emmanuel Sanders, PITWR98048116427.354.522.9
Dez Bryant, DALWR6405111600.054.521.6
Denarius Moore, OAKWR82056115428.645.519.6
Doug Baldwin, SEAWR75126106575.060.038.5
Rob Gronkowski, NETE143133109660.090.030.3
Steve Smith, CARWR52037104150.040.027.0
Antonio Gates, SDTE53046106320.060.021.7
Le'Veon Bell, PITRB65048104327.340.020.8
Jason Witten, DALTE102151108133.380.019.6
Lance Moore, NOWR70051106150.060.019.6
Pierre Thomas, NORB6605110700.070.019.6
Rashad Jennings, OAKRB7405610700.070.017.9
Aaron Dobson, NEWR13023395120.055.627.3
Greg Little, CLEWR1220379700.077.824.3
Brandon LaFell, CARWR740379600.066.724.3
Greg Jennings, MINWR5603796266.766.724.3
Scott Chandler, BUFTE2603993114.333.323.1
Griff Whalen, INDWR3204093110.033.322.5
Marlon Brown, BALWR5424195340.055.622.0
Antonio Brown, PITWR711489519.155.618.8
Cole Beasley, DALWR6805196133.366.717.6
Alshon Jeffery, CHIWR6014195466.755.622.0
Jordy Nelson, GBWR6702194233.344.442.9
Mohamed Sanu, CINWR6205396114.366.717.0

Dwayne Bowe, WR KC -
In years past, he's been one of the better options as he saw consistent targets and scoring at a rate that fantasy owners were comfortable with on a weekly basis. But the switch to Alex Smith at quarterback this year has dramatically affected Bowe's worth as the two don't hook up as often as we'd like. This week is the obvious exception as he saw a season-high 12 targets with Buffalo so caught up in stopping the run. Unfortunately, though, if you had him starting in a standard scoring league, he didn't contribute a whole heck of a lot with just 67 yards and no touchdowns. He was slightly better in PPR formats, but nothing to write home about. But can that change? Yes, provided he continues to see a strong percentage of the targets. With matchups against some of the softest pass defenses the next five weeks - Denver (twice), San Diego, Washington and Oakland - Bowe could conceivably turn his season around.

Emmanuel Sanders, WR PIT -
That's now back-to-back weeks with 11 targets for Sanders who has become one of the more reliable possession receivers for Ben Roethlisberger lately. However, before you go dropping someone in your lineup for him, keep in mind that he still has more to prove. Five consecutive weeks leading up to Week 8, Sanders posted only a 50-percent catch rate. That's not particularly strong for a possession receiver. Heck, that's not particularly strong for any receiver, especially when league average is roughly 60 percent. And while Week 8 was a success, Sanders was not a major red-zone target in Week 9, and he saw the high number of looks because Pittsburgh was way down on the scoreboard and Antonio Brown was benched for a series of on-field miscues. He could continue to see a strong number of looks each week, but don't expect to see too much endzone dancing.

Lance Moore, WR NO -
He's finally healthy again and back on Drew Brees' radar. The early season injury really did him in, but now that he's back and is one of the few familiar receivers Brees has, he should be collecting some strong target numbers. If he's available, pick him up as things could get even bigger and better for him in the coming weeks.

Rashad Jennings, RB OAK -
With Darren McFadden down with a hamstring injury, Jennings came to the team's rescue as he rumbled to an impressive 102 yards with a touchdown. But let's not go putting him in Canton just yet. Your fantasy team, OK, but only as a replacement for McFadden. We've seen enough of Jennings over the years to know better and not be fooled into believing he's worth more than he actually is. And as for the targets he saw, the Raiders are likely to change the distribution this week against the Giants as Marcel Reece is a better receiver.

Add-Ons To Watch

Aaron Dobson, WR NE -
The rookie receiver has seen strong target numbers most of the season but has really stepped into the limelight these last two weeks with a total of 190 yards and three touchdowns. He's already surpassed fellow rookie Kenbrell Thompkins and is also getting more looks than former favorite Julian Edelman. It's probably safe to say that he's behind only Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola in the receiving pecking order, which makes him a strong play as the New England offense takes off.

Griff Whalen, WR IND -
With Darrius Heyward-Bey's granite hands making him an untrustworthy target, Andre luck turned to Whalen as the complement to T.Y. Hilton. Whalen struggled with his most extensive action of the year, but there is plenty of room to grow. Should he prove to be a reliable target, which means increasing that catch rate consistently, he could prove to be a decent sleeper in deeper leagues.

Scott Chandler, TE BUF -
He saw an average of six targets per game with EJ Manuel at the helm in the early part of the season and has been more of a focal point in the passing attack these last two weeks. The change in quarterback, the return of Manuel that is, should help maintain the number of looks he sees. If he can get a boost in his red-zone looks, then he'll be a much better option at tight end over the second half of the season.

Mohamed Sanu, WR CIN -
As defenses start to worry more about Marvin Jones, Sanu's target rate should start to increase as he'll be left in a lot of favorable one-on-one situations. Still only an option in deeper leagues, he does have the potential to do more.

Now let's look at the overall.

Overall Targets Leaderboard

(Click column headings to sort.)

A.J. Green, CINWR8625328103572431.755.331.4
Vincent Jackson, TBWR634429794431735.745.731.6
Pierre Garcon, WASWR684230989541934.360.728.8
Cecil Shorts, JACWR565128187462424.052.931.0
Dez Bryant, DALWR705834687512626.858.625.1
Andre Johnson, HOUWR81333148457612.967.926.8
Antonio Brown, PITWR701331082611121.474.426.5
Brandon Marshall, CHIWR647628781531925.065.428.2
DeSean Jackson, PHIWR823630780501023.762.526.1
Calvin Johnson, DETWR821733879472837.859.523.4
Victor Cruz, NYGWR67743117747925.061.024.8
Jimmy Graham, NOTE7461032274491428.966.223.0
Julian Edelman, NEWR473234074491526.366.221.8
Mike Wallace, MIAWR480129972361122.650.024.1
Wes Welker, DENWR555933272503530.669.421.7
Jordan Cameron, CLETE600636072502533.369.420.0
Jamaal Charles, KCRB389231571471722.566.222.5
Eric Decker, DENWR669333270462419.465.721.1
Torrey Smith, BALWR70713106936717.552.222.3
Steve Johnson, BUFWR423331269381632.155.122.1
Demaryius Thomas, DENWR685633269481516.169.620.8
Emmanuel Sanders, PITWR494231068371221.454.421.9
Hakeem Nicks, NYGWR52103116734825.050.721.5
Steve Smith, CARWR387323966361939.354.527.6
T.Y. Hilton, INDWR53352696634613.951.524.5
Alshon Jeffery, CHIWR621328766382027.557.623.0
Tony Gonzalez, ATLTE476433366442227.166.719.8
Jason Witten, DALTE505434666451322.068.219.1
Josh Gordon, CLEWR62633606635911.153.018.3
Antonio Gates, SDTE550232065481617.073.820.3
Larry Fitzgerald, ARIWR470528564361532.056.322.5
Kendall Wright, TENWR50212526343821.768.325.0
Jordy Nelson, GBWR716727063431727.568.323.3
Greg Little, CLEWR340136063281215.644.417.5
Anquan Boldin, SFWR55121986238829.261.331.3
Brian Hartline, MIAWR47722996138412.962.320.4
Robert Woods, BUFWR34923126026921.443.319.2
Davone Bess, CLEWR285236060311115.651.716.7
Denarius Moore, OAKWR513424859321933.354.223.8
Aaron Dobson, NEWR454434058311421.153.417.1
Golden Tate, SEAWR46832795735823.161.420.4
Dwayne Bowe, KCWR369231557331017.557.918.1
Danny Woodhead, SDRB391332057491622.686.017.8
Harry Douglas, ATLWR571133357381415.366.717.1
Nate Washington, TENWR43922525626513.046.422.2
Jerome Simpson, MINWR44602805629414.851.820.0
Jared Cook, STLTE411333356321616.057.116.8
Kenbrell Thompkins, NEWR334434056231826.341.116.5
Greg Jennings, MINWR392228055311029.656.419.6
Michael Floyd, ARIWR43322855534828.061.819.3
Martellus Bennett, CHITE392428755362030.065.519.2

Again, as you sort the table by target percentage you'll see the same old names listed at the top. While Vincent Jackson, A.J. Green and Cecil Shorts have maintained their must-start status (even with the occasional bad game), Anquan Boldin has struggled to produce since he started seeing all those double-teams after Week 1. But that could change in the coming weeks. With the return of Mario Manningham, Boldin should stop seeing regular double-teams as the coverage will need to spread out more, and while his target percentage may drop a little, the quality of his production should increase. Expect him to be a reliable possession receiver between the 20s, but he should also start seeing more red-zone looks.

Antonio Brown, WR PIT -
As mentioned, Brown was benched for a good portion of the second half this week due to a few miscues on offense. Mike Tomlin's decision gave Emmanuel Sanders more to look at, and thus Brown's numbers suffered as you would expect. It's hard to believe that this trend will continue, though, as Brown is a huge threat in the passing attack and the offense is clearly better with him on the field than off. Monitor the practice schedule this week to see if Tomlin and Brown have smoothed things over.

Andre Johnson, WR HOU -
Welcome back to the party, Andre. Oh, how we've missed you. It's a combination of him staying healthy and Case Keenum becoming more comfortable in the offense, but things are certainly looking up for the former top-five wideout. We obviously need to see more of this before we're completely endorsing his must-start status again, but this is definitely a good start and at a very crucial time.

T.Y. Hilton, WR IND -
He is slowly establishing himself as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for Indianapolis, and while he's no Reggie Wayne, he is certainly taking steps to improve his reliability. After catching just three passes off 11 targets in Week 7, Hilton bounced back after the bye and hauled in seven of the 12 targets that went his way. Provided he maintains a strong catch rate, we should continue to see his target rate climb and with that, his overall fantasy value.

Red-Zone Target Percentage Leaders

If you sort the list by red zone targets as we usually do, you'll see the same names atop the leaderboard. Rather than just say the same old thing, let's look at a few names whose red-zone targets are on the move.

Vincent Jackson, WR TB -
With Mike Williams no longer a factor, Jackson has seen a tremendous increase in coverage and, therefore, took a serious hit in his red-zone target percentage. But before you panic, keep in mind that the Bucs are in a state of transition, and things should improve over the next week or so. As Mike Glennon gets more comfortable and starts to use Timothy Wright and Tiquan Underwood more, the coverage on Jackson will lighten up a bit, and he'll be back to his usual studly self in no time.

Danny Woodhead, RB SD -
With Ryan Mathews coming back to Earth last week, Woodhead saw his workload increase across the board, and he became a bigger factor inside the red zone. His versatility makes him a tremendous threat as he can take the handoff or catch a pass out in the flat and bring either one into the endzone. Expect to see the trend continue this week when the Chargers take on the Broncos and Philip Rivers is forced to throw 40 to 50 times.

Potential Risers
(Those who failed to crack the leaderboard this week):

Keenan Allen
Greg Jennings
Rueben Randle
Matt Forte
Jordan Reed
Vernon Davis

Potential Fallers

Julian Edelman
Kenbrell Thompkins
Nate Washington
Jared Cook
Michael Floyd

Week 10 Matchup to Watch

Flip a coin between Denver at San Diego and Dallas at New Orleans. You don't need me to tell you that these two games are filled with must-starts as we're looking at some suspect pass defenses and a whole lot of offensive power. Some obvious favorites include Dez Bryant, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten, but keep a lookout for the secondary receivers like Eddie Royal and Terrance Williams as well. We should be looking at a pair of real high-scoring games here, so start your receivers and tight ends with confidence.