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On Target: Beware of the Wolf

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

There are two things I choose never to discuss in public - religion and politics. So when I say to you, "beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves," I am not speaking in a Biblical sense, but in terms of fantasy football.

All too often we see a player emerge from the shadows one week, dominate the stat sheets, lure you into blowing your waiver priority or FAAB budget only to then come up producing nothing but goose eggs each and every week thereafter. That first week he joined your roster, you, filled with all sorts of hope and lofty expectations, played him regardless of matchups and when he came up throwing doughnuts, you made excuses for the poor performance and quietly stashed him away on your bench. Maybe you tried him out again, maybe you didn't. But when you needed that bench spot or another tasty-looking flavor of the week emerged, you cast him aside, often oblivious of the fact that you never should have added him in the first place. Not only did you blow your waiver priority or FAAB dollars, there's a good chance you dropped someone who maybe you shouldn't have dropped.

I'm talking about Marquise Goodwin. I'm talking about Jared Cook. I'm talking about Joseph Fauria. And I'm even talking about Roy Helu and Darrel Young. All ranked within the top five of free agents after their big breakout weeks and none - none - has done anything worthwhile since. So when you're sitting there rummaging through the free agents this week, be careful who you bid on. Or, at least, how much you bid.

Tavon Austin, Rishard Matthews and John Carlson are all likely to be the most costly free agents this week, and it's up to you to figure out if they're a sheep or a wolf disguised as one, eager to tear apart your team in some way. You need to check targets, consistency and, of course, opportunity. Is Matthews really going to see 14 targets or was it a situation where Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace were blanketed by Darrelle Revis and company while Matthews was left uncovered? Is Austin going to produce like that off of three targets again or will he need a few more looks per game to even come close to that 138-yard, two-touchdown performance? Will John Carlson continue to see an upward trend with Kyle Rudolph out of the picture or was the week nothing but a fluke? Of these three, I'm more inclined to believe in Carlson while the other two look like they're just sharpening their fangs.

You don't always have to dig real deep to figure out what kind of guy you have on your hands, but you do have to put in the work to find out. Don't just blindly grab a free agent because he busts out one week. Take the time to investigate and you'll almost always make the right move.

Quick Side Note: Sometimes the wolf hides away for a bit and really lulls you into a false sense of security. Did you know that with Michael Vick under center, Riley Cooper is averaging 1.6 fantasy points per game in standard scoring leagues? With Nick Foles out there, he's averaging 23. (I'm willing to bet we can all hazard a guess as to perhaps why one chooses to throw to him and the other doesn't.) Keep this in mind should Chip Kelly opt to hand Vick his job back once the hamstring is fully healed.

Now let's look at this week's targets leaderboard.

Week 10 Target Leaders

(Click column headings to sort.)

Alshon Jeffery, CHIWR114049189440.050.036.7
Calvin Johnson, DETWR83235176575.035.348.6
A.J. Green, CINWR15115115800.053.329.4
Torrey Smith, BALWR46136145475.035.738.9
Rishard Matthews, MIAWR1202421411333.378.633.3
Jarrett Boykin, GBWR112044138530.061.529.5
Andre Johnson, HOUWR37243125433.341.727.9
Brandon Marshall, CHIWR139249127110.058.324.5
Antonio Brown, PITWR104030116340.054.536.7
Steve Smith, CARWR6303211600.054.534.4
DeAndre Hopkins, HOUWR69043116216.754.525.6
Victor Cruz, NYGWR37022103366.730.045.5
Demaryius Thomas, DENWR1083361073100.070.027.8
Pierre Garcon, WASWR119137107630.070.027.0
Steve Johnson, BUFWR48039103316.730.025.6
Jordy Nelson, GBWR56044106740.060.022.7
Tyler Eifert, CINTE55051103150.030.019.6
Coby Fleener, INDTE33052104110.040.019.2
Denarius Moore, OAKWR4502693350.033.334.6
Jordan Reed, WASTE6213796420.066.724.3
Kendall Wright, TENWR7804297228.677.821.4

Alshon Jeffery, WR CHI -
What's not to love about Jeffery's breakout season? Four 100-yard games in his last six, three touchdowns in that span, and best of all, it doesn't matter who's throwing him the ball. Jay Cutler fed him often during the first six-plus weeks of the season, and when Josh McCown took over, he still got the ball with a fair amount of regularity. Jeffery led the league in targets this week, and while Cutler sent 16 of those targets his way through most of the game, McCown followed through with two of his six completions going Jeffery's way. The day would have been even better had his touchdown catch not been ruled against, but there's obviously plenty more where that came from as evidenced by his rise in red-zone target percentage, which jumped from 27.5 to 30.0 percent after just one game.

Rishard Matthews, WR MIA -
As opined above, is he a sheep or a wolf? He stepped in as the slot receiver when Brandon Gibson went down, saw 10 targets over a two-game span and caught exactly half of those passes for a total of 54 yards. Now suddenly he explodes for 14 targets (11 catches) and 120 yards? Seems a little fishy. With Revis and Johnathan Banks blanketing Hartline and Wallace and Dashon Goldson helping out, Matthews found himself open across the middle quite a bit. Maybe he flashes a little something against a weak San Diego secondary, but with matchups coming against Carolina, the Jets, Pittsburgh and New England, you're better off saving your time and money.

Steve Smith, WR CAR -
Not to beat a dead horse, but this week now makes eight of nine where Smith has fewer than 65 receiving yards and the one week where he had more, he still had fewer than 70. Who in the world is still using this guy? If he doesn't find the endzone, he's garbage. There are probably dozens of receivers who can give you five points a week (standard scoring), so if you own him, try and trade him. Someone believes in the name; just don't let it be you.

Tyler Eifert, TE CIN -
Talk about a blown opportunity! With no Jermaine Gresham standing in his way, Eifert saw 10 targets last week, but still failed miserably. He caught just three of those 10 targets for just 55 yards and did nothing to show the coaches that he could handle the job should he be awarded the opportunity. Moments like that don't come along too often, so you need to strike while the iron is hot. Eifert did nothing of the sort, and now with Gresham headed back onto the field, it's highly doubtful that Eifert will see that number of targets again.

So what does the overall look like?

Overall Targets Leaderboard

(Click column headings to sort.)

A.J. Green, CINWR10136379118652430.255.131.1
Vincent Jackson, TBWR6624318102462138.745.132.1
Pierre Garcon, WASWR803334699612533.361.628.6
Andre Johnson, HOUWR850535796621016.264.626.9
Calvin Johnson, DETWR904937396533340.855.225.7
Brandon Marshall, CHIWR786833693602022.064.527.7
Antonio Brown, PITWR805334093671423.472.027.4
Cecil Shorts, JACWR607130491482423.552.729.9
Dez Bryant, DALWR749837089522625.658.424.1
Victor Cruz, NYGWR714433387501229.057.526.1
DeSean Jackson, PHIWR903732585541022.563.526.2
Alshon Jeffery, CHIWR735333684472430.056.025.0
Torrey Smith, BALWR753234683411122.749.424.0
Mike Wallace, MIAWR495134179401118.950.623.2
Steve Johnson, BUFWR471335179411929.451.922.5
Jimmy Graham, NOTE8051036379541425.668.421.8
Demaryius Thomas, DENWR793936879551818.869.621.5
Wes Welker, DENWR576936878533529.767.921.2
Steve Smith, CARWR450327177421939.354.528.4
Eric Decker, DENWR721336875492418.865.320.4
T.Y. Hilton, INDWR66353217441713.055.423.1
Emmanuel Sanders, PITWR507234074411321.355.421.8
Julian Edelman, NEWR473234074491526.366.221.8
Jordy Nelson, GBWR772731473492430.067.123.2
Antonio Gates, SDTE612234973521817.571.220.9
Kendall Wright, TENWR580129472501023.369.424.5
Jordan Cameron, CLETE600636072502533.369.420.0
Jason Witten, DALTE532437072471320.965.319.5
Jamaal Charles, KCRB389231571471722.566.222.5
Hakeem Nicks, NYGWR57003337138822.653.521.3
Tony Gonzalez, ATLTE505436971472225.866.219.2
Larry Fitzgerald, ARZWR493531770391527.655.722.1
Brian Hartline, MIAWR53423416943613.562.320.2
Denarius Moore, OAKWR558427468352234.551.524.8
Anquan Boldin, SFWR57422206741829.261.230.5
Josh Gordon, CLEWR62633606635911.153.018.3
Harry Douglas, ATLWR620136965451414.569.217.6
Golden Tate, SEAWR574430564411025.064.121.0
Greg Little, CLEWR340136063281215.644.417.5
Jerome Simpson, MINWR49103076233412.953.220.2
Danny Woodhead, SDRB220134962532126.385.517.8
Nate Washington, TENWR46822946129510.047.520.7
Martellus Bennett, CHITE421433661402428.065.618.2
Robert Woods, BUFWR34923516026917.643.317.1
Davone Bess, CLEWR285236060311115.651.716.7
Greg Jennings, MINWR410230759341129.057.619.2
Jared Cook, STLTE428334959331615.755.916.9
DeAndre Hopkins, HOUWR539235759371418.962.716.5
Aaron Dobson, NEWR454434058311421.153.417.1
Jordan Reed, WASTE487334658441315.675.916.8
Dwayne Bowe, KCWR369231557331017.557.918.1
Michael Floyd, ARZWR46423175736824.163.218.0
Chris Givens, STLWR463034957281215.749.116.3
Scott Chandler, BUFTE38823515735714.761.416.2
Julius Thomas, DENTE547936857422020.373.715.5

Target Percentage

Over the last several weeks, we've sort of glossed over the target percentage leaders as Vincent Jackson, Anquan Boldin, A.J. Green and Cecil Shorts rotate around as the top four. At one point we looked at how ineffective Boldin has been this season, but we've ... I mean, I ... have been willing to wait it out until late in the season when Mario Manningham and eventually Michael Crabtree are on the field and suddenly the double-teams on Boldin cease. We also noted, that both Green and Shorts were easily going to continue seeing a heavy load of targets. But what about Jackson? What about a No. 1 receiver who has recently lost his No. 2, has a minimally effective ground game lending very little in support, and a cast of complementary characters who give me no reason to be complimentary? Couple that with a highly disappointing 45.1-percent catch rate and really, what are you left with? Sometimes it's not just about the quantity of targets, is it?

Peyton Manning is writing the blueprint for maintaining happiness and camaraderie in the league's most potent offense. This week it's Demaryius Thomas leading the trio of Broncos receivers in targets percentage. Wes Welker is second on the team and Eric Decker rounds it out in third. But just two weeks ago (the week just prior to the bye), it was Welker, followed by Decker and then Thomas. The week before that, it went Decker, Welker and then Thomas. Prior to that? How about Welker, Decker, Thomas? The rotation of receivers is masterful. Manning is keeping everyone happy and while all three see their fair share of action each week, one usually stands atop the other two and takes the overall lead for just the week. Can anyone tell me who will take the lead after this week's game against the Chiefs? Yup. That's right. Make sure you have Decker active this week, folks.

Red-Zone Target Percentage Leaders

With the same three receivers - Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant - sitting atop the leaderboard for red-zone targets, let's look at whose red-zone target percentage seems to be on the move still.

Victor Cruz/Hakeem Nicks, WR NYG -
In the few weeks leading up to the Giants Week 9 bye, Nicks was actually climbing up in red-zone targets percentage. He still never found the scoring touch, but he went from a 17.1-percent red-zone target rate to a mark of 25.0 percent while Cruz saw a drop from 31.9 to 25.0 percent during that same span. But everything seemed to get back to normal in Week 10 as the disparity between the two, with regard to the red-zone target percentage, increased and Cruz was back to seeing the bulk of the work. While additional fluctuation is obviously possible, my gut tells me that it will be between Nicks and Reuben Randle while Cruz looks on from above.

Jason Witten, TE DAL -
Once accused of favoritism for his perpetual lock on his tight end's whereabouts, Tony Romo has been doing a lot less leaning on Witten these days. In fact, Witten has seen just one red-zone target over his last two games, something completely unheard of at one time. Couple that with the emergence of Terrance Williams, a few appearances by Cole Beasley and a recent announcement from Coach Garrett that they want to get the ball to Dez Bryant more, and you have a tight end who is just bleeding fantasy value now. And while some owners may still be holding out hope, target numbers the last five games indicate that there might not be a transfusion on the horizon.

Mea Culpa

Dwayne Bowe, WR KC -
Remember last week when I said, "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." Well, now we may never get to see that chance. He's supposedly going to get a chance to face Denver in Week 11, but this might be the last week you would even consider using him as he could see a suspension late in the season following his recent arrest for possession of a controlled substance. Listen, I'm all for the legalization of marijuana [Editor: what happened to not talking politics?] but come on, guys. Save it for the offseason. It is not a performance enhancer on the field and don't let anyone tell you differently.

Potential Risers
(those who failed to crack the leaderboard this week)
Keenan Allen
Marques Colston
Greg Olsen
Matt Forte
Darren Sproles

Potential Fallers

Michael Floyd
DeAndre Hopkins
Nate Washington
Scott Chandler
Jerome Simpson (suspension looming?)

Week 11 Matchup to Watch

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles -
We expect Nick Foles to be under center still for the Eagles so expect some more fireworks as the Skins allow 275 passing yards per game with 19 touchdowns through the air this season. DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper should almost certainly rack up a ton of yards and a ton of fantasy points. Meanwhile, on the other side, the Eagles pass defense is even worse than that of the Redskins, allowing 307 yards per game. The Eagles have allowed four fewer touchdowns, but in the end, they are considerably worse. Expect plenty from Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed in this one and look for RGIII to get Leonard Hankerson more involved in this one.