There's an easy explanation why Brandon Lloyd went from obscurity to the No. 1 Fantasy wide receiver in 2010. His targets increased.
Lloyd, who was an afterthought for the Broncos prior to last year, replaced the departed Brandon Marshall and went from 18 targets in two games in 2009 to 153, which was fourth among wide receivers. The result was 77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns for 203 Fantasy points in a standard league.
Can Lloyd do it again this season? We don't see a significant drop-off for him, but his production will decline based on a new offense in Denver under coach John Fox and some quarterback uncertainty with Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. Lloyd should now be considered a No. 2 Fantasy wide receiver on Draft Day. But the key for Lloyd is the amount of targets he will receive, and he should remain heavily involved in the game plan, which is all we can hope for.
We're talking about targets, red-zone targets, touches and red-zone touches. Those are second-level stats that could make the difference between a Fantasy championship and a last-place finish.
Targets typically apply to wide receivers and tight ends, but running backs who catch the ball can also significantly help your Fantasy team. A target is how many times a quarterback attempted a pass in the direction of his teammate.
For example, as you can see from the interactive graphic below, Roddy White led all receivers in targets with 179 in 2010. He caught 115 passes and finished with 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. White has seen his targets rise each of the past four seasons. He's gone from 136 targets in 2007 to 148 in 2008 to 165 in 2009. It's easy to track his development -- as his targets have increased, so has his Fantasy production, which is why he is now a Top 3 receiver in all leagues on Draft Day.
The only cause for concern for White staying on top of the target leaders is the addition of rookie wide receiver Julio Jones and rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who are both going to be factors in the passing game for the Falcons. But it's not like White is going to disappear -- far from it -- and he might draw more single coverage. Have no fear taking White early in the second round.
Jones, meanwhile, isn't going to see a heavy amount of targets playing opposite White, which will lower his value, since it's hard to expect Matt Ryan trusting Jones right away with White and Tony Gonzalez still on the field. And while fellow rookie wide receiver A.J. Green should see more targets in Cincinnati, especially with veterans Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco likely gone, that doesn't mean he will be a Fantasy star in his first year.
Remember, the Bengals are expected to have quarterback issues if Carson Palmer is traded or retires and the team starts rookie Andy Dalton. The targets will be there for Green, but the accuracy might not when it comes to his rapport with Dalton.
If you're looking for sleeper wide receivers this year, focus on the ones who will likely see a significant increase in targets. And those we've chosen to highlight include Danny Amendola, Mike Thomas, Mario Manningham, Earl Bennett, Jordy Nelson and Jacoby Ford. As for the rookies, look at Jones, Green, Greg Little, Leonard Hankerson and Titus Young.
Amendola. The Rams slot receiver was among the Top 20 receivers in targets last year with 123, but he should reach the Top 10 this season. With new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels calling plays, Amendola has the chance to be used like Wes Welker. Amendola had 85 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns in 2010, but he should approach 100 catches and 1,000 yards in this new offense.
Thomas. The Jaguars could go into the season with Thomas as their No. 1 wide receiver, which would mean his targets would increase from 102 last year. He finished with 66 catches for 820 yards and four touchdowns in 2010, but he could approach 120 targets this year. If Thomas can maintain his 65 percent completion rate from last year he would be looking at 75-plus catches this season.
Manningham. The Giants could be looking at Manningham in a starting role opposite Hakeem Nicks if Steve Smith does not return as a free agent or is limited to start the season with a knee injury. Manningham closed last season with 92 targets and finished with 60 catches for 944 yards and nine touchdowns. The majority of his production came late in the year when Smith and Nicks were dealing with injuries, and Manningham could approach 75 catches, 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns as he goes over 100 targets.
Bennett. According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett did not drop a single pass last year of his 70 targets. He finished with 46 catches for 561 yards and three touchdowns, which shows that Jay Cutler missed him on 24 passes. He also missed two games, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz said Bennett has the chance to start this year opposite Johnny Knox. With an increase in targets based on more playing time, his production will increase. Now if only Cutler can be more accurate.
Nelson. We all witnessed Nelson become a star in the final three games of the playoffs with 21 catches for 286 yards and two touchdowns against Atlanta, Chicago and Pittsburgh. His performance in the Super Bowl was outstanding with nine catches for 140 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. He should build on that outing, especially if James Jones leaves as a free agent and with Donald Driver on the downside of his career. Nelson only had 64 targets last year for 45 catches, 582 yards and two touchdowns, but he should improve dramatically with more playing time this year.
Ford. As a rookie last year, Ford was a surprise with 53 targets for 25 catches, 470 yards and two touchdowns. But he's expected to get more playing time in his sophomore season, and he spent time this offseason working with former NFL standout and current ESPN analyst Cris Carter in Delray Beach, Fla. Carter told CBSSports.com he sees plenty of potential in Ford, but "Jacoby's not a wide receiver yet." Ford should see his targets increase, and he has the potential for a 50-catch season this year as his receiving skills improve.
The rookie receivers. Jones and Green should post quality stats in their rookie campaigns, and Jones has a slight edge over Green based on the better quarterback play even though Green should see more targets. Little and Hankerson could emerge as the best receiving options for the Browns and Redskins, respectively, especially if Santana Moss doesn't return to Washington as a free agent. And Young isn't going to see a lot of targets as the No. 3 wide receiver for the Lions behind Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, but he is a tremendous deep threat who could excel in Detroit's offense.
At tight end, Gonzalez has set the standard for which all players at his position are measured. He also was the leader in targets at tight end for three seasons from 2007-09. That streak ended last year when Jason Witten had 128. Gonzalez wasn't far behind with 111, which tied for third, but his days as an elite Fantasy option are over.
Gresham. We told you not to expect too much from Green as a rookie because he might be catching passes from Dalton, but young quarterbacks usually tend to favor tight ends. That should help Gresham, who had 88 targets last year and finished with 52 catches for 471 yards and four touchdowns. If Owens and Ochocinco leave, Gresham's involvement on offense, especially in the red zone, should go up. He should eclipse the 100-target mark in his second year.
Gronkowski. Fantasy owners struggled last year almost on a weekly basis deciding between Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This year, look for Gronkowski to step forward as the better tight end option of the Patriots' duo. Hernandez, who had 64 targets for 45 catches, 563 yards and six touchdowns, will remain a significant factor on offense. But Gronkowski has the ability to score more and should also see his targets go up. He finished last year with 59 targets for 42 catches, 546 yards and 10 touchdowns. His scoring ability gives him more Fantasy value than Hernandez, and we see Gronkowski catching more than 50 passes in 2011.
Shockey. There are a couple of reasons why Shockey's targets should increase. If he stayed in New Orleans instead of going to Carolina, he was likely going to lose his job to Graham. Along with that, he's healthy after missing three games in 2010. Last year, Shockey had 59 targets for 41 catches, 408 yards and three touchdowns. Like Dalton to Gresham, expect to see a lot of Cam Newton to Shockey with the rookie quarterback looking to his tight end as a safety valve. And if Steve Smith leaves the Panthers, Shockey's value will increase even more.
Cook. The Titans have wanted to get Cook more involved each of the past two seasons, but he's had to share time with Bo Scaife. Last year, Cook had 45 targets for 29 catches, 361 yards and one touchdown. Scaife might not return as a free agent, which would help Cook, but his quarterback situation is also unsettled with rookie Jake Locker not a lock to start. But as we said with the previous rookie quarterbacks, tight ends can be their best friend.
Graham. He might be my favorite sleeper in 2011, and I've been touting him since he was drafted last year out of the University of Miami. Graham played great in limited time last season with 43 targets for 31 catches, 356 yards and five touchdowns. He's going to be even better this season with Shockey gone and a year of learning under his belt. Keep in mind he had a limited college experience, but quarterback Drew Brees should consider him a valuable weapon. Of the tight ends listed here, he is the only guaranteed starting option in every league.
At running back, it shouldn't be a surprise that LeSean McCoy was the leader in targets with 90. He led all running backs in receptions with 78 to finish with 592 yards and two touchdowns. But McCoy was second in receiving yards behind Arian Foster, who had 84 targets for 66 catches, 604 yards and two touchdowns. Just another reason why Foster is a solid choice as the No. 1 overall pick this year.
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Some running backs who could benefit based on their targets going up in 2011 include Knowshon Moreno, Cedric Benson, Rashad Jennings, C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews. You can also expect several rookie running backs to be factors in the passing game, specifically Kendall Hunter, Rodgers, Jordan Todman and Shane Vereen.
Moreno. The Broncos have indicated that Moreno can be used as a third-down back if they sign a free agent like DeAngelo Williams, who has ties to Fox from their days together in Carolina. Last year, Moreno had 48 targets for 37 catches, 372 yards and three touchdowns. He was among the league leaders in yards per catch (10.1) at running back, and he could remain a No. 2 Fantasy running back in leagues where receptions count even if he loses his starting job. And if the Broncos don't add a significant veteran like Williams and Moreno remains the starter, then obhviously his value would be even higher.
Benson. Most Fantasy owners don't think of Benson as a receiving option out of the backfield, but he had 38 targets for 28 catches, 178 yards and one touchdown last year. With new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden installing a West Coast offense, Benson could see more passes in his direction if he remains in Cincinnati as a free agent, which is expected. Bernard Scott will likely see most of the action on passing downs, but Benson might get close to 50 targets in 2011, which will only enhance his overall value.
Jennings. The Jaguars don't want to run Maurice Jones-Drew into the ground, especially after last year when he was limited with a knee injury. Taking him off the field on passing downs makes the most sense, and that's where Jennings could shine. He had 33 targets last year for 26 catches and 223 yards, but the Jaguars could involve him more in the passing game this year with the lack of talent at wide receiver. And if Jones-Drew misses more time due to injuries then Jennings could improve his overall game.
Spiller. The Bills are going with the same tandem as last year with Fred Jackson and Spiller, but Spiller has to do more, especially as a receiver. Last year he had 31 targets for 24 catches, 157 yards and one touchdown. It was the only offensive touchdown he scored as a rookie. Coach Chan Gailey has promised to get Spiller more involved, and even though Jackson is an every-down back, the Bills have to get more out of Spiller than just in the return game. He is worth drafting in all leagues with a late-round pick.
Mathews. It's obvious that Mathews will see an increase in targets and touches because he will be healthy this season after dealing with ankle problems in his rookie year. He had 26 targets for 22 catches and 145 yards. But with Darren Sproles not expected back as a free agent, someone has to fill that void as a receiver out of the backfield since Sproles had 75 targets for 59 catches, 520 yards and two touchdowns. Todman will take a bulk of that production, but look for Mathews to also see more action in the passing game. That will only enhance his value as a bounce-back candidate in his sophomore campaign.
The rookie running backs. I love the potential for Rodgers with the Falcons, and so does SI.com columnist Peter King, who compared him to former Giants running back Joe Morris "with hands." Rodgers will play in passing situations in place of Michael Turner. Hunter has potential to be the third-down back for the 49ers and share playing time with Frank Gore. Todman could replace Sproles on passing downs and on special teams. And Vereen could compete with Danny Woodhead to play on passing downs for the Patriots. If he wins that role and is catching passes from Tom Brady then he will be considered a tremendous sleeper in leagues where receptions count.
Aside from targets with running backs, we also look at touches -- overall and near the goal line. You can easily see why Michael Turner, Steven Jackson, Foster, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson and Ray Rice were all Top 10 Fantasy running backs in 2010 because they were in the Top 7 in carries as all finished with more than 300. Benson was the only running back with more than 300 carries who finished outside the Top 10 at No. 16.
Now, it's not a guarantee that carries will turn into success. Last year, Thomas Jones had 245 carries compared to 230 for Jamaal Charles, his backfield mate. Jones finished with 121 Fantasy points while Charles had 222 on the strength of his receiving prowess. He had 45 catches compared to just 14 for Jones.
Lynch. He had 202 carries last year, but it was a disjointed season after he was traded from Buffalo to Seattle. In 12 games with the Seahawks, Lynch had 165 carries for 573 yards and six touchdowns. He has the potential to reach 275 carries as he gets the majority of touches in Seattle, and he should improve now that he has a better understanding of the offense. Justin Forsett will likely remain in his third-down role, but Lynch should be considered a sleeper with the chance to gain 1,300 total yards and nine touchdowns. He is worth drafting with a mid-round pick.
Jones. The Cowboys are expected to part ways with Marion Barber, and Jones should see an increase from his 185 carries last season. Rookie DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice will still take away some touches, but Jones is still the best running back in Dallas. He has the potential for 220 carries, and last year he also had 48 catches. If he can get his hands on the ball close to 300 times then he should produce 1,500 total yards with at least five touchdowns. This should be the year that Jones finally lives up to his potential.
Greene. The Jets have indicated that Greene will get the majority of carries this season even with LaDainian Tomlinson still on the roster, Joe McKnight showing promise toward the end of last season and drafting rookie Bilal Powell. Greene was expected to handle this role last year, and he struggled while getting 185 carries, finishing with 766 yards and two touchdowns. But Tomlinson struggled in the second half in 2010, McKnight is more of a change-of-pace back and Powell likely won't play a prominent role until 2012. Greene should have a bounce-back year, and he has the chance for 250 carries and 1,200 rushing yards.
Jacobs. Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he wants to get Jacobs more carries in 2011 after he played well last year with 147 carries for 823 yards and nine touchdowns. If he can continue to average 5.6 yards per carry then he should touch the ball 200 times even if Ahmad Bradshaw returns as a free agent. While 200 carries is likely out of reach if Bradshaw is back, he could be looking at 180, which would lead to around 1,000 rushing yards and double digits in touchdowns. He would be hard to pass up as a No. 3 running back with a mid-round pick in standard leagues.
Goodson. The Panthers are expected to part ways with Williams, which would open the door for Jonathan Stewart to start and get the majority of carries but also for Goodson to step into the No. 2 role. Goodson was good in spurts last season when he had 103 carries for 452 yards and three touchdowns, and he can also be a factor in the passing game with 40 catches for 310 yards. The Panthers will continue to be a run-first team in 2011, and while Stewart has the chance to be a star, Goodson can also have tremendous value with a late-round pick in all formats.
Red Zone Touches
We're not going to speculate on who can improve this season based on red-zone carries and targets because there are too many variables, but you should look at the interactive graphic for these stats to get an indication on what could happen in 2011.
At running back, Turner had the most red-zone carries with 68, and he managed to score 11 times on the ground. Foster was next with 66, and he scored 13 times on the ground. He also had 10 red-zone targets and scored twice. His 112 red-zone Fantasy points were No. 1 -- 22 ahead of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who had 90.
In looking at wide receivers in the red zone, it might surprise you that Jeremy Maclin led all players at his position with 52 Fantasy points inside the 20-yard line. He had 16 targets for 11 catches, 104 yards and seven touchdowns. By comparison, teammate DeSean Jackson had 11 targets in the red zone and had just four catches for 8 yards and one touchdown.
That's something to keep in mind when deciding between the two on Draft Day this year. Jackson has more big-play ability, but Maclin might have more value overall, and you can draft him at least one or two rounds later.
Another surprise should be who led all receivers in red-zone targets in 2010 -- Amendola. The 5-foot-11 receiver had 24 targets, and while he only managed 16 catches for 79 yards and three touchdowns, it shows that you don't have to be 6-foot-5 to be dominant near the end zone.
Lance Moore and Wes Welker, who are both listed at 5-foot-9, each were in the Top 5 in red-zone targets with 22 and 21, respectively. As for Lloyd, the leader in Fantasy points last year, he had respectable stats in the red zone: 20 targets for six catches, 54 yards and six touchdowns.
Gonzalez might have lost his crown as the most targeted tight end overall, but he was No. 1 in the red zone in 2010 with 20. He finished with 10 catches for 63 yards and six touchdowns and was No. 5 in Fantasy points in the red zone behind Gronkowski, Witten, Gates and Marcedes Lewis.
Gronkowski, who scored nine touchdowns in the red zone on 12 catches for 82 yards, could dominate this category for years. His production in the red zone makes him an attractive option for Fantasy owners this season.
There is a lot more data for targets, touches and red-zone stats to look over with the interactive graphic below, so take full advantage of this tool on Draft Day.
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