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Quick Fantasy Hits for Week 4

Senior Fantasy Writer
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As we wade into a fourth week of action, there are some nuggets that are too in-depth for the podcast, too smart for Twitter and a little too short for the full column. Enjoy these Week 4 Quick Hits:

Your byes for Week 4: The Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. Which make Donnie Avery and Heath Miller decent free agent pickups if you have the room, as owners looking for need-help-now patchwork for their teams could be turned off by the lack of immediate payoff. Miller is tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns with four. And while Avery has just 14 receptions for 176 yards, he has 27 targets (21st in the NFL -- more than Wes Welker, Steve Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones and Mike Wallace). On top of him getting thrown to a great deal, Avery also has to no longer worry about Austin Collie eating into his playing time, as he is out for the season with a ruptured patella tendon.

Speaking of targets... Let's look at the target leaders after three weeks of play:
1. Reggie Wayne, 40
2. Dwayne Bowe, 37
3. Victor Cruz, 36
4. A.J. Green, 34
4(t). Danny Amendola, 34
6. Brandon Lloyd, 33
6(t). Santonio Holmes, 32
8. Dennis Pitta, 31
8(t). Calvin Johnson, 31
8(t). Jimmy Graham, 31
8(t). Brandon Marshall, 31

Wayne is not slowing down, and Luck seems to be locked on to him. And when Wayne is covered, Luck seems to find Avery. Bowe has converted just 18 of his 37 targets, while Lloyd has been thrown to 33 times, with the end result being just 237 receiving yards. Pitta is an interesting name on the list. The next-highest Raven on the target leader list is Ray Rice, who has 19 targets. After Rice, it's Torrey Smith, who has 18. Ed Dickson, who could have eaten into Pitta's receptions as the team's other tight end, ranks 148th in the NFL with nine targets and has been a virtual non-factor so far this season.

Target data is great and all, but... Let's take a look at the Target-Reception data, to see who's being thrown to, but isn't converting the targets into receptions:
1. Dwayne Bowe, 19 targets missed
2. Reggie Wayne, 17 targets missed
2(t). Santonio Holmes, 17 targets missed
2(t). Vincent Jackson, 17 targets missed
5. Brian Hartline, 16 targets missed
6. Brandon Marshall, 15 targets missed
7. Jimmy Graham, 14 targets missed
7(t). DeSean Jackson, 14 targets missed
9(t). Demaryius Thomas, Donnie Avery, Jason Witten (and more), 13 targets missed

Does any of this mean anything? In some cases, it might:
Vincent Jackson stands out in this group. He has 27 targets on the season, but just 10 receptions, for 204 total yards. With an average of 20.4 yards per reception, if Jackson could have converted just five more passes going forward -- and let's just give him 15 yards per reception here, to be realistic and fair -- that's an extra 75 receiving yards. That would put him between Percy Harvin and Brent Celek for eighth among receiving yard leaders this year. Instead, he's 28th. Now consider this: Tampa Bay travels to Washington in Week 4, which means they're facing the team that has allowed the second-most receiving yards per game so far this season (350 -- interestingly, Tampa Bay has given up the most, with 365.3). Washington has also given up 10 receiving touchdowns over three games, good for the most in the NFL (Tampa Bay has held opponents to just four receiving TDs). If a situation existed for Jackson to break out, this would be it. He is being thrown to, he just needs to convert these targets. And against a team that has given up 1,050 yards through the air so far this season, the time is now for Jackson to step up and build off the 128-yard performance he had in Week 2.
Jason Witten also jumps out from this list. He played Week 1 with a lacerated spleen. This isn't the kind of injury where you get a cortisone shot, slap a brace on, and then play. This is internal bleeding from a very sensitive organ inside the body -- and there's no immediate sign like a limp or bloody nose to show that it's been further ruptured. Witten's problem hasn't been Romo not throwing to him; it's been drops. And can you blame Witten for not wanting to stretch out for a ball, turn, and be met with a helmet to his midsection? Witten has one fewer target (21) than Miles Austin and one more than Dez Bryant. Of all players with 20 or more targets in the NFL, Witten is the only one who hasn't hit double digits in receptions. But it's coming. As that spleen heals, and Witten plays with a sense of fearlessness again, he will start to take off. You're talking about a player who has missed one game in his entire career. He has hit the 90-reception mark three times in his career, twice in the previous three seasons. He has three seasons of 1,000-plus receiving yards and six of 900 or more. And you need to look no further than Tony Gonzalez to see that the tight end position is one that tends to age somewhat gracefully. With the position especially deep this year, it's getting tough to hold on to Witten, but give him at least another week to see if he can return to form. His problem isn't being frozen out of the offense, it's holding on to the ball, and Witten has proven -- many times over in the past -- that he is capable of finishing off the targets that come his way.

Chris Johnson vs. Larry Fitzgerald. Before Larry Fitzgerald's Week 3 breakout, there was a question of which of the two suddenly-useless former superstars would make for the better Fantasy play. Johnson was a first-round pick this year, despite putting up less-than-spectacular numbers in 2011. Fitzgerald slipped down to deep in the second round (a 21.98 ADP) after a second straight single-digit TD season in 2011. There may not be a firm answer to this question, but if you're looking to play one as your flex, here are some numbers that might help:
Over the past three years, Larry Fitzgerald has seen his numbers rise as the season wore on:
September: 59.8 yards per game, four touchdowns
October: 74.4 ypg, two touchdowns
November: 76.3 ypg, five touchdowns
December: 82.3 ypg, two touchdowns
January: 137 yards, one touchdown (in just two games)
If you look at his game log, you see Fitzgerald may have been a little disappointing in 2011, but he only had two games with fewer than 50 yards receiving, and he gave his owners a touchdown in each. In 2010, he had five games under 50 yards, and scored a touchdown in two of them. In 2009, six games under 50, with a touchdown in four (and four of those sub-50 games came in Weeks 14-17, when Fitzgerald played through a knee injury). And in 2008, Fitzgerald gave his owners touchdowns in both games in which he was under 50 yards. Keep in mind, Fitzgerald has also been paired with a varied assortment of quarterbacks, including Max Hall, Derek Anderson, and Matt Leinart.

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Johnson, meanwhile, hasn't been able to strike that sorry-I-had-a-bad-game- here's-something-else-for-you spirit. Over the last three years, he hasn't averaged 100 yards per game rushing in any month -- although he does average 104.8 in November and 92.3 in December over his career. Looking at his game logs, however, he does have a disturbing trend of leaving his owners with very few points between weeks where he has given his owners plenty:
2011: Johnson had 12 weeks with fewer than 75 rushing yards.
2010: Eight weeks below 75 rushing yards.
2009: Two weeks below 75 rushing yards.
2008: Nine weeks below 75 rushing yards.

Johnson's value gets a little complicated because he also adds some points in the receiving game:
• In PPR leagues, a few of Johnson's 2011 games were boons to his value; in Week 7, for instance, Johnson had six receptions to go alongside his 18 rushing yards. In Week 15, he caught eight passes for 54 yards to pair with 55 yards on the ground. And while he didn't score a touchdown, he did get his owners in PPR leagues 18 points in a crucial week. He then promptly followed that up with a five-point, no-reception game in Week 16, likely losing a faithful owner a championship game.
• In 2010, Johnson had 100 yards rushing in back-to-back games just three times during the season. Of his four best receiving games, two came in games where he had already rushed for 100 yards and one came in Week 17, when most leagues have wrapped up their seasons.
• 2009 was Johnson's best season, with the moniker-inspiring 2,006-yard rushing and 503 yards receiving. But go back to 2008. Nine weeks with fewer than 75 rushing yards. Only four with 25 or more receiving yards. It lines up more snugly alongside the 2010 and 2011 campaigns than it does with the 2009 breakout.

So far this year, Johnson has some ugly projections: 176 carries, 240 rushing yards, 48 receptions, 336 receiving yards. First, let's be real; Johnson will not be running for just 240 yards. But his receiving yards have been pretty erratic throughout his career, so we can safely extrapolate those out for a 16-game season. And he's on pace right now for the third-most receptions and third-most receiving yards in his career.
This is all a little concerning, as the data we're given so far in his career points to an odd conclusion -- we don't know what kind of Fantasy player Johnson is, and, if we have to guess, it's not a great one. We know what he's capable of, and we hopefully know what his lowest point looks like, but we can't say with certainty what to expect on a week to week basis. If he catches fire for two weeks, will he just go back to his 2010 tendency to stop the streak at two games? If he runs for 100 yards, will he also catch six passes for 58 yards and then revert to his down numbers in both categories the following three weeks? Will he fail to show up until the end of the year, after he's been traded or given up on, as he did in Weeks 10, 12, and 13 of 2011? Or will he channel 2009 and rip off 11 straight 100-yard weeks? If the problem truly is his offensive line, or the number of plays being sent his way, what would lead us to believe things won't just remain the same? Because we don't know the answers to these questions, when an owner hits the Johnson/Fitzgerald fork in the road, it might be wise to travel down the Fitzgerald path, and let a more adventurous explorer go the Johnson way.

Alshon Jeffery looked good in Week 3. In the midst of the Chicago offensive disaster on Sunday, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery looked pretty solid. He caught five of his seven targets for 45 yards, and tied Brandon Marshall for the team's reception lead. This was all while being covered by Cortland Finnegan, one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Jeffery was a chic pickup after his Week 1 performance against the Colts, in which he had 80 receiving yards and a touchdown. He then caught one pass for seven yards in a Week 2 debacle against Green Bay, dropping his ownership levels from 64 percent to 55 percent. He's Jay Cutler's clear No. 2 option, and if Cutler is afforded an extra second or two of protection to find Jeffery -- a big target who has stellar hands -- the rookie could see a rise in his numbers. Week 4 against Dallas may not be the week to give him a starting nod, but at least keep an eye on Jeffery for bye week flex starts, as he could begin to gain momentum as the season rolls along.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasyfootball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Bears QB Jay Cutler expected back in Chicago with new staff
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:42 am ET) Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is expected to be back in Chicago next season, likely with a new offensive staff, reports CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora on Sunday.

Cutler has accounted for 30 touchdowns and a league-high 24 turnovers for the 5-9 Bears. He has the seventh-best completion percentage (66.1) among all quarterbacks this season. He signed a seven-year, $126 million contract in January and is guaranteed to make $15.5 million next season.


Report: Falcons remain optimistic Julio Jones will play Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:33 am ET) The Falcons remain optimistic that wide receiver Julio Jones will be in the starting lineup Sunday against New Orleans, despite missing another week of practice because of a hip injury, Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports.

Jones ran on Saturday and will test his injured hip hours before kickoff in order to see how it responds. According to Breer, Jones' hip is in "better shape" than last week, and if he warms up without any setbacks, he'll be cleared to play Sunday.

Jones is third among all receivers in receptions (93) and second in receiving yards (1,428) this season. Harry Douglas would get the start if Jones sits out a second straight game.

Atlanta has moved from 6-point to a 6 1/2-point underdog at New Orleans.


Reports: Colts WR T.Y. Hilton a 'long shot' to play Week 16
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:25 am ET) Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who missed a week of practice due to a nagging hamstring injury, appears to be a "long shot" to play Week 16 against the Cowboys, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Hilton will test his injured hamstring during warmups, but will only play if he's at 100 percent and "can be himself," coach Chuck Pagano told Ed Werder of ESPN.

Hilton is tied for ninth in receptions (82) and fourth in receiving yards (1,345) this season. If he's unable to play, rookie Donte Moncrief will see a slight increase in playing time.

The Colts remain a 3 1/2-point underdog at Dallas.


Report: Cowboys' DeMarco Murray to play with protective pad Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:17 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is expected to play Sunday against the Colts, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reports.

The plan is for Murray to play with a pad on his surgically-repaired hand, which he debuted during the team's final walkthru on Saturday. The Cowboys remain concerned with how his injury holds up on Sunday, and if they clinch a playoff spot in Week 16, Murray could be a candidate to sit out Week 17 in order to rest his injured hand.

Murray leads the league with 1,687 yards on 351 carries through 14 games, which is the most in franchise history. He also has 54 receptions for 395 yards.

The Cowboys remain a 3 1/2-point home favorite over Indianapolis.


49ers K Phil Dawson scores five points vs. Chargers Week 16
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:14 am ET) 49ers kicker Phil Dawson made five extra points but missed his only field-goal attempt in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Dawson didn't have much of a shot at converting his lone field-goal try, as his team tasked him with attempting to avoid overtime by nailing a 60-yard field goal at the end of regulation. He didn't come close, and the 49ers went on to lose in overtime.

Dawson has made 23 of his 29 attempts this season and is now 5 for 8 from 50 yards or more. He'll square off with the Cardinals in Week 17.


49ers WR Michael Crabtree plays sparingly vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:11 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree managed just one catch for five yards in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Crabtree, who was questionable to play Saturday due to a knee injury, remained on the sidelines for large portions of the game, even donning a baseball cap at one point. It appeared he was set to play only in an emergency situation. However, the receiving corps was struck by multiple injuries, leaving the team to turn to Crabtree late, and he recorded his only catch in overtime.

Crabtree will try and heal up in time to serve a larger role in his team's season finale against the Cardinals in Week 17.


49ers WR Anquan Boldin catches seven passes vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:08 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin recorded a team-high seven receptions on nine targets for 61 yards in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Boldin managed more than half of the team's receiving production Saturday, as the other San Francisco players combined for only 53 yards on eight receptions, though rookie Bruce Ellington did managed to catch a touchdown.

Boldin had his best performance since a nine-catch, 137-yard breakout in Week 12. He's racked up 81 receptions for 981 yards with four touchdowns going into a Week 17 matchup with the Cardinals, a team for which he played from 2003 to 2009. He'll be looking to secure his seventh career 1,000-yard performance in the season finale.


49ers WR Bruce Ellington scores twice in Week 16 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:03 am ET) 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington tallied three rushing attempts for 12 yards and a touchdown and added an eight-yard touchdown reception in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Ellington scored both of his touchdowns in the second quarter, first hauling in the eight-yard touchdown on a play-action pass for which he was wide open. He then added the rushing touchdown on a jet play on third-and-goal where he took the ball on the move immediately after the snap and found a crease on the right side for the score.

It wasn't all positive for the rookie, as he was ruled out in the second half with a hamstring injury. If he can heal sufficiently during the upcoming week, he'll be in line to face the Cardinals in Week 17.


49ers RB Frank Gore rumbles for 158 yards vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:58 am ET) 49ers running back Frank Gore racked up 26 carries for 158 rushing yards with one touchdown in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Both numbers represent season highs for Gore, who hasn't had a better rushing day since the 2009 season. He set the tone early, shaking off would-be tacklers en route to a 52-yard score less than two minutes into the game. Gore continually proved difficult to tackle, as he would have managed his third 100-yard game of the season even without the long touchdown.

Gore is now up to 962 rushing yards and four rushing scores on 230 carries. He has a reasonable shot at cracking the 1,000-yard mark in his team's Week 17 matchup with the Cardinals.


49ers QB Colin Kaepernick tallies 151 rushing yards vs. Chargers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:54 am ET) 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 15 of his 24 pass attempts for jsut 114 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions but added 151 rushing yards on seven carries in his team's 38-35 overtime loss to the Chargers in Week 16.

Kaepernick had little trouble picking up chunks of yards against a defense that seemed adverse to tackling -- the 49ers set a new team record with 355 rushing yards in the game -- but his highlight came on a 90-yard scamper where he went untouched after crossing the line of scrimmage, with the Chargers committing a penalty on the play for good measure.

The rushing touchdown was the first of the season for Kaepernick, and his 151 rushing yards marked a new regular-season high. However, he's also failed to top 175 passing yards in any of his last four games. The 49ers will look to close out the season in strong fashion when they face the Cardinals in Week 17.


 
 
 
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