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.
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.
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