Here is a deep dive behind some of the key statistics (targets, red zone and goal line) for Fantasy Football success to help give you a little edge in your weekly quest for victory.
• If you made it this far with Brandon Lloyd on your roster, you did it without any of his help. Now that the playoffs are here, Lloyd is showing up and all of a sudden you have a new starting wide receiver just in the nick of time. To understand just how shocking his recent success has been, check out the following. In the eight games prior to Week 14, Lloyd had been targeted 49 times and produced 25 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns. Yes, those are eight-game totals, which equate roughly 3.1 catches for 34.25 yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game. Well, in the last two games alone, Lloyd has been targeted 25 times and has 17 catches for 279 yards and a touchdown! He has more receiving yards in the last two games than in the previous eight combined and saw his yards per target jump from 5.6 to 11.16! Lloyd has shown up at just the right time and looks worthy of a start once again in Week 16.
• Anyone who had Big Daddy Cool Cecil Shorts on their teams sure was excited to get him back in Week 15, as he hauled in six of his 11 targets for 101 yards. That marked the fifth straight game of 10 or more points for Shorts, who has hit double-digits in seven of his eight games as a starter for the Jaguars. In fact, despite missing Week 14 with a concussion, Shorts is the No. 7 Fantasy wide receiver since becoming a starter for the Jags in Week 7. In those eight games, he has caught 41 passes for 720 yards and five touchdowns, which is a 16-game pace of 82 for 1,440 yards and 10 scores. That is some elite production from Shorts, who has 100 yards in four games and has found the end zone in five of the eight games, including four of the last five. Shorts is averaging a healthy 9.3 targets per game and is producing 90 yards (9.7 yards per target) and 0.63 touchdowns per game, which translates to 12.75 points per week.
• Entering Week 15, Danario Alexander was the third ranked Fantasy receiver from Week 10 on and was averaging six catches for 99 yards and a touchdown per game. Then in critical Week 15, Alexander caught as many passes as you or me. He was targeted a season-low three times and failed to produce a single catch despite the fact that the Chargers were blown out by the Panthers. With Antonio Cromartie and the Jets on tap in Week 16, Alexander could struggle once again. After all, Cromartie just held the red-hot Kenny Britt to one catch for seven yards on Monday Night Football and has given up a grand total of 20 Fantasy points to eight of the last nine receivers he has faced. Alexander could struggle once again in Week 16 and if you survived his Week 15 face-plant, you might want to look elsewhere for a starting receiver for your team.
• Last week I talked about the fact that Michael Crabtree had twice as many catches (16) as any other San Francisco pass catcher had targets in Weeks 13 and 14. Well in Week 15, Crabtree was once again the main man for Colin Kaepernick against the Patriots. He was targeted 12 times (no other 49er had more than four targets) and caught seven passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns in his best Fantasy day of the year. Over the last three weeks, Crabtree has at least 11 targets, seven catches and 93 yards in every single game. During that span, he is fourth in the league with 34 targets, 23 catches, 301 yards and is tied for fifth with two touchdowns. He has now produced at least nine Fantasy points in four of the five games with Kap under center and should take advantage of a Seahawks defense that will be without both starting cornerbacks in Week 16. Keep in mind that Kap has tunnel vision for Crabtree right now (34 targets and no other 49er receiver has more than 11) and that is always a good thing for Fantasy production.
• Danny Amendola finally got back on the field in Week 15 and that was a welcome sight for Sam Bradford and Amendola's Fantasy owners. In his return to action, Amendola was targeted 12 times and caught six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. He also added a two-point conversion for a solid Fantasy day of 13 points. In his last three full games, Amendola has been targeted at least 11 times every time out and has a total of 35 targets, 24 catches, 201 yards and a touchdown. Obviously I prefer Amendola in PPR leagues, where he is averaging a very solid 17.3 points per game, but he has hit 10 or more in two of his last three in standard leagues as well. With the horrendous Buccaneers pass defense on tap in Week 16, look for Amendola to put up another solid week when you need it the most.
• Reggie Wayne is slowing down at the worst possible time for Fantasy owners and the once steady producer from the beginning and middle of the season seems to be gone. In the first 11 games of the 2012 season, Wayne never had fewer than five catches or 72 receiving yards in any single game. Over the last three weeks however, Wayne has not even hit the 65-yard mark in any game and has been held to fewer than five catches twice. His targets have fallen some, but he is still averaging nine targets per game, so that is not the full story. The real problem is that Wayne's efficiency has gotten worse from the mediocre levels of the heavily targeted early portion of the season and you have to wonder if the elderstatesman of the Colts is hitting the proverbial wall. In the first 11 games, Wayne caught just 58 percent of his targets and averaged 7.7 yards per target, but his numbers remained great due in large part to averaging 13 targets per game. Over the last three weeks, Wayne is catching only 48 percent of his targets and is averaging a horrendous 4.8 yards per target. Those are dreadful figures and the drop to nine targets per game is only exacerbating the problem. He should find success against the Chiefs in Week 16, but he is far from the must start that he was early in the year.
• Just because I want to see Julio Jones get superstar level targets, I will point out once again that he needs more targets. Jones caught all six of his targets for 74 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants in Week 15. He has four touchdowns in his last four games and is averaging 1.45 Fantasy points per target, seventh best in the NFL this year. All I want for him is 10 targets per game and if Jones ever gets there, he will challenge for the top Fantasy receiver spot alongside guys like Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green.
• Antonio Brown is back at just the right time and has even figured out how to score touchdowns, which has made him a solid Fantasy receiver for the suddenly pass-happy Steelers. In his three games back from injury, Brown has been targeted 31 times and has 17 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns. The numbers do not blow you away, but he has a touchdown (and 10 Fantasy points) in back to back games and his Fantasy points have increased every single week. The Steelers are airing the ball out a ton and you could do worse for your third receiver then a talented guy like Antonio Brown, who is seeing 10 targets per game this late in the season.
• Marques Colston is making me nervous and the reason is a complete lack of targets. It really has been a tale of two seasons for Colston, who averaged 10 targets, 5.8 catches, 83 yards and 0.7 touchdowns per game over the first seven games of the year. In the last seven, Colston has almost become invisible to quarterback Drew Brees, which has clearly been bad for his production. In the last seven games, Colston is averaging just 5.6 targets, four catches, 52.7 yards and 0.42 touchdowns per game. He has lost 45 percent of his target volume and that is putting tremendous pressure on his production, because it doesn't even matter that he is ridiculously efficient. Over the last two weeks for example, Colston has caught all seven of his targets for 121 yards, which is an absurd 17.2 yards per target. It doesn't even matter, though, because with so few targets and no touchdowns in his last three games, Colston has just 19 Fantasy points total. Hopefully you have survived this drought from Colston and Brees helps Colston get back to the 10 target per game level before the Fantasy season is over.
• Aaron Hernandez is absolutely on fire the last three weeks, catching 26 of his 43 targets (yes that is 14.3 targets per game for a tight end) for 247 yards and three touchdowns. Hernandez has at least eight catches in every game and is averaging just under nine catches for 82.3 yards and a touchdown per game. Last week, he led the NFL with 19 targets and it is clear that Hernandez has been the go to guy for Tom Brady down the stretch with Rob Gronkowski out. He has back-to-back games with at least 15 Fantasy points, so hopefully he can help bring you home a Fantasy title.
• Dennis Pitta'd the fool who had to play against him the last two weeks with banner performances when they counted the most. Pitta was a top waiver pickup prior to Week 14 because he was going to face the two defenses that were the worst against the tight end position -- Washington and Denver -- in his next two games. Well, Pitta took advantage of those matchups, notching five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown against the 'Skins on just six targets. He followed that up with a career game against the Broncos, as Pitta hauled in seven of his 10 targets for 125 yards and two scores. Pitta has now scored in four of his last six games, with the only exceptions being the two games against the tough Steelers pass defense. This week, Pitta will face the Giants, who just surrendered a touchdown to Tony Gonzalez, and he will hope to keep his touchdown streak alive. Even with the two duds, Pitta is averaging an amazing 1.8 Fantasy points per target over the last six weeks and is as efficient as any player at the position right now.
• Steven Jackson has been a late season stud for many Fantasy owners and it has not been just because of his rushing totals alone. In fact, Jackson has been rediscovered in the Rams' passing game over the last three weeks and it has paid great dividends. Jackson actually leads all running backs with 14 catches and 151 yards receiving over the last three weeks, which is pretty amazing when you consider that he had 16 catches for 129 yards in the first 11 games of the year combined. It is a great trend for Fantasy owners, who should see Jackson have continued success in Week 16 against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed running backs to average six catches and 42 yards receiving per game.
• Target Leaders by position for Week 15: Wide receiver: Calvin Johnson (17), Brandon Lloyd (16), Andre Johnson (13), Antonio Brown (12), Vincent Jackson (12), Pierre Garcon (12), Steve Johnson (12), Michael Crabtree (12) and Danny Amendola (12); Tight end: Aaron Hernandez (19), Dallas Clark (12) and Dennis Pitta (10); Running back: Danny Woodhead (10), Steven Jackson (10), Matt Forte (8), Darren Sproles (8)
• Tony Romo has been terrible in the red zone, with only 10 touchdown passes on 65 attempts. That is a 15.3 percent red zone-scoring rate (I wonder if he misses 2011 Laurent "Red Zone" Robinson), which is the worst figure among the 20 busiest quarterbacks inside of the opponent's 20-yard line. Fortunately for his Fantasy owners, Romo has been killing it outside of the red zone. Romo has 12 passing touchdowns of 21 yards or more this year, second only to Aaron Rodgers' 13 bombs. It is interesting to note as well that Cam Newton, like Romo, has more passing scores of 21 or more yards (10) than he does in the red zone (eight).
• Of the 55 running backs who have taken at least 10 red zone carries this year, let's take a look at the five best and worst touchdown scorers so far in 2012. The five best in terms of touchdown percentage on their carries inside the 20-yard line are: Andre Brown (42 percent), Mikel Leshoure (31), Beanie Wells (31), Fred Jackson (30) and DeMarco Murray (29). On the other side of things, the five worst red zone scorers have been Curtis Brinkley (zero percent), Alex Green (zero), Darren McFadden (four), Jamaal Charles (five) and Vick Ballard (five).
• Trent Richardson is third in the NFL with nine red zone rushing scores and I love the way that the Browns feed him the ball in scoring situations. Richardson has 40 red zone carries while quarterback Brandon Weeden has 49 red zone pass attempts and I think the Browns would be wise to hand it off even more to their talented back whenever they get near the goal line. After all, Weeden has thrown for just six red zone touchdowns, so the Browns have a significantly better chance of scoring (22.5 percent vs. 12.2 percent) when they just hand the ball off.
• If you need another reason to be excited about T.Y. Hilton for the 2013 season, I think you can find it in the red zone stats. We all know he is a big-time deep threat, but Hilton is also showing that he can get the job done inside the 20-yard line as well. Over the last four weeks, Hilton has turned both of his red zone targets into scores and I am telling you right now, this kid will be a star next year.
• One of the big reasons that Owen Daniels has slowed down of late is his current struggle in scoring situations. Over the last five weeks, Daniels has scored only one of his six red zone targets. Prior to Week 11, Daniels had converted three of his four red zone targets into touchdowns. I like the workload increase that he has seen of late, but with sketchy yardage totals, he needs to be more efficient in scoring situations.
• Michael Turner has a league high 10 goal line carries and five goal line touchdowns over the last five weeks. Those scores have been saving his Fantasy value, but the good news is that with the Falcons offense generating plenty of opportunities for the big fella, they do not seem to be going away any time soon.
• Over the last five weeks, Matt Forte is the only running back with three or more goal line chances who has failed to score. The good news is that Forte should continue to get chances with Michael Bush, but the bad news is that Forte has been the worst goal line back in the NFL over the last three years. Hopefully he can fix that for you in Week 16 against Arizona and punch in a touchdown.
• Beanie Wells has scored three goal line rushing scores over the last four weeks and has five total touchdowns during that span. He scored all five of them at home and has the chance to notch another one against the Bears in Week 16. If he does not score, we are likely looking at a two or three point day from Wells, but the Bears have allowed three rushing scores in their last three games, so I'm saying there is a chance.
• Aaron Hernandez is filling the Gronkowksi role at the goal line nicely for Tom Brady. Over the last two weeks alone, Hernandez has been targeted three times inside of the opponent's five-yard line and has produced two short scores. Look for him to remain on fire the rest of the year.