NFC Team-by-Team Notes: Position Breakdown
This week (NFC) and next week (AFC), I will be focusing on one particular position for each team.
I will discuss the status of the players at that position over the first four weeks of the season and, in cases where it is appropriate, explain which players are likely to progress (in a positive or negative direction) going forward.
At the end of each team’s paragraph, I will give advice on how you should treat each of the players in a 12-team league. Finally, I will leave you with an interesting team statistic, which might be unrelated to the position analysis.
Note: A player who is a handcuff to one of your stars is obviously more valuable to you than he is to the other owners. That said, if I call a team’s second string RB “waiver wire fodder” or “a guy who shouldn’t be owned”, but you own that team’s top RB, you should probably upgrade that player a notch. Keep that in mind.
Dallas Running backs:
Tashard Choice has seen 33% of the team’s carries this season due (for the most part) to injuries to both Marion Barber (39%) and Felix Jones (19%). He’s also been thrown to significantly more than his counterparts, seeing 12% of the targets.
When Jones and Barber are active, Choice will, of course, be relegated to the third RB position on the depth chart, but should see more action throughout the season than initially anticipated.
Jones’ stock also has to be considered going up. He’s averaging over 10 yards per carry on 21 carries and will continue to see a respectable share of the workload as the season goes on…assuming he can stay healthy.
The only problem for these two guys (and Barber) is each other. The three will continue to steal carries and looks from each other, but fortunately for them, Dallas should run more than most teams as the season goes on…assuming they aren’t playing from behind a lot.
12-team league advice: When all three are healthy, Barber is a must own, Jones is bench material, and Choice is waiver wire fodder and should only be owned as a speculative hold.
19%/11% – Same figures for both Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton. They indicate the percentage of team targets and team receptions that have gone to them. Tony Romo has clearly split the workload evenly.
New York Wide Receivers
Steve Smith has been a fantasy superstar so far this season. Eli Manning has thrown his way on 35% of his pass attempts and Smith has delivered, accounting for 42% of he team’s reception total.
Smith’s 44 targets lead the NFC and his 34 catches are tops in the NFL.
Mario Manningham has been impressive in the WR2 slot, but dropped several balls in week 4. Nonetheless, 25% of Manning’s passes have gone to him.
If he continues to struggle hanging onto the ball, WR3 Hakeem Nicks could step up now that he is healthy again. Nicks was targeted 7 times in the 2 games he was active.
Domenik Hixon missed the last two games, but was targeted just six total times in the first 2 weeks. He is unlikely to contribute much this season as the WR4. Sinorice Moss and Derek Hagan are the WR5 and WR6, respectively. Both have seen little action.
12-team league advice: I’m still treating Smith like a second-tier wide receiver, but he’s been playing like a first-tier WR. Make sure he’s in your lineup. Manningham’s drops concern me, but he should be owned and starting for someone. Nicks is a great player to have on your bench. Don’t bother with any other WRs on the roster.
3.6/1.3% – The Yards-Per-Carry and TD-per-carry figures for Brandon Jacobs. Both are very underwhelming, but should improve as the season goes on. Jacobs will get his touchdowns.
Philadelphia Wide Receivers
Injuries have impacted this, but DeSean Jackson is obviously the go-to wide receiver. He has been targeted on 22% of the team’s passes.
Kevin Curtis missed a game, but still has seen 11% of the team’s passes go his way. Jason Avant is the WR3 and has also seen 11% of the targets.
Jeremy Maclin (8%) is becoming more involved each week. Reggie Brown (2%) only saw action in week 3 due to Curtis’ injury.
When looking at these numbers, consider that Kevin Kolb has thrown 84% of the team’s passes this season and that will change with Donovan McNabb expected back in week 5.
That being said, the Eagles love to spread the ball around. Jackson likely will see near 20% of the looks, while Curtis shouldn’t be too far behind. Avant and Maclin will see a few a game.
12-team league advice: Like Smith, I still consider Jackson a 2nd tier WR despite his play so far. He is a must start, but he’s not as good an option as the top options out there.
Kevin Curtis’ stock is very low right now with all the injuries, but don’t give up on him completely. Philly loves to pass the ball. He’s not a bad option for WR depth.
For now, Maclin isn’t worth owning except as a speculative add in case Curtis misses more time. Avant is not worth owning.
23% – Tight End Brent Celek has been targeted on a team-high 23% of the team’s pass attempts and has responded with 22 catches for 245 yards and 2 scores.
Washington Wide Receivers
Malcolm Kelly may have won the battle with Antwaan Randle El and Devin Thomas for the WR2 spot, but it’s been Randle El who has seen the most targets and success of the three.
Jason Campbell has thrown to Randle El 16% of the time, compared to 10% to Kelly and 3% to Thomas. Meanwhile, Santana Moss is still leading the WR crew. He’s been targeted 23% of the time.
12-team league advice: Moss will continue to get his looks and should be starting in your league. Randle El and Kelly are waiver wire fodder and you probably don’t even want them on your bench at this point. Don’t even consider Thomas.
8% – Ladell Betts was expected to see more work this season, but has carried the ball on just 8% of the team’s run plays. This is compared to 70% for Clinton Portis.
Chicago Wide Receivers
Devin Hester and Johnny Knox both suffered injuries in the team’s week 4 game, but both appear to be okay for a return after the team’s week 5 bye. Hester has seen 14% of the team’s targets, while a team-high 19% have gone to the rookie Knox.
Thanks mostly to a huge week 1 performance, Earl Bennett (17%) still leads the team in receptions and yards, but not by much. WR4 Rashied Davis (2%) has just 2 catches on 2 targets.
12-team league advice: The trend seems to be that Cutler will spread it around to Hester, Knox, and Bennett pretty evenly. All are borderline WR3 material, but I’d probably feel most comfortable with Hester, followed by Knox and then Bennett. Don’t consider Davis.
40% – That is the catch rate for Greg Olsen—the worst rate in the NFL for a tight end with more than 10 targets. 25 Jay Cutler passes have gone to Olsen, but only 10 were catches, making Olsen a great buy low.
Detroit Tight Ends
Prior to the season, no one seemed too sure of how the Lions would use rookie Brandon Pettigrew. After his target-less season opener, it seemed obvious: they wouldn’t.
However, after being targeted 19 times over the last 3 games, it’s clear that he is going to be a part of the passing game.
Pettigrew has racked up 13% of the team’s targets and has caught 10 of them for 131 yards (a great YPR mark for a TE). Will Heller (8%) is the team’s second receiving option at TE, while Casey Fitzsimmons (3%) chips in as well.
12-team league advice: Considering that 16 tight ends have been targeted more often than Pettigrew, starting him in a 12-team league would be foolish at this point. If you need a one-week fill in for a bye week, however, he’s not a bad option. Heller and Fitzsimmons should be on free agency.
93 – Kevin Smith has 74 carries and 19 targets (16 catches) for a total of 93 looks. That ties him with Cedric Benson at third in the entire NFL in looks behind only Steven and Fred Jackson. His 90 touches also rank third in the NFL.
Green Bay Tight Ends:
There was a little bit of hype for Jermichael Finley this off-season as a possible breakout tight end. After a quiet week one in which incumbent starter Donald Lee tripled him in targets, Finley had 7 in week two.
Right when it seemed Finley would progressively become more involved in the offense, not one ball was thrown his way in week 3.
Following his 6 catches on 7 targets for 128 yards in week 4, most are left scratching their heads as to what his role will be.
Overall, Lee has seen 18 targets (14% of team’s pass attempts) and Finley has been thrown to 15 (12%) times. Lee has 2 more catches, but Finley has an incredible 116 more receiving yards and the only touchdown between the two of them.
12-team league advice: Finley is not starting material quite yet, but if your league has deep benches and your tight end situation isn’t great, he’s not a bad player to have on your bench.
If he begins to see a higher percentage of the looks compared to Lee as the season goes on, his value could rise as high as a borderline starter in all formats. Lee should not be owned.
14.3 – Aaron Rodgers is averaging 14.3 yards-per-completion, the best mark in the NFL. His 6:1 TD:INT ratio is also one of the league’s best marks and his 104 rush yards are the most by a quarterback in the NFC.
Minnesota Wide Receivers
The Vikings will run more than most teams, but there wide receivers do hold some value. Bernard Berrian appears to be the one with the most value, despite the slow start.
After not recording a catch on only 2 targets in week 1, Berrian has been targeted 25 times the last 3 weeks. Overall, Berrian has been targeted on 22% of Brett Favre’s passes.
Percy Harvin (16%) has scored twice already via the passing game and also has 5 carries.
Sidney Rice (18%) seems to be progressing nicely and also has 2 receiving touchdowns.
Greg Lewis, who has just one catch (albeit a big one), Jaymar Johnson, and Darius Reynaud are non-factors at this point.
12-team league advice: Berrian should be in someone’s weekly lineup in 12-team leagues. Harvin is borderline, but should definitely be in there in leagues that award special teams points. Rice is waiver wire fodder.
100% – Adrian Peterson isn’t much of a pass catcher, but he’s caught all 8 of the passes thrown his way so far. He won’t continue to catch 100% of his targets, but if he can approach 30 receptions, that will be an added bonus for owners who drafted him in PPR leagues expecting a figure closer to 15.
Atlanta Running Backs
The pre-season word was that Michael Turner would see less carries in 2009 than he did in 2008. That hasn’t been the case.
Why is not exactly clear, but one main reason is the fact that Jerious Norwood has missed significant time to due injury and the team would prefer to give the ball to Turner a few extra times rather than hand it to RB3 Jason Snelling.
Overall, Turner has carried it on 80% of the team’s run plays. Snelling (9%), Matt Ryan (7%) and Norwood (4%) have handled the rest.
One thing is for sure, the team is throwing to the backup running backs (total of 15% of team’s passes) a lot more than they are to Turner (2%), which was expected and limits Turner’s value in PPR formats.
12-team league advice: Regardless of your format, Turner should be starting in your league. Norwood is a great buy low right now, especially in PPR, and isn’t the worst player to have on your bench in standard leagues if you have room. Leave Snelling on waivers.
29% – Roddy White has been targeted on 29% of Matt Ryan’s passes, the fourth highest mark in the league.
Carolina Running Backs
There was a lot of pre-season talk about Jonathan Stewart potentially getting a larger share of the workload than he did in 2008.
That, however, would’ve come at the expense of carries for DeAngelo Williams, who had an outstanding 2008 campaign. The split has favored Williams 58%-to-32%, which is about what many projected anyways.
Both have seen a respectable amount of looks from the passing game as well, which wasn’t something that was expected.
Williams (12% of the team’s targets) and Stewart (8%) have taken less of a hit in PPR leagues than expected. That could change if Carolina returns to running the ball at a higher rate like they did successfully in 2008.
12-team league advice: Williams is a must-start every week and is one of the best RB options out there. Stewart is a must own, but is a flex option at best.
33% – Steve Smith has been targeted on 33% of the team’s pass attempts this season, which is the second highest mark in the NFL and lower only to the other Steve Smith’s mark of 35%.
New Orleans Wide Receivers:
Marques Colston is the clear No. 1 receiver and has accordingly been targeted on a team-high 21% of Drew Brees’ passes.
Devery Henderson (17%) is not far behind and is the clear No. 2 option despite the success last season of Lance Moore (3%), who hasn’t been involved much this season. Robert Meachem (6%) was expected to do more, but does appear to be the WR3.
12-team league advice: Colston is a must start in all formats. Henderson is a borderline bench player, while Moore is valuable only as a speculative addition to your bench. Meachem isn’t valuable at this point.
34%/27%/25% – The Saints RB crew is probably more interesting than the wide receivers, but injuries have done such a number on the backs, that I chose to save them for another week.
Mike Bell missed weeks 3 and 4, but leads the running backs with 34% of the carries going to him. Reggie Bush (27%) has ironically been the only back of the three to play in each of the team’s first four games.
Pierre Thomas has seen 25% of the carries after sitting out all of week 1 and most of the action in week 2.
Tampa Bay Running Backs:
Injuries have impacted this battle for playing time and that is likely to be the trend going forward considering Cadillac Williams’ injury resume and Derrick Ward’s current status.
Williams has seen 42% of the carries so far this season, compared to 29% for Ward. Williams also leads in % of targets, seeing 11%, compared to 5% to Ward.
Those figures would all be closer if Ward didn’t miss the team’s week 4 game, so you should expect close to a 50/50 split going forward (assuming both are active).
12-team league advice: Both Williams and Ward should be owned. Ward should be on someone’s bench for now while he recovers and Williams should be starting while Ward is out.
When both are healthy, I wouldn’t feel overly confident starting either of them unless you have no better options.
21% – Kellen Winslow is the most targeted player on the team and it’s not even close. He’s seen 21% of the looks and the second-closest is a tie between Michael Clayton and fellow tight end Jerramy Stevens at 13%.
Arizona Running Backs
Prior to the season, it was anyone’s guess as to who between Chris Wells and Tim Hightower would see most of the carries. So far, it’s been all Tim Hightower. Wells has seen just 28% of the carries and not one target.
Hightower, meanwhile, has carried it 56% of the time and was thrown to on 20% of the team’s pass attempts. LaRod Stephens-Howling and Jason Wright have combined for 4% of the carries and 4% of the targets and add depth to the backfield.
12-team league advice: Wells is not worth owning except as a hold in case he sees more action later in the season. Hightower is a decent play right now in PPR leagues, but only worth a flex spot in standard leagues.
23%:20% – Many jumped on the Larry Fitzgerald bandwagon this off-season, but many also forgot about Anquan Boldin. Fitzgerald has seen a team-high 23% of the team’s targets go his way, but Boldin isn’t far behind at 20%.
Seattle Wide Receivers:
TJ Houshmandzadeh has been considered to be somewhat of a bust so far in 2009 thanks in part to his zero touchdowns, but he really hasn’t been. He’s been targeted on a very respectable 23% of Seattle’s pass attempts and is on pace for 88 receptions.
Nate Burleson has been a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners and the fact that he’s seen a team-high 25% of Seattle’s pass attempts is why.
Deion Branch missed the first two weeks of the season and was targeted 9 times total in weeks 3 and 4 for a total of 5% of the team’s targets this season.
Rookie Deon Butler (5%) and Ben Obomanu (1%) have also made a small impact.
12-team league advice: Houshmandzadeh and Burleson should be starting for someone at this point.
Houshmandzadeh is reliable and Burleson has proven that, when healthy, he is the real deal. Branch is an excellent WR to have on your bench, but Butler and Obomanu shouldn’t be owned.
20% – When they signed Edgerrin James, the coaching staff said he was there only to compliment Julius Jones. Considering James has seen just 20% of the carries (compared to 55% for Jones), they clearly weren’t lying.
San Francisco Wide Receivers:
Well, Michael Crabtree signed today, so this should be interesting.
So far, it’s been veteran Isaac Bruce (24%) whose been racking up a majority of the targets at wide receiver. Josh Morgan has seen 12% and Arnaz Battle just 4%.
You’ll notice that the wide receiver totals only add up to 40%. This is because utilizes their wide receivers less than any other team in the NFL. That could change depending upon how quickly Crabtree can make an impact.
12-team league advice: Bruce was quietly a very good fantasy WR in 2008 and should be on a roster in 12 team leagues right now. Josh Morgan is disappointing and worth no more than a speculative bench spot.
The same goes for Crabtree, who can’t be expected to make much of an impact this season after missing several weeks. That said, he must be owned in all leagues because of his potential. Note that he will be inactive in week 5 and possibly beyond that.
26% – Vernon Davis has seen 26% of the team’s pass attempts go his way—the second highest mark among tight ends in the NFL behind only Chris Cooley.
St. Louis Wide Receivers:
Laurent Robinson was injured in week 3 and is done for the season, but before he went down, he had been targeted on over 20% of the team’s pass attempts.
Despite missing a game, he still has caught 19% of the team’s targets this season. Donnie Avery (21%) now returns to the spot of unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver and should see plenty of looks as the season goes on.
Keenan Burton (14%) moves up to the number-two slot and Danny Amendola (2%) appears to be the third option at this point in time and Ruvell Martin (1%) also will see work.
12-team league advice: Avery is the only receiver worth owning right now. Burton has some value as the WR2, but the Rams offense is so terrible that there are a ton of better options than Burton out there. Martin and Amendola cannot help your team.
103 – Steven Jackson has 103 looks (carries+targets) this season, which is most in the entire NFL. His 95 touches also rank first in the league.
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