Tricks of the trends after Week 16
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.
• Eric Decker saved his best for last and carried many Fantasy owners to a Fantasy Football title in Week 16. Decker bounced back from averaging just four Fantasy points per game during a torturous stretch from Week 10 to Week 13 to light it up in the playoffs. In Week 14, he caught eight of his nine targets for 88 yards. He followed that up with eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown in Week 15 against Baltimore and then gave you another monster game in Week 16 by catching six passes for 65 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns. All of a sudden Decker's targets and efficiency returned at exactly the right time. Over his three-game breakout, Decker saw 26 targets and caught 22 of them (85 percent) for 287 yards (11 yards per target) and three touchdowns (1.77 Fantasy points per target). Decker produced 15 Fantasy points per game when you needed it the most and if you survived his late-season drought, he clearly helped bring home many a Fantasy title.
• Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks -- on the other hand -- were sure to have been the culprits in many Week 16 losses. The duo combined for eight targets in a blowout loss to the Ravens, which in and of itself is astounding. The fact that Nicks was shutout and Cruz caught just three passes for 21 yards is even more absurd. In fact, this dynamic duo totaled the following stats in Week 15 and Week 16 combined: 20 targets, nine catches (45 percent), 76 yards (3.8 yards per target) and no touchdowns. They netted a combined seven Fantasy points in two weeks and I can say for sure that Hakeem Nicks is not likely to ever show up on one of my Fantasy teams again.
• Jordan Shipley is someone to keep an eye on in Week 17 and beyond for the Jaguars. He has the potential to become a very good third receiver in the NFL and caught five of his 10 targets for 82 yards in Week 16. In the two games that Cecil Shorts has either missed entirely or missed a big part of, Shipley has stepped up with 10 catches for 137 yards. With Shorts out again in Week 17 with another concussion, Shipley could be a nice sleeper to watch in PPR leagues.
• I am sure many are disappointed with the overall production from Jeremy Maclin this year, but I would argue that all he needs are elite level targets to produce like an elite wide receiver. Maclin has been targeted 10 or more times in five games this year and has scored a touchdown with at least 15 Fantasy points in all of them. In those five games, Maclin was targeted 63 times and caught 38 of them for 509 yards (8.1 yards per target) and five touchdowns (1.27 Fantasy points per target). Amazingly, in his other nine games this year, Maclin was targeted 49 times and caught 27 of them for 326 yards (6.6 yards per target) and one touchdown (0.77 points per target). In his five big games, Maclin's 80 Fantasy points more than doubled the 38 Fantasy points he produced in the other nine games. Fantasy owners have to hope that Maclin can remain "the man" for whoever takes over in Philly in 2013 and if he does, you could have a breakout star on your hands.
• Brian Hoyer to the rescue! Larry Fitzgerald could have a nice Week 17 finish to his abysmal season thanks to Hoyer, who finally breathed some life into Fitz. The duo has played one half together and it must have seemed like Kurt Warner finally returned to Arizona. Hoyer targeted Fitz seven times in the second half and they connected on four passes for 50 yards. Now I know that those are not groundbreaking numbers, but Fitz has not sniffed nine yards per target in months and hopefully he can have the kind of dignified finish to 2012 that he deserves.
• Julio Jones was at it again in Week 16, catching seven of his 11 targets for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. He scored in all three of the Fantasy playoff games and averaged nearly 15 points per game during that span. Not to be completely outdone, teammate Roddy White was the real stud in Week 16, catching eight of his 10 targets for 153 yards and two touchdowns. White had over 100 yards with a score in two of the three playoff games an this dynamic duo will be Fantasy gold again in 2013.
• This not just in, because he has been a Tricks of the Trends darling for months, but Dez Bryant is good! Dez finished his remarkable run over the second half of the season with the single best performance of his career and one that his Fantasy owners will long remember for winning them their leagues. In Week 16, Dez had a tasty matchup with the Saints and took advantage of it to the tune of nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 targets. In other words, in this one game, he caught 75 percent of his targets, averaged 18.7 yards per target and produced 2.83 Fantasy points per target. Those insane numbers capped off an insane run for Bryant, who has scored in seven straight games and produced a total of 46 catches, 808 yards and 10 touchdowns during that streak. He will finish as a Top 5 Fantasy receiver in 2012 and should be right back there in 2013.
• I begged for more targets for Marques Colston in this space last week and for Week 16 anyway, our voices were heard. Drew Brees went Colston's way a season-high 13 times and he caught 10 of them for 153 yards. If he had any kind of speed at all, he would have had 154 yards and a touchdown, but ran out of gas and was caught just before he scored by a couple of defenders. Colston averaged 14.2 points per game when he saw 10 or more targets and just 6.6 points per game when he did not. It sounds like another classic case of throw that man the ball!
• Tony Gonzalez was the No. 1 Fantasy tight end headed into Week 16, but hung a big fat zero on his Fantasy owners when they needed a good game. He saw a season-low two targets and caught just one pass for nine yards in the team's rout of the Lions. It was the worst regular season performance of his career (not counting Week 17 of 2011 when he played one series) and you would have to go back to Week 2 of 2006 to find Gonzalez with a zero next to his name. Ouch!
• Something may be afoul in Oakland right now and I think it could explain the reason why Brandon Myers has completely disappeared. After his monster game against the Browns (14 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown), Myers has disappeared from the team's game plan and I have to wonder if his impending free agency has anything to do with it. Over the last three weeks, Myers has been targeted just 10 times and has six catches for 32 yards. There is no other three-game stretch this year (excluding his Week 4 concussion) where Myers has been targeted less than 15 times and that was the first three weeks of the season. Once he got going, Myers saw at least 20 targets in every three-game stretch from Week 6 on. So this was a massive philosophical change and I think the Raiders are trying to save some money on Myers' upcoming deal. If I am even partially correct, it is something Fantasy owners may have to pay more attention to in the future with impending free agent players on teams who are already out of contention.
• LeSean McCoy did not waste any time getting back in the mix for the Eagles, especially as a pass catcher, where he hauled in a season-high nine passes for 77 yards. I know it is only a two-game sample size, but I like how much Nick Foles incorporated McCoy into the passing game, which could bode very well for the shifty runner in 2013. In his only two starts with Foles, McCoy saw 18 targets and caught 15 passes for 144 yards. That is pretty darn significant to me, because in his other nine games this year, McCoy caught 34 passes for only 168 yards. Foles not only used McCoy more often (7.5 catches per game vs. 3.78) but clearly put him in a better position to succeed, as he averaged 8.0 yards per catch from Foles and only 4.9 yards per catch from Vick. Keep that in mind if Foles is the starter for Philly in 2013 and you play in a PPR league, because McCoy could get back to being a dominant pass catching running back.
• Target Leaders by position for Week 16: Wide receiver: A.J. Green (18), Mike Williams (17), Calvin Johnson (16), Vincent Jackson (15), Demaryius Thomas (14), Brandon Marshall (14) and Jeremy Maclin (14); Tight end: Jimmy Graham (11), Benjamin Watson (10) and Heath Miller (9); Running back: Joique Bell (12), LeSean McCoy (11) and Darren Sproles (10)
• This year, six quarterbacks have thrown for 20 red zone touchdowns: Drew Brees (31), Peyton Manning (25), Matt Ryan (24), Tom Brady (23), Aaron Rodgers and Josh "where did you go when we needed you the most" Freeman (20). The first five on the list are among the elite Fantasy quarterbacks this year and Freeman would have been up there as well if he didn't have nine turnovers and only one touchdown in his last two games.
• If I am the Panthers new GM, my first order of business is to get Cam Newton a red zone threat at wide receiver. After all, Cam has just eight red zone touchdown passes this year on 52 pass attempts and his 15.3 percent red zone scoring rate was the second worst in the NFL, trailing only Brandon Weeden . Now, Cam did have seven rushing scores inside the 20-yard line, but if he gets a red zone receiving corps that can produce, the results could be scary. The only thing missing from Cam's game is a big passing touchdown output and if he starts converting inside the 20, he will have the potential to re-write the Fantasy record books.
• There are 10 running backs with at least eight red zone rushing scores this year and while there are some household names, I would think that there are more surprises than ever in 2012. Arian Foster (14), Stevan Ridley (10), Mikel Leshoure (nine and he missed two games to start the year), Michael Turner (nine), Trent Richardson (nine) and Alfred Morris (nine) were the Top 6. Rounding out the Top 10 with eight scores a piece were Shonn Greene , Andre Brown , Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice . Look for Leshoure to be a perennial double-digit touchdown producer in Detroit as long as that team remains committed to him at the goal line, because he is a beast. Shonn Greene will likely not be back on the list, but for one of the most loathed guys on Draft Day, he once again turned in a solid Fantasy campaign.
• Eric Decker was on a milk carton in the red zone during his swoon late in the year, but that was rectified in a big way the last three weeks. Decker scored three red zone scores in the last three games and has 10 such scores on the year, tied with James Jones for most in the NFL. Decker is also currently the league leader with 23 red zone targets and is someone to target, no pun intended, on Draft Day as long as Peyton Manning is his quarterback.
• Kyle Rudolph touchdown against the Texans in Week 16 was his ninth red zone score this year, most among all tight ends. Rudolph now has a touchdown in four of his last eight games, but the biggest problem for Fantasy owners was that in the four games in which he did not score, he produced just three Fantasy points total.
• Only six quarterbacks accounted for 10 or more total touchdowns inside of the opponent's five-yard line this season. They were Tom Brady (15 total/four rushing), Cam Newton (11/seven), Matt Ryan (11/one), Drew Brees (11/one), Matthew Stafford (11/four) and Andrew Luck (10/five).
• Not only did Arian Foster lead all running backs with 11 goal line rushing touchdowns this year, but he was also tied for first along with Darren Sproles and James Casey with two goal line receiving scores as well. Only Tom Brady accounted for more goal line scores than Foster this year, which is pretty darn remarkable.
• Mikel Leshoure scored on six of his seven goal line carries in 2012 and his 85.6 percent goal line scoring rate was best in the league this year among the runners with at least five chances. Mike Tolbert scored on all four of his goal line carries to be the best of the underutilized runners this season.
• Kyle Rudolph and Rob Gronkowski paced all pass catchers this year with five goal line receiving scores. That is amazing considering that Gronk missed multiple games due to injury and perhaps even more impressive is that Rudolph accomplished the feat on exactly five targets.