Here is a deep dive behind some of the key statistics (targets, red zone and goal line) for Fantasy success to help give you a little edge in your weekly quest for victory.
• Jason Witten saw a ridiculous 22 targets in Week 8 and caught an NFL tight end record 18 of them for 167 yards. He led the NFL in all three categories this past week and no one else in the league had 18 targets, let alone 18 catches! After a slow start to the season due to a spleen injury, Witten has come on like gangbusters the last four weeks and has been the favorite target of his quarterback, Tony Romo. In the last four games, Witten has seen 51 targets (12.75 per game) and has hauled in 43 of them for 411 yards and a touchdown. That's right, only eight of those 51 targets have even hit the ground and Witten has at least six catches in every game. He is a must start and is dominating the position of late in PPR leagues. One other thing, to put the 51 targets and 43 catches over the last four games in perspective, think about the fact that Andre Johnson has seen 52 targets for the entire season and has caught 34 of them.
• After seeing at least eight targets and producing at least 60 receiving yards in each of his first three games as a member of the Patriots, Brandon Lloyd has seen his utilization and production decrease significantly. Over the last five games, Lloyd has hit the eight-target mark only twice and has been held to 50 or fewer receiving yards four times! In fact, his receiving totals in the last five games are as follows: 50, 34, 80, six and 28. Not only have his targets decreased, but he has had a total efficiency meltdown as well. Over the first three weeks of the season, Lloyd caught 67 percent of his targets and averaged 7.3 receptions and 79 yards receiving per game. Since then, Lloyd has caught only 41.7 percent of his targets and is averaging just 5.5 yards per target. On a per game basis during this bad stretch, Lloyd is averaging three catches and just 39.6 yards receiving per game. Had he not caught a couple of touchdowns, he would have been a complete bust.
• Speaking of another top wide receiver in a "good" offense who is struggling, how about Malcom Floyd? Let's look at his last 10 games dating back to 2011 and see what is going on. From Week 15 of 2011 through Week 2 of 2012, Floyd produced at least 10 Fantasy points in every game and had 90-plus yards in four games along with four total scores. In those five games, Floyd saw 42 targets and averaged 5.6 catches and 98.6 yards per game thanks to a very solid 66.7 percent target conversion rate and an elite 11.6 yards per target average. In his last five games, however, things have changed dramatically as Floyd has just one 10-point Fantasy game and has just one game with more than 60 receiving yards. In those five games, Floyd has seen just 32 targets and averaged 3.8 catches and just 57 receiving yards per game. His efficiency has fallen off dramatically as well, as Floyd has caught just 59.3 percent of his targets and averaged 8.9 yards per target. Floyd needs more chances and he needs the old Philip Rivers to return or it will be a painful finish to the 2012 season.
• Chris Givens now has a 50-yard catch in five straight games after hauling in 50-yard touchdown against the Patriots in Week 8. For the year, Givens is averaging 25.6 yards per catch and is posting a strong 10.8 yards per target despite catching only 41 percent of his looks. If he can ever get that catch rate above 50 percent, look out! The good news for Givens is that over his last three games he has caught nine of his 16 targets. It should come as no surprise that he's posted 9.3 Fantasy points per game during that span.
• I was sure many would moan and groan about my Cecil Shorts joke last week but was hoping that the message would come through because he was a great 'Bye Week Broski' in Week 8. Shorts had some tall production for the second straight week as he paced the Jags with 12 targets, eight catches and 116 yards receiving. That is back-to-back games with at least 11 points for Shorts, who has made the most of his ascension to the starting lineup in those two games. Shorts is one of only five pass catchers in the NFL to see 10 or more targets in each of the last two games. He has developed into the go-to guy for Blaine Gabbert (who knew such a thing could exist) and is absolutely worth a look on the wire if you need any kind of wide receiver help.
• Denarius Moore will be a Top 12 Fantasy receiver on Draft Day in 2013 if he keeps up his great play of late. Moore has seen at least eight targets in every game this year and has produced at least 100 yards or a touchdown in four of his last five games. He has not produced fewer than seven Fantasy points in a game during that span and has shown the development to produce even when the deep ball is taken away. During that five-game run, Moore has caught 53.4 percent of his targets and is averaging a solid 8.1 yards per target. That is significant because it shows his maturation as a receiver in just his second season. Last year, Moore caught just 43 percent of his targets and was a boom or bust player who relied solely on the deep ball to produce. The increase in his catch rate and his ability to be productive in games where he does not need a 40-yard catch means that Moore is a consistent producer who can be counted on every single week for your Fantasy teams.
• Steve Smith is still looking for his first touchdown of 2012 and now has three scores in his last 15 games, but his last two weeks certainly have been encouraging. Over the last two weeks against the excellent pass defenses of Dallas and Chicago, Smith has seen 25 targets and has caught 14 of them for 201 yards. He is still averaging a very solid 9.3 yards per target this year and if he can score, he will get back to being very productive. With an easy upcoming schedule, now is the time to buy in on Smith, who should finally score a touchdown in Week 9 against the Redskins.
• Of course Mike Williams disappointed us against the Saints in Week 7, but he came back with a vengeance against the Vikings in Week 8, leading the team with six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown. For the year, Williams has produced 100 yards or a touchdown in five games, which is tied for fifth among all receivers. The only players ahead of him in that category are A.J. Green, Percy Harvin and Miles Austin, who may be having the quietest big season in recent memory.
• Dwayne Bowe is a man who needs touchdowns to produce and right now, he is in a drought. In his last 18 games, Bowe has found the end zone in just three of them, which is not going to pay the Fantasy bills at all. With Romeo Crennel saying that Brady Quinn will be the team's quarterback when he is healthy, this scoring drought could see a run like he had at the end of 2011, when he went 11 weeks with only one touchdown. Bowe has not hit the 70-yard mark in three straight games, nor has he found the end zone in that span against relatively soft pass defenses in Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Oakland. For his career, Bowe has only produced 10 or more Fantasy points without scoring a touchdown five times. If you can get anything better than a bag of cool ranch Doritos for Bowe, now is the time to sell.
• Is there trouble on the Tony Gonzalez front? In three of his last four games, Gonzo has been held under 60 yards and without a touchdown and a lack of targets seems to be to blame. In his four games with a score, Gonzalez averaged 10.5 targets per game. In the three games with five or fewer Fantasy points, Gonzo has seen just 5.7 targets per game. He is a volume player and we will have to hope that the volume goes back up for the stretch run.
• I don't care if Dustin Keller is on a bye this week because if you need a tight end, he could be your savior. In the last two weeks, Keller has seen 18 targets and has 14 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. He has seven catches in each of the two games and is back as the main man for quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Jets are bad and will need to throw it a lot, so Keller is going to be very busy down the stretch and should easily average five catches per game for your teams.
• One of the big reasons to love Rashad Jennings with Maurice Jones-Drew out is the fact that he excels in the passing game. In his two weeks of full-time action, Jennings has been the target of 17 passes and has caught 13 of them for 104 yards. Those receiving yards are a big reason why Jennings has posted more than 100 total yards in back to back weeks. With that kind of floor for a running back, Jennings is a great start as long as he is the man in Jacksonville.
• Target Leaders by position for Week 8: Wide receiver: Steve Smith (16), Miles Austin (16), Brandon Marshall (14), Percy Harvin (12) and Cecil Shorts (12); Tight end: Jason Witten (22), Rob Gronkowski (13), Dustin Keller (11) and Jimmy Graham (10), Running back: Darren Sproles (nine), Rashad Jennings (eight) and Ronnie Brown (eight)
• I had been talking a lot about how Matthew Stafford's yardage was right there with where he was in 2011 but that the touchdowns, and more specifically, red zone touchdowns were really lacking. Well, let's hope that Week 8 was a sign of things to come for Stafford, who produced three red zone scores in the Lions comeback win over the Seahawks. Stafford's three scores came on a season-high 11 red zone chances. The three scores on 11 attempts is the 27 percent red zone scoring rate that Stafford also enjoyed in his 2011 breakout season. Hopefully this is a sign of big things to come.
• Of the 30 quarterbacks with at least 20 red zone pass attempts, here is a look at the leaders in touchdown percentage: Ryan Fitzpatrick (eight scores, 40 percent scoring rate), Aaron Rodgers (15, 37 percent), Matt Ryan (14, 35 percent), Peyton Manning (12, 32 percent) and Drew Brees (15, 30 percent). Now, one of these guys is not like the others, but clearly there is a correlation between red zone success and Fantasy points.
• Stevan Ridley can be maddening to own on a weekly basis as his Fantasy point totals are either boom or bust. He has four games with at least 18 Fantasy points, but three with six or fewer. One thing that cannot be denied is his workload in the red zone. Ridley will enter his bye week with 34 red zone carries and five red zone rushing scores, both second most at his position. If he can smooth out the week in which he does not score to the eight to 10 point level, we will have a Fantasy superstar on our hands.
• Jamaal Charles did not score in Week 8 (he had only eight touches all game long, which is absurd), but Jonathan Dwyer overtook him to hold the dubious distinction of the most carries inside the red zone without a touchdown at 14. Now Dwyer is coming off of back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, but some touchdowns would really make his production jump. The more pressing question however, is what will the Steelers do with Dwyer when Rashard Mendenhall returns to action from his injury?
• Darren McFadden has touched the ball a very healthy 26 times inside the red zone this year (his 24 carries rank eighth), but he has only one red zone touchdown all year. If he can get into the end zone, he might just salvage his Fantasy value with his easy schedule to finish out the year.
• Do you need more evidence that Denarius Moore is making a big leap as a complete receiver in his sophomore season? Well, how about the fact that Moore has scored three touchdowns (of his four total) on his 11 red zone targets, which is a very solid 27.2 percent red zone scoring rate. It should also be an eye-opening number for you when you remember that as a rookie, Moore had only one red zone touchdown out of six total scores. He is developing into a true threat and is a must start option right now.
• Rob Gronkowski scored four red zone touchdowns in the last two weeks alone to get in a tie atop the tight end red zone touchdown leaders with six scores. He is tied of course with Heath Miller, who has also scored in each of the last two weeks. Gronk may be the bigger star of the two, but if Heath keeps scoring he has a good shot at landing a nice Miller time endorsement.
• Thanks to the aforementioned Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger leads all quarterbacks with seven passing touchdowns from inside the five-yard line this year. Aaron Rodgers and goal line audible ace Peyton Manning are tied for second with six each.
• The Giants know how to block up front because over the last two weeks, Andre Brown has scored on both of his goal line carries and Ahmad Bradshaw converted his only carry as well. More interesting may be the fact that Brown has taken two goal line carries to one for Bradshaw during that span and now trails only Arian Foster with five goal line rushing scores.
• Peyton Manning has done wonders for Willis McGahee in the touchdown department as the running back is second in the NFL with 11 goal line carries and is third with four scores. That becomes even more impressive when you consider that Willis had only four rushing scores in all of 2011.
• There are six wide receivers with multiple goal line receiving scores and it is an interesting mix of talent. Eric Decker, Jordy Nelson, Roddy White and A.J. Green are outside receivers who can win on slants or fade routes. Randall Cobb and Santana Moss are quick, slot receivers who do not usually produce this close to the goal line. Clearly both Randall and Santana are becoming favorites of their respective quarterbacks, which is great news for the budding superstar in Cobb and the ageless veteran in Moss.