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Sep 04

Touches and Targets: Week 1 Preview

Each week on Wednesday we’ll be reviewing the action from the previous week, highlighting notable touch and target counts that may lead to actionable fantasy moves and we’ll also be previewing situations where players may find themselves in line for a more significant workload. This week, as we’ve got no games to recap, we’re going to briefly run down a number of players who find themselves in different situations this season as compared to last and project what their new found depth chart position has to say about their week one value.

Christopher Ivory – New York Jets

Ivory leaves a New Orleans Saints team that afforded him just 42 touches last season (and a high of 137 in his rookie season in 2010) for the Jets where he should anticipate a significant increase over the course of the season. After all, last year the Jets ran the ball an impressive 494 times despite not being competitive in many games. Sure, the OC has changed… but, the talent in the passing game hasn’t really, so we should expect more of the same this year. With a career YPC average of 5.1 Ivory should benefit greatly. Still, his summer session was unimpressive and he is currently listed as second on the depth chart behind Bilal Powell. Early in the season, it seems, we’re in for a full blown committee in the Jets’ backfield. As the year wears on, Ivory should rise to the top, however, owners need to temper their week one expectations.

Shane Vereen – New England Patriots

Much of the speculation heading into the first week of the season is that the Patriots will flip to a run heavy attack given the lack of certain options in the passing game. I’m not so sure I’m convinced of that, particularly given Belichick and co. will likely be eager to make a statement this week after a tumultuous offseason. What better way to defy critics who questioned the moves New England made with its group of pass catchers than to come out guns blazing, after all? Still, Vereen is almost certain to see an uptick of targets on the season, and in the campaign’s first week. New England doesn’t really need to run the ball more to still run it a lot. After all, the team was second in the league in rush attempts last year. With Danny Woodhead moving on to San Diego the third year back should maintain most of his own touches from last season while picking up a lot of the third down work that previously went to Woodhead. Woodhead’s 7.7 touches per contest along with Vereen’s own 5.4 put him in line for 13-14 opportunities for New England, and while Vereen’s YPT numbers are skewed significantly the mere presence of an 83 yard score on a resume that boasts just eight career catches shows what he is capable of with the ball in his hands.

Lamar Miller – Miami Dolphins

Miller joins in to help give us the AFC East RB Hat Trick (we could complete the sweep by including Spiller, but, the short answer is that he’ll be getting the ball plenty and should post his typical awesome numbers when he does). Miami carried the ball 27.5 times per game in 2012 and there is little legitimate competition to Miller on the roster. Joe Philbin suggested a timeshare with Daniel Thomas at a number of points during the pre-season but it is hard to envision that coming to fruition this week, or any. Miller participated in just 146 snaps for the Dolphins in his rookie year but projects to see the field a great deal more in 2013. In August, the 2nd year pro showed a glimpse of why the ‘Fins were willing to part ways with Reggie Bush so readily, posting a 4.6 YPC average, after getting 4.9 per pop on his 50 touches last year. He won’t catch the ball anywhere near as frequently as Bush, but running behind a decent line as part of an offense that now poses at least a modest threat to take the top off of opposing defenses Miller could impress. Don’t count on any more than the standard seven or so touches per game from Thomas, leaving a number around 15-18 for Miller to work with. He has a real chance to shine this week as well as his week one opponent, Cleveland, finished the season right around the middle of the league in rush defense last year so the matchup shouldn’t be altogether too daunting.

Bernard Pierce – Baltimore Ravens

Much has been said about the impact of Pierce’s workload on Ray Rice this offseason without acknowledging the outcomes for Pierce himself. Late last year, in an effort to keep Rice fresh and as an acknowledgement of Pierce’s own skills as a runner, his workload increased significantly. Excluding week 17 where Rice did not see a lot of the field, Pierce carried the ball 53 times over the Ravens final five games (playoffs included). As part of an offense that averaged 4.3 YPC in 2012 and scored 17 TDs on the ground Pierce could find a way to contribute as a low-end flex option against the Broncos in week one. Denver finds itself without a number of notable names along their defensive front. Pierce saw his fewest carries of the aforementioned five game run in the Conference Championship against Denver but he should be in line for more work to open the season, given the limited options available to Joe Flacco and Jim Caldwell in the passing game.

There is little reason to think that Arian Foster and Ben Tate can't each give us useful lines in week one and moving forward (Photo: John Raoux/AP)

There is little reason to think that Arian Foster and Ben Tate can’t each give us useful lines in week one and moving forward (Photo: John Raoux/AP)

Ben Tate – Houston Texans

Last year was a quiet one for Tate as he was limited to just 65 carries over 11 games to due injury issues. In 2013, he stands to benefit from some of those suffered by his backfield partner Arian Foster. While Foster appears to be all systems go for week 1 expect his workload to be tempered throughout the season and particularly in it’s opening week. The Texans will likely aim to keep him healthy for the stretch run, coming off a league high touch count in 2012. Tate produced nearly 70 total yards per game in his rookie season and with a potential 12-14 touches coming this week, perhaps more, against the San Diego Chargers he could be flex worthy. He’s coming off a preseason where he averaged almost 6 YPC. While he’s hard to rank as a start worthy RB given the uncertainty of this week’s workload split with Foster, it is conceivable that Tate winds up with an equal share against the Chargers – he’s made hay with that type of volume before. On the field for just 333 snaps in 2011 Tate finished as Pro Football Focus’ 15th best RB when graded running the football.

Wes Welker – Denver Broncos

I spent a lot of time discussing Welker’s projected role in Denver’s offense as part of my defense of some of my colleagues’ bold predictions posted on Tuesday, and I think my argument is sound. It’s been made numerous times, and, it all comes down to the question: ‘are there enough balls to go around?’. I’d suggest, no. Manning will find opportunities to get Welker the ball and Wes is sure to get open. However, with just 56 regular season targets bestowed upon Brandon Stokley out of the slot last season it’s hard to find a customary projection of workload for Welker. Let’s say he takes 20 targets a piece from Thomas (not likely) and Decker, and 40 more from the TE position. The 136 looks still measures almost 40 below what he saw in New England last year, a drop off of more than 3 per game. Again, those numbers are both arbitrary and exaggerated, but, the point is you shouldn’t expect to see Welker getting more than 10 targets against the Ravens this week. He’ll find his way to receptions, sure, but a line along the lines of 5-55-0 seems a lot more likely than 9-85-1.

Vincent Brown – San Diego Chargers

Brown was destined for a large role in HC Mike McCoy‘s offense even before injury took its toll on the Chargers’ receiving corps. Now, with Danario Alexander‘s season-ending injury opening the door for his ascension to the starting lineup Brown should see plenty of opportunities. In 2011 (Brown missed all of last season with an ankle injury) he averaged over 17 yards per catch and he stands to see a number of looks in Week 1 against the Texans. Brown caught just 50% of the balls thrown his way as a rookie in ’11 but even five catches give him a reasonable chance at a helpful WR3/4 line with that per catch average.

Rueben Randle – New York Giants

Last year Domenik Hixon enjoyed 4.8 targets per game for the Giants while manning their WR3 position. This year, after an impressive camp, Randle moves into the role. Many are projecting a breakout season from the second year pro out of LSU and it is hard not to see his value – among other positive qualities, Randle caught a TD one out of every 6.33 receptions last year. Still, with Victor Cruz returning to health in time to start against the Cowboys and Dallas employing a new cover two scheme we shouldn’t expect an overwhelming performance from Randle in his first contest. Those 5-7 targets won’t give owners a lot if Randle, who caught 59.4% of his targets as a rookie, can’t find the endzone.

Others Worth Watching

Robert Woods – Buffalo Bills: Woods lands as the second receiver on the Bills’ depth chart and opens his career in a game that should see the Bills throw a fair bit against the Patriots. With that said, he’s likely to have a QB making his first career start at less than 100% so it’s hard to get too excited. Vick Ballard – Indianapolis Colts: Ahmad Bradshaw will be listed as the starter before long, but, heading into week one he isn’t. As the Colts prepare to take on the Raiders we could see plenty of second half rushing, and Ballard should be the beneficiary of that as the team aims to ease Bradshaw in. A couple of Nate’s: Nate Washington – Tennessee Titans; Nate Burleson – Detroit Lions: Both players find themselves in presumed limited roles behind up and coming youngsters. However, as a result of injury (to Kendall Wright) and a difficulty in making the immediate depth chart leap (Ryan Broyles) both players could be in line for their highest target levels of the season in the early weeks.

Situations to Monitor

Will Emmanuel Sanders make good on his new role in the Steelers offense? Terrance Williams won the number three job in Dallas this offseason. That position has been fantasy-lucrative before. Does Montee Ball lead the Broncos in carries this week? If he doesn’t, which of the other two takes the honors. What does an every-down back performance look like from David Wilson? Does Jason Avant, who Michael Vick seems to have a strong rapport with, lead the Eagles in targets? Does he at least outpace Cooper? Will Mike Tolbert play a bigger role than people think while Jonathan Stewart is on the shelf? How often does Drew Brees look to Kenny Stills in his first pro game? What about the other rooks (Hopkins, Thompkins/Dobson, Patterson, Austin, et. al). What do TEs Zach Sudfeld and Jordan Cameron do with their week one opportunities?

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