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Opportunity report: Week 3 target and touches leaders

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Opportunity is the name of the game in fantasy football. Talent matters, of course, but we want players who see a healthy volume of targets and touches to anchor our lineups, especially in daily fantasy. Every week we'll look over the 10 most targeted pass catchers and the 10 running backs with the most touches from the weekend's slate.

Targets
1) Julio Jones, WR: 20 targets, 12 receptions, 164 yards, 2 TDs
2) Keenan Allen, WR: 18 targets, 12 receptions, 133 yards, 2 TDs
3) Steve Smith, WR: 17 targets, 13 receptions, 186 yards, 2 TDs
4) Mike Evans, WR: 17 targets, 7 receptions, 101 yards
5) Brandon Marshall, WR: 14 targets, 10 receptions, 109, 1 TD
6) DeAndre Hopkins, WR: 14 targets, 8 receptions, 101 yards, 1 TD
7) Antonio Brown, WR: 13 targets, 11 receptions, 108 yards
8) A.J. Green, WR: 13 targets, 10 receptions, 227 yards, 2 TDs
9) Demaryius Thomas, WR: 13 targets, 9 receptions, 92 yards, 1 TD
10T) Calvin Johnson, WR: 13 targets, 8 receptions, 77 yards
10T) Jarvis Landry, WR: 13 targets, 8 receptions, 67 yards

Julio Jones figures to find his way into the top 10 of targets leaders lists every week. He currently leads the NFL in targets with 46 through three games, which has him on pace for 244.3 this season. That is obviously unlikely to hold up, but how much regression can we realistically expect? In any week he's capable of blowing the roof off the stat sheet. With some of the recent quarterback injuries, Jones is as safe a bet as any to finish as the WR1 in all of fantasy.

Keenan Allen finds his way back on this list after a four target outing in Week 2. So far his fantasy scoring through three weeks has been 16.6, 1.6, 25.3. His two positive games were tremendous, but that 1.6 point performance is tough to swallow. Keenan Allen should maintain a healthy enough target volume to finish as a WR2 at season's end, but the week-by-week outlook could be a bit tenuous. Philip Rivers has long showed a propensity for wanting to spread the ball around.

Steve Smith is another name who should be a regular in The Opportunity Report going forward. He's currently third in the NFL with 40 targets. Of course, he's all Baltimore has right now. Rookie Breshad Perriman suffered another injury while warming up on Sunday morning, and no other offensive player in Baltimore has stepped up. Smith, on the other hand, looks even better than he did during his hot start to the 2014 season. He could see a big performance drop off like he did last year, but volume alone makes him a weekly WR2 until further notice. Smith is currently the WR6 in fantasy.

Mike Evans was no longer just a decoy in Week 3, and it showed. Jameis Winston knew just what to do when he got a fully healthy number-one receiver back in the fold; pummel him with targets. Evan's 17 targets against the Texans are the most he's seen in an NFL game. Winston showed a strong preference to sling it to Kelvin Benjamin during his 40 touchdown season at Florida State. If he's forming that relationship with Evans in Tampa Bay, the sophomore wide receiver is in for a massive season. Posting 101 yards in his true season debut was nice, but we should expect far bigger days to come down the pike.

Brandon Marshall's 14-target day was easy to see coming. Ryan Fitzpatrick often defaults to locking in on one target, and with Eric Decker missing this tilt with the Eagles, we knew he'd call number 15 plenty. Marshall saw 24 percent of the team's chances go his way in this game. One thing we can definitely conclude from the early 2015 action: Brandon Marshall is far from done. He's looked as strong and powerful as ever, and still has plenty of juice left to lead the Jets' passing game. He's been consistent so far, averaging 14.4 fantasy points per game.

DeAndre Hopkins rewarded those who drafted him based off the sheer number of targets he's seen in the Texans offense. Hopkins owns a 29.5 percent share of Houston's passing targets, and a 5.3 Week 2 outing could very well be the worst it gets throughout the season.

Antonio Brown shows up on this list, and we expect him here every week. However, after Ben Roethlisberger left Week 3 with an injury that will cause him to miss at least four games, it's fair to re-evaluate things. However, Brown's stretch of consistency speaks for itself, and it's hard to imagine Michael Vick not feeding him the ball with the regularity we're used to seeing. Of course, Roethlisberger's injury is nothing but a negative for Brown, and we haven't seen Vick play well in a game in at least two years. It's not a deathblow to his stock, but we should expect more lines akin to his Week 3 output as opposed to the two prior.

A.J. Green provided the big game that many of his fantasy owners were frustrated didn't come in the first two weeks of the season. He finished the week with over 220 receiving yards, multiple touchdowns and ran away with the most fantasy points of the week. That's tremendous, but there is a catch. If Green is going to have these WR1 blow-up weeks, someone else has to suffer. There are too many talented, and fantasy relevant players in this offense. On this day, it was Tyler Eifert, who caught zero passes in Week 3 with Green going off and Marvin Jones supporting (5-94-1).

Jeremy Hill also suffered through a 12-carry game in route to 21 yards, while Giovani Bernard had a double digit PPR scoring day. Andy Dalton is playing extremely well to start 2015, but he's not the type of quarterback to support an offense that has three passing targets, a pass-catching running back and a downhill running game amassing useful fantasy stats every week. The takeaway from Green's 13 target game: as the talent in Cincinnati grows, so does the wide range of outcomes for their fantasy relevant offensive players. Be ready for variance.

Demaryius Thomas is alone in the top 10 most targeted list this week, after sharing the honor with Emmanuel Sanders in Week 2. Both receivers will come off and on this list, with one of them almost a lock to be a weekly representative. They are the only consistent weapons in Denver right now.

International Series

Calvin Johnson and Jarvis Landry round out the list tied with others for 10th. Those two also had the least productive statistical day. Calvin Johnson's stat line isn't kind, and this is the second week in a row he's been highly targeted, but less than stellar in the stat sheet. Johnson is playing well, don't be fooled, but the offense surrounding him is dysfunctional and strapped with poor line and quarterback play. Johnson may no longer be at the dominant individual level where he can transcend those negatives. Jarvis Landry always has these days in his range of outcomes, where he averages under 10 yards per catch, just as he has his Week 2 110 yard output. However, he's yet to score a touchdown, and these 8-67 outputs will only cut it in long-term in PPR leagues. With the Dolphins offense flying well under preseason expectations, it's fair to wonder if the consistent target level from Landry becomes not good enough for fantasy.

Backfield touches
1) Devonta Freeman, RB: 35 touches, 193 total yards, 3 TDs
2) Alfred Blue, RB: 31 touches, 139 rushing yards, 1 TD
3) Latavius Murray, RB: 27 touches, 149 total yards, 1 TD
4) Ryan Mathews, RB: 27 touches, 128 total yards, 1 TD
5) Le'Veon Bell, RB: 26 touches, 132 total yards, 1 TD
6) Chris Johnson, RB: 23 touches, 150 total yards, 2 TDs
7) Adrian Peterson, RB: 20 touches, 126 rushing yards, 2 TDs
8) Matt Forte, RB: 20 touches, 74 rushing yards
9) LeGarrette Blount, RB: 19 touches, 92 total yards, 3 TDs
10) Mark Ingram, RB: 19 touches, 99 yards, 1 TD

Devonta Freeman exploded and finished the week as the top scoring fantasy running back. Of course, anytime a non-stud running back goes for nearly 200 total yards and three touchdowns, there's probably a little lying done by the box score. However, Freeman ran hard all day, and broke a ton of tackles. We can't go and pencil in anything like this sort of volume for Freeman going forward, as the return of Tevin Coleman is looming in the background. However, what Freeman did Sunday cannot be erased, and it's (as of now) unreasonable to expect Coleman comes back and dominates the share of touches. Coleman and Freeman's situation could easily turn into what's going on in San Diego and Cincinnati. In both spots the more talented two-down runner holds sporadic fantasy value, and can easily see themselves phased out of the game plan for the more versatile, pass game equip back. Keep watching this situation, but it's hard to imagine a 50/50 split not unfolding when both Coleman and Freeman play. Side note: this is why disciples of the Shanahan offense are such great coaches. Julio Jones was the most targeted receiver in Week 3, and Freeman had the most running back touches. These coaches get it; play the hits. Just throw it to your good players.

Alfred Blue emerged from what had been a near-even three-way split committee to take 31 carries from this backfield in Week 3. He finished as the eighth highest scoring fantasy back of the week. Of course, we're not putting much stock into this; we've read this book before. Last year, Blue followed up a similar 36 carry, 15.6-fantasy point day with a 2.9 yards per carry dud the following week. All this game does is excite us for the volume Arian Foster will inherit upon his return from injury.

Latavius Murray has rounded into form as the feature back on a surprisingly tremendous offense. He's playing on all three downs, and shouldered a 27-touch workload against Cleveland. We weren't sure if Murray would see this kind of volume, or if the Raiders would be so prolific behind Derek Carr. With all of their offensive pieces exceeding expectations, we can lock in Murray as an every week low-end RB1.

Ryan Mathews made things very interesting in the Eagles backfield after a 27-touch, 16.8 fantasy point day. No team was worse at running the ball than Philadelphia through the first two weeks of the season. The team averaged 2.1 yards per rush attempt, and had the least average time of possession. Then, in comes Ryan Mathews subbing for in an injured DeMarco Murray in Week 3, and things turn around. The Eagles called more downhill power runs, and ditched the stretch zones, which fits their running backs and offensive line better. While that certainly boosted the run game, the common denominator in two horrific running performances was Murray, while Mathews clearly added a spark in Week 3. The blame need not lay entirely at Murray's feet, but Mathews' performance is hard to ignore. We'll have to see how Chip Kelly and the coaches interpret the data, but this game put Murray's already careening fantasy stock on disaster alert.

Le'Veon Bell got right back to business in his first game of the 2015 season. He returned from suspension to shoulder 26 touches, and was a top 10 Week 3 fantasy back. This was a tremendous occasion for owners took him at number-one overall despite the two game absence, but there was a cost. Ben Roethlisberger's injury takes a slight ding into Bell's astronomical weekly ceiling. Don't let anyone spin it any other way for you, losing a starting quarterback, especially a star-level player, is a net negative for every other offensive player. Bell can still be the best running back in fantasy, but the road just got a little tougher. Nevertheless, his role in the run and pass game will see him make his way onto this list on a near weekly basis.

Chris Johnson makes his second consecutive appearance in the top 10 of running back touches list, but gave wildly better results this time around. Despite multiple explosive plays from rookie David Johnson in Week 2, Bruce Arians stayed the course and gave the veteran runner 23 touches in a blowout win over the 49ers. Johnson looked better than he has in years, recording 150 total yards and two red zone touchdowns. A startling lack of effort by San Francisco played a part, but Johnson consistently got the edge in this game. It's hard to predict how this backfield shakes out when Andre Ellington returns, but a good for real life, ugly for fantasy three-way split is in the cards.

Fantasy Perfect Challenge

Adrian Peterson led the way with 31 touches last week, but fell back a bit with 20 carries and no receptions in Week 3. However, the touchdowns we were missing in Week 2 came, as Peterson scored on the ground twice. He's the clear focal point of Norv Turner's offense, and Week 1's ugly game looks more and more like just an effect of rust. If you spent a top-three fantasy pick on Adrian Peterson you'll be just fine.

Matt Forte proved what was just asserted in the Le'Veon Bell note. Losing a starting quarterback is a net negative for all other offensive players on the team. He saw 20 carries, which is solid volume, but with Jimmy Clausen at the helm, he only managed 74 yards. It doesn't matter if the coaches want to lean on the running game with the backup quarterback in. The overall yardage output and efficiency of the team is depressed, which hurts the running game. Also of note, yesterday was the first time since Week 1 of the 2009 season where Matt Forte played a full game and didn't catch a pass. As long as Cutler is out, it's going to be hard to expect anything consistently positive from Forte.

LeGarrette Blount did indeed reward the fantasy owners who believed he'd put up a big score if the Patriots trounced the Jaguars. However, box score scouting will lie to you if you use it for predicting the running back role going forward. Dion Lewis was still the feature back for this team when the game was in question. Lewis saw 13 first half touches to just three from LeGarrette Blount. More importantly, Lewis took four red zone carries in the first half, compared to Blount's zero. Blount can still have value in fantasy, he figures to have plenty of chances to salt victories away as the backfield's hammer. This game proved that their are scenarios where both backs can thrive. However, Lewis is clearly the more valuable player in fantasy, and the team's preferred option. He could realistically finish the season as an RB1 in PPR leagues. All the evidence from this season told you to let go of the Belichick running back paranoia. Let's hope you listened.

Mark Ingram continues to dominate this backfield in touches, with 14 rushes and five receptions against the Panthers. With Luke McCown playing better than expected, he was able to maintain solid running back numbers, and finally got into the end zone after shouldering the load for the team all throughout the first two weeks. We can't expect this sort of performance every time as long as McCown starts, but this was encouraging. We're still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for C.J. Spiller to play a big role in this offense, but Mark Ingram is giving this team every reason to put off making that happen. Ingram has been one of the few consistent fantasy running backs out of those drafted in the first three rounds in August.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB.

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