Opportunity report: Week 7 target and touches leaders

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


NFL's top-10 most targeted players in Week 7
NFL's top-10 most targeted players in Week 7 (NFL.com)

Julio Jones came back healthy after 10 days of rest to lead the NFL in targets for Week 7. You may have forgot during his relatively quiet two week stretch with a hamstring injury, but before DeAndre Hopkins was on a wild season-long target pace, Jones was lapping the field. Now that he's back closer to full strength, we should expect him to get back to this level of heavy involvement. Jones only caught 52.9 percent of his targets, which isn't very efficient. However, that has a lot to do with a dreadful performance from Matt Ryan. This hasn't been the best season for Ryan, and that's something to monitor.

Nate Washington played a ton of snaps and started in place on an injured Cecil Shorts. While this smells a bit like a fluke, perhaps we need to look a bit closer. Washington plays over 90 percent of the team's snaps, and averages 11 targets per game when he's healthy. The Texans ran more plays than any team in the league through the first seven weeks. There's plenty of opportunity to go around in this offense. He's worth a stash in deep leagues, and someone to look at in daily fantasy. With Arian Foster hurt, targets need to go somewhere.

Rob Gronkowski posted a career high 11 receptions, and scored the go-ahead touchdown. We just came off two Gronk games with less than 70 yards and five receptions. This was a good sign to see, and hopefully calmed the nerves of anyone panicking about Gronk's fantasy stock while tight ends like Gary Barnidge stole the show.

T.Y. Hilton posted a big fantasy day, but there's a bit of misleading nature to the raw numbers. The Colts receiver amassed 133 yards and both of his touchdowns on just two long bombs when the team mounted a furious comeback. Other than that, Hilton caught 26.7 percent of his 15 targets. He was by far the most productive fantasy weapon in this game, but this was the outlier. Prior to Week 7, Hilton and Donte Moncrief each averaged 9.25 targets per game. Both are starting fantasy receivers going forward.

Jordan Reed returned to Washington's lineup with a bang. The move tight end caught 11 of his 13 targets for 72 yard and two touchdowns. This was a helpful reminder that Kirk Cousins just peppers Reed with targets when he's in the lineup. Watching the game, one could see Reed consistently separating from the underneath coverage, sitting down and clapping his hands for the quarterback to see. Reed converted four red zone looks into three receptions, and two huge touchdowns. As Alex Gelhar noted on Twitter this morning, Reed is available in 14.5 percent of NFL.com leagues. He's a TE1 option, when healthy, and a top-five one in PPR leagues.

Keenan Allen continued his monster season with a 13 target effort. After some fluctuation in his early season workload, Allen has target totals of 10, 15, and 13 the last few games. Through seven weeks, he's on pace to break the NFL's record for most receptions in a season.

Robert Woods filled in for Sammy Watkins as the Bills No. 1 receiver in their London matchup with the Jaguars. He saw 13 targets, efficiently catching 69.2 percent of them for 84 yards and a score. EJ Manuel has more history with Woods than Taylor, dating back to some successful games between the duo in 2013. Woods is a skilled player, who runs solid routes and can produce when called upon. He just doesn't put up big numbers because he's the third option, when everyone is healthy, in a low volume pass offense. Woods makes for a good hold in dynasty in case his situation changes, but isn't worth relying on for redraft.

Pro Bowl ballot

Brandin Cooks saw his highest target load of the season with 13. However, that only led to six catches for 81 yards. He's one of the biggest draft busts this season, relative to expectations, but he's still usable in fantasy. This target share is the outlier of the season, so we cannot expect this as the new regular until we see more evidence to support that logic. However, Cooks is still a young player this team is invested in, and he does have ability. The problem with Cooks was always just his asking price in fantasy leagues. If you view him as a WR3/4 in fantasy from here on out, and startable based on matchup, you won't be as disappointed with what you get from him on a weekly basis.

Eric Decker didn't score a touchdown for the first time all season, but more than made up for that with 94 yards on six catches. Ryan Fitzpatrick spread the ball all over the field in trying to keep up with Patriots, and Decker led the team in passing targets. One of the league's best second-tier receivers, and top touchdown threats, Decker is a starting fantasy asset from here on out.

Mike Evans bounced back after two quiet weeks prior to his bye for his best game of the season. The big receiver ran through the Washington secondary for 164 yards, including a long touchdown. The week off may well have been just what Evans needed to heal up a hamstring injury that nagged him early in the season. The best development from yesterday was Mike Evans playing like Mike Evans again. He was a bully in-route on a consistent basis, one of his best traits, and that was noticeably absent from his game early in the season. When he plays like that, he can produce at a WR1 level. With Jameis Winston in tow, there will be inconsistencies, but those are well worth living through for Evans' upside.

Danny Woodhead racked up 12 targets in San Diego's garbage time efforts to catch up with an Oakland team beating them 37-6 heading into the fourth quarter. These are the perfect game scripts for Woodhead to thrive in, and he came away with a monster 30-plus point day in PPR leagues. You can start Woodhead on a weekly basis for a secure passing game floor, especially with Melvin Gordon banged up, and hope for these blowup weeks. The Chargers started tail spinning after a very similar loss to the Dolphins last season, so Woodhead may see more game scripts that feature his best use.

DeAndre Hopkins came away with his most lackluster game of the season. The Texans receiver caught six passes for 50 yards, despite a pass heavy game flow, and positive cornerback matchups. We'll chalk this up as a blip on the radar for a receiver set to shatter the NFL's record for targets in a season (208) with a 230.9 pace. Garbage time matters for fantasy scoring, but it's not a predictive variable for distribution of touches.

Backfield Touches


NFL's top-10 running back touches in Week 7
NFL's top-10 running back touches in Week 7 (NFL.com)

Darren McFadden spoiled the party set for all the Christine Michael true believers. Despite Joseph Randle's status as the starter (left game with injury) and optimism for an expanded Michael role, McFadden played over 60 snaps. He turned the clock back to 2010 behind an offensive line that finally played up to its billing by inserting La'el Collins into the starting lineup. The veteran back holds a distinct advantage over the others because the team trusts him on passing downs. He's going to see the field more because of this, and ran well enough yesterday to get the "hot hand" distinction. However, if McFadden is the lead back, we know how that story often ends. Don't drop Randle, even though he's slated to miss time. You can hold Michael as a speculative upside move, if you have the bench room. Should you come across an asset on the waiver wire more desirable, with clearer opportunity than Michael, then feel fine to drop him.

Marshawn Lynch delivered his first signature Beast Mode game of the season, taking 27 carries for 122 yards and a score right through the San Francisco defense. Prior to this contest, Lynch struggled to crack four yards per carry, and couldn't find lanes behind a subpar offensive line. In this game, he looked like the transcendent runner we're used to seeing. The question here is staying power. Lynch showed us what the nagging ailments can do to his aging body. While he's playing you ride him, and expect his best play after this game. Yet, if you're a Lynch owner, Thomas Rawls still feels like an essential hold.

Devonta Freeman saw 27 touches in game where his team didn't even control the contest. This sort of locked in workload is why you just can't sell him right now. Outside of the players drafted in the top four of fantasy drafts, no running back has this secure of a workload. Keep on riding him if you have him. Also, there's no reason Tevin Coleman can't have this sort of offensive share if Freeman were ever to get hurt. I don't normally endorse this strategy in drafts, but if you're a Freeman owner, look to make a move to handcuff him with Coleman. The situation is too high-value right now.

Jonathan Stewart makes his second consecutive appearance on this list. He has at least 21 carries in each of the last two games. Running with great vision, burst and power, Stewart looks like the back we saw from the playoff stretch run last season. Perhaps there was a health issue lingering in the early portion of the season. Either way, he's back in our good graces as a starting fantasy running back.

Charcandrick West showed the type of promise many hoped he would deliver after going to the back to acquire him off waivers. Toting 22 carries and catching two passes, West handled a Jamaal Charles level workload in the Chiefs' offense. The Steelers defense proved a favorable matchup for the young runner, but he showed of his natural talent and elusiveness to break tackles. If West gets this workload week-in-and-week out, fantasy owners can set him in lineups without thinking twice. However, with one inspiring game, and one less so, we don't have the sample size to say for sure how this situation will play out on a weekly basis. Next week against Detroit, West is worth a start in finding out the answer to that question.

Todd Gurley had the perfect matchup, workload and game script against the Browns, and he delivered. The 10th overall pick cut through the Browns leaky run defense for 6.74 yards per carry and scored the first two touchdowns of his NFL career. He's simply a special talent, excelling in an offense where the quarterback is on pace to finish with less than 3,000 yards. Only elite talents do that. It's hard to come up with five fantasy running backs you'd rather have than Todd Gurley going forward this season.

Fantasy Perfect Challenge

Arian Foster had a big fantasy day in the Texans blowout loss to Miami, but it came at a big cost. The All-Pro rusher injured his Achilles late in the fourth quarter, and will miss the rest of the season. Sadly, at 29-years-old, and one of the lengthiest injury sheets in the league, it's fair to wonder if we've seen the end of Foster as a starting NFL back. One of the more unique interesting personalities, and better running backs in the NFL, he'll be missed. For the rest of this season, this backfield goes back to the three-way messy split it was during Foster's early season absence. Chris Polk is worth a look in PPR leagues, and there will be a few big Alfred Blue games along the way, but they'll be tough to chase or predict. The odds are better that this this just becomes a sinkhole than one of these players rises to the top.

Adrian Peterson rebounded with a 110 yard day after totaling 57 in Week 6. However, 75 of his yards came on one carry. Peterson's volume is secure, but the efficiency hasn't been the same behind an offensive line that just isn't giving him consistent creases to hit. He's also been just a step off the other-worldly level of play we're used to seeing. Peterson is still a no-brainer RB1, but there's some reason to worry about the rough weeks his owners experienced in Weeks 1 and 6.

Doug Martin continues his stellar play. He totaled 171 yards against a defense that was previously tough up front, and in a game that his team eventually lost. At this point, we can consider Martin a RB1 going forward. This is the player many hoped we'd see after a stellar rookie season back in 2011.

Every game, all season

T.J. Yeldon returned from an injury to carry a big workload against the Bills. His patience really stood out in this game. On several runs, the Bills would stuff the hole Yeldon originally chose, but he would slow up, wait for another to develop, and then slam through it. While not the most explosive or powerful back, he's a mature runner with more nuance than expected from rookies. With the Jags offense clicking, Yeldon's value is on the rise.

Le'Veon Bell posted 137 yards and caught four passes a week after he put 88 and didn't record a catch. With Ben Roethlisberger coming back next week and Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant clicking, Bell will get back to pushing for the top weekly scorer in fantasy on a game-in-game-out basis.


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