With Week 9 of the NFL season in the books, we are now closer to the end than we are to the beginning. Which means that we should know plenty about how different offenses around the league work, right? Nope. Every week brings new and surprising names to the top of the list of targets and touches. Sure there are some familiar faces among the list, but there are still a couple of guys who come from seemingly nowhere to gain attention.
Wintry conditions be damned, Peyton Manning is going to get the ball to Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders certainly hasn't made Demaryius Thomas obsolete -- Thomas had 11 targets in the Week 9 loss -- but he is making Wes Welker expendable. It's not often that we project to next year in this space, but with Welker hitting free agency after the season and Sanders in the first year of a three-year deal, the latter has solid WR2 fantasy value written all over him in 2015.
What to make of the Jets' duo of Percy Harvin and Eric Decker? The pair saw a combined 25 targets with 20 receptions. Many of those came in the second half with Gang Green down a couple of scores, but it has to be encouraging that New York's quarterbacks are looking in their direction. And unlike Geno Smith, Michael Vick and Matt Simms seem to be able to get the ball to their intended targets.
If you need more surprises, look no further than Mychal Rivera. Maybe it's a case of a young quarterback (Derek Carr) leaning on a tight end for support. It certainly wouldn't be the first time we've seen that and it would partially explain why Rivera is third on the Raiders roster with 45 targets this season. But it might also have something to do with Seattle's continued struggles defending opposing tight ends. Styles make fantasy fights and the Seahawks have given up 10 touchdown receptions to the position -- second-most in the NFL. Rivera's number might say more about the defense than the offense.
What's going on with Julius Thomas? On the one hand, he has 11 touchdown catches but that's the only thing keeping his fantasy value afloat. In recent weeks, Peyton Manning is looking his way less frequently. It all came to a crescendo with Sunday's two-target outing. Yes, one of those targets was a touchdown catch but it's really hard to live like that if you're a fantasy manager.
And remember when we weren't getting overly hyped about Eddie Royal? The last few weeks have reminded us why. Royal has had three or fewer targets in four of his last five contests and hasn't posted more than 49 receiving yards in a game since his 22.50-point outburst in Week 4. Eventually, you are who you are.
After a few years of not being able to pinpoint one go-to back in the Saints backfield, it appears that Mark Ingram has filled the role. The former Heisman Trophy winner has been a bargain draft pick, scoring 16-plus points in four of the five games he's played this season. If he hadn't missed three contests with an injury, he'd likely be a top-five fantasy back. At this point, the New Orleans coaching staff has certainly taken notice and Ingram has seen a big uptick in his workload, carrying the ball 54 times in the past two weeks. Good luck figuring out how the rest of the touches are split among the remaining Saints backs ... not that it matters much with Ingram running so well.
There was a point in the preseason when we were afraid that Jeremy Hill could start to vulture touches away from Giovani Bernard. While it hasn't happened, games like Sunday remind us why those concerns were justified. If you had the foresight to handcuff Hill to Bernard, you were loving life in Week 9. This type of workload won't continue when Bernard returns, but that's no reason to ditch Hill.
Welcome to the list, Alfred Morris. We've missed having you here. Hopefully this is the start of good things for the Washington running back. After three straight games with 13 or fewer carries, Morris has toted the rock 18 or more times in three consecutive contests. While he's guaranteed to surpass a full calendar year between 100-yard rushing games (his last one was on Nov. 11, 2013), it's reassuring that Jay Gruden is making him a larger part of the offense.