Each season we devoted faux footballers attempt to read the tealeaves and chicken bones to gain an advantage for our squad of phonies. For this column we are going to look at good old-fashioned numbers.
Offensive coordinators and their quarterbacks are often creatures of habit and that habit usually revolves around giving the ball to players who will help them win football games. I will try my darnedest to figure out from week to week who they want handling the ball, especially in the red zone and goal line where they happen to be closer to where the magic happens.
As you well know preseason stats are mostly skewed, particularly when taken out of context, but looking at the overall targets while the starting offensive players were in can provide a window into the regular season. Let’s take a look:
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Sam Bradford - Rams: Lance Kendricks 12, Danny Amendola 9, Cadillac Williams 7, Brandon Gibson 6, Mike Sims-Walker 4
The Belichick disciple Josh McDaniels is going to throw the ball, but unlike some offensive schemes you can’t automatically say what positions will benefit. Beli-ball is situational and based on personnel. The Rams have a healthy receiving tight end in Lance Kendricks and Sam Bradford is still dinking and dunking for the time being. Kendricks and Amendola will get their looks.
Tom Brady - Patriots: Wes Welker 12, Aaron Hernandez 12, Chad Ochocinco 7, Rob Gronkowski 4
All last season we tried to predict who out of Gronkowski and Hernandez would be the better fantasy starter and it ended up being Gronkowski due to his touchdown production. Hernandez was used much more often in preseason and showed he is a true playmaker. These two will once again be hard to choose between from week to week, but Hernandez is poised to step up.
Drew Brees - Saints: Jimmy Graham 13, Darren Sproles 6, Marques Colston 5, Lance Moore 4, Devery Henderson 4, Robert Meachem 4
Sean Payton and Drew Brees love to spread the ball around. Add to that their receivers tend to be injured and you have a heck of a time figuring out who will get looks any given Sunday. Graham’s numbers are a bit skewed from one half, but if he can stay healthy he could end up being the Saints most targeted receiver.
Jay Cutler - Bears: Earl Bennett 11, Devin Hester 7, Roy Williams 7, Dane Sanzenbacher 4, Johnny Knox 2
Mad Martz has some odd ideas - and the demotion of Johnny Knox was a big one. Knox’s 2 targets should go up as they realize Devin Hester and Roy Williams aren’t that good, but until then we can take away something from Earl Bennett’s 11 targets. Cutler clearly trusts him and if all goes well he’s my pick to be the target hog in Chicago.
Donovan McNabb - Vikings: Bernard Berrian 9, Percy Harvin 7, Michael Jenkins 5
BB lives! The Favre soured on Bernard Berrian and probably for good reason, but he seems to be healthy and McNabb is a good deep ball passer. With no real deep threat, Berrian has a chance to be useful this season.
Kyle Orton - Broncos: Brandon Lloyd 14, Eddie Royal 7, Eric Decker 5, Knowshon Moreno 4, Julius Thomas
Orton knows what he has in Brandon Lloyd. Yes, Fox’s offense is run first, but there should be enough targets for Brandon Lloyd to be useful once again. It’s hard to say that for Eddie Royal and Eric Decker who may end up fighting each other and Julius Thomas for looks.
Tony Romo - Cowboys: Dez Bryant 13, Jason Witten 9, Kevin Ogletree 6, Felix Jones 5
The absence of Miles Austin due to hamstring issues skews these numbers, but it’s good that Dez Bryant was able to see some game time with Tony Romo and bodes well for a fast start. The five targets for Felix Jones just reinforces the hype he’s getting this preseason. He’ll see the ball a lot.
Matt Ryan - Falcons: Julio Jones 16, Roddy White 13, Harry Douglas 10, Tony Gonzalez 10
The Falcons so far have made good on the prediction they would throw more with Julio Jones in the fold. How much this rolls over into the regular season remains to be seen, but a more open offense will help Matt Ryan and all of his receivers, even Harry Douglas. Turner will still get work, albeit less, which may keep him healthy as he loses the battle to old age.
Michael Vick - Eagles: LeSean McCoy 11, DeSean Jackson 7, Jason Avant 5, Brent Celek 5
Jeremy Maclin's return from his run as a guest star on ‘House’ changes these numbers for the regular season, but the trouble surrounding the offensive line and Michael Vick’s trouble finding his receivers down field in a timely manner bode well for the PPR machine Shady McCoy.
Aaron Rodgers - Packers: Donald Driver 9, Greg Jennings 9, Jermichael Finley 9, James Starks 6, Jordy Nelson 5
Donald Driver hasn’t been buried yet, but it’s extremely hard to believe he’ll hold up long enough to keep Jordy Nelson at bay. The true battle for targets and production will be between Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings. The fact that there is a battle at all caps Jennings’ ceiling.