Counting down some believe-’em-or-not fantasy numbers of note as 2015 training camps get underway across NFL Nation:
1,354 – Receiving yards for the running back with the NFL’s third-highest total in that category over the last three seasons. To the surprise of no one, the Bears’ Matt Forte tops the list with 1,742 yards and Saints-turned-Eagles RB Darren Sproles comes in second with 1,658. But how many pegged the Lions’ Joique Bell for No. 3? Yet, there he is with 139 receptions on 190 targets since the start of the 2012 season. Both Bell’s target and catch totals rank seventh among league backs during that span, but he has accumulated more receptions and targets than former teammate Reggie Bush (129 catches on 188 targets), LeSean McCoy (134 on 168), Shane Vereen (107 on 159) and Arian Foster (100 on 152). What may be keeping Bell relatively low on receiving-RB radar screens, though, is his lowly one career TD catch. Each of the other six backs mentioned above all had at least five receiving scores over those three seasons. Regardless, keep these Bell pass-catching numbers stowed away on your spreadsheet until it’s time to weigh your low-end RB2/high-end flex options in both point-per-reception and standard-scoring league drafts.
449 – League-leading offensive touches last season for the Cowboys’ DeMarco Murray, who also turned those into an NFL-high 2,261 yards from scrimmage. It was the sixth-highest single-season touch total since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and the most anyone has had since Larry Johnson totaled 457 touches for K.C. in 2006. Overall, Murray became the 19th running back to accumulate 425-plus touches in a season during that 45-year time frame, and despite the dire drop-off stigma attached to these backs’ following seasons, that looks to be more myth than fact. Of the 18 previous 425-plus touch backs since 1970, 11 still finished with 300 or more touches the following campaign, including five who were back above 400 the next year. Ten of the 18 running backs also totaled at least 1,400 yards from scrimmage, with six eclipsing 1,700 yards and four again topping 2,000. So yeah, Murray probably isn’t going to repeat his 2014 league-leading feats this season in Philly, but don’t expect him to fall off the fantasy map, either.
416 – Career targets for new Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham since he entered the league in 2010. That total ranks eighth among NFL tight ends during that five-season span and so does his 280 receptions, 24 touchdown catches and his 67.3 catch percentage. Meanwhile, Gresham’s ranking consistency falls off some when it comes to receiving yards and fantasy points as he slips to 11th in both categories with 2,722 and 407.2, respectively, courtesy largely of his below-pedestrian 9.7 yards-per-catch average. Still, Gresham had at least 79 targets and 52 receptions in four of his five seasons in Cincy, and if he fully recovers from offseason herniated-disc surgery, he offers a great deal of upside given his opportunity (reunited with Carson Palmer, his rookie-year QB, on the tight end-needy Cards) and as a player currently going undrafted in but the deepest (10 percent) of fantasy leagues.
205 – Career rushing attempts for the Bengals’ Andy Dalton, who is preparing for a crucial fifth season as Cincy’s starting quarterback. During that span (since the start of the 2011 season), Dalton’s rush total ranks sixth among all QBs, and his 624 ground yards during that span ranks 15th among all signal-callers. But while his 3.04 yards-per-carry average is paltry at the very best, his 11 rushing TDs are anything but. In fact, among QBs, only Cam Newton (with a way-out-in-front 33) and Andrew Luck (12) have rang up more ground scores that the Red Rifle over the last four campaigns. The 11 TDs matches Russell Wilson’s career total and tops those of more renowned running/mobile quarterbacks such as Colin Kaepernick (10), Robert Griffin (eight), Aaron Rodgers (seven), Alex Smith (four), Tony Romo (two) and Ben Roethlisberger (one) during the last four seasons. In summary, don’t forget to factor in that often overlooked rushing ability when weighing Dalton’s upside as a fantasy QB.
47.2 – Red-zone completion percentage for the Giants’ Eli Manning over the last three seasons. Of the 26 quarterbacks with at least 100 red-zone passing attempts since 2012, Manning’s accuracy – believe it or not – ranks only above Chad Henne (45.8 completion percentage) and Cam Newton (45.3). Meanwhile, the Lions’ Matthew Stafford ranks 22nd with a 50.2 completion percentage inside the opponents’ 20. Manning and Stafford did have eight other red-zone completions apiece during that span, but didn’t exactly helping the cause as the two QBs tied with a league-most eight red-zone interceptions from 2012-14. No other QB has more than six picks during that span. Consequently, Stafford (86.7) and Manning (80.7) both rank in the league’s bottom six in red-zone passer rating from 2012-14, with only Henne (72.4) trailing the Giants’ QB among those passers with 100 attempts. On the Huddle’s current preseason cheat sheets, Manning (sixth) and Stafford (11th) rank as starting fantasy QBs in 12-team leagues, but each cleaning up their red-zone efficiency will go a long way toward ensuring that they finish there at season’s end.
39.7 – Red-zone catch percentage for the Lions’ Calvin Johnson over the last three seasons. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, the man known as Megatron has a reputation as one of the league’s most feared end zone targets, but startlingly that completion rate (23 receptions on 58 targets) ranks only 30th among the 33 pass-catchers who have accumulated 40 or more targets since the start of the 2012 season. The only players ranked lower than Johnson are Alshon Jeffery (35.6 percent catch rate), Cecil Shorts (31.8) and Hakeem Nicks (29.3). Meanwhile, ranking higher – and snaring more red-zone TDs than Johnson’s 15 over that span – are 6-foot-1 James Jones (66.0, 18 TDs), 5-9 Wes Welker (76.5, 16), 5-10 Randall Cobb (64.4, 16) and 6-1 Torrey Smith (52.3, 16). During his first five seasons (2007-11), Johnson’s red-zone catch rate was 45.3 percent as he reeled in 29 scoring grabs, but as the numbers show, he hasn’t enjoyed the same inside-the-20 productiveness in recent seasons. Perhaps that’s why Megatron has slipped from the consensus No. 1 WR spot of recent seasons, and it also goes a long way toward explaining Stafford’s just-discussed red-zone woes.
16 – Rushing touchdowns for new Jets running back Stevan Ridley on carries inside-the-5-yard-line over the last three seasons. That total ranks fifth in the league during that span, trailing only the more well-known and predictable quartet of Marshawn Lynch (22 TDs), Murray (19), Arian Foster (17) and Alfred Morris (17). Since the start of the 2012 season, Ridley also ranks seventh among all ball-carriers with 33 rushing attempts inside the opposition’s 5-yard line. Ridley, who jumped to the division-rival Jets after four seasons in New England, saw his 2014 season come to a premature end after tearing an ACL in Week 6 and has opened training camp on New York’s Physically-Unable-to-Perform list. And even if he opens the regular season with a PUP designation, he could re-emerge as an overlooked goal-line force for the Jets during the fantasy stretch run and postseason.
14 – Touchdown receptions over the last four seasons for Andre Johnson, a total which ranks 59th in the league over that span. James Jones, who just signed with the Giants after getting released by the Raiders earlier this offseason, has more than doubled Johnson’s total with 30 TD grabs since the start of the 2011 season while Jermaine Gresham (20), Lance Moore (17), Scott Chandler (17), Anthony Fasano (17), Nate Washington (16), Miles Austin (15) and Santana Moss (14) are among the other 57 players who’ve surprisingly had as many or more scoring catches than Johnson during that span. In fact, seven pass-catchers have notched 14 or more TD receptions in a single season from 2011-14, including the aforementioned Jones, who snared 14 with the Packers in 2012. It’s of course, nothing new for Johnson, who – believe it or not – has failed to reach double-digit scoring catches in any of his 12 pro seasons. Last year, Johnson became the 10th player in league history to accumulate 1,000 receptions, but he’s the only one of the 10 with fewer than 82 TDs – and he’s not even close at that, sitting at 64. Still, the hopeful news is that he’s going from the Texans, who rank 19th in the league with 240 total TD passes (20 per season) since 2003 (Johnson’s rookie season) to Indy, which has put up the fourth most scoring tosses with 370 (30.8 per year).
7 – Receptions of least 40 yards last season in Philly for WR Jeremy Maclin. Meanwhile, fellow wideout Kenny Stills had six such receptions down in the Big Easy, putting them among the nine players with at least six 40-yard catches in 2014. Maclin and Stills, however, are the only two members of that group who are switching teams this season, with Maclin reuniting with former coach Andy Reid in Kansas City and Stills having been traded to Miami. But will the new locales prove to be good fits for the big-play wideouts? Let’s just say the initial numbers look a little less than promising. Only four teams had five or fewer 40-yard pass completions in the league last season. Two were the 49ers (five) and the Panthers (four), and bottom two were – you guessed it – the short-route-oriented passing attacks of the Dolphins (four) and Chiefs (three).
0 – 100-yard receiving games for WR Emmanuel Sanders during his 56 career games in Pittsburgh from 2010-13. Last season with the Broncos, he not only topped the century mark for the first time in his career (in Week 2) but he went on to tack on six more – as part of 14 contests with 50 or more yards – en route to a career-best 1,404-yard season, which ranked fifth in the league. Sanders, in fact, easily established career bests in targets (141), receptions (101), and TD receptions (nine). However, with the Broncos bringing in coach Gary Kubiak and expected to feature a new run/pass ratio similar to Sanders’ old Pittsburgh teams, don’t be totally shocked if the wideout’s 2015 numbers more closely resemble his top Steel City figures (113 targets, 67 receptions, 740 yards and six TDs in 2013) rather than last season’s career-best totals.