“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” –Seneca The Younger
For fantasy football purposes, tweak that to “Points are what happen when players play.” Does that highlight-reel touchdown bomb to the No. 3 wide receiver mean he's worth a waiver claim? Is that backup running back going to get double-digit carries again? Snap counts and the number of times a player touches the ball can spin a very convincing story in either direction. Each week, we'll highlight the backs and receivers who are trending up or down when it comes to getting those opportunities on the field. For now, here are the biggest Snaps and Targets issues for each team heading into Week 1.
Fred Jackson was slightly more effective than C.J. Spiller on a per-touch basis last season and broke nearly as many tackles. While their number of carries was similar, there was usually a 60/40 split favoring the veteran in most weeks. An injury to either would make Bryce Brown instantly relevant.
The Lamar Miller hype machine looks like it could crash yet again. It looks more and more like a healthy Knowshon Moreno will see the majority of the carries or at least force a true committee situation.
Stevan Ridley fumbles and gets booted from games, but he also sees big dips in playing time because Shane Vereen is so much more versatile. Watch for rookie James White if Ridley keeps putting the ball of the ground.
Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games, and his odometer is really high for a 27-year-old. It's a murky situation if Rice remains ineffective upon his return. Bernard Pierce did nothing special last year and is coming off a concussion suffered in the preseason. Small-school rookie bulldozer Lorenzo Taliaferro led all running backs in preseason carries by a wide margin. Veteran Justin Forsett played under offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak while with the Texans in 2012.
Kubiak has done good things with tight ends, so the targets for Dennis Pitta could be in high supply. Torrey Smith led the league in targets that came 20 or more yards downfield in each of his first three seasons. He will be a focal point of this offense as he takes over X-receiver gig that Andre Johnson held for so long with Kubiak.
Second-year running back Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill are set up in a strong tandem under run-first OC Hue Jackson. Hill's snap count is among the top things to look for coming out of Week 1. Mohamed Sanu looks to take advantage of the WR2 opportunity while Marvin Jones is shelved with a broken foot until Week 5 or so.
The fallout from Josh Gordon’s suspension boosts tight end Jordan Cameron, but how much can he accomplish as the solo act in this thin receiving corps? Andrew Hawkins can do some work in the slot as an alternate target.
Le'Veon Bell’s and LeGarrette Blount’s legal issues will likely be pushed into the offseason. Blount isn't much of a pass catcher, which will limit his playing time. Dri Archer will be moved around the field, making brief appearances. Antonio Brown figures to be in the top five in targets again.
There are expectations for DeAndre Hopkins in his second season, but he's also learning a new offense and competing with Andre Johnson for targets. Tight end Garrett Graham's role is also unclear.
Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson
T.Y. Hilton has recorded five 100-yard games in each of his two pro seasons despite seeing limited volume at times. Reggie Wayne is coming off an ACL tear, and Hakeem Nicks isn't exactly durable. Put rookie Donte Moncrief on the short list of No. 4 WRs to monitor heading into the season.
The promise of a large workload is about the only thing going for Toby Gerhart. The passing game may not produce a worthwhile receiver until Blake Bortles starts.
Despite getting 121 fewer carries, Montee Ball nearly equaled the amount of missed tackles Knowshon Moreno had last year. If Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson are held at bay, the second-year Ball should be a top-five back in yards per touch, just like Moreno was.
Alex Smith doesn't throw a lot and throws the ball deep sparingly. Dwayne Bowe (suspended) didn't have a 100-yard game last season until the playoffs, but tight end Travis Kelce has looked sharp after a lost rookie campaign.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe (suspended)
Rookie Derek Carr starts for the oldest roster in the league. Who's the No. 1 WR? The split between Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden is just postponing the use of Latavius Murray, a freakish talent taken late in last year's draft who missed the entire season due to injury
The Chargers will run the ball enough to make Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead very relevant on a weekly basis once again. They figure to get a 50/40 split with Donald Brown grabbing the remaining 10 percent. How soon does Ladarius Green move past Antonio Gates on the depth chart?
Any concerns attached to DeMarco Murray should revolve around his inability to play a full season, not how often the Cowboys might be playing from behind due to a leaky defense. Terrance Williams has an excellent opportunity as the No. 2 receiver after Dallas moved on from Miles Austin.
Most guys don't have career years at age 29, but Rashad Jennings should dominate the snap count in this backfield because he can pass block and catch the ball.
The offense is built to run, and Nick Foles is an equal-opportunity passer. The snap counts and targets for Philly’s receivers are among the top passing-game situations to monitor in the early going.
As long as Jay Cutler stays healthy, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte will remain beastly. Success under Jimmy Clausen would be a bigger Marc Trestman miracle than Josh McCown last year.
Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte & Green Bay Packers RB Eddie Lacy
Rookie Devonta Freeman is buried on the depth chart, so cutting into Steven Jackson‘s reps may take time or an injury. Jacquizz Rodgers has averaged more than 400 snaps per season through the past three years and still looks like a fixture.
Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert will hog the short-range touchdown runs, limiting the value on the DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart timeshare. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen should consume the bulk of the targets for an otherwise bleak set of pass catchers.
Pierre Thomas looks more or less like the lead back, but Mark Ingram and perhaps Khiry Robinson will have their roles. Thomas led all running backs in receptions last season. A lot of eyes are on rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks to see how he's utilized and, more importantly, how often.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
How much can Josh McCown do with rookies Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins? Logan Mankins can still run block, but he gave up nine sacks and committed eight penalties, second-most in each category among left guards in 2013.
Three-receiver sets were a very rare thing last season, hence the trade for Stevie Johnson. How long can Frank Gore, who is 31 years old and in the final year of his contract, hold off rookie Carlos Hyde?
St. Louis Rams
There was no issue with tearing up the running back depth chart last season, and it might happen again if Zac Stacy continues to average fewer than 4 yards per carry. Will any of the receivers offer anything?