At it’s core the NFL is about scoring touchdowns. So is fantasy football.
The two- and three-touchdown games we need to win GPPs don’t often come from guys who aren’t primary red-zone players. Obviously, the more opportunities close to the goal-line, the higher the TD-ceiling is.
With that in mind and with the help of FFToday, I wanted to look at stats relating to usage inside the opponent’s 5-yard line Here are five nuggets I found interesting:
1. Latavius Murray and goal-line market share
Latavius received 81.8 percent of the Raiders’ carries inside the 5-yard line last year. That tied for the highest percentage in the league with Chris Ivory and was just ahead of Isaiah Crowell (77.8%), Adrian Peterson (72.7%) and Jeremy Hill (69.6%).
Although Murray only converted 4-of-9 chances inside the 5-yard line and 5-of-33 inside the 20-yard line, the Raiders will almost certainly ride him again as their red-zone/goal-line back. The backups (DeAndre Washington, Roy Helu, Taiwan Jones) do not profile well in short yardage. It’s another reason Murray remains undervalued, as explained here.
2. Quarterbacks as goal-line runners
Last year, only two quarterbacks handled more than 20 percent of their team’s rush attempts inside the 5-yard line. They were Cam Newton (37.5%) and Jameis Winston (35.0%). It’s a huge number for quarterbacks who are also very capable throwers with big-time pass-game weapons — Newton was 7th in the NFL in 2015 yards per attempt and Winston was 12th. The tendency for the Panthers and Bucs to use their QBs as goal-line backs also caps the upside of Jonathan Stewart and Doug Martin. Last year, Stewart only got 12 carries inside the 5-yard line and Martin only got 11 even though they played in 13 and 16 games, respectively.
Quarterbacks who use their legs is something I’m always looking at, even if it’s not near the goal-line. Newton averaged 8.3 rush attempts last year and Winston 3.4. Via Fantasy Labs, QBs who average at least three runs per game score 2.37 more DraftKings points than their salary-based expectation. That number surges to +4.09 when a QB averages at least six attempts.
3. The curious case of Danny Woodhead
NFL coaches typically give their bigger backs the touches near the goal-line. The aforementioned leaders in 2015 goal-line market share (Latavius, Ivory, Crowell, Peterson, Hill) are all at least 220 pounds. So it’s an outlier that the 5’8/200 Danny Woodhead received 66.7 percent of the Chargers’ carries inside the 5-yard line and 50.0 percent inside the 20-yard line. Woodhead also piled up eight targets inside the 10-yard line, helping propel him to a career-high nine touchdowns in 2015.
Meanwhile, 215-pound Melvin Gordon was left with zero red-zone targets and just two carries inside the 5-yard line despite playing in 14 games. Unless we see Gordon take away two-minute, four-minute, third-down or goal-line work, a big fantasy rebound will be almost impossible. He’s not in a position to catch passes or score touchdowns.
4. Tyrod, Russ and Alex Smith
Rushing quarterbacks aren’t always goal-line runners. For proof, we only need to look at the three QBs last year who were right behind Cam Newton in 2015 rush attempts per game: Tyrod Taylor (7.43 per game), Russell Wilson (6.44) and Alex Smith (5.25). Those three combined to score just seven total rushing TDs last year on their 291 attempts. That’s because they were hardly used as runners inside the 5-yard line, perhaps in an effort to sustain health. Tyrod, Russ and Smith each had just one carry inside the 5-yard line all year.
Throughout this season, you’ll hear people say stuff like “LeSean McCoy’s TD upside is capped by Tyrod” or “Russ Wilson could get two QB sneaks for scores.” We’ll know that’s just not true as touchdown projections for these quarterbacks are often overstated.
5. Wide receivers with worries
Brandin Cooks piled up 129 targets last year while playing in all 16 games last year, helping him to a top-12 finish among fantasy WRs. But Cooks only got three targets inside the 10-yard line and eight inside the 20-yard line – really low numbers for someone who finished with nine touchdowns. We should be worried about TD regression with Cooks even though he continues to go in the late-second round of season-long drafts.
Other expensive WRs with scoring opportunity concerns include Emmanuel Sanders (three targets inside the 10-yard line, eight inside the 20) and Sammy Watkins (four targets inside 10-yard line, five inside the 20).
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.