Week 1 RB red zone and goal line usage report

There is no denying that touchdowns are one of the most crucial elements of fantasy football success. However, they are also often extremely hard to predict on a week-to-week basis. In order to mitigate that difficulty, fantasy managers can give themselves the best opportunity to get high-value plays by targeting players who have a high usage inside the red zone.

While we only have one week of data to go, which can be heavily influenced by a number of factors, that data can still provide us an insight into the plans teams have. Additionally, if we can then correlate that data with similar usage patterns from previous seasons, then we can start to make projections around whether the Week 1 data is useful looking forward. Let’s take a look at some players whose rushing and receiving usage inside the red zone stood out in Week 1.

Week 1 red zone RB report

The first thing we need to do is work out where the most high-impact plays come from inside the red zone. There were 19 rushing touchdowns scored on plays inside the 20-yard line. Of those, 18 were scored on rushes from inside the 10-yard line, and 16 were on plays from inside the five-yard line.

There is no surprise that plays within five yards of the goal line carry the most value, given the average yards per carry in the NFL rests below the five-yard mark and is often even lower inside the red zone, where the field of play is condensed. So let’s focus first on plays inside the five-yard line.

There were a total of 26 players to have rushing attempts inside the five-yard line in Week 1. Of those, 10 had two or more, with just three players carrying the ball three times inside the five-yard line. Let’s take a look at who those three players were and what percentage of the team carries they saw.

  • Jamaal Williams – 100 percent
  • Joe Mixon – 75 percent
  • Miles Sanders – 43 percent

Two of these are particularly intriguing – Williams and Sanders. Williams seeing all three of the Lions’ most high-leverage fantasy touches is particularly noticeable. He is a popular name on the waiver wire this week, but his fantasy value in Week 1 was largely derived from scoring touchdowns.

Looking back to 2021, we can see that D’Andre Swift and Williams essentially split touches inside the five-yard line. Swift had six, while Williams had five (both played 12 games). Therefore, Williams just had more than half of his 12-game total from last year in the first game of the season. We know that Williams is unlikely to score two touchdowns per game, so this success is unsustainable. But if we are adding or starting him to be the goal line back, it is worth questioning if he really is the goal line back or if this is just a Week 1 mirage.

In terms of Sanders, there is a contrast here. Yes, he had three red zone carries, and he scored a touchdown, but that does not tell the full picture. All three of the Eagles’ backs, as well as QB Jalen Hurts, had at least one goal line carry in this game. Therefore, Sanders’ three goal line touches are a product of volume more so than it being a major role for him.

Last year, with the same coaching staff, Sanders had just five carries inside the five-yard line in 12 games. Counting on him to be used heavily at the goal line this year would be optimistic. However, it doesn’t change that he remains a starting fantasy RB right now; it just caps the ceiling.

Which players dominated their team’s carries inside the five-yard line?

Now let’s focus on the seven players that had two rushing attempts inside the five-yard line. One of those was Jalen Hurts, who had two of the seven (29 percent) for the Eagles. Hurts’ work around the goal line is one of the reasons he is a starting QB most weeks. Here are the other six players with two rushes inside the five-yard line.

  • Saquon Barkley – 100 percent
  • AJ Dillon – 100 percent
  • Khalil Herbert – 100 percent
  • Najee Harris – 67 percent
  • Melvin Gordon – 67 percent
  • Jeff Wilson Jr. – 67 percent

Focusing on the players with 100 percent first, and Barkley is a player we fully expect to dominate the touches for the Giants, so we can move past his appearance on the list.

Dillon seeing 100 percent of the Packers’ carries inside the five-yard line may surprise you. With Aaron Jones around, you would expect to see both getting looks. However, this was also a trend we saw as the weeks went on last year. Dillon finished the season seeing just over half of the carries inside the five-yard line for the Packers. He appears to have a firm grasp on the goal line role in Green Bay.

Herbert is also intriguing, given that David Montgomery was viewed as the main back for the Bears this year. Last year, Mongomery handled 52 percent of the carries inside the five-yard line. However, there has been a change in the coaching staff and potentially a change in responsibilities. This is something to watch as it pertains to the value of both Herbert and Montgomery in 2022.

Dropping down to the 67 percent mark now and seeing Harris’ name, there is no surprise. The only reason it was not 100 percent of the carries was that Chase Claypool took one of those touches. The fact Harris is still the primary goal line back, as well as seeing a target inside the five-yard line, mitigates some of the concerns around his efficiency rushing the ball in Week 1.

Melvin Gordon having two of the three red zone carries in Denver is intriguing. He saw the first two such attempts for the Broncos. Despite a fumble on his first attempt, Gordon still got the next carry inside the five-yard line. However, Javonte Williams got the third such attempt but also fumbled. This situation is one to watch because the change in coaching staff makes it tough to look back to last year for context.

Jeff Wilson saw the majority of the 49ers’ goal line work after he replaced Elijah Mitchell following his injury. Wilson had two of the three attempts inside the five-yard line, with Deebo Samuel having the other. This split is likely one we will see all year. However, Tyrion Davis-Price was a player many felt could see goal-line carries in this offense, so he is someone to watch out for in future weeks.

What do we make of players with just one goal-line carry?

The tough part of assessing goal line roles this early in the offseason is when teams had just one rushing attempt inside the five-yard line. Is it meaningful, or do we need more data? Of course, that is dependent on a case-by-case basis. Below is a list of the players to have one such goal line carry with any meaningful takeaways.

  • Antonio Gibson – 100 percent
  • Boston Scott – 14 percent
  • Christian McCaffrey – 100 percent
  • Cordarelle Patterson – 50 percent
  • Isiah Pacheco – 100 percent
  • James Conner – 100 percent
  • James Robinson – 100 percent
  • Javonte Williams – 33 percent
  • Joe Burrow – 25 percent
  • Jonathan Taylor – 50 percent
  • Josh Allen – 100 percent
  • Josh Jacobs – 100 percent
  • Kenneth Gainwell – 14 percent
  • Leonard Fournette – 100 percent
  • Marcus Mariota – 100 percent
  • Nyheim Hines – 50 percent

The first name that jumps out is Pacheco. He may have seen 100 percent of the goal line work for the Chiefs, but all of his carries came in the fourth quarter, with the other running backs rested to end the game.

Seeing Gibson get the only attempt for Washington is good for his value. However, Brian Robinson will likely assume a portion of that role whenever he returns. For now, the goal line work should be Gibson’s, but do not be surprised if Curtis Samuel steals a carry or two.

Robinson is another intriguing name, as we did not know what his split with Travis Etienne would look like. Robinson is likely going to need to find the end zone to be a regular fantasy starter, so seeing him get the early goal line work is promising.

Which backs saw targets inside the red zone?

As well as rushing attempts near the goal line, it is important to consider targets for backs inside the red zone. Let’s examine which backs saw two or more targets inside the red zone in Week 1.

  • Travis Etienne – 3 targets
  • Javonte Williams – 3 targets
  • Breece Hall – 2 targets
  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire – 2 targets
  • Damien Harris – 2 targets
  • Melvin Gordon – 2 targets
  • Michael Carter – 2 targets
  • Nyheim Hines – 2 targets

Given that we discussed Robinson getting the goal line carries, it is important for Etienne’s value that he gets some of the red zone receiving work for the Jaguars. He saw 30 percent of the team targets inside the 20. The value of that to his weekly value should not be underestimated.

It is intriguing to see both Williams and Gordon get multiple targets inside the 20. Both also saw goal line opportunities and appear to be a big part of the Broncos’ plans inside the 20-yard line. Similarly, while Carter and Hall did not get any goal line opportunities running the ball, both saw two targets inside the 20. Both of them also appear to be big parts of the Jets’ plans in all parts of the field this year.

The news of Ty Montgomery getting placed on IR makes those two targets for Harris look even more interesting. Montgomery was expected to be the main receiving back, but it was actually Harris who saw the most targets inside the red zone. Montgomery scored on his one opportunity, but that came after Harris had been targeted on first and second down.

Edwards-Helaire’s presence on this list is also worth noting. While he did not have a goal line rushing attempt, he caught two touchdowns from the three and four-yard line, respectively. He was the clear number one back and even got the receiving work near the goal line.

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