Each week, this column highlights players who receive two or more rush attempts from inside their opponent's 5-yard-line. That data is normally near the bottom of the column, but its placement there doesn't mean it is less valuable than the information that precedes it. In fact, a player's opportunities in that scoring area are generally what separate the elite running backs from the second tier.
Not sold? Take a look at the following statistics:
• 74 percent of all rushing touchdowns attained by the 33 running backs with at least 60 rush attempts this season have come from inside their opponent's 5.
• The other 28 running backs with at least 60 carries average just over one touchdown from inside their opponent's 5.
• The top five fantasy running backs convert a smaller percentage of their carries inside the 5 into touchdowns (66 percent) than the other 28 qualifying backs (78 percent).
Only Charles and McCoy would remain among the top five fantasy running backs if they had only managed the league average for touchdowns inside their opponent's 5-yard-line. Typically, statistical outliers have a way of reverting toward the league average. Based on the quality of their offenses, it's certainly possible that the top five continue along their current trajectory. However, if you own one of the top five and have questions about their future value -- such as whether the Chicago Bears will generate as many red zone opportunities in the upcoming weeks without Jay Cutler as they did with him -- use this data to adjust your expectations.
Receiving yardage is the most variable form of yardage, which makes sense because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. Because of this, variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback can greatly change a player's value. So while your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points this weekend, you need to know whether it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If a receiver had one target that he turned into a 40-yard touchdown, you need to realize that he was one quarterback decision away from posting a goose egg. Conversely, if your wideout had 12 targets and finished with 108 yards receiving, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater.
Below, you'll see all of the players who are averaging eight or more targets in their past four games, and how many of those targets were on plays that began in the red zone during Week 7.
Note: Targets are not an official NFL statistic. Based on the methodology that stat services use, the number of targets listed may be different than target values listed elsewhere. ESPN Stats & Information's philosophy is to count a target when the analyst thinks the pass was actually intended for the player. Therefore, if a quarterback is obviously throwing a ball away, the analyst will not record a target for that pass. This gives a truer representation of what a target is -- a pass thrown to a particular player, with the intent for that player to catch the ball -- and therefore should be more helpful to the fantasy community.
Fantasy insights based on data through Week 7
• While you never root for an injury to any player, it's pretty obvious that Reggie Wayne's absence certainly boosts T.Y. Hilton's prospects for the remainder of the season. That being said, don't sleep on Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is available in 96 percent of ESPN.com leagues and will also receive an increase in the number of targets he receives going forward.
• If you haven't figured out who the Lions' No. 2 wide receiver is, it's evident that Kris Durham has seized that role by virtue of his 29 targets in the past three weeks. He should be on everyone's fantasy radar. Right now, he's virtually unowned in ESPN.com leagues.
• DeSean Jackson is averaging 19.8 yards per catch with Michael Vick as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback, but just 11.6 yards per catch when Nick Foles is under center. If the Jackson owner in your league soured on him because of his disappearing act in Week 7, make the move now to acquire him below market value.
• Sometimes, getting targets doesn't mean very much. Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings are both getting opportunities, but Josh Freeman has been rushed into the starting quarterback role for Minnesota without a reasonable amount of time to learn the offense, and that certainly showed on Monday night. Expect Freeman to struggle for a couple of weeks, which takes these two mediocre wide receivers and makes them unusable for the near future.
• After completing just two of his first 11 targets to Vincent Jackson, Mike Glennon completed 19 of his next 36 throws to him. While that completion rate still has room for improvement, Glennon is totally locked in on Jackson, which makes him a top-five play at the wide receiver position right now.
Big plays and up close
There were five NFL players (down from eight last week) who totaled three or more rushes that gained 10 or more yards each. They were: Ryan Mathews (4), Josh McCown (3), Charles (3), Alfred Morris (3) and Colin Kaepernick (3).
Meanwhile, there were 13 players (up from 11 last week) with at least two carries from their opponent's 5-yard-line or closer. They were: Alex Smith (4), Frank Gore (4), Lynch (3), Mike James (3), Mike Tolbert (3), Brandon Bolden (2), Danny Woodhead (2), Fred Jackson (2), Charles (2), Le'Veon Bell (2), Peyton Hillis (2), Roy Helu (2) and Zac Stacy (2). Of this group, only James, Bell and Stacy failed to score on at least one of these attempts.
Apparently Mike Shanahan still hates fantasy owners. After Morris dominated last season, Shanahan's crew is utilizing Helu as the Washington Redskins' every-down back in their hurry-up, or "turbo," offense. This is a serious blow to Morris' value going forward.
Hillis went from unemployed to fantasy fill-in when Brandon Jacobs had a setback in his rehabilitation of a hamstring injury. Hillis' fantasy worthiness is limited to the length of time that Jacobs is out.
Not only is Charles dominating via long runs and scoring touchdowns, he's also performing well as a receiver. Through seven weeks, Charles already has 14 catches that have resulted in gains of 10 yards or more after having just nine such receptions in 15 games last season.
Mathews scored on his only carry inside the 5, which coincidentally was his first carry of the season in this prime scoring area. Woodhead has four such carries (including the two this past week) this season, and has scored just once in those attempts. If Mathews can take ownership of this area, his value would increase for the remainder of the season.
Red zone play-calling chart
Below is a listing of the percentage of run/pass plays each team has executed this season in the red zone. Pass plays are defined as any play where the quarterback attempted a pass or was sacked, and all other plays are deemed as a rush.
In closing, some shameless self-promotion.
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