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Run 'N' Shoot: Who's Getting the Goal-Line Looks?

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

I've always thought Matt Forte wasn't a good goal-line back (hence Michael Bush being used in that role in recent years), so when I started hearing buzz that Forte is going to get goal-line carries under new coach Marc Trestman, it got me looking at some stats. Back in 2009, Forte had 29 goal-line carries, including 16 from inside the five, yet had just four rushing TDs. Four! That's truly pathetic, and undoubtedly explains why Forte's goal-line carries have decreased each year since. The sample size of Forte's suckitude on the goal line is large, so I can't help but think Trestman will learn this lesson the hard way.

Anyway, the Forte buzz got me thinking about which running backs get consistent goal-line looks. That's what you want from a fantasy running back, right? Blazing speed is sexy, and receptions are nice in PPR, but nothing creates monster fantasy seasons like a boatload of goal-line TDs.

Here's a list of some top running backs, not in the order I'd rank them for fantasy purposes, but based on the number of goal-line carries they got in 2012. Can we learn anything from these numbers?

RB GL Carries
Arian Foster 42
Stevan Ridley 31
Adrian Peterson 28
Doug Martin 27
Alfred Morris 22
Marshawn Lynch 21
Trent Richardson 18
Ray Rice 18
Frank Gore 18
Steven Jackson 15 (Michael Turner had 26)
LeSean McCoy 14 (31 in 2011)
Andre Brown 13
Matt Forte 11
Darren McFadden 11
Chris Johnson 9
DeMarco Murray 8
Shane Vereen 8
Reggie Bush 7
C.J. Spiller 6
David Wilson 6
Jamaal Charles 5
Ryan Mathews 2
Maurice Jones-Drew 2 (injured, 21 in 2011)
Lamar Miller 0 (just 51 carries, but still)
Rashard Mendenhall 0
Eddie Lacy College
Le'Veon Bell College (Mendenhall had 26 in 2011)

Starting at the top, we all know Houston loves to run inside the 10, but Foster having 11 more goal-line carries than everyone else in the NFL sure does put it in perspective. Ben Tate has ridiculous upside if Foster can't get on the field soon. Since Tate is injury-prone himself, even the third-string running back in Houston is worth noting. (Right now, it's Deji Karim.)

Ridley's 31 goal-line carries in 2012 show he's in line for a monster season. Without red zone targets Aaron Hernandez and, perhaps, Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots seem like a safe bet to run more from in close. In fact, with Foster dinged up, and last year's stats in hand, Ridley is my odds-on favorite to lead the NFL in goal-line carries. In fact, there might be nobody in the NFL more likely to have a 20-TD season. The floor is nice here, too - barring injury (which can happen for anyone, of course), what's the scenario where Ridley doesn't have at least 8-10 TDs? Let's all move Ridley up a few spots on our lists.

On the other end of the spectrum, how the heck did Ryan Mathews manage just two goal-line carries all season (despite having 184 carries and playing in 12 games)? Mathews is often replaced on third downs, too, so you tell me - if Mathews doesn't get the ball on the goal line, where's the plausible upside here? I see San Diego drafting in the top five, so nobody except a cheap Vincent Brown is terribly enticing right now.

To everyone pumping Lamar Miller as an RB2, I have one simple question. Wouldn't it be nice to see him get at least one goal-line carry before we assume he's going to yield that kind of return? Call me crazy, but maybe one, at least?

C.J. Spiller, David Wilson and Jamaal Charles all rank low in this area, and expectedly so. Watch the usage patterns of each closely, though. The values of all three would shoot through the roof if they start getting goal-line looks.

This same sort of dynamic exists for receivers, too. Receptions are nice, but we all want stud receivers who score lots of touchdowns. History has proven it's hard to score consistently from deep. For every DeSean Jackson 2009 (nine receiving touchdowns, many from distance), there are scores of receivers who struggled to post 5-6 TDs where they didn't get targets inside the 10.

Here's a list of some top receivers, again not in the order I'd rank them for fantasy purposes, but the number of targets they received in 2012.

WR GL Targets
A.J. Green 14
Rob Gronkowski 12
Darren Sproles 12
Brandon Marshall 11
Eric Decker 11
Mike Williams 11 (really?)
Julio Jones 10
Jimmy Graham 10
Tony Gonzalez 10
Larry Fitzgerald 9
Marques Colston 9
Calvin Johnson 8
Roddy White 8
Victor Cruz 8
Danny Amendola 7 (higher than I'd have guessed)
Demaryius Thomas 7
Mike Wallace 7 (like Amendola, surprisingly high)
Steve Smith 7
Dez Bryant 6
Hakeem Nicks 6
Jordy Nelson 5
Cecil Shorts 5
Steve Johnson 5
Andre Johnson 4
Antonio Brown 4
Torrey Smith 3
DeSean Jackson 3
Vincent Jackson 3 (shockingly low next to Williams)
Vernon Davis 3
Randall Cobb 2
Dwayne Bowe 2
Jason Witten 2

I wouldn't have guessed A.J. Green led the NFL in targets inside the 10, but there it is. Green is so lanky and fast it's easy to forget he's 6-4. Height, of course, is the consistent theme for highly-targeted WRs at the goal line. Some smaller guys crept up a bit higher than I'd have guessed, but generally, it's those big, tall athletic freaks atop the chart.

Rob Gronkowski had 12 goal-line targets in just 11 games - a rate higher than that of any receiver, much less tight end. If you're drafting him early despite the health concerns, that shows why in a nutshell.

It's interesting the Falcons have three guys who rank so highly, plus a running back, Michael Turner, who was fifth in goal-line runs in 2012.

I'd have bet anything that Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos in goal-line looks in 2012. I'd have lost. Eric Decker might seem unlikely to repeat his 13 TDs from 2012, but if he gets another 11 goal-line targets, why not?

Those banking on a Vernon Davis breakout (myself included) have to shudder at his three goal-line targets last year. Perhaps the 49ers like his blocking just that much.

Other than Darren Sproles, there might not be an NFL player whose fantasy value swings so wildly from standard formats to PPR than Jason Witten. It's crazy he caught 110 passes yet had just two targets inside the ten. You'd think he'd have more than two just by accident.

Speaking of Sproles, what a fascinating case study. He had 12 goal-line targets last year on his way to seven receiving TDs in just 13 games. When you see he also had seven receiving TDs in 2011, that aspect of his game might seem consistent. Yet Sproles had just five goal-line targets in 2011. How does a running back score seven receiving TDs with just five goal-line targets? Nuts. The inconsistent goal-line looks, his size, and the change in playcaller (remember, Sean Payton is back this year, and Sproles had just five goal-line looks in 2011 under Payton) is why I'd bet against Sproles duplicating those 12 goal-line targets or his seven TDs again this year. Let's bump Sproles down a few spots.

Teams started doubling Calvin Johnson in goal-line looks last year, and the Lions running backs weren't good enough to make them pay. Whether Reggie Bush can open up some single coverage for Johnson on the goal line is a big story to watch this year.

Was anyone else surprised at the lack of Green Bay receivers near the top of this list? James Jones led the team with nine goal-line targets, but Jordy Nelson had just five and Randall Cobb only two. I even checked Jermichael Finley, but he had only three (but 10 in 2011). I guess Green Bay really does like running inside the 10. I wasn't sure what to do make of Eddie Lacy in this column a bit earlier, when I broke down the running backs (the situation in Green Bay now is so different from 2012, so there's not much we can take from it), but the lack of targets to the Packers top guys tells me Lacy has some mad upside.

This chart shows why Andre Johnson is never on any of my fantasy teams. Not only does he make it through a season unscathed less than half the time, but he just doesn't catch passes in goal-line situations.