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2023 NFL Week 2 High-Value Touch Report: Rushing and Receiving Data

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) completes a catch as Baltimore Ravens safety Ar'Darius Washington (29) defends in the second quarter of a Week 2 NFL football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.

Week 1 didn't feature much scoring, with 18.8 offensive points scored per game (OffPS/G) and 4.7 yards per play. That increased to 23.8 OffPS/G and 5.5 yards per play in Week 2. Fantasy managers probably noticed that in their fantasy scoring, too. 

Below, we’ll examine red zone and goal-to-go (GTG) touches and opportunities. The context for these touches is important, so we’ll consider the potential game script that led to the usage. This information helps identify which players might be on the verge of scoring more touchdowns and fantasy points — and which players aren’t. 

Given the small sample size, we sometimes find that players don’t regress quickly or that the data becomes more noisy than meaningful. The information will be broken down by red zone and GTG rushing and receiving data to find usage patterns and expected fantasy points. 

Thursday Night Running Back Review

D'Andre Swift smashed and set career-highs in rushing yards. Swift totaled seven red zone carries, five of which came in GTG situations. Though Jalen Hurts scored on two of his three GTG rushing attempts, Swift nearly scored a second touchdown on the ground.

Swift is elite at creating yards before contact (YBC), averaging 4.0 YBC and 1.89 yards after contact (YAC) per attempt Thursday. The Philadelphia Eagles' run blocking contributes; they tied for the second-most YBC in Week 1 and sixth-most in 2022. Also, Swift ranked fourth among running backs in YBC/Att in 2021 and 2022. 

It’s evident in the pass-to-rush rates for the Minnesota Vikings that Alexander Mattison might rarely find himself with high-value touches and opportunities. Since 2022, the Vikings have ranked second in pass rate (66 percent) with the third-fastest pace of play (25.3 seconds per snap) before Thursday.

Mattison had one red zone carry in Week 2, with four total red zone carries in 2023. 

In theory, Mattison meets the volume boxes, with a 73.1 percent Rush% (No. 1) and an 11.5 percent target share (No. 26). Unfortunately, the total volume metrics and the pass-heavy team context don't bode well for him. 

High-Value Touches: Red Zone Rushing 

Tony Pollard led Week 2 in red zone rushing attempts with nine, two more than Kenneth Walker, who tied Swift with seven. Though Pollard never fell into the end zone, we love the workload with 33 opportunities (25 carries and eight targets). Pollard is one of four running backs in 2023 with 25 or more touches. That list includes Swift, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey

Five of Walker's red zone carries came in GTG situations, and he scored two touchdowns. 

Walker lacked efficiency on the ground against the Detroit Lions, as he struggled to create YBC at 0.06 (fourth-worst), with a respectable 2.47 YAC/Att (No. 21). The offseason narrative around Walker involved him losing short-yardage opportunities to Zach Charbonnet. The visual below shows the rush success rates and other running back advanced stats for the Seattle Seahawks backfield. 

Walker had a 31.4 percent rush success rate in 2022, near a group of running backs that have little value (Jonathan Williams, Craig Reynolds and Rex Burkhead). In this season’s two-game sample, that number improved slightly for Walker, up to 41.4 percent compared with Charbonnet's 28.6 percent. Walker continues to dominate the overall rush share at 67.4 percent (No. 7) vs. Charbonnet at 16.3 percent (No. 52).

Don't count out Charbonnet just yet, but the market might have overthought this backfield given Walker's explosiveness.

Kyren Williams’ Workload

The remaining red zone leaders in Week 2 include many of the regular suspects noted above, plus Joe Mixon and Saquon Barkley.

Los Angeles Rams RB Kyren Williams garnered five red zone carries with one score, but he had zero GTG opportunities. With Cam Akers an unexpectedly healthy inactive, Williams looks like the back to have and who is worthy of free-agent money in the short term. Williams earned the second-most targets on the team (10) behind WR Puka Nacua, giving Williams a similar role to Austin Ekeler and McCaffrey without the name value. 

Williams had an elite running back workload with a 63.6 rush share and a 19.2 percent target share. Only four running backs posted a 60 percent rush share and a 15 percent target share in Week 2. That list includes Williams, Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Henry.

Looking ahead, we might want to stash Rams rookie Zach Evans, who hasn't been active due to a coach's decision. Though his college production doesn't wow us, his ability to create yards after contact via evaded tackles makes him an intriguing option if given the chance. 

High-Value Opportunities: Red Zone Receiving

Tee Higgins tied Ja’Marr Chase with four red zone targets for the Cincinnati Bengals. (We’ll discuss Higgins and his touchdown scores below.) Besides Higgins, Tyler Lockett and Keenan Allen hauled in a pair of touchdowns in the red zone, with one of Lockett's coming via a GTG opportunity. Lockett and Allen (both over 30 years old) quieted the age narrative in Week 2. 

The visual above shows the leaders in target share and air yards per target (AY/T). Though it's unrelated to high-value touches, one area to highlight with Allen involves the downfield role; he had the 16th-highest target share (27.1 percent) before Monday night.

Allen averages 11.16 AY/T, nearly identical to Mike Williams at 11.22. With Justin Herbert at quarterback, Allen averaged 7.96 AY/T (No. 74) among qualified receivers (2020-22). If Allen maintains his quality target share and air yards, that further unlocks potential upside in an already high-powered offense.

Go buy high on Allen, if possible. 

High-Value Touches: Goal-to-Go Rushing

Sometimes red zone data overlaps with GTG situations, but we'll highlight a few players who produced in Week 2.

Damien Harris scoring a touchdown on three GTG carries looks noisy, with the Buffalo Bills dominating the game against the Las Vegas Raiders. In the first half of the game, James Cook garnered a 42.9 percent rush share, while Latavius Murray finished at 28.6 percent. Harris only had a 14.3 percent rush share in the first and 23.8 percent in the second half. 

Cook remained heavily involved, with a 52.4 percent rush share in the second half. That could indicate the team's confidence in Cook closing out games paired with the receiving role. Cook boasts a 50.9 percent rush share and an elite 4.38 YAC/Att (No. 8) through two weeks, as seen below. 

James Conner, David Montgomery, Rachaad White and Brian Robinson scored a touchdown in their two GTG carries in Week 2. We've seen Conner and Montgomery holding a heavier workload but have smaller sample sizes with White and Robinson.

We know of White's receiving skills, but his improved rushing efficiency provides optimism. White lacked the explosiveness to create yards after contact, which is evident in his 2.2 YAC/Att and nine percent broken-plus-missed-tackle rate (BT+MT/Att) in 2022. However, White is showing better YAC ability, with a 2.62 YAC/Att in 2023, ranking 24th. 

New Orleans Saints RB Jamaal Williams left Monday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers with a hamstring injury. That opened up the door for everyone's favorite, Taysom Hill, and Tony Jones Jr.

In the second half, Jones totaled 10 carries (55.6 percent), and Hill garnered five (27.8 percent) for an efficient 51 yards. Jones scored two short-yardage touchdowns on his only two GTG carries with Hill taking one. 

Hill might remain an issue in this offense like in past years as the ultimate wild card with rushing touchdowns and yardage, or he might have nearly zero production and touches. Rookie Kendre Miller is dealing with a hamstring, too, but if healthy, he could be the Saints’ most exciting back until Alvin Kamara returns. Miller had the 15th-best BT+MT/Att among qualified college running backs last season. 

The Commanders' Backfield

Apologies for recommending Washington Commanders RB Antonio Gibson over teammate Robinson in my ZeroRB article. I anticipated Gibson garnering more of a role in the receiving game, and that's typically a smart move in points-per-reception (PPR) formats.

In the second preseason game, Gibson edged Robinson in routes, but Robinson bested him in target share. Through two weeks, Robinson has 32 routes vs. 42 for Gibson, with Robinson having a slightly better target share (7.9 percent vs. 6.3 percent). 

While their usage isn't directly related to high-value touches, Robinson rocks a near-elite rushing workload at 72.5 percent (No. 3) and an above-average target share of 7.9 percent (No. 32).

Meanwhile, Gibson has a 9.8 percent rush share (No. 66). That's not even close, and Robinson remains the preferred and primary option. Robinson also averages 1.19 YBC/Att with 2.76 YAC/Att. Though Gibson’s 0.80 YBC/Att and 2.80 YAC/Att seem similar, Robinson creates YAC at a higher volume of touches instead of having an efficient role on fewer opportunities. 

High-Value Opportunities: Goal-to-Go Receiving

Remember when Higgins had a historically odd game in Week 1? Well, in Week 2, Higgins reeled in two of his GTG opportunities for touchdowns and edged Chase in target share (28.6 percent vs. 24.3 percent) and AY/T (13.8 vs. 7.35).

It's a concentrated target tree, with those two, Tyler Boyd (15.7 percent) and Mixon (14.3 percent) accounting for the top four options, as seen below. Hopefully, no one panicked about Higgins in Week 1.

We'll close out this article by touching on a few deep-league or waiver-wire options who hauled in touchdowns in Week 2. Jake Ferguson said to remember his name after the first two weeks, with three more GTG targets in Week 2. Unfortunately, Ferguson's 10.5 percent target share against the New York Jets won't elicit confidence in him being anything other than a touchdown-dependent option. 

Isaiah Hodgins caught one touchdown on two GTG targets as the New York Giants made a historic comeback against the Arizona Cardinals. The Giants continue to spread the ball, with five targets going to five players.

Though Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson isn't a waiver-wire option, he serves as the second or third option in the passing game on an offense with a high pass rate. Even if Hockenson's 19.5 percent target share (No. 5 among qualified tight ends) doesn't wow us, the passing volume keeps him afloat as a PPR option. 

Green Bay Packers WR Christian Watson missed another week. In his stead, rookie Jayden Reed soaked up two GTG targets for a pair of scores. Though Week 2 was a slightly different game script, Reed's target share went from 18.5 percent to 32 percent (No. 9), tied with Jets WR Garrett Wilson.

It's probably safe to expect some inconsistencies in the Packers’ passing offense until we see more of a sample with Jordan Love. However, keep stashing and adding Reed if he becomes the second-best option behind Watson when he returns. 

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