As we continue to approach the 2021 fantasy season, we have recently been spending a lot of time in the red zone (because we care about touchdowns).
First, we covered what we can take away from team-level production in the red zone. Following that up, we covered the actual fantasy scoring compared to expected points scored in the red zone for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
We opened the week with a look at the touchdown distribution for wide receivers. Today, we are looking at running backs.
Here, we can get a good gauge on which players are not solely reliant on their respective teams reaching one section of the field regularly and those who do. The added bonus gained is if you are in a league that rewards fantasy points based on touchdown length.
Rushing scores are largely predicated on a team getting close to the goal line. Over the past 10 NFL seasons, 86.4% of all rushing touchdowns have occurred from inside of the red zone, 74.0% from inside of the 10-yard line, 57.5% from five yards and in and 44.1% from just the 1- and 2-yard lines. So with well over half of all rushing touchdowns coming solely from five yards and in and nearly half solely coming from two yards or closer, we are using those as our arbitrary landmarks here even and will touch on a few of the backs that do possess that unique ability to live on longer runs for their scores as well. For our player sample, we are using the same ADP group we used in the red zone expected points article on backfields.
|RB||RuTD||1&2 YD||5 and In||6+ YD||10+YD||Avg. RuTD||ReTD||Avg ReTD|
|Ronald Jones II||14||35.71%||57.14%||28.57%||7.14%||10.6||1||37|
|Benny Snell Jr.||6||83.33%||100.00%||0.00%||0.00%||1.5||0||0|
>1&2 YD = % of Rushing TD Scored From the 1-2 Yard Lines
<5 and In = % of Rushing TD Scored From five yards or closer
6+ YD = % of Rushing TD Scored From Further than five Yards Out
Avg. RuTD = Length of average Rushing Touchdown
Avg. ReTD = Length of average Receiving Touchdown
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR
Sorted by number of rushing touchdowns, let us start with the players who are the goal line bullies. Needing those short scores to reach the end zone more than the field while failing to create long breakaway touchdown production.
From our 60-player sample above, 22 of these backs have scored 50% or more of their rushing touchdowns from solely 1-2 yards out. Eight of those backs have double-digit rushing scores over their careers, led by Leonard Fournette (69.6%), David Johnson (64.1%), James Conner (63.6%), and Jamaal Williams (60%), at 60% or higher.
Last week, we highlighted how D’Andre Swift excelled over expectation near the end zone as a rookie as his average rushing touchdown length was just 3.0 yards. He was so good at converting short carries last season that we have not really explored the idea that Jamaal Williams could get in the mix near the paint to play a part in any regression Swift could have near the end zone in Year 2. Williams has averaged just 4.0 yards per rushing score over his career with six of his 10 rushing touchdowns coming solely from just one-yard out and only two from further than four yards. With the way Anthony Lynn rotated Joshua Kelley and Kalen Ballage in near the goal line last season, anything could happen in Detroit and we wouldn’t blink, but we really have no clarity on the actual usage Williams is going to receive complimenting Swift outside of commentary from the Detroit staff that they like him as a player.
We have had that conversation on James Conner threatening for goal like work in Arizona. Conner’s average rushing touchdown length of 5.1 yards is the lowest among all of the backs above with 20 or more career rushing touchdowns and the third-lowest among backs with double-digit touchdowns. 72.7% of Conner’s career rushing scores have been scored from five yards and in.
Malcolm Brown has the lowest average length of rushing score above among backs with double-digit career rushing touchdowns at just 2.7 yards. Brown has 11 career rushing touchdowns. Only one has come from longer than five yards out with six coming from three yards and in. We talked about the struggles Myles Gaskin had converting short-yardage scores during his breakout in 2020, and what is interesting is that although Gaskin struggled near the end zone, he also needed bunny attempts to score last season on the ground with all three of his rushing touchdowns coming from the 1-yard line. Gaskin has a short resume, so his sample of failing to generate splash plays could be more random than established samples here (and he had receiving scores of 10 and 59 yards), but Brown remains a looming threat near the goal line.
CREATING LONG SCORES
We have established that the crux of the league’s rushing touchdowns come from short yardage, but there are backs that generate a high rate of splash-play touchdowns on the ground on their own merit, through forced role, or even due to struggles near the end zone.
No top-tier fantasy back stands out in covering multiple avenues of that like Saquon Barkley does. On one hand, we inherently know of the big-play ability Barkley possesses. He can turn any carry he has into a house call in an instant. Barkley averages 26.8 yards per touchdown run on his 17 scores. Since he entered the league in 2018, Barkley’s seven rushing touchdowns from outside of the red zone are tied for second in the league and he essentially missed all but one game last season. Barkley also averages 21.3 yards per receiving score.
While we know Barkley has lid-popping potential per play, he also has needed to score 58.8% of his rushing scores from over five yards out (third-highest rate among backs with double-digit rushing scores) because he has struggled near the end zone early in his career. Through 31 games, Barkley has converted just 6-of-24 carries (25%) inside of the 5-yard line for touchdowns (league rate is 44.4%) with a 6-of-14 (42.8%) conversion rate from 1-2 yards out, below the league rate of 51.6%. Over the same span on the same team, Wayne Gallman converted 9-of-15 carries inside of the five and 9-of-13 from 1-2 yards out. The good news is that, especially with Gallman gone, there is still no real threat to take away those touches from Barkley.
Damien Harris, A.J. Dillon, and Chase Edmonds are the only backs above to score 100% of their rushing touchdowns from further than five yards, but Harris and Dillon have relatively no samples to work off while their 2020 situations could be altered moving forward. Edmonds does only have seven career rushing scores, which is not much more of a sample, but Edmonds also has just one career rushing attempt inside of the 5-yard line through three NFL seasons. His seven career rushing touchdowns have come from six, eight, 20, 20, 22, 29, and 37 yards out. The staff will have to lean into his extended role in 2021 meaning an extension near the goal line, but one ray of sunshine for Edmonds here is that he did have four receiving scores from 10 yards and in last season.
The running back with the most impressive distance scoring resume above, though, is Raheem Mostert. 81.8% of Mostert’s career rushing touchdowns have come from further than five yards out.
The Raheem Mostert TD catalog is awesome…
— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) July 6, 2021
Mostert has more career rushing touchdowns from outside of the red zone (six) than inside of the 5-yard line (three). Like Barkley, Mostert’s bugaboo on having those long touchdowns carry his totals have stemmed from being stonewalled near the end zone. Over the past two seasons in San Francisco, Mostert has converted just 3-of-13 carries (23.1%) inside of the 5-yard line for scores while other 49ers running backs have converted 18-of-34 such carries (52.9%). This is perhaps the path for Trey Sermon to make an early impact while carving out his own role in the offense or we see Gallman get involved based on his career efficiency here to be a thorn, but Mostert’s inability to convert those opportunities at the same level as teammates keep the door open to rotate backs in near the end zone.
The player with the longest average rushing touchdown length is Miles Sanders at 34.2 yards. Sanders has nine rushing scores through two seasons with house calls on the ground of 82, 74, and 65 yards. Sanders also has three receiving scores of 32, 15, and 15 yards. Keeping up with the theme, Sanders is another back who has been below league rates near the end zone, converting just 5-of-13 carries (38.5%) inside of the 5-yard line for scores, but he has converted 4-of-6 from 1-2 yards out.
Nick Chubb ran hot near the end zone last season after a down 2019 season, but one thing he has always done is break off big touchdown runs. 53.4% of Chubb’s touchdowns on the ground have come from further than six yards out with 42.9% from 10 yards or further, both the highest rates among backs above with 20-plus career rushing scores. Chubb is tied with Barkley with seven rushing scores outside of the red zone since entering the league, which is second in the league.
Aaron Jones is another back who has goal line appeal and big-play sizzle. Only Derrick Henry (33), and Dalvin Cook (29) have more rushing touchdowns than the 25 that Jones has over the past two seasons. 51.5% of Jones’s career rushing scores have been scored from over five yards out, the highest rate of any back above with 30 or more career rushing touchdowns, and trails only Mostert, Barkley, and Chubb among the backs with more than 10 career rushing touchdowns.
Closing this out, it would be a failure on my part if we did not bring things home with some notes on the unicorn that is Derrick Henry. Henry has scored 49 touchdowns over his past 45 games played including the postseason with at least one touchdown scored in 30 of those games. What is impressive about Henry is that he is a downright goal line monster and one of the league’s best distance scorers at his position.
40% of Henry’s career rushing touchdowns have come from 1-2 yards out, but also 49.1% have come from over five yards out and 38.2% have come from 10 or more yards out. Henry averages 16.6 yards per career rushing touchdown (which trails only Barkley, Mostert, and Chubb for backs with double-digit rushing scores) and that is with 21 career rushing touchdowns solely from the 1-yard line factored into the average. Over the past three seasons, Henry leads the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns from outside of the red zone and a league-high seven rushing scores of over 50 yards in that sample. Even Henry’s three career receiving scores are from 66, 75, and 23 yards out.