We have been spending some time in the red zone lately. 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. With one final dive into red zone production, we have started to explore which players rely on the red zone the most and the least to produce their touchdowns. Yesterday, we touched on the quarterbacks. Today, we are hitting the 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, 85.9% of all rushing touchdowns have occurred from inside of the red zone, 73.5% from inside of the 10-yard line, 61.9% from five yards and in and 43.6% 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 top-30 non-rookies in current ADP for fantasy.
|RB||RuTD||1&2 YD||5 and In||6+ YD||Avg. RuTD||ReTD||Avg. ReTD|
>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
Just Fall Into the End Zone
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.
Of the players with double-digit rushing touchdowns over their career to date, nobody has relied on touchdowns on the ground to come from the 1-2 yard lines like Leonard Fournette has at 70.6%. 88.2% of his rushing scores have come from five yards or closer, which is also the highest rate from any back here with double-digit scores on the ground.
Because he has relied on short yardage scores so often with fewer splash-play runs into the end zone, when he ran cold in converting his short yardage opportunities last year for the first time in his career, his touchdowns dried up. This played the largest role in why Fournette had the most fantasy scored below expectation in the red zone in 2019.
Right below him is David Johnson with 66.7% of his career rushing scores coming from point blank range and 75.8% coming from five yards and in. Johnson has been an explosive in the receiving game for his career, but that has not translated to his rushing output. Even in his massive 2016 season in which he scored 16 rushing touchdowns, 10 of those came from two yards or closer with 12 coming from four yards and in. Johnson has not scored a rushing touchdown from further than six yards out since Week 15 of the 2016 season, but four of his past seven receiving touchdowns have come from outside of the red zone.
Another player we likely inherently expect to have more touchdown juice from distance based on his athletic profile is Joe Mixon. 76.5% of Mixon’s 17 rushing scores have come from five yards and in, trailing only Sony Michel and Fournette among the backs with double-digit scores above. Just two of Mixon’s career rushing touchdowns have come from outside of the 10-yard line with a career long of 15 yards on the ground.
In terms of average rushing touchdown length, Mixon’s 4.2 yards per rushing score is ahead of only Chris Carson (3.5 yards) among those with a larger sample. Of Carson’s 16 career rushing touchdowns to date, nine are from the 1-yard line with one coming from further than seven yards out.
Just 38.5% of Sony Michel’s rushing scores have come from two yards and in. That ranks 21st above, but 76.9% have come from five yards and in, which is fourth and only behind Fournette among backs with a tangible sample. With Cam Newton added, Michel could also stand to concede a few short-yardage rushing touchdown opportunities as Newton accounted for 42% of his team rushing touchdowns 2011-2018.
The last high-profile back that has lived close to the goal line for his touchdowns is Le’Veon Bell. Bell has had some monster fantasy seasons due to his all-purpose game, but has never had a giant touchdown season over his career due to his lack of splash touchdowns in the rushing game like some other guys have on their resumes. Bell has reached double-digit touchdowns in a season just twice with a career-high of 11 while he has never had double-digit rushing scores in any of his six seasons.
Like Fournette a year ago, this also played a role in suppressing his lowly touchdown total. If it were not for Fournette, we would be talking about Bell’s four touchdowns on 311 touches a lot more. 73.7% of Bell’s career rushing scores have come from five yards or closer, which is the sixth-highest rate among backs with 10-plus rushing scores for their careers above.
Looking for Short Scores
Let us switch gears and highlight a few of the players who have not solely relied on short touchdowns to carry their totals.
What makes Derrick Henry so unique is that not only has he been a touchdown machine that has found the end zone in 45.2% of his career games played in the regular season and in 18 of his past 25 regular season games, and a strong power back at converting his short-yardage touches into scores at high rate, but he also scores long touchdowns.
Henry is sixth on the list above in average length of rushing touchdowns for his career and this is a player with 15 1-yard touchdowns in that sample. Henry led the league in touchdown runs of 10 or more yards last season (seven). He only has three career receiving touchdowns, but those are from 75, 66, and 23 yards out.
Last week, we highlighted Saquon Barkley’s struggles near the goal line through two years in the NFL as one of the final pieces to unlock his fantasy ceiling. The opportunities are there, he just needs to convert. But due to his failure to turn those chances into touchdowns even at league rates, Barkley has been forced to live on the long ball for his touchdowns.
Barkley has the highest average rushing touchdown length above and has the most rushing touchdowns from outside of the red zone (seven) over the two seasons he has been in the league. Even from a receiving stance, just two of his six receiving scores have come from inside of the 10-yard line. With 58.8% of his career rushing touchdowns coming from outside of the 5-yard line, Barkley is tied behind only Raheem Mostert in that reliance on the longer touchdown run.
In that same post linked above discussing Barkley, we covered how Mostert was able to run supremely hot in the touchdown department despite two carries inside of the 10-yard line. We also hit on a number of the other backs with 50% of their career rushing scores to come from further than five yards out in Nick Chubb and Aaron Jones, so we will not go in depth on them here.
The player that Barkley is tied with at the top for longer touchdown run rate is Kenyan Drake, who finally may be freed. Through 54 career games with the Dolphins, Drake had just five total carries from five yards or closer to the end zone, converting one for a touchdown. In just eight games with Arizona last season, Drake had eight carries from five yards and in, converting six for touchdowns.
And the good part is for Drake not only getting a newfound opportunity near the end zone for the first time in his career, he still provided the long touchdowns, adding 17-yard and 80-yard touchdown runs to his totals over those eight games with the Cardinals.
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