5 Running Back Studs & Duds for 2021

Jun 22, 2021
5 Running Back Studs & Duds for 2021

In part one of this series, I uncovered five potential studs or duds at the quarterback position using my expected touchdown model. The introduction in that article lays out the entire methodology for this study but the basic premise is simple—we can find out who scored touchdowns above or below expectation based on the historical touchdown rates for the starting field position of every play. Of course, every play type and each position will have a different expectation.

More Studs & Duds: QB | WR | TE

Calculating touchdown expectation for running backs requires extra work since we are often dealing with a significant number of both carries and targets for a player.

The following table lists the touchdown rates for all running back opportunities (carries and targets) over the last three seasons:

RB TD Rates Based on Field Position, 2018–2020
Line of Scrimmage TD Rate, Rushes TD Rate, Targets
1–49 0.3% 0.3%
50–41 0.4% 0.4%
40–31 0.7% 1.9%
30–21 1.3% 4.8%
20–16 3.4% 6.1%
15–11 6.1% 13.7%
10–6 11.1% 23.6%
5–1 41.2% 42.9%

For the running back position, this process has been especially useful at pinpointing players that are due for a significant drop in production.

Of the 16 negative regression candidates highlighted in this study since 2016 that saw at least 100 touches the following year, 13 saw a drop in touchdown rate (average -1.6%) and six saw a drop in fantasy scoring (average -1.27 half-PPR points per game). Positive regression candidates were a mixed bag, with an average change of +0.5% in scoring rate. In other words, huge outlier touchdown seasons are difficult to replicate, while instances of running backs failing to capitalize on significant workloads could be more indicative of future poor results or a decreased role.

After compiling every opportunity for each running back in the league from 2020 (minimum 100 opportunities), I calculated each back’s touchdown expectation and compared that number to the actual touchdowns that they generated. The differential in those numbers will serve as an indicator for running backs who scored more often or less often than they should have and, in turn, potential studs or duds in 2021.

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