5 Running Backs Who Had Outlier Touchdown Seasons in 2021

Jun 24, 2022
5 Running Backs Who Had Outlier Touchdown Seasons in 2021

In part one of this series, I uncovered four touchdown outliers 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 2021 Touchdown Outliers: 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, 2019–2021
Line of Scrimmage TD Rate, Rushes TD Rate, Targets
1–49 0.3% 0.2%
50–41 0.4% 0.5%
40–31 0.7% 1.4%
30–21 1.3% 4.7%
20–16 3.1% 4.6%
15–11 5.8% 13.4%
10–6 10.8% 24.4%
5–1 41.2% 45.7%

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

Since expanding this research in 2019, 15 running backs have scored at least two touchdowns over expectation in a single season. Of those 15, none saw an increase in touchdowns the following year and 14 declined in the scoring column with a median dropoff of three touchdowns. There were also 15 backs that scored at least two touchdowns below expectation and 13 of those players increased their touchdowns the next season with a median jump of two scores.

After compiling every opportunity (rushes + targets) for each running back in the league from 2021 (minimum 100 opportunities), I calculated each running 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 2022.

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