6 Fantasy Football RBs Whose Touchdowns Are Trending Up & Down

Jun 10, 2024
6 Fantasy Football RBs Whose Touchdowns Are Trending Up & Down

Last week, I published an article examining and translating years of data on quarterback touchdown rates. The goal was to pinpoint several QBs trending up or down in the TD department entering 2024, and to identify the effects it could have on their fantasy value in drafts this fall.

Some of the principles I laid out in that piece hold true across positions — particularly, that outlier touchdown seasons are typically followed by a regression to the mean. However, pooling and parsing the data gets a little trickier, as the sample sizes are smaller and the nature of the other positions is fundamentally different. So, in order to find the same sorts of nuggets for the running back position, we’re going to have to mine a little deeper.

More Positional TD Rate Trenders: QB | WR | TE

To make this possible, I’ve used a similar method to the one used by TJ Hernandez in previous iterations of this piece, with some of my own tweaks. This method focuses heavily on the touchdown rate of a carry or target from a given field position. Obviously, a target from the opponent’s 1-yard line will have a much higher chance of resulting in a score than a carry from midfield. This methodology allows for much more granular data, resulting in more accurate trends (however much work it may take to assemble).

While these historical rates are not necessarily the same thing as predictive probabilities, they are usually quite close over a decent sample. The following table lists a bird’s-eye view of the touchdown rates for all running back opportunities (carries and targets) over the last 10 seasons, with field positions aggregated for simplicity.

RB Touchdown Rates by Field Position, Last 10 Seasons
Line of Scrimmage TD Rate, Carries TD Rate, Targets
Opponent 1-5 40.0% 46.3%
Opponent 6-10 10.6% 24.6%
Opponent 11-19 4.5% 9.7%
Opponent 20-29 1.5% 4.7%
Opopnent 30-39 0.8% 1.5%
Opponent 40-Own 1 0.3% 0.3%
Red Zone (Inside 20) 17.2% 19.1%
Total 3.0% 3.0%

As expected, the chances of a running back scoring absolutely skyrocket in goal-to-go situations particularly at or near the goal line. The increased value of a target versus a carry in each given field position range is also notable, lending more weight to the fantasy upside of pass-catching backs who are heavily involved in the red zone.

If these numbers set the “norm,” what does it look like when a player has an outlier season? Let’s take Tony Pollard as an example. In 2022, the former Cowboys RB broke out with a whopping 12 touchdowns (9 rushing, 3 receiving). As a result, fantasy managers (and the Cowboys for that matter) pegged Pollard for massive RB1 upside heading into 2023. But a deeper look at the data might have uncovered reason for pause. Based on our 10-year sample, Pollard rushed for 4.8 touchdowns over expectation and caught another 1.8 touchdowns over expectation in 2022 (for 6.6 total scores over expectation). Pollard’s season included unlikely touchdowns from his opponent’s 13, 18, and 30, as well as his own 32, 43, and 46. He scored five times on 217 opportunities from outside the red zone, a rate (2.3%) that was more than four times higher than expected.

In 2023, Pollard’s touchdown rates plummeted, and his fantasy numbers suffered as a result. Despite an expected 11.6 touchdowns, Pollard scored just six times on the year, falling 5.6 TDs below expectation. He found paydirt on one of 247 opportunities from outside the red zone (a standard 0.4%), but particularly struggled near the goal line, scoring on just three of 17 carries from the opponent’s 5-yard line or closer.

Oddly enough, Pollard’s last two seasons provide us a full picture of both sides of the coin. While his 2022 touchdown rates were far too high and foreshadowed regression in 2023, his 2023 numbers were far too low … which means there may be hope on the horizon.

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