5 Running Back Touchdown Regression Candidates

5 Running Back Touchdown Regression Candidates

By TJ Hernandez (Director of DFS), last update Aug 7, 2018

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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Over the last month, I’ve used Red Zone Expected Value (Red Zone EV) to uncover potential touchdown regression at various positions. This article will examine the running back position. Red Zone EV is a metric designed to quantify how many points a player should score from red zone touchdowns based on the starting field position of every red zone opportunity—since its inception, Red Zone EV has proven to accurately predict which players will see their touchdown rates revert to the mean at a promising rate.

Calculating Red Zone EV for running backs can be a little tricky, though, since rushing attempts and receiving targets do not have the same touchdown expectation, and neither do a running back's targets compared to that of a wide receiver or tight end.


More Touchdown Regression Candidates: QB | WR | TE


The following table lists the expected value for all running back red zone opportunities:

Expected Value of a Running Back Red Zone Opportunity, 2015–2017
  Rush Attempts Running Back Targets
Starting Yard Line % Chance of a TD EV of a Rush Attempt % Chance of a TD EV of a Target
20 – 16 2.1% 0.13 7.2% 0.43
15 – 11 4.7% 0.28 11.8% 0.71
10 – 6 10.9% 0.65 25.1% 1.51
5 – 1 38.6% 2.32 44.4% 2.66

After compiling every red zone opportunity for every running back in the league from 2017, I calculated each back’s Red Zone EV and compared that number to the actual points that they generated from red zone touchdowns. The differential in those numbers will serve as an indicator for running backs who scored more often or less often than they should have in the red zone based on where each play started.

Negative Touchdown Regression Candidates

League Average Touchdown Rate - 3.0% of touches
League Average Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 17.5% of touches

Alvin Kamara, Saints

2017 Touchdown Rate - 6.5%
2017 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 25.6%
Red Zone EV - 32.4; Actual Points From Red Zone Touchdowns - 60

Over the past three seasons, no running back has scored more points over expectation inside the red zone than Alvin Kamara. Based on the starting field position of Kamara’s red zone touches, he should have scored roughly five touchdowns from inside the 20 but he doubled that number. 

While Kamara’s red zone numbers are likely unsustainable, his overall touchdown rate also figures to come down significantly. Going back 10 seasons, only five running backs with at least 150 touches have posted a higher scoring rate than Kamara’s 2017 pace. Zoomed out to a larger sample, 22 running backs in that span have posted a touchdown rate of at least five percent on 150 or more touches and saw at least 150 touches the following season—only two of those players met or exceeded their touchdown rate the following season and the average drop off in scoring rate was just over two percent.

Popular opinion suggests that what Kamara is likely to lose in efficiency he’ll make up for in volume but Sean Payton thinks that an increased workload for the second-year back would be a mistake.

Dion Lewis, Titans

2017 Touchdown Rate - 4.2%; Career Touchdown Rate - 3.6%
2017 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 21.4%; Career Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 18.3%
Red Zone EV - 33.1; Actual Points From Red Zone Touchdowns - 54

Despite exceeding 15 touches in a game just seven times last season, Dion Lewis managed to finish as the RB15 in PPR leagues, due in large part to an inflated touchdown total. Average scoring rates suggest that Lewis should have scored between five and six red zone touchdowns last season but he scored nine times from inside the 20. 

Admittedly, the scoring expectation for any Patriots running back is higher than that of the average player but Lewis will now be sharing a backfield with Derrick Henry in Tennessee. While the transition from Mike Mularkey to Matt LaFleur as the playcaller for the Titans should lead to a more pass-heavy attack, that doesn’t necessarily translate to more scoring opportunities for Lewis—just seven of his 42 red zone touches came through the air last season.

Todd Gurley, Rams 

2017 Touchdown Rate - 5.5%; Career Touchdown Rate - 3.8%
2017 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 23.2%; Career Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 21.1%
Red Zone EV - 76.0; Actual Points From Red Zone Touchdowns - 96

Todd Gurley had the highest red zone expectation of any running back by a wide margin but he still outpaced his scoring forecast inside the 20 by almost four touchdowns. Like Kamara, Gurley’s overall touchdown rate is one that history suggests is sure to plummet in 2018. In fact, the Rams offense as a whole is one that may see a dip in scoring—Los Angeles ranked 11th in yards per drive put managed a touchdown on 26 percent of their drives, the fourth-highest rate in the league.

Because of Gurley’s volume, both overall and in the red zone, he is still positioned as a favorite to finish as the RB1 but natural regression suggests that the gap may not be as large between him and the field as some might think.

Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates

Continue reading to see which two running backs TJ believes are in line for positive touchdown regression and who are primed to score more fantasy points in 2018 than last season...

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Filed Under:
Preseason
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2018