In an age where the NFL has truly gone the way of positional specialty, it has become crucial to understand which players excel in certain situations on the football field.
When discussing fantasy football, touchdown production from non-quarterback players is as important a factor as anything else when it comes to finding success on a weekly basis. In almost every league you may find yourself in, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends are all awarded six points for each touchdown they score.
Today I want to focus on the running back position, and more specifically, which running backs are most likely to score touchdowns inside the opponents’ 5-yard line. Players who can punch it in close to the goal line are what real-life coaches covet, and we as fantasy owners should feel the same way.
Below I’ve listed each running back who received 12 or more carries from inside the opponents’ 5-yard line during the 2013 season. I’ve sorted these players by their respective conversions, or success rates (Touchdowns/Attempts).
1. In case you needed another reason to consider Eddie Lacy at the top of your fantasy draft, his eye-popping goal line success rate should put the issue to rest. Converting on nearly 70% of his goal-line attempts, Lacy was money in the bank in 2013. Keep in mind that Lacy scored five of his nine goal-line touchdowns last season while Aaron Rodgers was injured, too. A healthy Rodgers should only increase Lacy’s opportunity and effectiveness in what looks to be an extremely dangerous offense this season.
2. Despite being labeled as a “smallish” running back, Jamaal Charles was very efficient at the goal line last season, scoring a touchdown on half of his attempts. In 2014, his only real competition for touches close to the end zone will be Knile Davis, who, in fairness, did convert his only goal-line carry last year into a touchdown. While head coach Andy Reid may look to get Davis more involved this season, Charles’ combination of speed, agility, pass-catching and goal-line adeptness makes him a sure-fire top-three fantasy pick this season.
3. Joique Bell has been hyped a lot this offseason for his possible role in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s scheme. If Lombardi employs a similar approach to what he used in New Orleans, Bell could carve out a decent role in a multi-faceted backfield with teammate Reggie Bush. Bell’s acumen at the goal line suggests this could be a wise decision for the Lions as well as fantasy owners. Bush only converted one of his five carries close to the end zone into a score, further suggesting that Bell could be in line for the short-yardage work in 2014.
4. While in Denver, Knowshon Moreno was very efficient with his goal-line volume. It’s debatable how much that has to do with playing next to Peyton Manning as opposed to Moreno’s actual talent, however. But with Moreno now in Miami, this stat could predict positive things for Montee Ball. According to numberFire’s Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Ball finished last season as the fifth most efficient running back among players who received 100 to 200 carries. With an increase in volume almost guaranteed this season, Ball could exceed his current RB8 average draft position if he can retain a similar level of efficiency.
1. Despite receiving a whopping 26 goal-line attempts last season, Marshawn Lynch only converted 38.46% of them into touchdowns. Best known as an angry, tough runner, it seems Lynch should be better inside the opponents 5-yard line. Lynch was last season’s second-best running back in terms of Rushing NEP, behind only LeSean McCoy, so he finds ways to help his team even if he doesn’t convert goal-line touches at an impressive rate. While Lynch should never cede goal-line work to any other Seahawks' running back, including much-hyped Christine Michael, it’s interesting that a touchdown-dependent fantasy asset wasn't more dominant from close range last season.
2. If I have to hear about Le’Veon Bell’s 3.5 yards per carry average from last season one more time, I may lose it. If you ignore the fact that he ran behind an inconsistent and oft-injured offensive line for the majority of the season, you’re not painting the full picture. Despite the good things he did in his rookie season, his poor goal line success percentage and the addition of LeGarrette Blount could prove to be problematic. Blount converted two of his three goal-line carries into touchdowns last season, and fits the build of a short-yardage back. It’s worth monitoring the distribution in the red zone between Bell and Blount over the rest of the preseason.
3. It’s understandable to be excited for Rashad Jennings as a member of the New York Giants. But with the addition of rookie Andre Williams into the backfield, it begs the question of how these two will be used come Week 1. Our metrics love Jennings – he finished second in Rushing NEP among running backs with 100 to 200 carries last season. But as you can see, Jennings was relatively poor at the goal line in 2013. Williams is a big body with an impressive college resume who converted his only goal-line carry into a touchdown in the Giants’ first preseason game. This is another situation to monitor as we inch closer to opening weekend.
4. Although Giovani Bernard didn’t qualify for the study volume-wise, he's worth noting here. Bernard converted 3 of his 8 goal-line carries last season, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis converted 5 of 11. The Bengals' coaching staff has hinted that Bernard will be used in multiple ways in an effort to increase his touches, including as a receiver. Assuming rookie Jeremy Hill has jumped Green-Ellis on the Bengals’ depth chart, he could easily step into the goal-line back role in 2014. Bernard is a talented playmaker, but the potential to lose goal-line work puts his current 2.07 ADP in standard scoring leagues into question.