Touchdown Vultures: Which Running Backs Are Poised to Avoid Them in 2015?

Which running backs won't have to look over their shoulder when they approach the goal line next season?

Much like the relief pitcher that comes in one out before the starting pitcher has completed his fifth full inning of work, the touchdown vulture is always given prime opportunity to steal glory from those who paved the way for them. The starting pitcher doesn’t technically log a win, and the starting running back doesn’t get to dance in the end zone. It’s the type of thunder stealing that would make Thor proud.

Yesterday, I took a look at the running backs who were most susceptible to having their opportunities for hitting pay dirt unnecessarily taken away by “creative” offensive coordinators. To prove that all is not wrong in the world, we’ll now take a look at those running backs most likely to avoid exposure to touchdown vultures on their respective teams.

A Quick Refresher

To quickly recap Part 1, I analyzed the percentage of total team carries and total goal line carries afforded to the lead rusher for each team. Teams were organized by offensive coordinator, as it is generally their purview as to whether or not vultures come in the game for easy touchdown scampers.

If teams hired new offensive coordinators beginning in 2015, the touch distribution under the last team for which these coordinators served as head coach or offensive coordinator served as the predicted touch distribution of the presumed starting running back on their new team.

If the offensive coordinator's play calling resulted in a rusher’s percentage of total team carries exceeding that of their percentage of total goal line carries, then their presumed starter in 2015 is more likely to be exposed to a touchdown vulture teammate.

Conversely, if the offensive coordinator gave the running back a higher percentage of touches in the red zone than total team carries, then they’re much less likely to hand the ball off to a third stringer to bask in end zone glory.

Finally, I compared the Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush of each of these backs to determine if the coach’s “creativity” at least had merit. NEP is numberFire's way of identifying how effective a player is on the field based on the theoretical points they add or subtract to their teams on plays in which they contribute. You can learn more about NEP in our glossary.

All set? Great. Now let’s find out which rushers’ draft stocks may appreciably improve based on their lack of exposure to vulturistic play-calling.

Who Will Capitalize?

TeamOffensive CoordinatorSeason AnalyzedLead RB % Total CarriesLead RB % Goal Line CarriesTotal Vs. Goal Line DifferentialPresumed 2015 StarterRushing NEP Per Rush 2014
TexansBill O'Brien201447.19%53.85%6.66%Arian Foster0.03
ChargersFrank Reich201440.20%50.00%9.80%Branden Oliver-0.12
SaintsPete Carmichael201455.67%65.79%10.12%Mark Ingram0.04
SeahawksDarrel Bevell201453.33%67.57%14.24%Marshawn Lynch0.10
RavensMarc Trestman2014 (Bears)74.93%91.67%16.74%Justin Forsett0.10
CowboysScott Linehan201477.31%100.00%22.69%Darren McFadden-0.15
LionsJoe Lombardi201456.31%80.00%23.69%Joique Bell-0.03
VikingsNorv Turner201439.71%65.52%25.81%Adrian Peterson0.03
BuccaneersDirk Koetter2014 (Falcons)51.08%78.26%27.18%Doug Martin-0.06

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson only played one game last year, a huge disappointment to his fantasy owners who were excited about the prospect of him and Norv Turner pairing up for more action in the passing game. Another bonus fantasy owners missed is the fact that Norv doesn’t overthink himself in assigning goal line rushes. Case in point: a plodding Matt Asiata scored nine rushing touchdowns in 2014, amassing 66% of the goal line touches for the Vikings while only getting 40% of total team carries.

No one is dumb enough to think Asiata will be getting those touches this year if Peterson remains a Viking. Assuming Peterson is still in top shape, draft him and reap the benefits.

Mark Ingram

Mark Ingram, as our own Joe Redemann has documented, could be a sneaky mid-round option in 2015. Not only did his body of work considerably improve with his impressive 2014 season (0.04 Rushing NEP per rush), but Ingram also benefits from the play-calling of Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael.

Ingram’s goal line carries accounted for 66% of the teams total goal line carries, 10 percentage points higher the percentage of total team carries attributed to Ingram in 2014. In other words, Saints' brass trusted him more when they got within a whiff of the end zone.

Despite the signing of C.J. Spiller, Ingram’s goal line totes shouldn’t decrease as a percentage of team carries from 2014 to 2015. Spiller’s north-to-south running style is more suitable to the home run scamper and the aerial attack.

Expect Ingram’s chances to score six to remain plentiful.

Justin Forsett

After years spent as a journeyman on multiple teams, Justin Forsett took full advantage of the starting role in Baltimore last year, registering a 0.10 Rushing NEP per rush, good for fourth in the league among rushers with over 175 attempts. If Forsett can register anywhere near that kind of efficiency, he’ll be afforded plenty of goal line opportunities in Marc Trestman’s offense.

Trestman, utilizing the services of Matt Forte in 2014, gave his star running back 91% of total team carries in goal line situations. While this percentage might not be quite as stratospheric for Forsett in 2015, expect plenty of goal line chances if his efficiency continues to hover around league leading levels.

Marshawn Lynch

Marshawn Lynch’s efforts in 2014 were largely a continuation of his career since 2011 when he relocated to Seattle; above average efficiency (0.10 Rushing NEP per rush) with plenty of goal line opportunities (68% of total team goal line rushes). Look for this trend to continue assuming his back holds up.

Arian Foster

Fantasy ballers will likely approach Arian Foster with trepidation due to his documented soft tissue injury history. But when on the field, Foster is a top-five back without question. Bill O'Brien will continue to feed him the rock when healthy, and Foster's knack for the end zone is undeniable. Foster's efficiency (0.03 Rushing NEP per rush) combined with the higher percentage of goal line totes compared to total team carries make him an attractive option come draft day, particularly if you can get him in the late second round.

When Opportunity Knocks

The following backs haven't proved especially effective when given bell-cow responsibilities. But the opportunity to step up could be there in 2015 based on their current situations.

Doug Martin

Disclaimer: I’m not touching Doug Martin with your hands in my fantasy drafts. That said, Dirk Koetter had a crop of inefficient running backs in Atlanta last season in Steven Jackson (-0.02 Rushing NEP per rush), Jacquizz Rodgers (-0.04 Rushing NEP per rush), and Devonta Freeman (-0.29 Rushing NEP per rush).

What did he do with this mess? He fed Jackson 51% of the total team carries, and 78% of total team goal line carries. That would be a remarkable opportunity for a competent running back.

To that end, Martin was marginally more competent in 2014 (-0.06 Rushing NEP per rush) than the two other Tampa Bay running backs, Bobby Rainey (-0.06 Rushing NEP per rush) and Charles Sims (-0.24 Rushing NEP per rush). If he can continue winning this war of attrition between he, Rainey, and Sims, Martin might be in line for a bump in his fantasy numbers as Koetter is likely to settle on one back as his go-to goal line rusher, thus warding off the vultures.

I’m just still not brave enough to go there.

Joique Bell

With Reggie Bush gone and Joique Bell already receiving 80% of the Lions’ goal line carries in 2014 as opposed to 56% of the total rushing workload, expect plenty of opportunities in 2015 for Bell to make pay dirt. While Bell wasn’t incredibly efficient in 2014 (-0.03 Rushing NEP per rush) on the ground, he’s an above-average pass catcher (0.43 Reception NEP per target), and his per rush efficiency was much higher than current second stringer, Theo Riddick (-0.15 Rushing NEP per rush).

Assuming the Lions don’t bring in another back to eat into his carries, Bell could be another sneaky mid-round option in 2015.

Drafting With Confidence

As your 2015 fantasy draft nears, remember that avoiding the touchdown vulture should not be the primary concern in your draft strategy. First, you need to be targeting high-volume backs who’ve been efficient up to this point in their careers.

But doing the preliminary work to know that a vulture is lurking behind a potential pick provides another avenue for you to evaluate your potential picks. That way, if an efficient rusher with an agreeable offensive coordinator is available on your draft board, you’ll feel secure in knowing that he will at least get his goal line chances.