Projecting Running Backs' Red Zone Opportunities (PREMIUM PREVIEW)
Touchdowns are the most valuable and least predictable statistic in fantasy football. How often have you watched your star running back rack up 40 yards on a drive, take his team to the 2-yard line, and then head to the sideline to watch a second-string back punch in the score? Those "lost" points are incredibly frustrating, even if your starter winds up with 180 total yards.
But while fantasy football is a fluky game, the owners who win championships are those who roster players with maximum opportunity. For running backs, this means touches and, in particular, red zone touches. Your guy can't get the short touchdown every time. But if he gets frequent chances at it, he's way ahead of the curve. Predictability is what we're after here, and the scoring chances of a guy who consistently gets the ball at the 5-yard-line are inherently more predictable than those of a guy who has to rely on 40-yard, home-run-style touchdowns.
Even in today's pass-centric NFL, there's nothing more valuable in fantasy football than a workhorse running back who gets his team's red zone touches. Alternatively, a running back who racks up yardage between the twenties but doesn't touch the ball near the end zone can be a big liability to your starting lineup. Let's take a look at the RBs most likely to hit pay dirt this year, and those who will leave you screaming at your iPad on Sunday afternoon.
Ball had just 24 red zone touches in 2013, 31st among all running backs. He turned those opportunities into four touchdowns. But if we assume that Ball will pick up the touches that departed RB Knowshon Moreno took last year, we can fairly project at least 50 red zone touches and double-digit touchdowns for Ball in 2014. He'll need that kind of production to justify his current draft spot; Ball is being taken sixth overall among running backs.
Bell is another player who didn't lead his own team in red zone touches last season. But he managed to turn 36.4 percent of his red zone carries into touchdowns, the highest by far of any RB with at least 20 attempts. This year, he'll continue to battle Reggie Bush for red zone opportunities. But if Bell can convert his opportunities at the same rate he did last year, he'll do just fine.
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