Fantasy Football Running Backs to Buy/Sell Based on Projected Attempts Inside the 5
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images. Pictured: Derrick Henry
When it comes to deciding which running backs we should invest in for the upcoming fantasy football season, there are multiple variables to consider. But rather than taking an in-depth look at every single one, I want to focus on the most valuable touches a RB can get: Rush attempts inside the opponent’s 5-yard line.
We inherently know how valuable these attempts are, but let’s look at last year’s data to underscore this point: There were 13,387 rush attempts in 2019, 662 of which were inside the 5-yard line, only 5% of all carries. Yet 286 of the 447 total rushing touchdowns were on attempts from inside the 5-yard line — that’s 64% of all rushing TDs!
Now let’s try to identify which RBs are likely to see more of these carries in 2020.
Projected Rush Attempts Inside An Opponent’s 5
There are two factors to consider when projecting rush attempts inside an opponent’s 5-yard line:
- How often a team rushes inside the 5.
- How often a team asks a specific RB to rush inside the 5.
For factor No. 1, I’ve outlined my projected rush attempts inside an opponent’s 5-yard line by team below.
I created these projections by regressing to historical data using my projected run/pass ratio and projected points per game for each team. By comparing those projections to the number of such attempts each team had last year (per Sports Info Solutions), we can then use the difference to project which offenses will have more or fewer attempts inside the 5 this season.
Note that these are very high-level projections that should be used only as a guideline for which teams we should expect to see more or fewer of such attempts from.
Now for factor No. 2, let’s run through which RBs we should “buy” or “sell” based on how many short-yardage TDs we expect their offenses to gift them.
Note: “RAI5” is rush attempts inside the 5.
- Jets’ RAI5 in 2019: 8
- Jets’ projected RAI5 in 2020: 16.25
Bell was a massive disappointment in 2019. It’s fair to say he’s on the decline at 28 years old and isn’t the elite back we remember from his Steelers’ days.
His 2019 rushing touchdowns were from 2-, 1- and 1-yard out, so it’s safe to say that his TD production depends heavily on the Jets offense providing him scoring opportunities. The Jets generated the fewest RAI5 with eight last season, but I’m projecting them to double that number with 16.3 RAI5 in 2020.
Note that I’m still projecting the Jets to offer the third-fewest RAI5 for this season, but it should give Bell a significant boost in TD opportunities. I’m also expecting the Jets to provide Bell with roughly 75% of their RAI5 — his share last year, which is right in line with other workhorse backs.
Ultimately, I expect Bell to score about 1.5 more rushing TDs inside the 5 this season based on the Jets’ expected regression in overall attempts. Considering how improved the Jets offensive line should be, he may also be able to score a few TDs beyond five yards, or at least his long of two yards out from a year ago.
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, Saints
- Saints’ RAI5 in 2019: 15
- Saints’ projected RAI5 in 2020: 22.43
After leading the league with 40 RAI5 in 2018, the Saints incredibly generated only the sixth-fewest RAI5 last season with 15. Now I have them projected for 22.4 in 2020, which ranks fifth overall — one of many reasons we can expect Kamara to rebound from his six-TD season a year ago.
We already know Murray is going to provide RB1 value if Kamara ever misses time. However, when Kamara is healthy, he will likely need the occasional goal-line score to be trusted as a RB3/Flex option. Murray provides some sneaky value if we consider that the Saints should offer significantly more short-yardage TDs to go around this year.
Derrick Henry, Titans
- Titans’ RAI5 in 2019: 14
- Titans’ projected RAI5 in 2020: 20.53
It’s scary to see Henry’s name on this list. To be clear, the takeaway here is not that we should project him to outscore his 16 rushing TDs from a year ago. Instead, we should expect a higher percentage of his rushing TDs to come from inside the 5.
Only seven of his 16 rushing TDs came from inside the 5 a year ago, which implies that 56% of his rushing TDs came from TD runs longer than five yards. As I mentioned earlier, only 36% of rushing TDs league-wide come from beyond 5 yards.
We should see Henry get more easy TD opportunities inside the 5 this year, which would help offset some of the long TD regression he has coming.
James Conner, Steelers
- Steelers’ RAI5 in 2019: 14
- Steelers’ projected RAI5 in 2020: 20.52
I mentioned that my RAI5 projections are based on my 2020 projections for each offense. Therefore it should be no surprise to see the Steelers expected to offer +6.5 more RAI5 from a year ago.
Ben Roethlisberger’s return should help provide the entire offense with more scoring opportunities, including Conner.
- Patriots’ RAI5 in 2019: 33
- Patriots’ projected RAI5 in 2020: 19.61
Michel’s fantasy value is hugely dependent on short-yardage TDs. Six of his seven TDs last year were from five or fewer yards out. Therefore, it should be very concerning that I expect the Patriots’ offense to provide 13 fewer RAI5 in 2020.
Another concern for Michel is that he has to compete with Cam Newton for these short-yardage TD attempts, though I’m less worried about that as Tom Brady is known for the occasional QB sneak. In fact, Brady was responsible for 21.2% of their rush attempts inside the 5 last season. That was on par with QBs such as Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray.
I would expect Newton to eat 20-25% of the pie, but of bigger concern is that there should be significantly less pie, which is terrible news for Michel.
Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown
- Rams’ RAI5 in 2019: 31
- Rams’ projected RAI5 in 2020: 19.72
Second-round rookie Akers should lead the Rams in carries and is more than capable of handling goal-line work. However, Brown was fantastic in his goal-line opportunities last year, scoring five of his eight attempts inside the 5.
Any time-share for these valuable attempts will hurt Akers’ fantasy value.
To make matters worse, I expect 11.3 fewer RAI5 to go around for the Rams. They’re likely to use more 2-TE sets this year with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, which will make them much more likely to dial-up throws near the goal-line.
Overall, we should expect a lot fewer “gimmie” rushing TDs for the Rams.
- Vikings’ RAI5 in 2019: 33
- Vikings’ projected RAI5 in 2020: 21.74
Dalvin Cook already offers a bit of risk in the first round of fantasy drafts considering he is threatening to hold out. And while I’m not too worried about that, we need to be cautious with his rushing TD projection for 2020.
The Vikings provided Cook with 21 rush attempts inside the 5 last season, and Cook capitalized by scoring on nine of those attempts. But I’m projecting the Vikings to offer 11.2 fewer rush attempts inside the 5 in 2020.
Cook is the type of RB who can score from anywhere on the field and is more than capable of overcoming a dip in goal-line opportunities. Just realize that he’s unlikely to see as many rush attempts inside the 5 (per game) as last year.