Fantasy Football Stat of the Day: The best runners at the goal line


(Leading up to the 2021 NFL season, FTN’s Tyler Loechner will dive into the fantasy football numbers to bring you his Fantasy Stat of the Day, five days a week.)

Running backs deliver the fantasy goods down by the goal line. Thursday, we focused on the best breakaways rushers in the NFL. Below, we’ll review the RBs (and some QBs) who stole the show much closer the goal line.

Breakaway rushes are obviously more exciting — and lead to some huge fantasy days — but they happen far less often than goal line attempts and, for the most part, are more unpredictable. It doesn’t take a data science degree to know that goal-line rushes are huge for fantasy. Long live the TDs.

So which players get the most opportunity down near the goal line? And which ones are the most successful?

Cam Newton is the best goal-line RB in the league, and Alvin Kamara regression is coming

Here are the players who saw the most rushing attempts from inside the 5 last season. (A note on the rightmost column: Across the league, ball-carriers scored on roughly 38% of their goal-line carries in 2020. So that column compares an individual player’s success rate to the league average to give an idea of how one back’s success rate aligns with the league at large.):

player pos Rushes Inside the 5 Goal Line TDs GL TD % vs. League Avg. (Avg. = 100%)
Dalvin Cook RB 26 9 35% 90%
Ezekiel Elliott RB 26 5 19% 50%
Kenyan Drake RB 22 8 36% 95%
Cam Newton QB 22 10 45% 118%
Josh Jacobs RB 21 5 24% 62%
Derrick Henry RB 20 9 45% 117%
Jonathan Taylor RB 17 8 47% 123%
Todd Gurley RB 17 6 35% 92%
Alvin Kamara RB 15 10 67% 174%
Benny Snell RB 15 3 20% 52%
Adrian Peterson RB 15 7 47% 122%
David Montgomery RB 14 4 29% 74%
Antonio Gibson RB 14 6 43% 112%

The names at the top of the list are no surprise. Both Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliot were fed 26 goal-line carries last season. Cook converted 9 of those into TDs (90% of the league average), while Elliott lagged behind at 5 TDs (only 50% of the league average). This underwhelming performance from Elliott might help explain why there’s much less hype around him in 2021. He’s still a good value, especially with Dak Prescott returning.

The next three names on the list are much more interesting. Kenyan Drake shockingly saw the third-most goal-line attempts last season with 22, converting 8 into TDs — right around league average in terms of success rate. And Josh Jacobs, Drake’s new teammate, was just behind him with 21 attempts (5 TDs). Which Las Vegas RB will be the goal-line back in 2021? The money is on Jacobs, but the data say it could go either way.

Tied with Drake for the third-most goal line attempts (22) last season was Cam Newton. The best rushing QB in NFL history in terms of scoring converted 10 of those 22 attempts into TDs, a 45% hit rate and well above league average. New England has completely reinvented the offense around Newton, but don’t expect them to move away from Power Cam near the paint.

A little lower down the list we see Alvin Kamara, who converted 10 of 15 goal-line attempts into TDs, smashing the league average by 74%. Kamara went from scoring TDs at an impossibly low clip in 2019 to an impossibly high clip in 2020. Logic says he’s due to regress to the mean in 2021 (fewer TDs), but that doesn’t mean Kamara should fall any lower than pick No. 4 on draft day.

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