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Going Deep: Touchdown vultures need love, too

  • By Marcas Grant NFL.com
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When it comes to a list of songs that will never, ever leave my iPod, Shuggie Otis' "Inspiration Information" is high on the list. So when I had the chance to see Shuggie in concert recently, I was pretty fired up. But for a guy who rarely performs live and whose music has only recently gained renewed attention, I wasn't sure what to expect. What would the crowd be like? Would he play his "hits"? What the heck did he look like after 40 years in the shadows?

Turns out, there was no great mystery. The show was everything I could have wanted. Everyone showed up to have a great time and it was just a party for a couple of hours. In short, I was thinking too hard about the whole thing. Which brings me to this week's edition of Going Deep...

(I know you were wondering what in the world this had to do with fantasy football.)

Last week, I took a look at the TD-to-Target ratios for pass-catchers around the NFL and came up with a few surprising conclusions. This week, I went back to the well and looked in on which running backs around the NFL were doing the most with their carries. Like last week, there were a few names on the list that caught me by surprise. Unlike last week (and the Shuggie show), the answers to my "deep" questions were actually staring me right in the face.

Once again, ground rules: Since a back has to average 6.25 carries per game (or 100 carries over a 16-game season) to qualify amongst the NFL's leaders, that seemed like a good threshold to set -- otherwise Stanley Havili becomes fantasy gold.

Top 10 TD/Attempt ratios for 2012 (min. 100 attempts)
Rk
Player
Team
Attempts
Rush TD
Ratio
1.
Michael Turner
222
10
.045
2.
114
5
.044
3.
351
15
.043
4.
215
9
.042
5.
290
12
.041
6.
267
11
.041
7.
335
13
.039
8.
110
4
.036
9.
110
4
.036
10.
257
9
.035

The first thing that jumps out in the first list is that just about every player on it led his team in carries last season ... generally by a wide margin. The two exceptions are Michael Bush and Bilal Powell. Both players finished the season with more than 100 fewer carries than their team's lead back.

But maybe Bush and Powell were go-to guys in the red zone? Not so much. And in Powell's case -- again -- it wasn't close. Shonn Greene more than doubled him up on carries inside the 20-yard line (47 to 19). The disparity between Matt Forte and Bush wasn't nearly as dramatic (26 to 20), although it reaffirms Bush's status as one of fantasy football's top TD vultures from 2012.

Yet it doesn't mean Powell and Bush are outliers. The Jets ran the ball in the red zone 494 times last season -- sixth-most in the league. The Bears ranked 10th in that category (470 attempts). Those players had a better chance to rank higher simply because of more chances.

In fact, if you're looking for guys who probably don't belong on this list, you should land on Mikel Leshoure and LaRod Stephens-Howling since their teams ranked in the bottom 10 in red zone rush attempts. The same can be said for Trent Richardson (Browns - ninth-fewest) and Michael Turner (Falcons - sixth-fewest) Stephens-Howling's inclusion is especially surprising when you consider that the Cardinals ran the ball fewer times in the red zone than any other team in the league. That's a case of a guy taking advantage of his opportunities -- but it's also hard to count on year-in and year-out.

In general, touchdowns in general are fickle things. While you can generally determine how often a particular player will see the ball on a yearly basis, it's much more difficult to predict how many of those touches will result in six points. However, there are some players that you count on more than others to lead to paydirt at a higher rate. Which is borne out when the list is expanded over a three-year run.

Top 10 TD/Attempt ratios for 2010-12 (min. 300 attempts)
Rk
Player
Team
Attempts
Rush TD
Ratio
1.
357
26
.073
2.
Brandon Jacobs
304
16
.053
3.
688
30
.043
4.
839
36
.043
5.
956
41
.043
6.
335
13
.039
7.
Michael Turner
857
33
.039
8.
680
26
.038
9.
528
20
.038
10.
Beanie Wells
449
17
.038

If I were to give this second list a title, it would probably be something along the line of "Hawks and Vultures: A Touchdown Story". Okay, that's not very good. But hopefully you get the gist.

Turns out that the running backs that are most prosperous when it comes to TD-to-carry ratio fall into one of two categories: featured backs (anyone with 50 percent or more of his team's carries) like Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy or vultures -- guys who aren't the primary ball-carrier, but end up with a significant number of goal-line attempts.

Mike Tolbert was far and away the leader in red zone carries during his tenure with the Chargers (The same can be said of Bush both as a Raider and a Bear). He kept that role when he moved to the Panthers for the 2012 season. For all of the hand-wringing over whether to draft Jonathan Stewart or DeAngelo Williams, it turns out that Tolbert is arguably Carolina's best fantasy rushing option not named Cam Newton.

Otherwise, there isn't much mystery about which guys are the most efficient and why. If anything, this serves to reaffirm the value of that endangered species known rusherus primarius, aka the featured running back.

Yet it also shines a new light on the once-disdained TD vulture. Few creatures can cause fantasy owners to howl in frustration and pull out their on hair like the running back who comes off the sideline to score from one yard away. But they're not without their value. The trick is figuring out who it's going to be and when they're going to find the end zone. Unfortunately, there's not yet a chart that can predict that.


Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a guy who probably spends too much time on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter @MarcasG.

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