Fantasy Football: Touchdowns And First Downs Key RB Success

David Johnson

One of my favorite singers of all time is the Reverend Al Green. He has this track, “Simply Beautiful,” and well, without any explanation, it is. The track I mean, it’s simple and beautiful. Honest and vulnerable, hesitant yet hopeful. It’s not all about the sex appeal, more about the low down, nitty-gritty realness of relations with someone. Oddly enough, that’s kind of how I feel about this metric.

The pure, simplistic beauty of how often a player accomplishes 1 of 2 things, scoring touchdowns and getting 1st downs. on a per touch basis. It is key to RB success and fantasy football production.

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I’m calling it TDFD%. There is nothing subjective or arbitrary about the stat itself whatsoever. It is a simple metric, combining a player’s total rushing and receiving TDs with the amount of 1st downs they attained, then dividing that by the combined total amount of rushing attempts and receptions they had.

Adam Harstad, while commenting on the difference between quality stats and what he called “flavor stats,” once said, “You want to know a great test for whether something is a good “quality stat”? Pull up the top 10 list in that stat, “How does it look?”

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With this spreadsheet, I’ve laid out TDFD% among all RBs with 150+ carries. You can clearly see that other than a couple outliers, the players widely regarded as the best of their position are all up near the top. Right at the very top of this list you see David Johnson, who for 2 years in a row has been incredibly dominant. Directly below him are Devonta Freeman, Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell. With the exception of Freeman, these guys have an ADP right now as the first 3 players off the board in fantasy drafts of all formats except 2QB & Dynasty. And Freeman is no sleeper, typically being drafted at the end of the 1st or early 2nd round.

Falcons Devonta Freeman

Ronald Martinez – Getty Images

While this metric shows it may actually be a true quality stat, placing the generally perceived better players near the top, it also appears that at least for some players, it is a number that can stay fairly consistent year over year in a player’s career. LeGarrette Blount and Demarco Murray are some prime examples of that. Matt Forte as well although he dropped dramatically in his 2016 season. This may be caused by changing to a new team, dealing with injuries, getting older or perhaps what is most likely, a combination of all 3. Demarco Murray really stands out as he had the exact same TDFD% back to back years on 2 very different teams. The Chip Kelly led Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 and the Tennessee Titans in 2016. While Murray was widely considered to be a failure in Philly and a success in Tennessee, his TDFD% actually stayed the same.

Age does appear like it’s a factor for some of these running backs. Along with Matt Forte’s slow decline before he fell off a cliff with the Jets, Rashad Jennings TDFD% drops down from 26 to 25 to 23 to 18. This all happens while he is playing from ages 28 to 31. This is an interestingly consistent drop. After his 2016 output, and recently turning 32, it shows a good reason as to why the Giants probably cut him.

Now, this metric is clearly not an all encompassing way to measure a player’s value or success by any means. Far from it in fact. It leaves much to be desired without having any context for things like how often this occurred in total, only the percentage of times in which it did. TDFD% also does not show us how far or what level of difficulty it was for the player to get these TDs or 1st downs. Thus, in the spreadsheet I have put stats for rushing attempts, receptions, total touchdowns, % of team 1st downs, etc. With these we can at least get a glimpse into a players volume and usage in correlation with their TDFD%.

Eagles Ryan Mathews

Bill Stretcher – USA TODAY Sports

The players that are the most impressive to me are the ones with a higher TDFD% as well as higher volume, typically producing a higher percentage of their teams 1sts. To begin what I mean, with an example to the contrary, we see Ryan Mathews near the top. However, he had the lowest amount of touches out of anyone on this list. My cut off for this list again was 150 carries and he just barely made that. He did not contribute much in receptions either. Although he was tied for 4th highest TDFD%, he was near the very bottom in % of team 1sts. We know he dealt with injuries last season so his lack of volume is not surprising. Even while playing however, the Eagles seemed very hesitant to stick with him too long. He quite well may be better than he gets credit for.

What is most impressive is that David Johnson had the most touches out of anyone on this list, or anyone in the NFL for that matter, and yet had the highest TDFD% as well as having the highest percentage of his teams 1st downs. He. Is. A. Beast. Just simply remarkable. Beautiful even. Simply Beautiful. Not that this wasn’t something we didn’t already know. Seeing him in this light however can help us truly appreciate his greatness all the more.

One more among a myriad of things that stick out from this spreadsheet, is Lamar Miller and Todd Gurley’s percentage of Team’s 1st downs. 20% & 25% respectively. Both of these guys come in above average here even though both of them had a below average TDFD%. This is something which I think could be chalked up to being on a bad offense. The Texans were 24th and the Rams were 32nd in 1st downs converted. Not exactly what you would call “juggernauts” of offensive. But this leads me to believe that with some positive regression to their respective offenses, they could both see a decent up tick in their TDFD% this upcoming season. Lamar Miller has proven the prior 2 season (2014 & 2015) to be particularly efficient when not given as large of a workload. So it’s possible that D’Onta Foreman getting drafted by the Texans could actually work to help keep Miller fresh and running well into a higher percentage of 1st downs and (hopefully) touchdowns.

There’s much to digest here. What sticks out to you? Hit me up on twitter (@FF_Fugazi) or email ([email protected]) with any thoughts or questions you may have. I always enjoy the discussions.

Next week we’ll hopefully be back looking at the TDFD% of RB’s with less than 150 carries.

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