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Running Backs Touchdown Fallers for Fantasy Football - Negative Regression Candidates

Austin Ekeler - Fantasy Football Rankings, NFL Injury News, DFS Lineup Picks

At this point, if you've been following here, you know the drill. We've been working to identify wide receivers, running backs, and eventually, we'll get to the tight end wasteland to find players who were extremely lucky or unlucky in the touchdown-scoring department. There are certain utilization trends from the previous season and a player's career history that we can look at to identify positive and negative values in your upcoming fantasy drafts.

Here you can find this series' previous entries.

As you can see above, we've already tackled the positive and negative touchdown regression candidates at receiver and the positive touchdown regression candidates at running back, which can only mean one thing – we'll be focusing on the running backs that will not score as many times in 2023 as they did in 2022, so let's get started.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy football rankings for 2024 fantasy football drafts:

 

Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

There may be no bigger candidate to score fewer touchdowns than Austin Ekeler and there are a number of reasons for this. For starters, he finished with 18 touchdowns last year. This was five touchdowns more than the running back who finished with the third-most touchdowns. Despite having scored this many more touchdowns than the third-best scoring running back, he finished seventh in total touches. I totally get it, he's scored 38 touchdowns in the past two years, maybe this is just who he is now, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Let's start with his receiving workload. He finished the 2022 season with 127 total targets, 25 red zone targets, and five receiving scores. On the surface, five receiving touchdowns on that kind of volume don't seem so far-fetched and it really isn't. However, with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams combining to miss 11 games, his target total is likely going to decrease. In 2021, he had 94 targets, which is still an incredibly healthy number for a running back, but we'd expect 1-2 fewer touchdowns with the decrease.

Williams and Allen combined for just 182 targets last year and eight touchdowns. In 2021, they combined for 286 targets and 15 touchdowns. That's a difference of 104 targets and seven touchdowns. Staying with the passing game, in 2021, Justin Herbert had a 5.7% touchdown rate and in 2020, as a rookie, his touchdown rate was 5.2%. Last year, that number was at 3.6%. This is going to affect Ekeler negatively in two different ways.

First, we can reasonably assume his target share will decrease in 2023. We can also reasonably assume Williams and Allen will have significantly more touchdowns and significantly more targets. The other aspect of this is that with a higher touchdown rate in 2023, the team's number of rushing touchdowns is likely to decrease.

This brings us to his rushing touchdowns. Now, we've already identified the Chargers are likely to throw more touchdowns this year and that will likely have a negative correlation to the team's rushing touchdowns, but let's talk about Ekeler's workload. He finished first in total touchdowns, but seventh in total touches.

He was third in red zone carries with 47, but his ranking in terms of the number of carries continued to drop the closer we get to the goal line. Among running backs, he finished fifth in carries inside the 10-yard line with 24 and finished 15th with eight carries inside the 5-yard line. He scored on six on those eight carries. For perspective, Kenneth Walker had nine carries inside the 5-yard line and scored once. Najee Harris also had nine such carries and scored three times, as well. Jonathan Taylor, Antonio Gibson, Leonard Fournette, and Jeff Wilson all were tied with Ekeler with eight carries inside the 5-yard line, they all scored three times.

Not only was Ekeler's red zone utilization not quite up to par with his 18 total touchdowns, but his red zone efficiency should be expected to dip ever so slightly. You combine all of this with Herbert's likely increase in touchdown rate, and fantasy managers should be expecting Ekeler to finish with 3–5 fewer touchdowns in 2023.

 

Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

Tony Pollard is also a candidate to score fewer touchdowns in 2023 than he did last year even with the release of Ezekiel Elliott. With Pollard coming off a broken leg and playing this season on the franchise tag, fantasy managers should expect the Cowboys to use some meaningful draft capital on a running back.

Last year, he finished tied for sixth among running backs with 12 total touchdowns. However, check this out, he finished just 21st in total touches and just 34th in total red zone touches. That's a pretty clear indicator that he vastly exceeded his touchdown expectations last season and unless there's a dramatic change to his utilization in the red zone, fantasy managers shouldn't be expecting him to finish with double-digit scores again this upcoming season.

Pollard finished just 30th in carries inside the 10-yard line with 12 and had just six carries inside the 5-yard line, which ranked 26th. It's not just his red zone utilization that gives me pause on his touchdown potential in 2023, it's his historical touchdown rate, as well. From 2019-2021, Pollard scored a total of 10 touchdowns on 399 total touches, or one touchdown every 40 touches. Last year, he scored 12 touchdowns on 232 touches, or one every 19 touches.

We can factor in a change in his role and still not expect to see a change that drastic in his rate of touchdown scoring. If you read the previous running back edition of this series, you'll know that most teams score 60% of their touchdowns via the pass and 40% via the run. Well, in 2022, the Cowboys' touchdown split was 54/46. When you consider all the evidence, it seems very likely Pollard could score 3–4 fewer touchdowns in 2023.

 

Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers

This one also seems rather obvious with the change in teams. In 2022, the Eagles finished with 32 rushing touchdowns. The Panthers had 16. You can take away Hurts' rushing touchdowns and Philadelphia still has a sizable advantage. Going from the Philadelphia offense and their No. 1 offensive line to the Panthers' offense and their offensive line cannot be underestimated. The difference is substantial.

It's hard to use too much of his stats from last year because his red zone utilization was heavily influenced by the overall team success of the Eagles and quarterback, Jalen Hurts. How much of that will change in 2023 when he goes to Carolina? The Eagles finished second in points scored last year, while the Panthers were 20th. The difference between the two teams was eight points a game. According to PFF, they ranked the Eagles' offensive line as the No. 1 best unit from the 2022 season. Meanwhile, the Panthers ranked 15th.

Duce Staley is the assistant head coach for the Carolina Panthers. Many of you will remember him from his team with the Detroit Lions last year when they used Jamaal Williams, D'Andre Swift, and Justin Jackson extensively. Their three-man backfield almost destroyed all of their fantasy values had it not been for Williams' insanely high number of carries inside the 5-yard line.

Between the obvious fact that the Panthers won't score as much as the Eagles and the clear downgrade in offensive line play, the shared backfield is likely going to cause serious problems for Sanders' fantasy value in 2023.

 

Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

It pains me to put Nick Chubb on this list and yet, he's here all the same and there are a number of reasons for this. Last year, Chubb finished fifth among running backs in total touches but finished third in overall touchdowns. The difference here isn't that significant that he's an obvious negative touchdown regression candidate, however, he finished just 12th in red zone touches. This is a sign that he slightly overperformed with regard to how many touchdowns he signed.

He finished 12th among running backs with 37 red zone carries, 12th in carries inside the 10-yard line with 20, and seventh in carries inside the 5-yard line with 12. As you can see, his touchdown rank exceeds all of his other numbers, which includes total touches, red zone touches, and carries inside the 10- and 5-yard line. Unfortunately, it gets worse.

Last year, Jacoby Brissett had a 3.3% touchdown rate. Deshaun Watson, despite having not played for over a year and a half, came in and had a 4.1% touchdown rate. For his career, he has a 5.8% touchdown rate. Assuming Watson plays much better in 2023 than he did in 2022, which should be the expectation, it's reasonable to expect Browns' offense to become more pass-heavy and for the team's number of passing touchdowns to increase.

In 2022, the Browns had 19 passing touchdowns and 19 rushing touchdowns, a perfectly even 50/50 split. In 2022, the league average was 61%/39%, favoring passing touchdowns. Combined with the fact that we'd expect the Browns' offense to get back to a more traditional league-average split, the quarterback change only strengthens that belief.

When you factor in this change with Chubb's over-exceeding his touchdown total compared to his overall touches and red zone touches, he's a good candidate to score 2–4 fewer touchdowns in 2023.

 

Jamaal Williams, New Orleans Saints

We won't go in-depth with this one at all, but Jamaal Williams isn't going to be scoring anywhere close to as many touchdowns as he did last year. In his first five years – four with the Packers and his 2021 season with Detroit – Williams scored 21 total touchdowns. He scored 17 last year. From years 1–5, he scored a touchdown every 38 touches. Last year with the Lions he scored once every 16 touches.

The Lions scored the fifth most points last year compared to the Saints who were at 22nd. The difference between the two teams was 7.2 points a game. The Lions scored 23 rushing touchdowns. This ranked third in the NFL. The Saints were tied for 22nd with 12 rushing scores.

While Williams was the primary goal line back in Detroit, he'll share that job with Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara. Fantasy managers should be expecting Williams' touchdown total from 2022 to be possibly cut in half. That doesn't mean he's a bad fantasy value, just that fantasy managers need to recognize he's not going to score anywhere close to as much as he did last year.

 

D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

Let's start with the obvious fact that it doesn't seem like the Detroit Lions like D'Andre Swift all that much. As a rookie, despite being the more efficient player, Dan Campbell and the rest of the coaching staff felt compelled to give more touches to the ghost of Adrian Peterson. These concerns poked their ugly head out in a big way last year when Jamaal Williams led the way for Detroit's backfield.

Then, this offseason, the team signed David Montgomery to a three-year contract after having averaged 229 carries, 39 receptions, 1,212 scrimmage yards, and 7.5 touchdowns a season for the Chicago Bears. We're talking about a pretty effective running back and despite having Swift, they still brought in Montgomery. Red flag after red flag after red flag.

Last year, Swift scored a touchdown every 30 touches. This past year, he scored one every 18. That's another red flag indicating he's likely to score fewer times this season. He finished 2022 with the same number of rushing touchdowns as he had in 2021, despite having 52 fewer carries. He also scored more receiving touchdowns last year than he did in 2021 despite having 14 fewer receptions. More red flags.

Swift finished 2022 with eight touchdowns, which ranked 16th among running backs. However, he finished 39th (!!!) in total touches among running backs. He finished 25th among running backs with 32 red zone touches. There are some more red flags for you. Things got worse for Swift the closer Detroit got to the goal line. He had just 11 carries inside the 10-yard line, which ranked 35th and he was 36th with just four carries inside the 5-yard line. You guessed it, more red flags.

 

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Full disclosure on this last one, it's a bit more of a gut-feeling candidate than a "look at all of these numbers" guy. I try my best to provide a whole bunch of statistics and numbers to back up any argument I'm making. I'm a big believer that your "why" is a helluva lot more important than your "what". For example, I could tell you that AJ Dillon is better than Derrick Henry. That's what I think. Okay, what you're probably going to ask next, is why the heck do I think that? The why here and in almost every situation is more important than the what. Despite all of that, Derrick Henry is still making this list, but I do acknowledge my why may be a little bit lacking compared to the other candidates on this list. Still, we're going to carry on.

I can't shake this feeling that the Titans are about to fall off a cliff. Since Mike Vrabel became the head coach, the Titans have averaged about 9.5 wins per season. They've been to the playoffs four times. They were twice the AFC's No. 1 team and even went as far as the AFC Championship game. Outside of his first in Tennessee and 2022, the Titans' offense has always been an above-average unit, with average ranks of 9.6 and 10.3 in overall points scored and total yards gained, respectively among the NFL from 2019–2021. They've been a very productive franchise. I acknowledge that and I just can't help feeling like they're on the verge of finishing with a bottom-10 record and are on the fast track to drafting Caleb Williams or Drake Maye in 2023.

 

Look at that offense. That's the look of an offense that looks poised to finish in the bottom five. It is abysmal. It is absolutely atrocious. The offensive line looks like it's going to struggle all season and with the limited number of pass-catchers, there isn't much reason to believe the Titans will be able to provide defenses any reason not to stack the box and commit just about every resource to stopping Derrick Henry. Oh man, that depth chart is so bad. I don't want to keep looking at it, but I can't look away. It's terrifying.

Okay, let's at least talk about some numbers. Henry finished tied for third among running backs with 13 touchdowns. While he finished second among running backs in total touches, he finished just 11th in red zone touches. In recent seasons, he's been one of the busiest red zone running backs in the NFL, but in 2022, with the decreased offensive efficiency for the Titans, his scoring opportunities dwindled.

In 2022, he had 17 carries inside the 10-yard line. This ranked 16th among running backs. Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley, the two running backs above and below him in total touches finished with 23 such carries. He did have 15 carries inside the 5-yard line, which ranked third and was in line with his touchdown rank. However, there's reason to be skeptical about this statistic, as well.

Last year, he scored 10 touchdowns on his 15 carries inside the 5-yard line. That means 66.67% of the time he scored. In 2021, he scored five times on nine carries inside the 5-yard line, 55.55% of the time. In 2020, he scored on eight of his 17 carries inside the 5-yard line, 47.05% of the time. This tells us that we should be expecting Henry to be less efficient with his scoring opportunities inside the 5-yard line in 2023. If we are also concerned he gets fewer of these kinds of carries due to poor team offensive performance and he's not as efficient as punching those opportunities into the end zone, well, then we could really be in trouble.



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