The Touchdown Vultures (2018 Fantasy Football)
Every season, we put so much effort and skill into drafting a team that will give us the best chance to win our matchup on a weekly basis. You have a stable of running backs that can put up fantasy points in droves and you’re excited about the potential your team has to win a fantasy title. Then, Week 1 comes along, and our running back leads a charge down the field, picking up yardage in chunks only to have another RB swoop in at the goal line and punch the ball into the end zone…we’ve all been there. I know the feeling! I thought it would be helpful to make a quick list of players that have a probability of playing the touchdown vulture role this season. All statistical data comes courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Latavius Murray (RB – MIN)
This one may be obvious as Murray has led the NFL in touchdowns inside the five-yard line over the past three seasons. The Raiders utilized him as a goal-line back, and the Vikings did as well once Dalvin Cook went down in Week 4 last season. There is a lot of speculation about Cook’s health coming off an ACL tear, but I for one am not concerned. There is also the other camp that believes he’ll be a workhorse out of the gate. He’ll undoubtedly get a majority of the carries, but Minnesota will be best served giving Murray more opportunities to punch the ball in when the offense gets down close.
Jeremy Hill/Rex Burkhead (RB – NE)
The Pats would have two backs listed here, wouldn’t they? After all, they rotate running backs so unpredictably. This much was true inside the five-yard live last year with Mike Gillislee getting three rushing touchdowns in Week 1 and then Bill Belichick’s doghouse the rest of the year. We then saw a hodgepodge of Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis the rest of 2017.
This year, Lewis is gone and first-round rookie Sony Michel enters the picture. However, both he and Burkhead are currently dealing with knee injuries, leaving Hill a window of opportunity. Hill has been a total stud near the goal line in his career. Before falling off the fantasy map last year, Hill piled up the touchdowns, reaching pay dirt 29 times in his first four seasons, including leading the league in rushing TDs in 2015. I listed Burkhead here too because he was very efficient near the end zone last season and I expect him to regain that role later in the year with Hill doing it early on. Expect New England to use their RBs very heavily once again near the goal line.
LeGarrette Blount (RB – DET)
Speaking of New England backs, the former Patriot and friend of the Minutemen, Blount, had a very underwhelming 2017 in Philadelphia as the Eagles shuffled their running back by committee to a frustrating degree under Doug Peterson and Frank Reich. This was a big surprise, as Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 18 in 2016. Warren Sharp of SharpFootballStats.com wrote a piece about how the Lions could drastically improve their offensive efficiency from a year ago with the addition of Blount. I couldn’t agree more as the Lions sputtered in the red zone, continually failing to finish off drives and settling for field goals way too often. Therefore, adding a big-time goal-line back to their RBBC mix makes sense as no other Detroit RB comes close to Blount’s end zone savviness. He’s the clear goal-line back in Motown and a good bet to be the team’s TD maker.
Mark Ingram (RB – NO)
With all the buzz surrounding Alvin Kamara’s ultra-efficient rookie season, the goal line abilities of Ingram may go under the radar. He’ll start the season by serving a four-game suspension followed with a bye in Week 6, essentially playing in just one of the first six weeks of the season. He’s going late in drafts as a result, but he still offers some excellent upside. Looking back at the last three seasons, Ingram has had no fewer than seven carries inside the five-yard line, no fewer than 15 carries inside the 10-yard line, and no fewer than five red-zone touchdowns. He will likely be used quite frequently (even in the passing game) when the Saints get close to scoring, as Kamara’s insane touchdown efficiency must regress to the mean.
Isaiah Crowell (RB – NYJ)
“The Crow” is on the shelf with a concussion, so he’s not getting preseason reps. His production has been rather mediocre in the goal-line role outside of his 2016 campaign when he converted five-of-nine carries inside the five-yard line. The only reason I think this season could be different is because the Jets hate Bilal Powell for some reason, and I’m sure they’ll stifle Powell’s 2018 production by giving Crowell some goal-line work by giving Crowell some goal line work.
I think that’s a bad idea as Powell has produced when given a chance and he really should get the major portion of red zone work. The Jets probably have other plans though, and that’s sad. He’s someone to watch as a potential TD vulture even though he’s not that good. He could come back from the dead and crush his enemies with a vengeance…wait, that’s the movie “The Crow.”
Jonathan Stewart (RB – NYG)
Now, on to another RB with a new team in New York. Did you know that Stewart has 16 touchdowns from inside the five-yard line over the last three seasons? I didn’t either until I went back and looked, but it makes sense when you remember that Carolina wanted to reduce Newton’s red zone rushing back in 2016, the year after his MVP season.
Now in New York as the backup to Saquon Barkley, it only makes sense that the Giants would continue to use him in a goal-line role since former Panthers GM (and current Giants GM) Dave Gettleman drafted him back in the day and is very fond of the veteran back. Not to mention, their prized rookie RB is nursing a hamstring injury at the moment. It’s probably not a good idea to have him in tight, pushing the pile. Barkley’s only real weakness is vision at the goal line. Stewart is tied for fifth on the NFL’s active leaders for rushing touchdowns (51) with Blount and he’s just behind former teammate, Newton.
Cam Newton (QB – CAR)
Speaking of Superman…Newton also has 16 TDs inside the five-yard line over the last three seasons. In his MVP season, he converted eight-of-10 carries inside the five. The Panthers have tried to reign him in a bit since and reduced his opportunities, but he still converted five-of-six carries inside the five in 2016 and three-of-four last season. That’s incredible efficiency around the goal line! He’s arguably the best goal-line threat in the NFL with those numbers as he’s a mountain of a man to bring down. C.J. Anderson and Christian McCaffery may play substantial red zone roles, but Newton is still a significant goal line threat.
Jimmy Graham (TE – GB)
What the heck is a tight end doing in here? Simple, I expect the Packers to use him the same way the Seahawks did last year. Graham led the NFL in red zone targets and targets inside the 10-yard line. He converted half of his 16 targets, and that officially makes him a touchdown vulture. The Packers already have a three-headed monster in the backfield once Aaron Jones comes back into the fold and owning any RB in that rotation will already be frustrating. Throwing Graham into the goal-line mix only further clouds the convoluted timeshare situation in Green Bay so don’t be surprised when the Pack are knocking on the door, and they toss a jump ball to the former basketball player and further devalue the running backs.
Josh Dalley is a DFS contributor and fantasy correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, follow him on Twitter @JoshDalley72.