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Touchdown Vultures: Who is this year’s Mike Tolbert?

26 August 2011 3 Comments

Compared to baseball and basketball, fantasy football provides limited stats. Even if you are in a PPR (points per reception) league, touchdowns are the primary money-makers, ranging from 4  to 6 points in standard leagues.  An easy 1-yard touchdown run is worth more than 50 hard-earned rushing yards (often 1 point is generated for every ten yards) in standard leagues.  The problem is that it is also the most volatile stat to predict.

Even the superstars that go in the first few rounds of fantasy drafts experience a Jekyll and Hyde touchdown total from year to year. After tossing a respectable 24 TD’s in the 2006-07 season, Tom Brady finished with 50 TD’s in the following year.  This could be attributed to New England’s dramatic improvement in their receiving corps with the addition of Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth in the 2007-08 season. Still, I managed to snag Tom Brady 34th overall and rode his 50 TD season all the way to the championship. Since that career season, Tom Brady has consistently been among the top 5 Quarterbacks off the board in fantasy football drafts.

Touchdown vultures, on the other hand, are often one-hit wonders that reap the benefits of a short-term situation in reality, but can catapult a team to victory in fantasy football. Some would argue that a touchdown vulture can be from any position. Last year, Tight End Mercedes Lewis finished with an astonishing 10 touchdowns after generating 2 touchdowns in each of his last 3 seasons.

Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated makes a sound argument that receiving yards from year-to-year are the best indicators of touchdown receptions.  Based on the last 5 years, he proves that receiving yards are positively correlated to receiving touchdowns.  But these numbers primarily apply to the top NFL veterans like Reggie Wayne and Larry Fitzgerald, who have established track records. To me, the real touchdown vultures are the large backup running backs that run the ball in from the goal line.

The key in fantasy drafts is to never overpay for a touchdown vulture.  After all, they are the backup running backs on their respective teams. In 2008, Tennessee Titan LenDale White racked up 773 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns often after starter Chris Johnson had juked his way into the opposing team’s red zone.  What happened the next year to the TD vulture? LenDale White ended up with a disappointing 2 touchdowns and 222 rushing yards in 2009.

In the only league that I participated in 2009, I drafted Chris Johnson17th overall and he ended up leading the league in fantasy points. Why did I draft him after he failed to eclipse the coveted double-digit touchdown mark in the previous season?  In part because of the Titans’ training camp talk of changing from the 2-headed monster approach (with Chris Johnson between the 20′s and White in the red zone) to CJ carrying the load as the primary back. But more because of the erratic nature of touchdown vultures.

Last season, Mike Tolbert had very similar numbers to the Lendale White of 2008.  The San Diego Charger finished the season with 734 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns after scoring a grand total of 1 over the previous 2 seasons. Whether he was taken at the end of your draft or picked up through the waiver wire, his stats were not unforeseen. He was playing for the same team but the circumstances had dramatically changed.  He benefited from LaDainian Tomlinson’s departure and rookie Ryan Mathews‘ injuries, whose proneness to the injury bug had been well publicized before the season began.

So who is this year’s Mike Tolbert?

Check out the Win My Fantasy League TD Vulture List for 2011-12 season below:

Willis McGahee – With a Tolbert-like season in 2009-10, finishing with 12 touchdowns, McGahee manged to vulture a weak 5 TD’s in 2010-11. The Denver Broncos were horrible running inside the 20-yard line last year.  McGahee will be backing up the less than spectacular Knowshon Moreno and McGahee has already proven to be the Bronco’s goal line back this preseason.

Marion Barber - The Chicago Bears have been in need of goal line back since Walter Payton.  Perhaps that is a bit of a stretch, but over the past 5 seasons, neither Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones, or Matt Forte have managed to eclipse the double-digit mark in rushing touchdowns as members of the Chicago Bears.  Last year, neither Forte nor Chester Taylor were impressive near that goal line. Enter Marion Barber, who made a name for himself in Dallas by getting into the end zone. This is a match made in heaven for Barber, whose Peyton Hillis style works better in a backup / goal line role.

Mark Ingram – Sean Payton loves to spread the ball around to both his receiving corps and his running backs. With a crowded backfield, first inclination is to avoid Dareen Sproles, Pierre Thomas or Mark Ingram.  However, this preseason, Ingram has been the red zone back for New Orleans, scoring twice.  We already know that Sproles is their speedy, change of pace RB, while Thomas has not played one down inside the opposing team’s 20 yard line this preseason. The yards will not be great, but look for a nice supply of touchdowns from the rookie Mark Ingram this season.

Ben Tate – As discussed in the Win My Fantasy League RB Rankings, we recommend drafting Adrian Peterson as your number 1 pick.  His consistency outweighs Arian Foster’s career year last season.  The Houston Texans backup Running Back Ben Tate has been impressive this preseason and it only makes sense for head coach Gary Kubiak to keep Foster fresh for the playoffs.  Playing for one of the most prolific offenses, look for Tate to swipe some notable TD’s.

Jamie Harper – According to NFL Network’s Jason La Confora, Chris Johnson and the Titans are still far apart in the re-negotiation of his contract.  Meanwhile, rookie Jamie Harper has had a stellar preseason, totaling 110 yards on 19 carries. Even if Chris Johnson and the Titans come to an agreement, Harper should usurp Javon Ringer on the Titans RB depth chart, meaning he could become their goal line back.

Written by Win My Fantasy League Senior Writer Justin Hasan (J-Has)

Comment below or e-mail him at JHas@WinMyFantasyLeague.com

3 Comments »

  • HT said:

    Interesting article.

    Since McGaee has left Baltimore, do you think ray rice will be a top 3 fantasy running back?

  • J-Has (author) said:

    Yes, I do. They acquired arguably the best blocking full-back in Vonta Leach. Last year, Leach helped Arian Foster become the number 1 fantasy Running Back.

  • HT said:

    So you believe that Foster is top fantasy running back?

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