Mike Tanier

Going Deep

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Fantasy life begins at the one

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


It's first-and-goal at the one-yard line, and life is good. Your fantasy running back is in the game, and he's sure to pick up six easy points. Unless there's a goal line stand. Or a fumble. Or – worst of all – one of those play-action passes to the third string tight end in the back of the endzone.

Editor's Note: For the latest RB rankings, projections and more get the 2010 Draft Guide!

There are no sure things in football, even at the one-yard line. There were 351 plays from the one last year, and only 150 of them produced touchdowns. That's less than a 50 percent success rate, pretty paltry since the offense is just trying to gain one measly yard.

As you might expect, teams prefer to run at the one-yard line. There were 256 running plays and just 95 passes from the one last year. Of those runs, 171 were plunges right up the middle (from left guard to right guard in the Football Outsiders database). Goal line offense isn't particularly exotic. The success rate on runs was 54 percent, on passes 41 percent. The best way to move the ball in most circumstances is to pass, but at the one-yard line, smashmouth tactics still prevail.

Four teams tied for the league lead with 15 carries inside the one last year: the Vikings, Dolphins, Patriots and Chargers. The Vikings, Dolphins, and Patriots were 9-of-15 on those runs, the Chargers 7-of-15. That's just another reason to think twice before you rush out to buy that LaDainian Tomlinson Jets jersey. LT2 wasn't a great goal line runner last year, just an often-used one. Overall, he scored just nine touchdowns in 28 attempts inside the five. Also, Darren Sproles scored one of those short touchdowns.

A quarterback sneak is always an option from the one-yard line, but the Patriots are the only team to regularly send the quarterback into the pile. There were only 13 sneaks from the one last year, and the Patriots ran six of them. Tom Brady was 1-of-4, Brett Hoyer 1-of-2, and you have to figure that no matter what Bill Belichick thinks of Laurence Maroney, he has to be a safer goal line alternative than Brady, if only for Brady's well being (Maroney scored on 5-of-7 attempts but fumbled once). Ronnie Brown got most of the one-yard carries for the Dolphins before getting hurt. Ricky Williams took over, scoring four times on six one-yard attempts, once on a Wildcat play.

The most pass-happy teams at the one-yard line were the Vikings and Bears, with eight attempts each. Yes, the Vikings led the league in both runs and passes from the one, so both Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre had plenty to do. Favre threw three one-yard touchdowns to Visanthe Shaincoe and attempted a fourth; overall, Favre was 4-of-8, with one 14-yard loss on a sack. Jay Cutler found Greg Olson twice and Desmond Clark once, but also threw four incompletions and (of course) an interception.

The Bengals, Ravens, Jaguars, Broncos and Steelers all threw just two passes from the one-yard line, though it should be noted that they weren't at the one very often. There's some randomness at work when analyzing one tiny part of the field, and it just so happens that the Steelers only executed six plays at the one compared to the Vikings 23. Sure, offense quality is a factor, but some teams just have a habit of scoring from the two or three-yard line and never reaching the one. The Jaguars ran 10 times at the one and passed just twice, so Maurice Jones-Drew fans can feel more confident at the one than Peterson fans: Favre may eat into Peterson's opportunities, but David Garrard isn't going to eat into anything.

As for turnovers, there were six fumbles lost at the one-yard line last year and three interceptions: one each by Cutler, Kurt Warner and Tony Romo. There were three sacks, of Favre, Carson Palmer (for 18 yards!) and Matt Cassel, and nine penalties: eight false starts and a delay of game. (These penalties don't count among the other totals). There were three fumbled snaps. That's a lot of bumbling for just 351 plays.

As for those tight end "surprises," I combed through the FO database and eliminated all passes from the one-yard line intended for wide receivers, halfbacks or any tight end who could reasonably be considered a fantasy option (everyone from Antonio Gates down to guys like Shiancoe and Brandon Pettitgrew). This informal study found 37 "silly" passes to unknown tight ends, fullbacks like Madison Hedgecock, linebackers like Mike Vrabel, and other mystery performers. These plays yielded 16 touchdowns. We may have nightmares about Naufahu Tahi touchdowns when we need a score from Peterson, but these oddball plays amount to less than half a touchdown per team in a year.

Editor's Note: Create your own fantasy league at myfantasyleague.com!



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