Statistically Significant: Missed Tackles Forced per Touch


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Statistically Significant: Missed Tackles Forced per Touch

It often feels impossible to evaluate the individual skill of a running back. Success and failure depend on a wide range of factors: the offensive line, the blocking scheme, the playcalling, the game script, the number of defenders in the box, etc.

But the moment a defender attempts to tackle an RB, none of those complexities matter — a pure battle of anticipation, skill, and athleticism determines the outcome.

With the help of one key metric, the Fantasy Points Data Suite allows us to cut through a lot of this noise — to divorce a running back’s production from the efficacy of his offensive line. Our charting team watches every snap of every game, recording each time an RB successfully avoids an incoming tackle. Dividing a player’s total missed tackles forced (MTF) by their total number of touches leaves us with a quantifiable measure of the player’s effectiveness: MTF/touch.

Missed Tackles Forced Per Touch

This metric is surprisingly good at identifying explosive RBs with high upside in fantasy football and at warning us when a player’s skills are deteriorating.

  • The season before he broke out as a fantasy RB1, Rhamondre Stevenson ranked 4th-best in MTF/touch as a rookie in 2021.

  • In 2022, Josh Jacobs averaged 19.4 FPG (3rd-best) but ranked outside the top 35 in MTF/touch. The following season, he averaged just 14.0 FPG in the least efficient (and least productive) campaign of his career.

That said, there is not always a direct link between MTF/touch (or an efficiency metric) and fantasy points. But because MTF/touch is the stickiest (most stable from year-to-year) efficiency stat we have, it is one of the best ways to spot players with the potential for outlier seasons.

Though volume and offensive environment ultimately drive fantasy production at the RB position, an efficiency stat like MTF/touch is incredibly valuable for telling us how an RB might respond to a different situation — and which of them would best take advantage of a surprise jump in volume or overall team efficiency.

That means you should heavily target 2023’s leaders in MTF/touch in your fantasy drafts, especially if their price is not aligned with their upside. The Fantasy Points Data Suite can help us examine the top-12.

Want all the data I used for this article (and infinitely more) at your fingertips? Lock in your NFL Data Suite or All-In Subscription today. MTF/touch can be found in our RB+WR Efficiency Report.

2023 Missed Tackles Forced per Touch Leaders

It should be no surprise to see the likes of De’Von Achane, Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Breece Hall, and Travis Etienne excelling in this stat. Each of them will deservingly be selected in the first few rounds of most fantasy drafts, with the first three in line for massive Year 2 breakouts.

Let’s dive into how some of the deeper, more surprising players on the list could provide value to your fantasy football teams in 2024.

Jaylen Warren, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers MTF/Touch Rank: Best, FPG Rank: RB30, 2024 ADP: RB27

Warren followed up his rookie season (in which he ranked 6th-best in MTF/touch) with an even more impressive display.

Efficiency-wise, Warren has consistently outperformed much of the league as well as teammate Najee Harris. Still, Harris has continued receiving the majority of the rushing workload (52.4% of team rush attempts to Warren’s 30.6%). Volume has been Warren’s only missing piece.

Efficiency does not always lead to volume at the RB position, but Warren does not sport the usual markings of the efficiency fallacy. Though he’s five inches shorter, Warren weighs comfortably above 200 pounds and has a higher BMI than Harris. Even on plays with 8+ men in the box, Warren’s 4.42 yards per carry average (7th) remained excellent and significantly better than Harris’s (2.99, 31st). This is not so much an argument that new OC Arthur Smith will decide to let Warren take over the backfield as it is suggesting he should be expected to do so without issue if called upon.

Speaking of Smith, his recent history suggests he might narrow the split between Warren and Harris on the ground, and his offenses have ranked top-5 in rushing attempts per game for the past two seasons in a row. Warren’s 14.0% target share last year ranked 5th-best. A slight bump in rushing volume from Smith and a ton of targets from 2023 checkdown rate leader Russell Wilson could be all Warren needs to enter high-end RB2 territory. That makes him a solid value at ADP with some bonus contingent upside should Harris get injured.

Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle Seahawks MTF/Touch Rank: 2nd-best, FPG Rank: RB22, 2024 ADP: RB15

Even after Zach Charbonnet joined the backfield in 2023, Walker finished top-5 in team carry share (64.6%). Perhaps that’s unsurprising, given Walker leads the NFL in total missed tackles forced since being drafted and has handily outperformed Charbonnet in most meaningful efficiency stats — with his lower yards per carry average easily explained by the heavier fronts he’s had to face.

And help could be on the way for Walker, as new OC Ryan Grubb is likely to implement spread concepts and a more pass-heavy offense if Washington’s top-10 CFB pass rate in 2023 is anything to go by. That should lead to lighter fronts and even better efficiency, meaning Walker has the potential to join the Nick Chubb/Derrick Henry spectrum in 2024 at a fraction of those players’ draft costs during their primes.

As more support for that comparison, although Walker ranked just 44th in target share (6.9%), his overall volume was enough to rank top-12 in expected fantasy points per game (XFP/G) — an all-inclusive usage metric — up until suffering an oblique injury in Week 11. More receiving work may be too much to hope for (despite Walker’s 1.52 YPRR also handily beating Charbonnet’s 0.85), but even without it, RB1 upside is squarely in play.

Antonio Gibson, RB, New England Patriots MTF/Touch Rank: 4th-best, FPG Rank: RB45, 2024 ADP: RB55

The Patriots resorted to giving an incredibly washed Ezekiel Elliott 9.3 carries and 2.4 targets per game with Rhamondre Stevenson active last year in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the latter healthy. Gibson likely has more juice than Elliott, though not to the extent that his top-5 finish in MTF/touch suggests. Gibson ranked just 41st and 40th in the metric during 2021 and 2022, respectively, with his 2023 anomaly likely coming as a consequence of usage — he had just 44 touches with at least 7 men in the box last season.

Gibson also made the least of his blocking against those light fronts, ranking bottom-20 in — a new stat I just invented — team-adjusted yards before contact per attempt.

While I’m not bullish on Gibson’s chances to seriously threaten Rhamondre Stevenson for those reasons, this team and whichever rookie QB they select will be starved for playmakers in the passing game (see: presumptive WR1 Demario Douglas). There will likely be some passing-down role for Gibson here, who just ranked top-12 among RBs in yards per target (6.82). That makes him an intriguing late-round selection in early best ball drafts, but no more than that.

Jaleel McLaughlin, RB, Denver BroncosMTF/Touch Rank: 6th-best, FPG Rank: RB55, 2024 ADP: RB46

The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher immediately flashed at the NFL level. McLaughlin’s efficiency and top-10 finish in MTF/touch was easy to contrast with the struggles of starter Javonte Williams, who plodded his way to 0.14 MTF/touch (4th-worst) and 3.80 YFS/touch (5th-worst) — injury-related or not. McLaughlin also blew out Williams in yards before contact per attempt — even if he faced lighter fronts as Gibson did, he at least took advantage.

Head coach Sean Payton spoke glowingly of McLaughlin by the end of the year, suggesting he’s a prime candidate for the “joker” role in his offense once filled by fantasy superstars like Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, and Alvin Kamara. McLaughlin posted a Kamara-esque 1.98 YPRR as a rookie (4th-best) and is a nearly free high-upside flyer.

James Conner, RB, Arizona Cardinals MTF/Touch Rank: 11th-best, FPG Rank: RB19, 2024 ADP: RB25

Conner’s still-excellent elusiveness is notable due to his age. He’ll enter Career Year 8 in 2024, ordinarily a season when star RBs experience a steep production decline. However, those who stay on the same team as the season before fare significantly better, more support for the idea that Conner could continue to defy Father Time — in contrast to how I feel about some of his peers.

Given that the team could save $4.4 million against the cap if Conner were cut and a historically stacked RB free agent class, the Cardinals had every opportunity to move on in March. That they’ve kept Conner around without adding meaningful backfield depth is a strong signal of the team’s intention to run it back with Conner as their bellcow, a role in which he excelled by averaging 17.8 FPG (RB5) in games with Kyler Murray last year. He’ll be a great fantasy value for a second year in a row on an offense set to take a step forward after adding a blue-chip WR with the 4th overall pick.

Ryan is a young marketing professional who takes a data-based approach to every one of his interests. He uses the skills gained from his economics degree and liberal arts education to weave and contextualize the stories the numbers indicate. At Fantasy Points, Ryan hopes to play a part in pushing analysis in the fantasy football industry forward.