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Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor and other red zone carry leaders

Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry

George Walker IV / / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Running back touchdowns -- it’s what we build an inordinate amount of emphasis on in our silly game, and it’s why the red zone rushing numbers are so important. In a world where running in the red zone is only getting more complex and intricate because of the way defenses have free range to stack the boxes, you want fantasy running backs who get the most attempts there. But, how have the box scores built over the first five games of the season? Are they descriptive, or are they prescriptive? Let’s take a look at that rush leaderboard through Week 4, and how those backs fared in Week 5:

Derrick Henry -- 17 red zone carries -- Week 5: Five red zone carries

This is a tonally weird thing to say about someone as humongous as Henry is, but Henry is a unicorn. Nobody in the NFL plays like this, and nobody in the NFL has been as successful as he has over the past few years in the red zone or on short yardage totes. Henry did exactly what you drafted him to do on Sunday: He ran over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has four more games left against AFC South competition and will make speedbumps out of them, while the Titans seem to have full-throated control of their terrible division. [[ad:athena]]

Henry was second in the NFL in red zone carries last year, scoring 11 touchdowns on them. He is already at five through five weeks here.

Nick Chubb -- 16 red zone carries -- Week 5: Six red zone carries

I’ve read/heard quite a bit of Chubb slander as a non-catcher, and I respect that and that it’s frustrating that Kareem Hunt also sometimes gets red zone carries. But here he is again, managing a long touchdown run. This is actually a big leap for Chubb, as he finished with just 35 red zone carries in 2020. That’s a great number, but far off the pace of the best in the NFL and not quite an amount that merits a first-round pick. So while I understand you would like to see catches -- we all would -- this is the kind of red zone usage Chubb needed to live up to the first-round pick. So far, so good. Hunt had 39 red zone carries in 2020 and is just at nine so far.

The biggest complaint I’d have about Chubb is that he seems like a contributor in whatever the Browns do, but hasn’t hit a real ceiling of “win you a game on his own” in a bit. Week 2 and Week 3 of 2020 feel like distant memories, and he’ll run into two touchdowns or bust a big run, but not all at the same time like Henry will.

Aaron Jones -- 15 red zone carries -- Week 5: Three red zone carries

This was a tough game for Jones as two of his three red zone carries were stuffed en route to a blocked field goal in overtime. However, with 103 rushing yards, he handled things quite well for a down game. The No. 1 thing that Jones has that most of these other backs don’t have is the red zone usage as a receiver: Jones has been targeted 10 times in the first four games and has added two touchdowns through those receptions. Interesting to see AJ Dillon‘s attempts creep up, but the snap count didn’t really seem to follow that all that much.

Jones remains a locked-in and easy RB1, but you knew that. Like Chubb, he finished outside the top 10 with 38 red zone carries in 2020. He is on his way to making that factoid a memory.

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James Conner -- 14 red zone carries -- Week 5: One red zone carry

Tough spot for Conner yesterday as the Cardinals offense went mostly-dormant, but the 49ers could not punish them in the slightest for it under Trey Lance‘s watch. He did manage to be a touchdown vulture, which is basically the gist of his value for the Cardinals this year. Arizona has had two wins where their offense was hellacious, and then three plodding games where they eventually pull away from a weaker opponent. Conner had 27 red zone carries in 11 starts last year, but was stuck on the Steelers. This is a situation where the game scripts and Conner’s reduced workload have just gone hand-in-hand to make the Cardinals’ back a fantasy gem.

Chase Edmonds is the better back, and Kyler Murray has just six red-zone carries this year. This sure does feel like a mirage that will only stay sustainable as long as the Cardinals continue to play the exact way they are now. But, hey, just because it will eventually disappear doesn’t mean it’ll be any time soon. Conner could very well remain valuable all season for the niche that has been carved out here.

Zack Moss -- 13 red zone carries -- Week 5: One red zone carry

Given the inactive start to the season, this is very promising, but it does bear mentioning that Moss had played in three games where the Bills managed humongous leads to build these carries. Only three of his red zone carries came with a lead of less than a score, he plays with a dominant red zone quarterback in Josh Allen, and, well, notice the near-bagel last night against the team that beat the Bills in the AFC Championship game. Moss has history on his side as he had 28 red zone carries in 2020 to Devin Singletary‘s 20. The Bills have roughly kept that split together, as Singletary was at eight through Week 4. But don’t read 14 red zone carries as an endorsement that Moss has taken a leap.

I think you’re probably very happy with Moss at this point at draft value but he remains an RB2-at-best, streamer back who you want to compile on bad teams with Buffalo’s juggernaut. And, hey, luckily for you, they play quite an easy schedule the rest of the way!

Jonathan Taylor -- 19 red zone carries -- Week 5: Pending

The Colts have thus far managed to empty-burger Taylor’s 19 carries for zero touchdowns. In fact, Taylor led the NFL in carries inside the 10, too, through four weeks -- he has negative six yards on them! And before you blame it on Carson Wentz, it’s not like Phil Rivers was mobile either. Rivers was often pulled for Jacoby Brissett. Taylor finished with nine touchdowns in 47 red zone rushes in 2020, so this feels more like a massive fluke that will course-correct. Possibly as soon as tonight. But without Quenton Nelson for another few weeks, it’s hard to reliably bank anything about the Colts right now beyond just pure volume.

And it sure would help if Nyheim Hines -- of the five red zone carries -- stopped taking a real share of Taylor’s snaps too. But that feels baked in at this point, and all beliefs of Taylor being an every-down back appear to be on the shelf pending injury or a big change.