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Quarterback Regression: Touchdown and Interception Rates

Historical touchdown and interception rate regression and how it affects 2016 quarterbacks

One of the biggest influences to fantasy football scores is a touchdown. Plenty of randomness goes into a touchdown from a defensive turnover creating a short field, jump ball in the end zone, pass interference penalty to even a tipped pass or garbage time drive. The Red Zone channel parks most of their coverage inside the 20-yard-line for a reason: touchdowns live there. The term touchdown regression has been around awhile. Back in my profootballfocus.com writing days, I scoured nearly every offensive statistic looking for the best regression outliers from year to year. While there were some categories fighting for second place, touchdown rate was annually at the top, both in its strength of regression and in bottom-line fantasy football impact. With the NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, let's look at touchdown regression for the quarterback position in 2016:

Sample Size: 212 quarterbacks from 2005-2014

Criteria: 250+ attempted passes in both the test season and the following season

THE touchdown DATA

Overall, these 212 criteria-fitting quarterbacks averaged a 7.5% touchdown rate (on their completed passes)

TD Rate Total Regressed Regression Rate AVG
>9.5% 22 21 95% -2.7%
<5% 17 15 88% 2.6%

Using a big picture lens, the average drop of 2.7% for a decent volume of completions is in the range of 7-10 touchdowns. This is a huge correct and arguably the single most important regression trend to notate for the following year's drafts and player valuations. On the flip side, the low touchdown rate group's boost was as stark and adding 5-10 touchdowns to their total turns them from and afterthought or fantasy dud back to matchup QB2 or better the following season. Anything over 80-85% regression is a strong trend. Adding these players to target and avoid lists can clarify draft values for the following year based on expected opportunity and price.

In 2014, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning were on the high touchdown rate regression list. Manning plummeted by more than 5% and Rodgers and Luck saw dips of 2.2% and 1.3% respectively.

For the low touchdown rate crew, last year had watch list quarterbacks from 2014 as Brian Hoyer and Blake Bortles. Both surged in touchdown rate in 2015 - Bortles being a breakout player, more than doubling his poor rookie year rate. Hoyer increased by 70%, past the NFL average.

2016 quarterbacks: MOVING UP

Let's start with the low touchdown rate quarterbacks from 2015. Remember, the historical data is based on the quarterback logging at least 250 attempts for a second straight season.

Nick foles, 3.7%

With the addition of Jared Goff, Foles is unlikely to hit the 250-attempt threshold. Foles was also on this low-touchdown rate regression list after a 3.7% 2012 season. The following year Foles ripped off a historic 13.3% campaign.

teddy bridgewater, 4.8%

As opposed to Nick Foles, Bridgewater is an entrenched NFL starter with factors on his side for 2016. In addition to a low attempt load thus far in his career (including 447 in 2015), Bridgewater adds LaQuon Treadwell to his cupboard of weapons on the outside and developing second-year receiver Stefon Diggs. Adrian Peterson is a year closer to a steep decline and Bridgewater is a strong candidate to inch closer to 500 passes or more and bump his touchdown total by 50% or more into the 20s.

2016 quarterbacks: MOVING DOWN

Now, let's hit on the strongest regression group from 2015 - the high touchdown rate receivers. Previously only 2011-2012 Drew Brees beat the regression with an equal or better touchdown rate the following season from this subset. Five quarterbacks in 2015 made the hot list to track in 2016:

Cam Newton, 11.8%

Newton had 35 passing touchdowns on less than 500 attempts (and 300 completions) en rout to a Super Bowl appearance. The Panthers add Kelvin Benjamin back to the fold following an injury. Devin Funchess enters Year 2. Greg Olsen is coming off a career year. Newton has been hovering in the 6.8% to 8.2% touchdown rate range his first four NFL season before a true breakout passing campaign in 2015. His interception rate was also a career-low last year. Did he turn the corner as a certified stud or was this closer to an outlier season? Even if he is on track to be a strong passing quarterback going forward, history points to a decline this coming year. The other six quarterback seasons of 11% or higher (including Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers 2x, and Tom Brady) declined an average of 3.5% the following season. For Newton, a drop like that would shed 9-11 touchdowns unless a volume boost occurs.

Russell wilson, 10.3%

Wilson is on an elite career arc track in terms of touchdown and interception rate through four seasons. 2015 marked his third season over 10% touchdown rate - all on low volume. Of the high touchdown rate watch list for 2016, Wilson has the track record to project another strong season even if a slight decline is likely.

carson palmer, 10.2%

Palmer enjoyed a highlight season on his career arc in 2015. Not since his early-ish Cincinnati years has Palmer been much higher than the NFL average and Palmer's 5.6% interception rate marked the lowest of qualifying seasons in a decade. With age not on his side, Palmer is a prime candidate for stronger regression than someone like Russell Wilson.

blake bortles, 9.9%

Bortles turned from an upward regression play following his abysmal 2014 rookie season to now a strong regression candidate the opposite direction. Of the high touchdown rate group from 2015 Bortles had by far the highest interception rate (7.2%) of the subset and his bad decisions, amidst the big plays, are glaring. Matthew Stafford (2011) and Ben Roethlisberger (2005) are good comparable seasons to Bortles - both of which decline by at least 3.7% the following season. Bortles is a prime candidate to shift from 35 touchdowns back to the 24-27 range.

andy dalton, 9.8%

Dalton has been hit-or-miss in his five-year career. Dalton had only 386 passes last year due to missed games, but a career-high mark in completion rate (66.1%) and touchdown rate (9.8%). The last time Dalton surged above 9% in touchdown rate (2013), he regressed back to 6.1% the following season.

The Interception Data

INT Rate Total Regressed Regression Rate AVG
>9.5% 26 26 100% -4.2%
<5% 42 38 90% 2.7%

The interception regression trends are even stronger than touchdowns. High interception rates result in either a quarterback being yanked before reaching the 250-attempt threshold the following year or a marked improvement. On the flip side, a 90% regression rate on the low interception group is as strong as the low touchdown group above.

2016 Quarterbacks: Moving Up

Let's start with the low interception rate quarterbacks from 2015. Remember, the historical data is based on the quarterback logging at least 250 attempts for a second straight season.

Tom Brady, 3.2%

Brady has a been a low interception rate quarterback over his career, but 2015 marks his second-lowest of the past decade to his 2010 season of four interceptions. Brady hopped up to 5.7% the following season. Similar-aged quarterbacks in the database from the last decade and coming off a low interception rate includes Jeff Garcia, Brett Favre and Brad Johnson. Favre and Johnson saw huge leaps in interception rate the following season. Brady is an all-time great, but even a regression to 10 or more interceptions is likely.

Aaron Rodgers, 3.6%

Rodgers, like Tom Brady, has been a low-interception quarterback during his career. However, the oscillations between historically-low and near-average rates are present. Rodgers bumped up 1% from 2014 and his low rate and the rest of the comparable subset (including Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, etc) were up much more the following season.

Josh McCown, 3.8%

McCown is unlikely to hit 250 attempts in 2016 unless Robert Griffin III misses significant time and Cody Kessler is not ready to step in.

Alex Smith, 4.3%

Smith has been below 5% for three years running as a risk-allergic quarterback. Smith has been trending up slightly each of those years as he ages into his 30s. Smith is a likely candidate to rise up to the 5-6% range.

Tyrod Taylor, 4.3%

Taylor had a strong touchdown-to-interception rate in his first year as an NFL starter. Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick in 2012 and 2010 respectively had similar interception rates and overall volume. Both nearly doubled their rate the following year

Brian Hoyer, 4.8%

Like Tyrod Taylor, Hoyer had low volume on in 2015. Hoyer landed in Chicago as Jay Cutler's backup and would need a longer-term injury to hit the 250-pass threshold.

2016 Quarterbacks: Moving Down

Finally, here is the high interception rate group from 2015. While Andrew Luck was close to the line at 9.2%, only one quarterback qualified last year.

Ben Roethlisberger, 10.7%

Roethlisberger's 2015 rate marked his highest since 2006. He has generally hovered around the NFL average for his career, but on the positive track recently. Based on comparable seasons, Roethlisberger is a prime candidate to slash his interception rate by close to half in 2016.