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Wide Receiver Touchdown Regression

Historical touchdown rate regression and how it affects 2016 wide receivers

One of the biggest influences to fantasy football scores is a touchdown. Plenty of randomness goes into a touchdown from a defensive turnover, goal line carry, 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 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 wide receiver position for 2016:

Sample Size: 420 wide receivers from 2005-2014

Criteria: 40+ receptions in both the test season and the following season

The Data

Overall, these 420 criteria-fitting wide receivers averaged an 8.7% touchdown rate

TD Rate Total Regressed Regression Rate AVG
>20% 8 8 100% -12.6%
15-20% 29 26 90% -6.7%
12-15% 54 42 78% -3.8%
0-5% 83 72 87% 4.2%

The first observation is the average regression (far right column) aligns well with bringing the outlier season the year before very close to the positional average. The regression rate also strengthens as the deviation from the average increases. 

In the >20% touchdown rate subset, even the historic Randy Moss (the lowest regression) fell more than 7% in total and 31% of his previous season. The examples from this group many fantasy owners will remember are names like James Jones from 2012 to 2013, Dwayne Bowe's magical 2010 season, and Jericho Cotchery's touchdown-filled 2013 campaign. All plummeted to below the receiver average the following season. Even having a stud quarterback like Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Robert Meachem cut their touchdown rates roughly in half the following season.

The lone three receivers in the 15-20% group to buck regression were supersized targets Calvin Johnson (2010-2011), Plaxico Burress (2006-2007) and all-time greatTerrell Owens (2006-2007). The remaining 26 receivers, including two other Calvin Johnson season pairings, Terrell Owens (again), Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Demaryius Thomas and a host of long-time fantasy performers dropped by nearly 8% on average the following season.

On the flip side, the low touchdown rate group (sub-5% in a season) also regressed strongly. The outliers to the trend included plenty smaller slot-type receivers unlikely to get more red zone targets and older players on the tail end of their career arcs like Torry Holt (2008), Andre Johnson (2013), Derrick Mason (2005) and Eric Moulds (2005) for example.

2016 Wide Receivers: Moving up

Let's start with the low touchdown rate receivers from 2015. Remember, the historical data is based on the receiver logging at least 40 receptions for a second straight season.

Davante Adams, 2.0%

It was a lost year for Adams, slogging through an ankle injury most of the season in what was projected as a breakout year. Jordy Nelson was out of the lineup, but Adams looked like a shell of himself with a bum wheel. The entire Packers passing game lagged behind their typical high-efficiency ways. Some similar seasons in the database to rise significantly the following season to Adams include Michael Crabtree (2009-2010) and Michael Floyd (2012-2013).

Roddy White, 2.3%

Currently a free agent and wanting to go to a contender, White is clearly on the downside. Even getting 40 receptions would be a surprise for the former high-producer in 2016.

Jamison Crowder, 3.4%

Crowder is a slot specialist plus Josh Doctson was added to the wide receiver mix in Washington as a Round 1 selection. Mike Thomas (Jacksonville, 2009) is the best example as another interior maven to jump up in touchdown rate from a similar rate. Thomas hit 6.1% the following season, which would be a two-to-three touchdown bump for Crowder in 2016 with a similar role.

Jarvis Landry, 3.6%

Through two seasons now, Landry has had a cumulative touchdown rate of less than 5%. He has short-area quickness and after-catch acumen but lacks athleticism overall. Leonte Carroo, a thick and productive receiver prospect was drafted on Day 2, which could be a sign Landry's glut of targets is in jeopardy. Landry is by far the youngest receiver with 100+ receptions and such a low touchdown rate in the database since 2005. Wes Welker had similar seasons to Landry in his later 20s and Andre Johnson had multiple seasons of similar criteria throughout his Houston career. Outside of Wes Welker (who had Tom Brady), there is not a lot to historically bank on with Jarvis Landry sustaining his volume or seeing much of a touchdown rate bump.

Mike Evans, 4.1%

After a touchdown-filled rookie season in 2014, Mike Evans' rate plummeted in 2015. At times, Evans was the only viable receiver in Tampa Bay for Jameis Winston with injuries taking Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins off the field for games at a time. In terms of similar seasons by age, yards-per-reception, and receptions, Rueben Randle, DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown fit for Mike Evans - all of whom saw bumps of 4-12% the following year. History points to a 2016 season closer to 2014 than 2015 for Mike Evans.

Willie Snead, 4.3%

Michael Thomas' arrival is a curveball to Snead enjoying a similar level of involvement in the Saints passing game (plus Coby Fleener replacing Ben Watson at tight end). Davone Bess and Greg Little are potential historical fits at their age and reception-level. Both saw their touchdown rate more than double the following season. Snead is a strong candidate to bump up to five or more scores in 2016.

Danny Amendola, 4.6%, Cecil Shorts, 4.8%

Both are veteran retreads and not strong bets to eclipse 40 receptions in 2016.


Now, let's hit on the strongest regression group from 2015 - the high touchdown rate receivers. There were no qualifying receivers to hit 20% or more (the top regression group), but five surpassed the 15% mark, having a 90% regression rate over the past 10 seasons.

Doug Baldwin, 17.9%

Baldwin is the poster child for touchdown regression. The Seattle passing game was low-volume and Baldwin ripped off an unreal stretch of eight touchdowns in six games late in the year. Tyler Lockett is a candidate to make a second-year jump and Seattle brought in plenty of running backs and drafted an offensive lineman in the first round to point to a ground-and-pound attack in 2016. Only Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson even came close to a similar touchdown rate after a comparable year to Doug Baldwin's 2015 and they lost 11 combined touchdowns the following season between them.

Allen Robinson, 17.5%

Robinson was a second-year breakout on the rising Jacksonville offense. The bad news is history suggests a sharp correction for Robinson in 2016. The five similar age and touchdown rate peers for Robinson include Mike Evans, Mike Williams (Tampa Bay), Torrey Smith, Calvin Johnson and Santonio Holmes - all dropping at least 6% the following season. Three of them (Smith, Williams, Evans) fell at least 10%.

Allen Hurns, 15.6%

A second Jacksonville receiver on the list points to bad news for Blake Bortles (more in the quarterback edition of this post). Hurns' 2015 season was very similar to Mike Williams, Greg Jennings, Santonio Holmes, and Calvin Johnson and different points in their careers. Calvin Johnson was the only one to not drop substantially in his 2010 to 2011 seasons. 

Eric Decker, 15.0%

The Jets' outlook certainly looks better if Ryan Fitzpatrick ends up signing this summer, especially for Eric Decker and his chances of repeating a strong touchdown output. Of similar seasons, only Plaxico Burress in 2006-2007 was able to approach a second straight strong season of touchdowns.

Sammy Watkins, 15.0%

Working for Watkins is his likely boost in targets (96 in 2015) and high pedigree for an age 23 breakout. However, the age 21-23 historical examples failed to produce any regression trend-breakers. Watkins would likely need to jump to 100+ receptions (not out of the question) for his touchdown total to rise in 2016.