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2017 Wide Receiver Touchdown Regression

Historical touchdown rate regression and how it affects 2017 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 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 wide receiver position for 2017:

Sample Size: 454 wide receivers from 2005-2015

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

THE DATA

Overall, these 454 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% 31 28 90% -6.9%
12-15% 56 44 79% -4.1%
0-5% 88 77 88% 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 great Terrell Owens (2006-2007). The remaining 28 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 of 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.

2017 WIDE RECEIVERS: MOVING UP

Let's start with the low touchdown rate receivers from 2016. Remember, the historical data is based on the receiver logging at least 40 receptions for a second straight season.

chris conley, 0.0%

Conley joins a rare group of receivers with 40+ receptions and failing to find the end zone in a season. Only two receivers in the study criteria hit 40+ receptions following a 0% touchdown rate - Josh Reed and Mark Clayton. Clayton bumped up to 7.3% in 2008 and Josh Reed mired at just 1.8% the following season. Conley certainly has a golden opportunity with Jeremy Maclin released, but has yet to exhibit his measured athleticism during the NFL Draft process on the pro field.

Tyler boyd, Robert Woods, 1-2%

Boyd is likely to see his opportunities cut in 2017 as John Ross was a top draft selection and Joe Mixon offers another weapon for Cincinnati's pass game not present in 2016. On the flip side, Woods has the best opportunity of his career after shifting to a potential No.1 role with the Rams. Woods has yet to surpass the NFL average touchdown rate in a season, topping out at 7-8% early in his career. However, a boost of 2-4 touchdowns to his ledger in 2017 should be expected.

Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, stefon diggs, pierre garcon, alshon jeffery, 2-4%

Lockett regressed from a balmy 11.8% in 2015 to near the bottom of the league with just a single score on 41 receptions in 2016. Diggs has been below the NFL average throughout his career, so he is less of a regression candidate than others considering the state of Minnesota's pass game. Garcon had quality touchdown rates in 2-of-5 seasons in Washington. The volume should stay strong as the lead receiver in San Francisco, but anything more than 5-6 touchdowns would be a surprise considering their lack of a strong quarterback (Brian Hoyer is underrated however). Alshon Jeffery is the name in bright lights of this group. Before a lost season in 2016, Jeffery logged three straight years above 7% in touchdown rate. With a quarterback uptick moving to Philadelphia, Jeffery stands to gain at least 3-4 touchdowns with regular volume and is a candidate to return to double-digit territory if the Eagles soar behind Carson Wentz.

Jordan matthews, will fuller, jarvis landry, golden tate, jeremy maclin, marqise lee, 4-5%

Matthews was above the NFL average over his first two seasons before a steep decline to 4.1% last year. With Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith added to the depth chart in Philadelphia this offseason Matthews' volume (100+ targets each of his first three seasons) is in doubt. However, a touchdown rise is likely. Despite his overt speed, Will Fuller logged just two touchdowns as a rookie amidst his yet-to-round-out game and questionable hands. Deshaun Watson offers promise of a quarterback upgrade. Jarvis Landry has been a low touchdown rate receiver over three seasons, offering the least regression upside of this grouping. Tate has been a touchdown rate decliner since early in his career. Despite 190 receptions between his 2014 and 2016 seasons in Detroit, Tate had eight touchdowns between those seasons. Opportunity is present without a dominant WR1 or tight end for red zone usage with the Lions, but Tate's role does not point to more than 6-7 touchdowns at most this season. The biggest variable with Jeremy Maclin is his health after his surprising release by Kansas City this offseason. Baltimore's pass game offers a bevy of available targets if Maclin checks out medically and secures a starting role. Maclin is the biggest boom-bust name of the group considering all his variables at play. Marqise Lee hit 40 or more receptions for the first time in his career. With a small frame and Jacksonville offfense clearly shifting to the run, Lee offers little touchdown upside beyond 2016 as his projected ceiling.

2017 WIDE RECEIVERS: MOVING DOWN

Now, let's hit on the strongest regression group from 2016 - the high touchdown rate receivers. 

kenny stills, 21.4%

The 20% touchdown rate group is a perfect 8-for-8 in strong regression the following year in the sample. Only 4-of-8 maintained even 10% the next season. Stills' volume is in question after barely qualifying in 2016 (42 receptions) and a loaded Miami depth chart as well.

davante adams, 16.0%

Adams went from the regression upwards group heading into 2016 (2.0%) to now the outlier on the high-end for 2017. Adams' fantasy production was fueled by 12 touchdowns (on less than 1,000 receiving yards) last season. The good news is Green Bay receivers in the 10% or higher subset have fared reasonably well the following season in the Aaron Rodgers era. None have fallen lower than 5% the next year and 4-of-7 stayed above 9%. All encouraging signs for Adams to dip, but stay in the 7-10 touchdown zone if his volume holds steady.

dez bryant, 16.0%

Bryant is the most insulated name on this list from a career perspective. Bryant has been a 13% or higher touchdown rate producer in each of his qualifying (40+ receptions) seasons. Dallas shifted to the run game behind rookie quarterback Dak Prescott in 2016, but with eroding Jason Witten, stopgap Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley in the slot, there is little to challenge Bryant for red zone dominance or the occasional big play.

On a final note, Sterling Shepard is the name in bright lights in the 12-15% regression group. His impressive rookie season, logging eight scores on 65 receptions, is a sharp regression situation considering his slot role and the Giants adding Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram this offseason.