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2018 Quarterback Regression: Touchdown and Interception Rates - Footballguys

Historical touchdown and interception rate regression and how it affects 2018 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 2018:

Sample Size: 261 quarterbacks from 2005-2016

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

THE TOUCHDOWN DATA

Overall, these 261 criteria-fitting quarterbacks averaged a 7.5% touchdown rate (on their completed passes)

TD Rate Total Regressed Regression Rate AVG
>9.5% 29 28 97% -3.0%
<5% 21 19 90% 2.6%

Using a big picture lens, the average drop of 3.0% for a decent volume of completions is in the range of 7-10 touchdowns. This is a huge correction 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 an 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 2017, the trio of at least 9.5% touchdown rate (Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers), all three saw significant drops in touchdown rate with only the immortal Aaron Rodgers (who did not qualify with less than 250 attempts in his follow-up season) reproducing his high rate.

For the low touchdown rate crew, last year saw Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, and Carson Wentz show strong regression from the sub-5% group and Joe Flacco with a small uptick as all four were regression qualifiers.

2018 QUARTERBACKS: MOVING UP

Let's start with the low touchdown rate quarterbacks from 2017. Remember, the historical data is based on the quarterback logging at least 250 attempts for a second straight season. It is worth noting Deshone Kizer and Jacoby Brissett hit the attempt threshold in 2017, but are unlikely (outside of Andrew Luck missing a chunk of the season) to qualify for the study in 2018.

Mitch Trubisky, 3.6%

Trubisky struggled on paper as a rookie, but consider his weapons in Chicago with a non-existent wide receiver corps and matching tight end contributions. Trubisky, like Jared Goff in 2016, did show flashes of strong accuracy on intermediate throws amidst the surrounding cast and negative game scripts. Trubisky sees a substantial upgrade in pass-catchers with Allen Robinson and Trey Burton notable free agent signings and Anthony Miller drafted in the second round.

Marcus mariota, 4.6%

Like Carson Wentz a year ago, Mariota is a glaring regression candidate. Tennessee is starting to surround Mariota with weapons and Corey Davis entering Year 2 after rookie year flashes is a key component to Mariota's improvement. After low-volume seasons in 2016-17 (821 attempts total) where Marcus Mariota had strong touchdown rates (8.3% and 9.4%), his mark plummeted last year to 4.5%. His 13 touchdowns could easily double by way of a volume boost and approach his previous touchdown rate levels.

2018 QUARTERBACKS: MOVING DOWN

Now, let's hit on the strongest regression group from 2017 - the high touchdown rate. Previously only 2011-2012 Drew Brees beat the regression with an equal or better touchdown rate the following season from this subset. Three quarterbacks in 2017 made the hot list to track for 2018:

carson Wentz, 12.5%

Wentz crushed the regression study last year, rising from 4.2% to an other-worldly 12.5% in his breakout season. Wentz was second in the NFL in touchdown passes despite missing three games. Only Nick Foles and Aaron Rodgers have higher seasonal touchdown rates in the sample and they dropped by 4.4% on average the following season. 

russell Wilson, 10.0%

Wilson has shown to be a high touchdown rate option in his career, posting 10% or higher marks in four-of-six qualifying seasons. He moved down in his previous three seasons above the regression line, including to a career-low 5.9% in 2016. Wilson loses Jimmy Graham as a red zone option of note. On the plus side, Wilson has increased his pass attempts each season since 2012, finally inching above 550 attempts in 2017. Volume can offset some of Wilson's likely touchdown rate decline.

jared Goff, 9.5%

Goff, like Carson Wentz, was one of the substantial risers of 2017. He did not qualify in 2016 as a rookie due to his low attempts, but more than doubled his touchdown rate in his breakout 2017 season. Goff is also on the interception regression list for 2018, making him a prime candidate to see a drop across the board in efficiency. One positive is his meager 477 attempts last year, which can see a boost to offset some of his rate statistics.

THE INTERCEPTION DATA

INT Rate Total Regressed Regression Rate AVG
>9.5% 28 28 100% -4.6%
<4% 28 26 93% 2.9%

The interception rate is calculated by their interceptions compared to their incomplete passes only. 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. 

2018 QUARTERBACKS: MOVING UP

Let's start with the low interception rate quarterbacks from 2017. Remember, the historical data is based on the quarterback logging at least 250 attempts for a second straight season.

tyrod taylor, 2.5%

Taylor has been smart with the football in his three qualifying seasons, posting better than the NFL average in interception rate each year. His 2.7% in 2017 was his best rate, however, and regression-worthy. Taylor offers a drastic change from the turnover-friendly Deshone Kizer performance from 2017 for the Browns until Baker Mayfield gets the call.

alex smith, 3.0%

Smith, like Tyrod Taylor, has been one of the lowest interception rate quarterbacks in the NFL over the past few seasons. Smith has been below 5% each of the last four years with his 3% mark in 2017 being his best rate to-date. Smith is changing teams, plus leaving the friendly confines of Andy Reid's Kansas City offense for Washington. Smith's efficiency marks hinge on Jordan Reed's health and Josh Doctson being more consistent (health and play) than his first two NFL seasons.

jared goff, 3.9%

Goff qualifies in touchdown and interception rate regression for 2018. Goff loses Sammy Watkins but gains Brandin Cooks among the wide receiver corps. Looking for similar seasons to Goff's strong 2017 in touchdown and interception rate include Matt Ryan's 2016, Nick Foles 2013, Brett Favre 2009, and Donovan McNabb in 2006. They combined to drop 4.5% in touchdown rate and rise 4.4% in interception rate the following season.

carson wentz, 4.0%

Wentz is on the border of qualifying at 4.0%. Aaron Rodgers' 2011 most closely resembles Wentz' historic combination of touchdown and interception rates. The good news is Rodgers in 2012 regressed less than 2% in each category the following season, posting 67% completion rate, 39 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Wentz is the most insulated regression candidate for 2018.

*Jacoby Brissett is also on the list at 3.8% but is a question mark to qualify for attempts in 2018*

2018 QUARTERBACKS: MOVING DOWN

The lone two qualifies from 2017 with 250+ attempts are Deshone Kizer and Trevor Siemian, both earmarked for backup duties with their team changes this offseason. Marcus Mariota is the closest regression candidate to the 9.5% line at 8.7% a year ago. Mariota is one of the best overall regression candidates in a positive direction with his touchdown rate likely to rise and being near the positive regression line for interceptions.