4 Tight End Touchdown Regression Candidates
For tight ends, touchdowns are among the most volatile year-to-year stat, and the rate at which tight ends score touchdowns varies even more. One of the biggest reasons that touchdown stats are so unstable from one year to the next is that tight ends rarely see a large enough sample of targets near the goal line in a single season to represent their true scoring ability. Because of their low volume, just a couple of touchdowns or missed opportunities can swing scoring rates for the entire season.
Just because touchdowns and scoring rates are inconsistent doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t predictable, though. The swings in scoring rates mean that most tight ends' touchdown efficiency is likely to regress to the mean -- either to the league average mean or to their individual mean -- if there is a large enough sample.
Equipped with this knowledge, we can look at touchdown rates from the previous season to help pinpoint players that might regress, either positively or negatively, in the touchdown column.
Red Zone Expected Value
In the first part of this series, I introduced a metric called Red Zone Expected Value (RZEV). Based on starting field position, every play has a different chance of scoring a touchdown. RZEV calculates the odds of scoring for every play and assigns each player a score that reflects expected points from touchdowns generated by plays inside the red zone.
The following table lists the expected value for all tight end red zone targets:
|Starting Yard Line||% Chance of a TD||EV of a Target|
After compiling every red zone target for every tight end in the league from 2015, I calculated each tight end’s RZEV and compared that number to the actual points that they generated from red zone touchdowns. The differential in those numbers will highlight tight ends that scored more often or less often than they should have in the red zone, based on starting field position.
Negative Touchdown Regression Candidates
League Average Touchdown Rate - 5.5% of targets
League Average Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 30.1% of targets
Tyler Eifert, Bengals
2015 Touchdown Rate - 17.8%; Career - 11%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 68.8%; Career - 52.2%
2015 RZEV - 30.5; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 66
Over the last five seasons, 413 players (non-QB) have scored at least 150 PPR points, and only three of those players relied on touchdowns for a higher percentage of their fantasy points than Eifert in 2015. Those very touchdowns that catapulted Eifert to a TE6 finish in just 13 games are likely unrepeatable without a significant bump in volume, as no skill player scored more points over expectation in the red zone last season than the Bengals’ tight end.
In order for Eifert to match his 2015 touchdown totals, his red zone target share would need a significant bump -- regression to even his career red zone touchdown rate would require Eifert to see roughly 30 percent of the team’s red zone looks, assuming that Cincinnati reached the 72 red zone pass attempts they had in 2015.
Considering that Rob Gronkowski has converted 46 percent of his career red zone targets into touchdowns, the most likely scenario is that Eifert‘s touchdown rate regresses even below his career average, which is heavily weighted by 2015 anyway. There is a chance that the Bengals’ lean more on Eifert in the red zone in 2016, as the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left 30 percent of the team’s red zone targets vacated.
Jordan Reed, Redskins
2015 Touchdown Rate - 9.7%; Career - 5.9%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 43.5%; Career - 31.7%
2015 RZEV - 40.1; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 60
Since 2002, 31 tight ends that have seen at least 20 red zone targets in a season and only three of those players converted their targets into touchdowns at a higher rate than Reed did last year. Reed’s 2015 RZEV matched Gronk’s 2015 RZEV almost exactly, but the Redskins’ tight end found the end zone three more times than the most dominant red zone threat in the league.
Not only is Reed’s scoring rate likely to fall, but it will also be tough for him to maintain his red zone target share. Though he led all tight ends in percentage of team red zone targets (27.3%) and ranked ninth among all pass catchers in the category, red zone target share is among the most volatile year-to-year statistics for tight ends. With the addition of Josh Doctson and a healthy DeSean Jackson (don’t forget about Niles Paul, too), Reed will surely lose at least a few red zone opportunities in 2016.
Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates
Jared Cook, Packers
2015 Touchdown Rate - 0%; Career - 3.4%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 0%; Career - 17%
2015 RZEV - 11.4; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 0
Last season, Cook saw as many red zone targets as Julius Thomas and Martellus Bennett and more than Eric Ebron, but Cook failed to find the end zone even once. Much of Cook’s red zone struggles last year, and throughout his career, can be attributed to horrid quarterback play.
Now with Green Bay, Cook will get the opportunity to rectify his red zone woes with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. The Packers haven’t had a dominant tight end threat recently, but with Rodgers under center, Green Bay tight ends have converted 32 percent of their red zone looks into scores.
Zach Ertz, Eagles
2015 Touchdown Rate - 1.8%; Career - 3.5%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 11.1%; Career - 17.9%
2015 RZEV - 16.8; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 6
With just 27 career red zone targets, it appears that Ertz has been a victim of short-term bad luck. Since Ertz entered the league, 43 tight ends have seen at least 25 red zone targets and only one (Brandon Myers) has a lower red zone touchdown rate than the Eagles’ tight end.
Of all the positive touchdown regression candidates in this series, Zach Ertz may be the least likely player to overcome his apparent misfortune, though. Not only will Ertz be catching passes from either the woefully inefficient Sam Bradford (Geno Smith is the only active signal caller with a lower career red zone touchdown rate than Bradford) or rookie Carson Wentz, but Doug Pederson will now be calling the offensive plays in Philadelphia.
Under Chip Kelly, the Eagles targeted the tight end on 31 percent of red zone plays, but Pederson looked up the tight end just 25 percent of the time inside the 20 in the same time period. The caveat here is that Philly used Ertz and Brent Celek almost equally under Chip, while Pederson relied almost exclusively on Travis Kelce. Ertz’ best chance at seeing a big jump in touchdown totals is that he absorbs most of the red zone work that Celek has vultured in the past. Based on reports earlier in the summer, that could come to fruition.
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