7 Wide Receiver Touchdown Regression Candidates
When it comes to wide receivers, no volume stat carries less weight from one year to the next than touchdowns, and the rate at which receivers score touchdowns from year to year varies even more. With the knowledge that touchdown rates are likely to regress to some mean -- either the league average or an individual's average, given a large enough sample -- we can look at scoring rates from last season as an indicator of players that might see a significant change in the touchdown column in 2016.
Red Zone Expected Value
Earlier in this series, I introduced a metric called Red Zone Expected Value (RZEV). The chance of scoring a touchdown changes depending on where a play starts and these percentages change across positions as well. 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 wide receiver red zone targets:
|Starting Yard Line||% Chance of a TD||EV of a Target|
After compiling every red zone target for every wide receiver in the league from 2015, I calculated each receiver’s RZEV and compared that number to the actual points that they generated from red zone touchdowns. The differential in those numbers will highlight receivers 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 - 4.9% of targets
League Average Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 24.5% of targets
2015 Touchdown Rate - 9.3%; Career - 6.9%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 57.1%; Career - 44.4%
2015 RZEV - 38.6; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 72
When you find out that 81 percent of Allen Robinson’s red zone targets in 2015 came from inside the 10-yard line, you might think that it makes sense that he scored so many touchdowns last season. Even with that many targets near the goal line, A-Rob still scored well over expectation, converting 59 percent of his looks from inside the 10 into scores, almost 15 percentage points above the league average.
Robinson seemingly fits the profile of a receiver that will dominate in the red zone over the course of his career, but with just 26 career targets inside the 20, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect the Jaguars’ receiver to find the end zone at the rate that he has through his first two seasons -- arguably the best red zone threat in the game, Dez Bryant, has converted 40 percent of his career red zone looks into scores. After Bryant, the only receiver with any decent sample and a career red zone touchdown rate over 35 percent is Eric Decker.
Combine Robinson's likely regression in touchdown rate with the fact that 20 of Jacksonville’s 35 passing touchdowns last season came while trailing by at least seven points, and it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Robinson matches his touchdown total from 2015.
2015 Touchdown Rate - 8.1%; Career - 5.4%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 40%; Career - 28%
2015 RZEV - 35.6; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 60
Over the last 10 seasons, 33 wide receivers have posted a touchdown rate of eight percent or higher on at least 100 targets. Only five of those receivers met or exceeded their touchdown rate the following season, and the average receiver saw a 3.4 percent drop off the next year. Given his career touchdown rate, a similar decline in scoring rate could very well be in line for Brandon Marshall in 2016.
Marshall's RZEV suggests that he should have scored four fewer red zone touchdowns than he actually did, and if the Jets decide not to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, Marshall could struggle to repeat his performance from last season.
2015 Touchdown Rate - 13.6%; Career - 7.1%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 41.2%; Career - 34%
2015 RZEV - 20.7; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 42
Randy Moss is the only player in the last 15 years to post a touchdown rate higher than the one that Doug Baldwin posted in 2015 (minimum 100 targets), and no wide receiver last season posted a touchdown rate further above their career average than Baldwin.
Just as surprising as Baldwin's overall touchdown success, was the rate at which he scored from inside the red zone. Even with 71 percent of his red zone targets coming from outside the 10-yard line, Baldwin still converted over 40 percent of his red zone looks from inside the 20. Russell Wilson may be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in recent history, but even he can’t prop up a receiver to score as consistently as Baldwin did last year over the long term.
For the Seahawks receiver to approach top-10 fantasy numbers again, Seattle would have to shift to a much more pass-heavy offense and Baldwin would have to maintain his target share in an offense that will likely look to get Tyler Lockett, Jimmy Graham, and C.J. Prosise involved in the passing game.
2015 Touchdown Rate - 6.2%; Career - 5.7%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 44.4%; Career - 28.3%
2015 RZEV - 28.6; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 48
With a 2015 red zone touchdown rate 16 points over his career average, no receiver exceeded expectations in the red zone more than Larry Fitzgerald. Similar to Allen Robinson, Fitz benefited from a huge portion of his red zone looks (67 percent) coming from inside the 10-yard line, and a touchdown conversion rate of 58 percent on those targets.
While it will be difficult for Fitz to maintain his scoring pace, especially since his quarterback is a candidate to regress as well, maybe just as big of a concern is Fitzgerald’s red zone volume down the stretch last season. Once David Johnson took over as the full-time starter, Fitz saw just two targets inside the 10-yard line while Johnson was looked to eight times inside the 10. Additionally, John Brown led the team in red zone targets over that same time span. Considering Fitzgerald's large body of work, and the competition for touches in the Cardinals’ offense, his touchdowns are almost sure to drop in 2016.
Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates
2015 Touchdown Rate - 2.4%; Career - 3.2%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 13%; Career - 21.6%
2015 RZEV - 41.3; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 18
Jarvis Landry scored the most points below RZEV (23.4) in 2015, and it wasn’t close. Not only did 70 percent of Landry’s red zone targets come from inside the 10-yard line, but 11 came from inside the five. Despite favorable field position and the second largest team red zone target share in the league, Landry mustered just three red zone scores last season.
There’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation here, as Ryan Tannehill performed well below expectation himself, but given Landry’s red zone volume, even a bad receiver should expect to score at least a couple more touchdowns.
With Adam Gase now calling plays, there’s a real possibility that Landry loses a lot of his volume near the goal line, but regression in his touchdown rate would mean that Landry could match his 2015 fantasy numbers even if he does see fewer looks near the end zone.
2015 Touchdown Rate - 2%; Career - 5.5%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 11.8%; Career - 25%
2015 RZEV - 25.1; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 12
After converting over a third of his red zone looks into scores as a rookie, Mike Evans struggled in the red zone in his sophomore campaign. One might argue that Evans’ 2016 was an example of regression after his great rookie year, but his true scoring efficiency probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Although Evans RZEV matched that of a player like Odell Beckham, the Bucs’ receiver posted the same number of red zone touchdowns as Brian Hartline. An increase in scoring rate and a breakout candidate under center will likely boost Evans’ third-year touchdown numbers.
2015 Touchdown Rate - 3.4%; Career - 6.2%
2015 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 15%; Career - 21.7%
2015 RZEV - 28.2; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 18
Figuring out Demaryius Thomas’ true skill level is a bit difficult since most of his career is tied to good Peyton Manning. Last season, Thomas got bad Peyton, and their touchdown numbers reflected that. Thomas saw the ninth highest red zone target share in the league in 2015, but 41 players caught more red zone touchdowns than the Broncos' receiver.
Only 40 percent of Thomas’ red zone targets came from inside the 10, but his RZEV suggests that he should have caught at least one or two more touchdowns. While that might not seem like a lot, two more scores would have put DT’s end of season fantasy numbers closer to Allen Robinson than where he actually finished, in a virtual tie with Jarvis Landry.