7 Wide Receiver Touchdown Regression Candidates

7 Wide Receiver Touchdown Regression Candidates

By TJ Hernandez (Director of DFS), last update Jan 29, 2019

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

Follow TJ Hernandez on Twitter: @TJHernandez.

In the first two parts of this series, I’ve examined Red Zone Expected Value (Red Zone EV) for tight ends and quarterbacks in hopes of uncovering potential touchdown regression candidates. Red Zone EV is a metric designed to quantify how many points a player should score from red zone touchdowns based on the starting field position of every red zone opportunity—since its inception, Red Zone EV has proven to accurately predict which players will see their touchdown rates revert to the mean at an astounding rate.

More Touchdown Regression CandidatesTE | QB | RB

Of course, not all red zone opportunities are created equal—a target to a wide receiver, for example, has a much different scoring expectation than a target to a running back. The following table lists the expected value for all wide receiver red zone targets:

Expected Value of a Wide Receiver Red Zone Target, 2015–2017
Starting Yard Line % Chance of a TD EV of a Target
20 – 16 11.9% 0.71
15 – 11 16.3% 0.98
10 – 6 29.4% 1.76
5 – 1 42.2% 2.53

History has shown that touchdowns and scoring rates are among the most volatile statistics for wide receivers. With this knowledge in hand, we can look at scoring rates from last season as an indicator of players who might see a significant change in the touchdown column in 2018 due to natural regression.

After compiling every red zone target for each wide receiver in the league from 2017, I calculated each receiver’s Red Zone EV and compared that number to the actual points that they generated from red zone touchdowns. The differential between those numbers will highlight receivers who 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 - 4.7% of targets
League Average Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 23.7% of targets

Sammy Watkins, Chiefs

2017 Touchdown Rate - 11.4%; Career - 7.2%
2017 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 70.0%; Career - 39.4%
2017 Red Zone EV - 16; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 42

Since coming into the league in 2014, only one player has converted red zone targets into touchdowns at a higher rate than Sammy Watkins, but he shouldn’t be anointed Eric Decker 2.0 just yet—Watkins has just 33 red zone targets in his career and over half of his career scores inside the 20 came last season. To expect Watkins to maintain his touchdown upside ignores his volume, or lack thereof, near the goal line. Although he did score 30 percent of the Rams’ red zone receiving touchdowns last year, Watkins saw just 12 percent of his team’s targets inside the 20.

For Watkins to approach his 2017 touchdown numbers, he’ll need to see an increase in red zone targets or score more often from deep. Both are possible. Watkins is joining a Chiefs offense that ranked fourth in passing rate inside the red zone last season, compared to the Rams offense that ranked 24th. Whether Kansas City continues throwing at such a rate with an inexperienced quarterback is to be determined. 

What Patrick Mahomes can do is throw deep and Watkins was unable to capitalize in that department last season. Although Watkins ranked 10th among pass-catchers in average depth of target (min 65 targets) his average length of touchdown ranked just 34th (minimum 5 receiving touchdowns). Still, Watkins will be in an offense where he figures to be third in the target pecking order. Even if he is a great match with Mahomes, Watkins doesn’t figure to command the volume needed to come close to another eight-touchdown season, given normal touchdown rates. 

Stefon Diggs, Vikings

2017 Touchdown Rate - 8.4%; Career - 5.2%
2017 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 53.8%; Career - 27.3%
2017 Red Zone EV - 18.4; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 42

Only one wide receiver scored more red zone touchdowns than Stefon Diggs last season but Diggs ranked just 24th at his position in red zone targets—these are the type of discrepancies that should raise red flags. While it was masked by his scoring rate, one of the biggest concerns regarding Diggs’ upside in 2017 was the Vikings’ red zone tendencies. Minnesota ranked 30th in red zone passing rate and that was with Dalvin Cook out for most of the season. The addition of Kirk Cousins could swing those numbers but Cook’s presence figures to prevent an astronomical change. 

Even if Diggs can maintain his current career red zone touchdown rate, which is well above average, he’d need to double his red zone volume to match his touchdown numbers from 2017.

Jarvis Landry, Browns

2017 Touchdown Rate - 5.6%; Career - 3.9%
2017 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 39.1%; Career - 27.5%
2017 Red Zone EV - 36.8; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 54

One of the biggest early-career knocks on Jarvis Landry was limited touchdown upside but he silenced that criticism last year by leading all wide receivers in red zone touchdowns with nine. While the result was great for fantasy purposes, Landry should have scored roughly six touchdowns based on the starting field position of his red zone targets. Prior to 2017, Landry had converted just over 21 percent of his red zone targets into scores—it’s unlikely Landry suddenly became one of the best red zone targets in the league. What’s more probable is that he exhibited his absolute ceiling in 2017.

In addition to his probable reversion in scoring rate, Landry is changing teams and figures to see a decline in role—two situations that rarely bode well for a receiver. While Landry ranked fourth in targets last season, the Browns now have five players who averaged at least 5.5 targets per game in 2017—only four teams supported four players that averaged at least 5.5 targets per game last year and none had five such players.  

The crowded receiving corps is surely a concern but Landry could also see a dip in volume with Tyrod Taylor as his quarterback. Since becoming a starter, Taylor has thrown over the middle just 16.8 percent of the time, the lowest rate of any passer with at least 200 attempts since the beginning of 2015. It’s true Taylor has never had a slot receiver of Landry’s skill level but not throwing over the middle may just be a trait of the scrambling quarterback—of the 11 quarterbacks who have averaged at least 40 rushes per year since 2015, only Blake Bortles has thrown over the middle at a rate above the league average. 

Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates

Continue reading to see which four wide receivers TJ believes are in line for positive touchdown regression and who should score more fantasy points in 2018 than last season...

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