4 Tight End Touchdown Regression Candidates
Red Zone Expected Value Overview
In 2015, I introduced Red Zone Expected Value (Red Zone EV), a metric designed to help quantify a player’s scoring expectation based on the starting field position of every play that takes place inside the red zone. Most touchdowns happen inside the 20 but analysts continue to refer to blanket red zone numbers like the 20-yard line as some magic threshold to cross. The fact is that a pass from the 1-yard line doesn’t have the same scoring expectation as a run from the 19. Red Zone EV is designed to sift through that mess, breaking touchdown expectation down by position and type of play.
More Touchdown Regression Candidates: QB
For example, over the last three seasons, a pass play that starts between the opponent's 16- and 20-yard line has an 11.2% chance of scoring a touchdown, resulting in an expected value of 0.67 points scored per pass attempt (6 points per touchdown * 0.112), whereas a pass play that starts inside the 5-yard line has a Red Zone EV of 2.60 (43.4% touchdown rate).
Using this methodology, we have been able to pinpoint touchdown regression at an incredible rate. Over the last three seasons, 23 players have been pinpointed as negative regression candidates and played at least eight games the following season—all 23 of those players saw their overall touchdown rate drop by at least 1.2% with an average drop off of 3.75%. Of the 20 players expected to revert positively to the mean with at least half a season's worth of play, 15 saw an uptick in touchdown rate, increasing by an average of 1.4%.
Tight End Red Zone EV
As mentioned in the introduction, each position has different scoring expectations. The following table lists the expected value for all tight end red zone targets, based on starting field position:
|Starting Yard Line||% Chance of a TD||EV of a Target|
|20 – 16||13.4%||0.80|
|15 – 11||23.2%||1.39|
|10 – 6||30.7%||1.84|
|5 – 1||46.9%||2.82|
For tight ends, touchdowns are among the most volatile year-to-year stats, and the rate at which tight ends score touchdowns varies even more. One of the biggest reasons 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 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 individual touchdown rates and Red Zone EV scores from the previous season to help pinpoint players who might regress, either positively or negatively, in the touchdown column.
Negative Touchdown Regression Candidates
League Average Touchdown Rate, 2016–2018: 5.4% of targets
League Average Red Zone Touchdown Rate, 2016–2018: 28.3% of targets
2018 Touchdown Rate - 11.8%; Career - 6.0%
2018 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 52.4%; Career - 37.7%
2018 Red Zone EV - 32.5; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 66
Since targets became an official stat in 1992, there have been 126 instances of a tight end with at least 100 targets in a season and Eric Ebron’s touchdown rate in 2018 was the second-highest ever in that group. Much of this has to do with how much Ebron overachieved in the red zone—based on the starting field position of Ebron’s red zone targets, he had an expectation of 5–6 scores but hauled in 11 touchdowns inside the 20. Sure, Ebron would have dropped just one spot in 2018 end-of-season rankings if he had scored at expectation, but drafters should be cautious about projecting a repeat season in 2019.
Beyond natural scoring regression, there is also concern about whether Ebron can even maintain his volume from last season. Jack Doyle is just a year removed from a top-10 PPR season and should be back to full health in 2019 while the addition of Devin Funchess brings another red zone threat. Rookie Parris Campbell has the potential to be the starting slot man for Indianapolis from day one, throwing another mouth to feed into the mix. Early drafters are showing some doubt about a repeat season, with Ebron going off the board as the TE8 across multiple sites but 4for4 is even more bearish, ranking the Colts tight end 14th at his position in PPR leagues.
2018 Touchdown Rate - 10.4% (Howard), 12.2% (Brate); Career - 12.6%, 9.7%
2018 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 57.1%, 50.0%; Career - 50.0%, 44.9%
2018 Red Zone EV - 12.3, 20.3; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 24, 36
As a unit, Tampa Bay’s tight ends finished sixth in PPR scoring last season but that was aided by inflated scoring rates. League-average red zone scoring suggested 5–6 touchdowns combined for the Bucs’ tight end duo but Howard and Brate brought down 10 total scores inside the 20. The caveat here is that Brate’s usage largely came after a season-ending injury to Howard—through the first 11 weeks of last season, Howard saw nearly twice as many targets as Brate, playing 61% of team snaps compared to Brate’s 36%.
Back healthy in 2019, Howard is expected to return to his dominant snap share and will look to have a more expanded role with DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries no longer on the team. While Howard’s scoring rates are sure to regress, he is one of the rare regression candidates that should make up for it with volume and there is evidence that he might be headed toward elite efficiency. Brate, meanwhile, will likely have to score at a ridiculously flukey rate to maintain fantasy relevance this season.
Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates
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