4 Tight End Touchdown Regression Candidates
This is the final installment of my four-part series looking at which players at each position are the most likely to see significant regression this year in their touchdown numbers. I have already researched quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers.
This series is based on Red Zone Expected Value (Red Zone EV), a metric that uses starting field position to calculate 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 (% Chance of TD * 6)|
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 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 and Red Zone EV scores from the previous season to help pinpoint players that might regress, either positively or negatively, in the touchdown column.
Negative Touchdown Regression Candidates
League Average Touchdown Rate - 5.0% of targets
League Average Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 27.5% of targets
2016 Touchdown Rate - 15.1%
2016 Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 43.8%
2016 Red Zone EV - 29; Actual Points Scored from Red Zone Touchdowns - 48
No tight end in football had more red zone touchdowns than Hunter Henry, despite him ranking just sixth at the position in red zone targets. While there is a precedent for Henry to maintain his red zone scoring rate over a large sample, the odds are stacked against him. Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas are the only tight ends in history with a career red zone touchdown rate over 40% on at least 50 targets. Henry’s teammate, Antonio Gates, has converted 36% of his career red zone looks from Philip Rivers into scores.
What’s really alarming is the overall rate at which Henry scored as a rookie. Only three active tight ends have a career touchdown rate above 10%, which Henry could easily fall to, but a more likely scenario is that Henry’s rate regresses closer to the 8.3% rate that Gates has posted in his career. If that proves to be the case, Henry would have to nearly double his target total from last season (53) to approach similar touchdown numbers. On a team that suddenly has a ton of mouths to feed, commanding a huge target share could be a tall task for the second-year tight end.
Continue reading for one more negative regression candidate and two more positive regression candidates...