We all know the value of touchdowns in fantasy football. We also know how futile it can be to try and project them. However, there are a few ways we can attempt to see if a player scored an abnormally high, or abnormally low number of touchdowns depending on their other production. This TD regression just relies on the simple concept of “regression to the mean”. I decided to take all players who caught at least 60 passes last year, which happens to be 50 players and see how often touchdowns were caught relative to other passes. This left me with several players who will almost certainly score more touchdowns, along with some who are likely going to see a dip in the touchdown department. Now, because touchdowns are so volatile, this isn’t a fool-proof exercise, but it can give us a good idea whose production is sustainable, and who will have a hard time scoring at the same pace.
Likely to Decrease Touchdowns
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
I feel like this one is just a bit too easy to point out, but nonetheless, Doug Baldwin had the highest TD rate in my entire sample. On average, the 50 players I sampled caught a touchdown every 14.5 receptions. Baldwin caught a touchdown every 5.6 receptions. That rate simply cannot be sustained. Baldwin scored 14 touchdowns, but if he followed the average rate, he would have scored between 5 and 6 touchdowns, which would cost him approximately 50 points. This would have knocked him out of the top 20 wide receivers in both standard and PPR formats. I think Baldwin will likely exceed the 5 or 6 touchdowns that he would be forecasted for using this model, but 14 seems exceedingly unrepeatable. So while this may seem like an obvious choice, the numbers overwhelmingly suggest that Baldwin simply can’t score the way he did last season, barring some unforeseen (and massive) increase in receptions.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Let me get something straight: Allen Robinson is great. He’s extremely talented, and in a fantastic position to grow long-term with QB Blake Bortles. But, quite similar to Doug Baldwin, Robinson caught a touchdown every 5.7 receptions, more than twice as often as all players to catch at least 60 passes. Also, with the Jaguars likely sporting a much-improved defense, there will likely be fewer shootouts for the Jags, something that will not benefit Robinson given that 11 of his 14 touchdowns came when the Jaguars were behind. Robinson is a wildly talented player, and he could very well see an increase in receptions and yardage. But if you are chasing his 14 touchdowns, you may be left disappointed.
Likely to Increase Touchdowns
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
This is the result that shocked me the most. I knew Ertz didn’t catch a ton of TD’s. But compared to the average of one touchdown every 14.5 catches, Ertz scored every 37.5 receptions. This put him more than 3 standard deviations away from the sample’s TD rate. In statistics, 3 standard deviations are extremely significant. Ertz was also the number two tight end over the last 4 weeks of the season in PPR settings, despite only scoring one touchdown in that span. With such a low TD rate, it’s hard to imagine Ertz scoring fewer times if he gets even close to last years production. Ertz wasn’t a player I had previously been targeting, but after running these numbers, he’s a player who is beginning to intrigue me as the season comes closer (and this is coming from someone with a disdain for Sam Bradford).
Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even just taking a look at Evans’ past two seasons, it seems likely that he will see an increase from the mere 3 touchdowns he scored in 2015. He gained 155 more yards in 2015 than in 2014 but saw his touchdowns fall off from 12 to a lowly 3. Evans scored every 24.66 receptions in 2015, a rate 10 catches slower than the average player in my sample. He will also profit from the step forward Jameis Winston will likely take in his second year, as well as from a decrease in his drop rate, something he has focused on this offseason. Through both regression to the mean, and growth as a player, you can surely expect Evans to score more than 3 touchdowns in 2016.
Overall, the morale of this is that touchdowns are highly volatile and extremely difficult to forecast. A player who scored 14 touchdowns the year before, isn’t likely to repeat that unless they are immensely talented and in a prime opportunity. But taking a look at these above players can help to make educated decisions, and not chase unsustainable scoring.