Fantasy: Regression Alert!

| November 3, 2011

It’s that time of the year again.

Each NFL season, I wait until the Week 8 games are complete to break out my first Touchdown Regression piece of the year. Eight weeks gives us a pretty solid sample size of data, but also is near the midway point of the NFL regular season, which allows us to find players who are overvalued and undervalued prior to the trade deadline in most Fantasy Football leagues.

I won’t explain the concept at length again, but I will link to my previous studies here in a minute. In a nutshell, the idea is that players with extremely high touchdown rates will see those numbers decline in the near future. On the other hand, players with extremely low touchdown rates will generally see an influx of scores over the following few weeks.

I’ve written a handful of TD Regression articles over the last year with the first one coming during this exact week one year ago. In that piece, I did what I’ll be doing today. I analyzed the TD rates of 22 different players and made predictions as to what their rate would be at the end of the regular season. I checked in on that piece just under a month later and saw a success rate of 95%. After the season concluded, I recapped the rest of the season in full and found a 91% success rate. I also made some predictions for 2011 and later updated that list in the 2011 PFF Fantasy Draft Guide (we’ll check in on that piece here shortly). Later in the off-season, I went category-by-category ( Passing , Rushing , Receiving) to study how often regression has kicked in since 2008. The results were very telling.

Test  Samples  Success  Success%
WR/TE Down 19 21 90%
WR/TE Up 16 17 94%
RB Down 22 24 92%
RB Up 14 17 82%
QB Down 10 15 67%
QB Up 8 10 80%
Total 89 104 86%

As you can see, predicting that extreme rush and receiving touchdowns will regress isn’t very hard. They regress about 90% of the time. Passing scores aren’t as easy, but we still see a 72% rate.

Before we jump into my predictions for the second half of 2011, let’s take a look at the players I covered in my Regression piece in the Draft Guide and see how well I’m faring so far this season:

Predicted an Increase:
Player Stat 2010 2011 Rate Verdict
Sam Bradford TD/Att 3.1% 1.5% Miss
Colt McCoy TD/Att 2.7% 3.1% Hit
Chad Henne TD/Att 3.1% 3.6% Hit
Felix Jones TD/Car 0.5% 1.6% Hit
Shonn Greene TD/Car 1.3% 1.8% Hit
Jonathan Stewart TD/Car 1.1% 2.8% Hit
DeAngelo Williams TD/Car 1.1% 1.3% Hit
Reggie Wayne TD/Rec 5.4% 2.9% Miss
Brandon Marshall TD/Rec 3.5% 2.6% Miss
Steve Breaston TD/Rec 2.1% 9.1% Hit
Owen Daniels TD/Rec 5.3% 9.7% Hit
Visanthe Shiancoe TD/Rec 4.3% 8.7% Hit
Jared Cook TD/Rec 3.4% 13.3% Hit
Predicted a Decrease:
Player Stat 2010 2011 Rate Verdict
Tom Brady TD/Att 7.1% 6.6% Hit
David Garrard TD/Att 6.3% NA NA
Matt Cassel TD/Att 5.8% 4.5% Hit
Tim Tebow TD/Att 6.1% 5.3% Hit
Arian Foster TD/Car 4.9% 3.0% Hit
Brandon Jacobs TD/Car 6.1% 4.8% Hit
BenJarvus Green-Ellis TD/Car 5.5% 5.2% Hit
Kenny Britt TD/Rec 21.4% 17.6% Hit
Dwayne Bowe TD/Rec 20.8% 12.1% Hit
Mike A. Williams TD/Rec 17.2% 3.2% Hit
Rob Gronkowski TD/Rec 21.7% 13.9% Hit
Antonio Gates TD/Rec 20.0% 5.9% Hit
Marcedes Lewis TD/Rec 17.2% 0.0% Hit

See what I mean? Any study that ends with an 88% success rate is something worth taking seriously. Of the 26 predictions I made, 25 were able to be analyzed. Our only exception was Free Agent David Garrard. Of those 25, 22 went the direction I predicted. Some players have seen major shifts, while others have seen minor changes. Our three misses were all in the first part of the chart, which means that all 13 players I expected to regress to a lower TD rate came through. The three misses were Sam Bradford, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Marshall. Bradford is injured, so there’s some bad luck involved there. With Brandon Lloyd now in the picture, he could easily turn to a hit over the next nine weeks. Wayne is likely a lost cause considering the Peyton Manning disaster, but he still has a chance to get over the 5.4% mark. Marshall is becoming a regular on this list. He’s a heavily-targeted possession receiver in a bad offense, so I guess this isn’t too surprising.

So far, so good, but we still have half a season to go before the results are finalized.

Now, let’s move on to the good stuff. For this year’s predictions, I made a slight tweak. Instead of using TD/Pass Attempt for quarterbacks and TD/Receptions for pass catchers, I’ll be using TD/Aimed Pass (removes throw aways, spikes, etc.) and TD/Targets. I’ll still be using TD/Carry for backs. In terms of a sample size, I studied only quarterbacks with 150+ Aimed Passes, running backs with 75+ looks (carries + targets), wide receivers with 40+ targets, and tight ends with 25+ targets (plus Scott Chandler).

Here we go.

Quarterbacks

Going Up:

Rams Sam Bradford (3 TD, 170 Passes = 1.8%) – We kick off with the aforementioned Bradford, who was on the list of players I expected to see improvement from in the TD department this season. It hasn’t transpired, mainly because the Rams have been terrible on both sides of the ball. However, Steven Jackson is now healthy and Brandon Lloyd is in the mix. The drop issues that Bradford suffered through earlier in the year will be less of an issue when he returns from his current injury. Expect a much better rate down the stretch. Rest of Season Prediction: 2.8%

Bucs Josh Freeman (7 TD, 257 Passes = 2.7%) – Last year, Freeman’s wide receiver (Mike Williams) and tight end (Kellen Winslow) were both covered in various regression pieces. Williams’ rate was huge and Winslow’s was low. Both make this list here today, but both are on the low side this time. Not surprisingly, that has put Freeman on our radar as a player with a very low TD rate. The Bucs are 24th in the league in offensive touchdowns with a pass:rush ratio of 7:5. Not only should that ratio spread out a bit more, the Bucs should also be expected to score a few more touchdowns than they’ve been. Freeman’s mark was 5.7% in 2010. Rest of Season Prediction: 3.3%

Chargers Philip Rivers (7 TD, 240 Passes = 2.9%) – Easily one of the season’s biggest disappointments thus far – Fantasy and real life, Rivers’ TD rate is well below where it normally is. He posted a 7.9% mark in 2008 and a 6.0% mark each of the last two seasons. His seven scores this season puts him on pace for 16 for the year, which would be significantly lower than the 32 he’s averaged over the last three seasons. With Antonio Gates now healthy, expect Rivers to find the endzone more often. Rest of Season Prediction: 4.2%

Going Down:

Packers Aaron Rodgers (20 TD, 230 Passes = 8.7%) – As great as Rodgers has been this season, his TD rate is going to decline as the year progresses. It’s simply not a sustainable rate, even when you’re playing in the league’s most efficient offense. Rodgers had a 5.6% mark in 2008 before improving to 6.2% in 2009 and 6.4% in 2010. Among quarterbacks with 150 aimed passes this year, Matt Stafford’s 7.0% is the next closest mark to Rodgers’ 8.7%. The Packers have scored 25 offensive touchdowns, but only five of them were of the rushing variety. Expect more rushing and fewer passing scores for the Packers going forward. Rest of Season Prediction: 7.1%

Jets Mark Sanchez (12 TD, 214 Passes = 5.6%) – On our list of 28 quarterbacks with 150+ Aimed Passes this year, Sanchez ranks eighth with a 5.6% TD rate. It’s not too ridiculous of a number, but it isn’t one we’re used to from Sanchez. In each of his first two NFL seasons, he put up a 4.0% mark. The Jets started out as a pass-first offense this year, but they’re back to the ground and pound. Top tailback Shonn Greene barely missed the cut for this piece with a 1.6% TD rate so you know who will benefit from Sanchez’s impending decline. Rest of Season Prediction: 4.6%

Running Backs

Going Up:

Titans Chris Johnson (1 TD, 142 Looks = 0.7%) – Say what you want about Chris Johnson’s ineffectiveness this season, but the fact remains that he’s been unlucky in the scoring department. He’s racked up 33 rushing TDs and another four through the receiving game over the last three seasons, but has only one total score in 2011. His 3.3% TD/Carry mark since 2008 isn’t overly impressive, but it’s still above the league average for running backs. Even if he plays fewer snaps, he has nowhere to go but up in terms of per-play effectiveness. Rest of Season Prediction: 1.9%

Packers James Starks (1 TD, 106 Looks = 0.9%) – Starks’ commentary goes hand-in-hand with Aaron Rodgers’ from earlier. The Packers are scoring offensive touchdowns at will, but they’ve mostly been at the hand of the team’s quarterback. Left out have been the tailbacks. It’s worth noting that Starks scored on only 0.9% of his 2010 carries (albeit in a small 83-carry sample size). However, Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson had each scored on over 2.0% of their carries from 2008-to-2010 with the Packers. Additionally, John Kuhn scored five times in 2010 while working as a tailback. The Packers will always lean on Rodgers first in the redzone, but the pass:run TD ratio will get a bit closer as the year progresses. Starks will benefit. Rest of Season Prediction: 1.9%

Jaguars Maurice Jones-Drew (3 TD, 185 Looks = 1.6%) – Jones-Drew is a bold name to include here because he’s playing in such a poor offense. In fact, his 1.7% TD/Carry rate from 2010 is actually worse than his 2011 mark of 1.8%. However, in 2010, MJD caught a pair of touchdowns, as well. All three of his 2011 touchdowns have been on the ground. It’s hard to predict a league average TD rate for MJD going forward, but I suspect it will be higher than the 1.6% mark he has currently. Rest of Season Prediction: 1.8%

Bears Matt Forte (3 TD, 170 Looks = 1.8%) – Although Matt Forte is on pace for 1,536 rushing yards and 958 receiving yards, he’s scored only three total touchdowns this season. He’s never been much of a scoring machine, but he does have a 2.1% TD/Rush mark since 2008, which works out to about six rushing scores per season. Additionally, he scored seven receiving touchdowns from 2008 to 2010, but has only one this year on 46 targets. Expect a few more rushing touchdowns to go with the yardage going forward. Rest of Season Prediction: 2.1%

Going Down:

Chargers Mike Tolbert (5 TD, 79 Looks = 6.3%) – Tolbert scored on 6.0% of his carries in 2010, so this range is becoming the norm for him. Even better is the fact that Ryan Mathews is quickly taking over lead back duties, which means fewer carries between the 20s for Tolbert. Fewer total carries, but the same number inside the five means a higher TD rate for any back. Still, remember what I said about Rivers earlier. San Diego will score at a higher rate going forward, sure, but Rivers’ share of the touchdowns is going to go up at an even higher rate. Expect a slightly lower rate from Tolbert going forward. Rest of Season Prediction: 4.5%

Eagles LeSean McCoy (10 TD, 164 Looks = 6.1%) – I’ve been preaching regression for McCoy on Twitter since Week 2,  but he’s yet to fall off to this point. You’ll never get me to give in based off of results based analysis, however, so I’m sticking to my guns. McCoy has scored on 5.9% of his carries this year after posting 2.5% and 3.2% marks each of the last two seasons. Additionally, he failed to score a receiving touchdown in 2009 before scoring on 2.4% of his 82 catches in 2010. This season, he already has two receiving scores on just 23 receptions (8.7%). If there’s a slam dunk in this article for impending regression, it’s McCoy. Keep in mind that Michael Vick has failed to post a rushing touchdown this season after racking up 10 in 2010. Vick’s passing scores are down as well. Rest of Season Prediction: 4.4%

Cardinals Beanie Wells (7 TD, 120 Looks = 5.8%) – Arizona has scored 16 offensive touchdowns this season – 8 on the ground, 8 through the air. Teams rarely keep up 1:1 Rush:Pass TD ratios and it will be especially hard for the Cardinals, who run a pretty balanced offense. Wells is going to have a lot of trouble keeping up a 5.8% TD rate on 20 or so touches/game in an offense that is average at best. Rest of Season Prediction: 4.7%

Wide Receivers

Going Up:

Falcons Julio Jones (0 TD, 40 Targets = 0.0%) – The rookie Jones has been a Fantasy asset so far this season, but it’s been a product of the nine or so targets per game he’s seen. His owners have had to suffer through an injury that’s kept him out since midway through the team’s Week 5 game, but he should be back in Week 9. When he does return, watch for the touchdowns to start racking up. It’s almost unheard of for a player of Jones’ caliber and involvement in his offense to be shutout in the touchdown department. Buy now, celebrate later. Rest of Season Prediction: 3.6%

Browns Greg Little (0 TD, 49 Targets,= 0.0%) – Like Jones, Little is a star rookie receiver who is heavily involved in his team’s offense, but has yet to find the endzone. Unlike Jones, Little’s offense isn’t quite as effective, but he is arguably the team’s top target. Regardless, the story is still pretty much the same. Talented wideouts will find the endzone when they’re seeing a significant number of targets. Little is due. Rest of Season Prediction: 3.5%

Steelers Antonio Brown (1 TD, 61 Targets = 1.6%) – I happened to be in attendance for the Steelers victory over the Patriots in Week 8 and I’ll admit that I cringed a bit when Brown found the endzone. Why? Because I couldn’t wait to cover him in this piece! Brown’s score was his first of the season despite 61 targets. Those 61 targets rank him sixth in the league, ahead of even Mike Wallace. Brown isn’t exactly a big endzone target at 5’10”, but the targets alone will be enough to help him find paydirt more often. He’s a major buy…but wait until after this week’s game against the Ravens to trade for him. Rest of Season Prediction: 4.6%

Bucs Mike Williams (1 TD, 60 Targets = 1.7%) – It’s not often that we get to discuss a player who went from the ‘Going Down’ list to the ‘Going Up’ list after only two months. Williams fits the bill after posting a 9.0% TD mark (11 scores on 122 targets) as a rookie in 2010 before scoring on only one of his 60 targets so far in 2011. The Bucs offense should be able to find more scoring through the air (See Freeman, Josh above), which will benefit Williams the most. Rest of Season Prediction: 3.9%

Going Down:

Lions Calvin Johnson (11 TD, 71 Targets = 15.5%) – The next closest slam dunk to McCoy in the ‘Going Down’ category is Johnson, who has scored a ridiculous 11 times on 71 targets this season. The next closest wideout to his 15.5% mark is Plaxico Burress at 11.9% and those are the only two in the league over 10%. Although the Lions offense is better than it’s been in a long time, Johnson isn’t going to keep to scoring on over 23% of his catches. Consider that his TD/target mark was 8.2% in 2008, 3.8% in 2009, and 9.2% in 2010. Will he still score a lot? Yes, but it won’t be at his current pace. Rest of Season Prediction: 10.1%

Giants Victor Cruz (4 TD, 41 Targets = 9.8%) – Cruz has basically taken over Steve Smith’s old job in New York and he’s done a decent job. His touchdown rate, however, is due for a decline. Consider that Smith scored a grand total of 11 times over the 2008-to-2010 seasons despite 308 targets. Even if we only include the last two years, the numbers still only work out to a five touchdown per season average or a 4.5% TD/Target mark. Cruz has to compete with the much bigger and talented Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, as well as, emerging Jake Ballard for touchdowns. And that’s only in the passing game. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw see plenty of goal line work. Cruz’s TD mark is due for a sharp decrease. Rest of Season Prediction: 6.5%

Broncos Eric Decker (5 TD, 54 Targets = 9.3%) – Decker exploded onto the scene with Kyle Orton at quarterback and Brandon Lloyd injured earlier this year and even scored on a throw from Tim Tebow in Week 8, but the TD rate won’t last. First off, the Broncos offense has looked pretty terrible this season and has only been worse under Tebow. Next, Decker plays almost exclusively from the slot, which is never good for a TD rate. He’s not a bad asset near the goal line, but slot receivers in poor offenses don’t keep up TD rates that rival the league’s elite. He’s due for a TD drought very soon. Rest of Season Prediction: 5.0%

Tight Ends

Going Up:

Jaguars Marcedes Lewis (0 TD, 30 Targets = 0.0%) – The “Mike Williams” of the Tight Ends, Lewis was on this list for the opposite reason last year. In 2010, Lewis hauled in 10 touchdowns on only 85 targets for a TD rate of 11.8%. This year, he’s missed some action with an injury, but has still failed to score on 30 targets. With Blaine Gabbert in the developmental faze, the Jacksonville passing game hasn’t been as efficient as it was in 2010, but Lewis is too good of an option in the redzone to continue this drought. Rest of Season Prediction: 3.2%

Bucs Kellen Winslow (1 TD, 56 Targets = 1.8%) – For whatever reason, Josh Freeman just doesn’t seem to like Winslow early on in the year. When I wrote this piece after Week 8 of the 2010 season, Winslow had failed to score a single touchdown despite seeing 20% of Freeman’s targets. Here in 2011, Winslow is seeing 21% of Freeman’s targets and hadn’t scored until Week 8. Regression has already shown its face for Winslow and the trend will continue towards the positive. Rest of Season Prediction: 3.6%

Ravens Ed Dickson (1 TD, 48 Targets = 2.1%) – Dickson has basically taken over the role Todd Heap has held in Baltimore for the last several years, so we’ll look to his historical data to see why Dickson is bound for regression. In each of the last two seasons, Heap has scored six times. In 2009, the scores came on 79 targets and in 2010, they came on 77. Talk about consistency! Here in 2011, Dickson is on pace for 109 targets, but has scored only once. He’s actually playing a larger role in the offense than Heap did, but still failing to find paydirt. That will change quickly. Rest of Season Prediction: 4.6%

Chargers Antonio Gates (1 TD, 28 Targets = 3.6%) – Because of his early-season injury troubles, Gates barely made our target cutoff. Still, it’s very clear that his numbers in the touchdown department are lacking and there’s plenty reason to believe they will regress. First of all, Gates was arguably the league’s premier Touchdown machine in 2010. Like this year, he missed action with an injury (the same one actually), but still racked up 10 touchdowns on 63 targets for a rate of 15.9%. Obviously, that put him on our ‘Going Down’ regression list, but a drop to 3.6% is too much for a redzone force like Gates. Assuming he can stay on the field, Gates will rival the top Fantasy tight ends in touchdowns going forward. Rest of Season Prediction: 7.2%

Going Down:

Bills Scott Chandler (6 TD, 17 Targets = 35.3%) – I made an exception to the target cutoff of 25 so that I could talk about Scott Chandler. Chandler is this season’s touchdown-per-pass-route champion, with six scores on only 79 routes. The Bills run 3+ WR sets a league-high 70% of the time and they like to leave Chandler in to provide pass protection on those plays. That changes near the goal line, however, and it’s allowed a massive scoring rate for Chandler. Although his TD rate will remain very high this season, the 35.3% mark is quickly going to decline. Fitzpatrick is bound to find other receivers open in the endzone and opposing defenses are going to begin to key on Chandler in those situations. He’s the ultimate hit or miss Fantasy asset this year, but you’re playing with fire if you start him. Rest of Season Prediction: 15.6%

Packers Jermichael Finley (4 TD, 37 Targets = 10.8%) –  Finley has seen just 16% of Aaron Rodgers’ targets this season, which is definitely lower than expected. Still, he’s found the endzone four times on those 37 targets, which has kept him Fantasy relevant. Considering the offense, Finley will continue to see 5-7 targets every week, but his touchdown rate should decline a little bit. On 78 targets in 2009, he scored five times for a 6.4% rate. In 2010, he scored only once on 21 targets before suffering a season-ending injury – a rate of 4.0%. The Packers offense is even better than it was those seasons, but Finley simply isn’t as much of a TD machine as it seems like he should. Expect a rate in the single digits by seasons end. Rest of Season Prediction: 9.1%

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