2012 Regression Alert!
Mike Clay's annual mid-season examination of touchdown regression at each key fantasy football position.
2012 Regression Alert!
It’s that time of the year again.
Each NFL season, I wait until early November to break out my first Touchdown Regression piece of the year. Nine 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 about this time two years ago. In that piece, I did what I’ll be doing today. I analyzed the TD rates of a handful of players and made predictions as to which direction their rate would go in the second half.
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 the cycle continued from there. I also did category-by-category ( Passing , Rushing , Receiving) studies to see how often regression has kicked in since 2008. The results, as you can see via the links, were very telling. Regression is as sure a bet as they come.
This year, I’m highlighting four players at each of the key fantasy football positions. I’ve also listed a few other players worth monitoring at each position. Players listed as downgrades are prime sell high candidates. Those listed as upgrades are ripe for the picking as buy lows.
Alex Smith – 12 Touchdowns, 194 Attempts (6.2%)
One year after putting up a 17:5 TD:INT mark during the regular season, Smith is already at 12:5 for the 2012 season. The 49ers, of course, have more offensive weapons than they did one year ago, but they’re still a run-heavy team. Additionally, Smith’s average depth of throw, already near the league basement in 2011, is even lower in 2012. As more of the 49ers’ offensive touchdowns go to the tailbacks, expect Smith’s touchdown rate to work its way back towards the 3.8% mark he put up one year ago.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – 15 Touchdowns, 245 Attempts (6.1%)
Fitzpatrick already has four three-plus touchdown games this season, which has boosted his touchdown rate near the top of the league. Unfortunately for his owners, the Bills are looking to get the ball to backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller early and often. Buffalo has only five rushing touchdowns as a team this year despite sporting a run balanced offense. Expect their rushing touchdown rate to increase rapidly, especially with Fitzpatrick’s tendency to struggle once cold weather rolls around. His mark will quickly begin to trend towards the 4.2% rate we saw in 2011.
Others: Josh Freeman (7.0%), Russell Wilson (6.1%)
Matthew Stafford – 8 Touchdowns, 328 Attempts (2.4%) – 6.2% in 2011
Detroit is the league’s fifth pass-heaviest team this season, yet, at 50%, they rank 28th in pass/run touchdown ratio. Expect that 50% mark to rise in a hurry over the second half of the season. Stafford threw a whopping 44 touchdowns one year ago (with a TD rate of 6.2%), but is on pace for around 17 this season. Even with Mikel Leshoure in the picture and playing well, the Lions throw the ball a ton. A few of the team’s rushing scores are sure to turn into that of the passing variety going forward. Stafford has been picking it up recently, but buy low if you still can.
Ryan Tannehill – 5 Touchdowns, 221 Attempts (2.3%)
One of my favorite stats so far this year is the evolution of the pass:rush touchdown ratio in Miami. After five games, the Dolphins had only two passing touchdowns, but nine on the ground (18% pass). At that point, and despite the fact that Miami is among the league’s run-heaviest offenses, it was clear regression was about to kick in. It has already, with the Dolphins putting up a 4:2 ratio in three games since. Still, at 35% (6:11), Miami ranks dead last in the league. Consider that the only other teams with marks below 50% are the Panthers and Redskins. Not coincidentally, they both have run-first quarterbacks. Cam Newton (CAR) has four scores on the ground, while Robert Griffin III (WAS) has six. Tannehill, meanwhile, has only one. With a pass touchdown rate that ranks dead last in the league (min. 160-plus attempts), Tannehill is sure to see plenty of second-half regression. He’s a strong buy low candidate in two-quarterback leagues.
Others: Cam Newton (2.8%), Tony Romo (3.2%), Andrew Luck (3.2%)
Andre Brown – 6 Touchdowns, 53 carries (11.3%)
I almost didn’t want to analyze Brown since he’s (a) not a starter right now and (b) a part-time goal line back. However, because his touchdown rate is more than double the next closest player among backs with 50-plus carries this season, I couldn’t pass it up. Brown broke out with a big game and a half in place of an injured Ahmad Bradshaw earlier this year, but has since been relegated back to reserve duties. Going forward, he’ll remain in the mix for a few carries and a ton of work inside the five, but don’t expect his absurd 11.3 percent rate to sustain itself. His only value is as a handcuff.
Arian Foster – 10 Touchdowns, 192 carries (5.2%)
Foster is an absolute touchdown machine, but his current rate of one rushing score every 19.2 carries is going to fall off as the season progresses. Consider that in 2011, he managed 10 scores on 278 carries (1 every 27.8…or 3.6%). In 2010, he scored 16 times on 327 carries (1 every 20.4 carries…or 4.9%). The 2010 mark wasn’t terribly far off his 2012 performance to-date, but even that was such an impressive rate that we saw it drop off the following year. Foster is still going to rank among the league’s elite in the touchdown department, but a second-half repeat of 1.25 rushing scores-per-game is a poor bet.
Others: Daniel Thomas (5.3%), C.J. Spiller (5.1%), Doug Martin (4.5%)
Jonathan Stewart – 0 touchdowns, 62 carries (0.0%)
The Panthers have scored nine rushing touchdowns this season, so it’s a bit shocking that Stewart has yet to find paydirt despite racking up 62 carries. Now in the driver’s seat in the Carolina backfield, expect him to score a handful of touchdowns in the second half. DeAngelo Williams is rarely used inside the five, but Mike Tolbert and, of course, Newton will continue to cap Stewart’s ceiling. Still, players simply don’t see this many reps without finding the endzone, at least, on occasion. Stewart scored four times on 142 carries (2.8%) in 2011 and remains a solid buy low.
LeSean McCoy – 2 touchdowns, 146 carries (1.4%)
Talk about a massive letdown. After scoring a ridiculous 17 rushing touchdowns in 15 games last season, McCoy has only two at the midway point of 2012. In fact, the Eagles have only three rushing scores as a team. The good news is that McCoy is still seeing three-quarters of the team’s carries and the offense can only improve in the second half. Although Michael Vick and Bryce Brown may steal a rushing score here or there, expect McCoy to start moving towards his 6.2% rate from 2011 in the coming weeks.
Others: Maurice Jones-Drew (1.3%), Ryan Mathews (1.1%), Steven Jackson (0.9%)
James Jones – 8 touchdowns, 60 targets (13.3%) and Randall Cobb – 6 touchdowns, 57 targets (10.5%)
It’s tough to include players in high-scoring offense on this list, because you know the team is going to continue scoring a ton of points. The problem here, however, is that the Packers hold both the No. 1 and No. 2 slot on the wide receiver touchdown rate list. Oh yeah, and Jordy Nelson is also in the top-10. Rewind to the team’s record-breaking 2011 season. Nelson scored 15 times on 93 targets (16.1%), which ranked second in the league behind only Calvin Johnson. Nelson’s rate has “plummeted” to 8.8% in 2012. We, of course, still expect Nelson to keep up a high rate in the Packers’ offense, but 16.1% was simply unsustainable. Greg Jennings put up a 9.4% mark in 2011, but was at just 4.8% before suffering an injury earlier this season. Jones (13.0%) has actually kept up his strong touchdown rate, but he’s already in the process of regressing after back-to-back two-score games earlier this year. Cobb scored only once on 31 targets (3.2%) in 2011. The Packers’ have arguably the best pass offense in football, which will certainly allow this guys to keep up strong touchdown numbers, but the rates we’ve seen, so far, from Jones and Cobb are strong bets for second-half regression.
Eric Decker – 7 touchdowns, 68 targets (10.3%)
Very much like Jones and Cobb, Decker has benefited from playing in a strong offense led by an elite quarterback this season. Decker is one of only four wideouts with 40-plus targets and a touchdown rate above 10 percent this season. His 10.3% mark is actually well ahead of the healthy 6.3% mark put up by counterpart Demaryius Thomas. In 2011, despite seeing fewer targets in an offense led mostly by Tim Tebow, Decker scored eight times on 91 targets (8.8%). Expect a few additional touchdowns to go to running backs, Thomas, and TE Jacob Tamme going forward. Decker will keep scoring touchdowns, but not at a rate above 10 percent.
Others: Mike Williams (9.8%), Josh Gordon (9.8%), Andre Roberts (7.9%)
Davone Bess – 0 touchdowns, 60 targets (0.0%)
See ‘Tannehill, Ryan’ blurb from earlier. Miami is going to see a significant change in its pass:run ratio going forward, which is going to mean more opportunities for its wide receivers to find paydirt. At 5’10”/193, Bess is unlikely to ever be a touchdown-scoring machine, but he is certainly going to find the endzone a few times over a span of 60 targets. Consider that, among all wideouts with more than 40 targets this season, Bess is the only one without a touchdown. One year ago, Bess scored three times on 79 targets (3.8%). Seeing one-quarter of Tannehill’s targets on a regular basis, Bess is a strong buy-low, especially in PPR formats.
Calvin Johnson – 1 touchdown, 81 targets (1.2%)
After racking up an absurd 11 touchdowns during the first half of the 2011 season “Megatron” has been regressing ever since. He scored just five times in the second half, but did show signs that he could sustain a strong touchdown rate with four of those second-half scores coming in the team’s final three regular season games. With defense keying on him in the redzone this season, however, Johnson has scored only once (Week 3 at Tennessee). With a 9.2% mark in 2010 and 10.6% in 2011, it’s safe to consider Johnson a lock for second-half regression.
Others: Steve Smith (1.5%), Brian Hartline (1.6%), Hakeem Nicks (2.2%), Antonio Brown (1.6%)
Vernon Davis – 4 touchdowns, 32 targets (12.5%)
As a product of the 49ers’ run-heavy offense and improved wide receiving corps, Davis has seen a decline in targets this season. He’s still been a resource near the endzone, however, accounting for one-third of the team’s receiving touchdowns. Of course, his regression has already started (and has actually gone a bit over the top); as he’s failed to find the endzone in each of his last four games. After scoring on 6.5% of his 2011 targets and 8.0% of his 2010 looks, it’s fair to expect Davis to retain a strong touchdown rate. It just won’t be near the 12.5% mark we’ve seen so far in 2012. Considering the depth at tight end this year, you can sell on Davis.
Kyle Rudolph – 5 touchdowns, 45 targets (11.1%)
Like Davis, Rudolph’s scoring rate has already begun to fall off. After scoring five times over the team’s first six games, he’s failed to find the endzone in three straight. That, of course, is partially a product of a dramatic drop in targets (First five games: 6.8/game. Last three games: 2.7/game). Still, Rudolph’s mammoth touchdown rate was (and still is) sure to see a drop. The Vikings figure to get Rudolph more involved as the season progresses, but don’t expect to see a scoring rate near what it was early on in the year. He remains a borderline TE1.
Others: Heath Miller (12.0%), Scott Chandler (10.3%), Anthony Fasano (8.6%)
Jason Witten – 1 touchdown, 80 targets (1.3%)
Witten has never been much of an asset in the touchdown department, but even one score on 80 targets is low for him. Consider the rates he’s put up the past three seasons: 2009 (1.7%), 2010 (7.3%), and 2011 (4.4%). Note that a 2009 season that saw him score only twice on 121 targets still gave him a better scoring rate than what he’s managed in 2012. The top receiving option in a talented Dallas offense that should only be better in the second half, Witten is a sure bet to score a handful of touchdowns going forward.
Jermichael Finley – 1 touchdown, 45 targets (2.2%)
Despite a poor running game and injuries to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson at one point or another this season, Finley has managed to score only once. His targets are on the decline over the past few weeks, as well, which has owners concerned about his future value. The good news is that his touchdown rate is well below what we’re used to seeing from him, and that there are touchdowns to be had (see ‘Jones, James’ / ‘Cobb, Randall’). Finley scored on 8.8% of his targets last season and, prior to an injury-shortened 2010 season, put up a 7.1% mark in 2009. Although Cobb has turned into Rodgers’ favorite outlet receiver, Finley is still seeing a handful of targets each week, is closing in on full health, and has the physicality to be an asset in the redzone. He’s worth investigating as a buy low.
Others: Greg Olsen (2.1%), Brent Celek (1.8%), Brandon Pettigrew (1.8%)
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter at @MikeClayNFL