2014 Regression Alert

Mike Clay analyzes touchdown data from the first half of the season in order to find under- and over-valued players.

| 3 years ago
Ahmad Bradshaw

2014 Regression Alert

Ahmad BradshawWeek 8 is in the books, which means it’s time for my annual mid-season touchdown regression piece.

Whether we like it or not, players with extremely high or low touchdown rates rarely can sustain those rates. In the past, we’ve found that we can successfully predict regression on these high rates with roughly 90 percent accuracy.

Today, I’ll be examining six players who will benefit and six who will suffer as a result of touchdown regression in the second half of this season. Projected second-half totals are also included for each player.

Note: I’ll be referring to opportunity-adjusted touchdowns (OTD) throughout the piece. If you’re new to the stat, be sure to check out the original introductions to rushing and receiving OTD. This past offseason, I also improved my methodology and you can read the rushing, passing, and receiving articles via the provided links. In a nutshell, the OTD metric weighs every carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player’s scoring opportunity.

Rushing Touchdowns

Going Up

1. Marshawn Lynch – 111 attempts, 3 TD (2.7 percent)

Lynch is sixth in fantasy points among running backs, but he’s bailed out his owners with a trio of receiving touchdowns. Considering Lynch entered 2014 with five career receiving scores, that’s a very unsustainable number. On the other hand, Lynch has three rushing scores after finding paydirt at least 11 times each of the past three seasons. Easily the leader in rushing OTD one season ago, expect Lynch to rack up more scoring opportunities, and thus touchdowns, in the second half.

Rest-of-Season projection: 6 rushing touchdowns

2. LeSean McCoy – 137 attempts, 1 TD (0.7 percent)

Last season, McCoy racked up nine rushing touchdowns on 314 attempts. This season, McCoy sits fourth in the league in carries, but 40 running backs have more touchdowns. OTD suggests McCoy should have closer to three rushing scores, but with the Eagles passing more and dealing with offensive line injuries, he’s struggled to find paydirt. With Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis set to return in the next few weeks, and with McCoy sure to sustain his massive carry volume, he’s primed to rack up plenty of second-half touchdowns.

Rest-of-Season projection: 5 rushing touchdowns

3. Jerick McKinnon – 76 attempts, 0 TD

No player without a rushing touchdown has more carries than McKinnon this season. Yet to carry the ball within 5 yards of the end zone, McKinnon’s touchdown deficiencies certainly make some sense. Still, lead backs, especially those with McKinnon’s ability, will score occasional touchdowns. Also heavily involved as a receiver, McKinnon will figures to score four or five total touchdowns in the second half. He’ll provide patient owners with RB2 production.

Rest-of-Season projection: 3 rushing touchdowns

Others: Le’Veon Bell, Frank Gore, Bishop Sankey, Andre Ellington

Going Down

1. DeMarco Murray – 206 attempts, 7 TD (3.4 percent)

As well as Murray is performing this season, current usage suggests he’s unlikely to match his seven first-half touchdowns during the team’s final eight games. Murray is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns, but 16 players have more carries inside the opponent’s 5 yard line. Murray is an impressive 4-of-4 in converting carries within 3 yards of the end zone, but that’s an unsustainable rate for even the best backs in the game. Consider that Murray entered the 2014 season 8-of-18 (44 percent) in the department. A workhorse in a good, run-heavy offense, Murray’s status as a strong RB1 option is safe, but it’s fair to expect a dip in touchdowns.

Rest-of-Season projection: 5 rushing touchdowns

2. Isaiah Crowell – 52 carries, 4 TD (7.7 percent)

Crowell’s four touchdowns are from distances of 3, 5, 14 and 15 yards. He has no additional carries within 15 yards of the end zone. In fact, the expected touchdown total on those four carries is 0.6, which shows the impressive/unlikely nature of his performance. If Crowell earns the team’s starting gig soon, he’s talented enough to score a half dozen touchdowns. Currently, however, he’s competing for Cleveland’s No. 2 job behind Ben Tate. Assuming that role sticks, it’s hard to expect more than one score going forward.

Rest-of-Season projection: 1 rushing touchdown

3. Jamaal Charles – 77 attempts, 4 TD (5.2 percent)

This is going to seem odd because I’m projecting more second-half touchdowns, but bear with me. Charles missed time because of injury during the first eight weeks of the season, which limited him to only 77 carries. With nine games left to go (Kansas City already had its bye), I have Charles closer to 165 carries down the stretch. Six scores on 165 hauls works out to a 3.6 percent rate, which is significantly lower than Charles’ early-season mark. So why the dip? Charles has never exceeded 4.6 percent in a season, and that came during his 12-score 2013 season. His marks in 2009, 2010 and 2012 were 3.7 percent, 2.2 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. Charles only has two attempts inside the opponent’s 5 yard line this season, whereas Knile Davis has six. Charles remains a strong RB1 option, but volume will be important, as his touchdown efficiency is sure to dip.

Rest-of-Season projection: 6 rushing touchdowns

Others: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Chris Ivory, Lamar Miller

Receiving Touchdowns

Going Up

1. Keenan Allen – 63 targets, 1 TD (1.6 percent)

Had Allen not scored his first touchdown of the season on Thursday, he’d be the poster boy for this article. Still, there’s plenty reason to believe Allen is on his way to a much better second half. Allen is one of only four players in NFL history who had an eight-touchdown season under his belt before turning 22. His company? Randy Moss, Rob Gronkowski and Larry Fitzgerald. Impressive. Digging deeper, we see that Allen has handled 25 percent of the Chargers targets this season. That’s up from the 22 percent he saw during his aforementioned eight-score rookie campaign. Allen has seen four end zone targets (I’d like to see more), but he’s caught zero of them after hauling in a healthy 6-of-14 (43 percent) last year. We can obviously expect improved efficiency in that department. The Chargers offense is very good, which will allow Allen WR2 production going forward.

Rest-of-Season projection: 4 receiving touchdowns

2. Jared Cook – 45 targets, 0 TD

Last season, Cook was dominant with the goal line in site, hauling in 4-of-6 end zone targets. Only Marvin Jones (9-for-11) was more efficient. At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, Cook is easily the tallest and heaviest route runner on the Rams’ roster. Cook has seen 20 percent of the Rams’ targets this season. That all being said, it’s hard to believe Cook hasn’t scored a touchdown this season. Even more shocking is the fact that he has zero end zone targets and only three looks inside the 10 yard line. Cook’s touchdown deficiencies are definitely odd, especially considering that teammate Lance Kendricks has four touchdowns, all of which came within 2 yards of the end zone. Cook is seeing a heavy volume of targets and the Rams passing game has been better with Austin Davis under center. Expect back-end TE1 production from Cook in the second half.

Rest-of-Season projection: 3 receiving touchdowns

3. Vincent Jackson – 63 targets, 2 TD (3.2 percent)

During the five seasons leading into 2014, Vincent Jackson caught 28 (43 percent) of 65 end zone targets. That’s a bit better than the 37 percent league average. This year, he’s 2-of-10 in the department, which helps explain his struggles in the touchdown department. Tampa Bay’s offense is struggling, but Jackson’s target volume is as massive as its been in year’s past (28 percent of the team’s targets) and only five players have seen more end zone looks. Jackson scored seven times last season and it’s not inconceivable that he hits that mark again this year.

Rest-of-Season projection: 5 receiving touchdowns

Others: Demaryius Thomas, Rueben Randle, Andre Johnson

Going Down

1. Ahmad Bradshaw – 36 targets, 6 TD (16.7 percent)

The easiest prediction I’ll make today is that Bradshaw won’t match his six receiving touchdowns down the stretch. In fact, I’m only projecting him for one. Say what you want about the Bradshaw’s ability, Bradshaw’s role and the Colts thriving offense, but running backs simply don’t catch touchdowns anywhere near this rate.  Consider that since 1990, Bradshaw is the only running back with six or more receiving touchdowns on fewer than 32 receptions in a season. For additional perspective, Darren Sproles – certainly one of the best receiving-first tailbacks of all time – has scored on 5.3 percent of his 511 career targets. Bradshaw entered the 2014 season with three career receiving touchdowns.

Digging into Bradshaw’s 2014 role, we see that he’s yet to even see a single end zone target. He’s scored four times on six targets while within 6 yards of the goal line. OTD suggests Bradshaw should have roughly three receiving touchdowns. Bradshaw is clearly a part of the Colts’ red zone offense, but he’s not seeing enough work and his efficiency is unsustainable to the point that he’s going to see a major drop in receiving touchdowns down the stretch.

Rest-of-Season projection: 1 receiving touchdown

2. Randall Cobb – 54 targets, 9 TD (16.7 percent)

Since the start of the 2012 season, 39 players have seen 20 or more end zone targets. None have exceeded Cobb’s 70 percent conversion rate on those looks. Cobb is 14-of-20 in the department. As impressive as that is, it’s hard to imagine he can keep it up. Again, league average in the department is 37 percent. Cobb is 7-of-9 (78 percent) this season and has two additional touchdowns after post-catch runs of 1 and 35 yards. Cobb operates in a very good offense and sees enough work to allow WR1 production, but he’s simply not going to continue scoring on over 16 percent of his targets.

Rest-of-Season projection: 5 receiving touchdowns

3. Terrance Williams – 37 targets, 6 TD (16.2 percent)

Williams is another player who we can easily project for a dip in scoring down the stretch. The second-year wideout is sixth in the league in receiving touchdowns, but 76th in targets. His 3.9 OTD (18th-highest) suggests that he’s seeing high-value targets, but that still suggests he’s at least two scores ahead of where he should be. Williams has converted four of his seven end zone targets. Handling only 15 percent of run-heavy Dallas’ targets, Williams isn’t getting the volume needed to support his current touchdown pace. Sitting 16th in fantasy points among wide receivers, he’s an obvious sell-high.

Rest-of-Season projection: 3 receiving touchdowns

Others: Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates, Eddie Royal, Dwayne Allen

Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL

  • Colin Cody

    Hope you are right, just packaged Bradshaw in a deal for McCoy

  • Anthony

    Would Cobb for Marshall be a smart move, then? in a .5 PPR?