2015 Regression Alert – Buy Ertz, Sell Austin

In his annual Regression Alert piece, Mike Clay examines players who can be expected to score more (and less) often in the second half of the season.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

2015 Regression Alert – Buy Ertz, Sell Austin

Week 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 five players who will benefit and five 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. Last offseason, I also improved my methodology and you can read the rushingpassing, 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.

Going Up

1. Zach Ertz – 24 touches, 0 TD

Ertz hasn’t had the third-year fantasy breakout many expected, but he’s closer to TE1 value than you realize. Ertz played a career-high 86 percent of the Eagles snaps in Week 6 and actually eclipsed that mark at 90 percent in Week 7. He’s seen seven or more targets in four of his seven games this season after entering 2015 with seven or more targets in three of his first 33 games. Despite the significant role, Ertz has yet to score a touchdown. OTD suggests he should have three thanks to six targets within 4 yards of the goal line, four of which came while he was inside the confines of the end zone. Ertz is on the verge of a fantasy breakout.

Rest-of-Season projection: 3

2. Demaryius Thomas – 56 touches, 1 TD (2%)

After pacing the NFL with 23 end zone targets in 2014, Thomas has accrued only one in 2015. In fact, his 1.7 receiving OTD suggests the touchdown struggles are no fluke. Denver’s lack of offensive production are primarily to blame here, but Thomas has already racked up 85 targets this season. He’s been on the receiving end of 33 percent of Peyton Manning’s throws, which is actually up from his 30 percent share in 2014. The Broncos offense took a step forward against Green Bay last week, but all three touchdowns happened to come on the ground. Expect Thomas to enjoy more scoring opportunity in the second half.

Rest-of-Season projection: 4

3. Mike Evans – 24 touches, 1 TD (4%)

History has shown us that NFL play-callers target big wide receivers a ton when the goal line is near. At 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, Evans is one of the NFL’s largest at the position. We saw that sized used early and often during Evans’ rookie season. Last year, the big man scored on 12 of his 116 targets. OTD suggested he should’ve been closer to eight, but that still ranked eighth in the league. Evans enjoyed 19 end zone targets as a rookie, which trailed league-leaders Thomas and Kelvin Benjamin by four. Evans caught 10 of the targets. This season, Evans, who has missed time due to an injury, has yet to catch any of his four end zone looks. Handling over 30 percent of Jameis Winston’s targets, Evans is sure to find paydirt more often down the stretch.

Rest-of-Season projection: 4

4. Marshawn Lynch – 115 touches, 2 TD (2%)

A touchdown monster of the past several seasons, Lynch has struggled to only two scores in 2015. The Seattle offense sits near the league basement in scoring, so it’s not shocking that Lynch lands on this list. He’s scored on only 2 of 7 attempts inside the opponent’s 5 yard line, but it’s worth noting that he’s 2 of 3 from 1 yard out. He was 1 of 5 in the category during the 2014 season. Lynch missed a game with injury, which adds to his deflated stats, but he’s averaging a healthy 21.7 carries per game since Week 6. Especially if the Seattle offense surges in the second half like it has in past years, Lynch will be a candidate for a half dozen touchdowns.

Rest-of-Season projection: 5

5. Melvin Gordon – 121 touches, 0 TD

Gordon is among 209 players who have at least one touch and zero touchdowns this season. Of course, Gordon stands out since he’s the only player from that group with more than 100 touches. Gordon’s 1.5 OTD suggests he should have one or two scores, but even that shows that the rookie isn’t getting much work near the goal line. A deeper examination of his usage shows the same. San Diego’s lead back has managed only two carries within 15 yards of the goal line. One came at the opponent’s 1 yard line and the other from 8 yards out. None of Gordon’s 20 targets came within 33 yards of the opposing goal line. The Chargers score a lot through the air and aren’t afraid to use scat back Danny Woodhead inside the 5, which will limit Gordon’s scoring, but he’s getting too many reps to be without a touchdown. I’m, conservatively, projecting two in the second half, but there’s room for more if he earns more work at the goal line.

Rest-of-Season projection: 2

Others – Matt Forte, Alfred Morris, Jamison Crowder, Jordan Matthews

Going Down

1. Tavon Austin – 41 touches, 6 TD (15%)

The eighth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Austin is finally emerging as a standout NFL wide receiver in his third year. His usage (nine percent of the Rams’ carries and 21 percent of the targets) and play-making ability can’t be denied, but his future prospects in the touchdown department certainly can. Austin sports a 2.4 combined OTD, which suggests he’s more than doubled his expected figure in what has been a low-scoring offense. Austin has two touchdowns on 17 carries. One was viable from 2 yards out, but the other was a 16-yard dash. Austin’s receiving scores came after post-catch runs of 1, 6, 10, and 69 yards. Standing 5-foot-8, 176 pounds, Austin will never be a primary target near the goal line. Even during this breakout campaign, he’s seen one end zone target. He saw three as a rookie and wasn’t targeted within 25 yards of the goal line last year. Austin will continue making plays with his feet, but his scoring rate is obviously not close to sustainable.

Rest-of-Season projection: 2

2. James Jones – 22 touches, 6 TD (27%)

Discuss the sustainability of James Jones’ current touchdown pace with his apologists and they’ll be sure to point out his 2012 campaign. Jones scored an absurd 14 touchdowns on 93 targets that season. His 6.6 OTD suggested he more than doubled his expected total. Green Bay’s elite offense was obviously a key factor, but it was the same offense that allowed Jones to regress to three touchdowns on 88 targets (3.8 OTD) the very next season. In that case, Jones’ scoring rate held up for an entire season, but it was obviously a major outlier. In fact, one could argue it’s the biggest outlier in the touchdown department of the past decade. This season, Jones has scored on six of 28 targets, including 5 of 7 end zone looks. His OTD is 2.6. Led by Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay is going to score a ton in the second half, but Jones’ scoring rate will take a hit.

Rest-of-Season projection: 4

3. David Johnson – 39 touches, 5 TD (13%)

With Chris Johnson playing very well and Andre Ellington back from injury, Johnson’s playing time has suffered over the past few weeks. That being the case, the window to sell may have passed. But, if you can find a way to use his five touchdowns eight games to sweeten a deal, now’s the time to do it. Despite playing a limited role throughout the season, Johnson has scored on three of 25 carries and two of 21 targets. The scores came from distances of 2, 4, 7, 13, and 53 yards. That’s despite seeing only 9 looks (carries+targets) within 13 yards of the goal line. Third in line for touches, Johnson has zero chance of continuing his scoring pace. He shouldn’t be in starting lineups.

Rest-of-Season projection: 2

4. Karlos Williams – 47 touches, 4 TD (9%)

Williams is on one heck of a streak. The rookie has scored a touchdown in each of his first four NFL games. Expected back from injury against Miami this week, you shouldn’t bank on him picking up where he left off. Williams sports a 1.6 OTD, which suggests he’s more than doubled his expected total. This all adds up when you take note of his one carry within 8 yards of the goal line this season. He scored from distances of 2, 26, and 41 yards on the ground and his sole receiving score came after a 2 yard post-catch run. Williams is a good bet to handle 8-10 touches behind LeSean McCoy most weeks, but his scoring pace is unsustainable.

Rest-of-Season projection: 2

5. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns – Combined 65 touches, 11 TD (17%)

The Jaguars have scored 16 offensive touchdowns this season. Robinson and Hurns have combined for 11. For perspective, the average NFL offense will score 68 percent of its touchdowns through the air. Robinson and Hurns have accounted for just over 68 percent on their own. On a team level, this can’t continue. Of the Jaguars’ 16 scores, only one (an NFL-low six percent) is of the rushing variety. That will regress closer to the aforementioned mean. Getting more specific, Robinson has been busy near the goal line – seven end zone targets and two additional looks while within 2 yards of the goal line – but his success rate in the area is obscenely unsustainable. All six of his scores have come on those nine targets. Hurns, meanwhile, has a 33 yard post-catch touchdown run on his 2015 resume, but scored his other four on six end zone targets. Robinson and Hurns are heavily-targeted and have the size that demands usage near the goal line, but both will see a dip in scoring in the second half.

Rest-of-Season projection: 7 (Robinson 4, Hurns 3)

Others – Larry Fitzgerald, Ladarius Green, Donte Moncrief, Ryan Mathews

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  • LeBronc

    Mike how did you miss this?
    Regarding James Jones: It wasn’t the same “elite offense” in 2013.
    Aaron Rodgers played only 9 regular season games and Jones 14 games.
    In 2 of those games Jones had 178 and 127 yds. with Rodgers at QB.
    Tolzien, Flynn and Seneca Wallace started the other 7 games.
    Also Bulaga was on IR the whole year.

    • Mike Clay

      LeBronc – He fell from 14 to 3….not to 9 or 10. He was hit hard by regression, and I don’t think many were surprised at the time. 2012 was a fluke!

      • LeBronc

        Well, I never said 2012 wasn’t a fluke.
        The offense in 2013 was simply not the same…hence my comment.
        Apples to oranges is all.
        Thanks for replying though.