Earlier this week, I published an article discussing a few players at each position that could see a significant uptick in touchdown scoring this season. Those players saw several opportunities in the red zone (close to the end zone) but failed to capitalize on those chances in the form of touchdowns at the same rate as some of their peers. This can sometimes be due to a lack of talent, but touchdown scoring is remarkably variant, and it’s difficult to bank on repetitive results in this regard. In this article, I’ll discuss some of the players who overperformed in terms of touchdowns scored last season and could be due to some regression in the negative direction. This can be helpful for identifying which players may be over-drafted in fantasy football drafts this year.
Aaron Rodgers: The Packers’ quarterback is coming off an MVP season, his first since 2014. Rodgers is a no-doubt future Hall of Famer, but there are reasons to believe in negative touchdown regression coming his way beyond his obvious talent. Before throwing for 48 touchdowns last season, Rodgers’s 16-game touchdown pace over the prior three seasons was 27.2. In his 16-year career, Rodgers had never thrown for 48 touchdowns as he did last season. On 84 red-zone attempts last season, Rodgers scored 35 touchdowns – that means almost half of his passing attempts inside the 20-yard line went for touchdowns. That’s almost certainly unsustainable, and while I still have Rodgers as a top-ten fantasy quarterback, a dip in touchdowns would likely take him out of the top 3 where he was last year.
Kirk Cousins: Last season was arguably the best of Kirk Cousins’s career as he threw for a career-high 35 touchdowns on 516 attempts. He had never thrown for more than 30 touchdowns in a season before that in his career. Cousins had a career 4.9% touchdown rate before last year – his touchdown rate was 6.7% last season. He had 69 red-zone attempts and scored 27 touchdowns on those attempts. That’s not as staggering as the numbers Rodgers produced, but for reference, Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray, Drew Brees, and Baker Mayfield had between 68-72 red-zone attempts, and none threw for more than 21 touchdowns. Cousins was a borderline top-12 fantasy quarterback last year, and with the likelihood of touchdown regression, he’s off the radar as a QB1 this season for me.
Alvin Kamara: It’s impossible to discuss Alvin Kamara’s 2020 season without bringing up his Week 16 performance against the Vikings that included a whopping 6 rushing touchdowns. That outing singlehandedly delivered many fantasy football championships to grateful managers. It also clouded his full-season statistics as 6 of his 16 rushing touchdowns came in one game. Kamara had 28 carries in the red zone last season and scored 14 touchdowns on those carries. He had 15 carries in the 5-zone and scored 11 touchdowns on those. Kamara will also have to contend with a changing of the guard under center. In four games with Taysom Hill as the starter in 2020, Kamara ran for 4 touchdowns in 4 games, so perhaps his rushing production won’t change much. However, the offense as a whole is likely to be less productive without Drew Brees this season. Combine that with a likelihood of touchdown regression on its own, and I have my guard up regarding Kamara for fantasy this year.
Jonathan Taylor: I’d be somewhat wary of expecting Jonathan Taylor to run for 11 touchdowns on 232 carries again this season, especially as Marlon Mack is back with the team following an Achilles injury last year. Taylor ran for 8 touchdowns on 16 carries inside the 5-yard line. That’s not ridiculously unsustainable on its own, but Taylor also may not have the same red-zone workload with Marlon Mack active. Taylor is a high-level talent, to be fair, and the team did spend an early pick on making sure it had its running back of the future. Behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, I have confidence in Taylor as a top-15 back for fantasy. Still, he has the potential to be over-drafted this season, especially when you consider his potential for negative touchdown regression.
D’Andre Swift: Another second-year running back who may have overperformed in his rookie season; you have to be wary of D’Andre Swift this season, especially as the offense shifts from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff under center. Combine the quarterback downgrade with Detroit failing to replace Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. in free agency, and I have real concerns about this offense being one of the worst in the NFL. D’Andre Swift ran for 8 touchdowns on 17 10-zone carries and 6 touchdowns on 11 5-zone carries. Those are pretty elite numbers efficiency-wise, and while Swift is clearly a talented player, this offense could hold him back from replicating those marks. That’s especially true after Detroit added Jamaal Williams in free agency, a player who could take away some red-zone carries.
J.K. Dobbins: This may seem like an attack on the second-year running backs, but it’s not intended to be that. However, J.K. Dobbins stands out as another regression candidate. The Ravens’ rusher had one of the more interesting profiles in this context as all 8 of his red-zone touchdowns came within the 5-yard line. The Ravens did lose Mark Ingram in free agency, who had 5 10-zone carries last year, but Gus Edwards and Justice Hill are backs who could steal work from Dobbins. Additionally, the Ravens spent their offseason improving the receiving corps with the additions of veteran Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman. Lamar Jackson went from 36 touchdown passes two years ago to 26 last year, and I expect him to end up closer to the 30-mark this year. All that being said, Dobbins has great talent and is in a great offense, but I’m not thrilled about his value at his current ADP.
Davante Adams: 18 receiving touchdowns in 14 games isn’t possibly a sustainable pace, right? In 2019, Adams caught 5 touchdowns in 12 games, so he was a clear positive regression candidate. However, last year was much more than just your typical slight positive regression. Adams saw 27 red-zone targets and caught 23 of them for 14 touchdowns. He’s likely going to play in more than 14 games this season, perhaps even the full 17-game slate, but I don’t have him going for 18 touchdowns again in a full season slate. Adams is a great receiver catching passes from one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. Still, I just don’t buy that duo’s ability to sustain clearly unsustainable touchdown numbers.
Adam Thielen: It follows logic that Kirk Cousins, one of the two quarterbacks I listed for negative touchdown regression, would have a receiver who fits in the same category. Adam Thielen had 14 touchdowns on 74 receptions in 15 games last season. He had never caught 10+ touchdowns in a season before last year. That ridiculous touchdown production carried Thielen to a top-10 fantasy finish at the wide receiver position, but I just don’t see it as being replicable. Thielen had 13 touchdowns on 16 red-zone catches on 20 red-zone targets. That’s an 80% red-zone catch rate, far greater than his 68.5% catch rate overall and a touchdown on over 80% of those red-zone catches. That’s just not going to happen again, but Thielen may have another season of high-level production left in the tank.
A.J. Brown: I debated not including A.J. Brown in this list, as the third-year receiver is set for an awesome breakout season, especially after Tennessee added Julio Jones to the roster. Brown is clearly one of the most talented receivers in the NFL, and he made some absurd highlight-reel plays last season. However, he caught 10 of his 12 red-zone targets and scored 7 touchdowns on those looks. Luckily for him, the surrounding factors have changed drastically. Jonnu Smith (18) and Corey Davis (4) are no longer on the roster, clearing up some red-zone targets for Brown. He’s a top-10 receiver in my projections, and I believe he’s a better fantasy asset than he was last year, but it’s still worth noting that he did overperform expectations in the touchdown department last year.
Tyler Lockett: The Seahawks’ receiver is one of the best examples of per-game fantasy points not being a terribly useful metric to assess players by. Lockett scored 16.6 PPR points per game, the best of his career and enough to make him the WR8 overall. However, that production came in waves as he had seven games under 10 PPR points and four games over 20 PPR points, including a 53-point outing. Six of his touchdown receptions came in two games, though, and he failed to reach the end zone in most of his games. Lockett did score 10 and 8 touchdowns in the two seasons prior to last year, but he scored 8 touchdowns on 12 receptions inside the red zone (on 16 targets) last year. I doubt he produces the same type of efficiency, and as D.K. Metcalf continues to break out in the NFL; Lockett could take more of a back seat this season.
Robert Tonyan: In his first two seasons in the NFL, Robert Tonyan had a combined 14 catches for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns. Then, last year, he suddenly scored 11 touchdowns in 16 games. That massive uptick coincided with Aaron Rodgers’s massive season, and Tonyan scored 7 touchdowns inside the red zone on 10 catches. That’s 70% of his catches going for touchdowns inside the 20-yard line. The tight end spot is light on reliable fantasy performers, so I still have Tonyan projected as a top-ten player at his position this season. However, it’s worth understanding how much of his production came from that wildly unsustainable touchdown production. I have him down for 6 touchdowns this season, representing a significant drop-off.
Jonnu Smith: The new Patriots’ tight end, Jonnu Smith likely won’t see 18 red-zone targets in New England this season. Cam Newton only threw 36 red-zone attempts compared to 72 for Ryan Tannehill. Jonnu Smith wasn’t insanely productive with those red-zone looks – 8 touchdowns on 18 red-zone targets is impressive but nothing wildly unsustainable – but the bigger issue is there’s just no way he gets the same volume as last year. Smith is a very talented tight end who could end up being the top-scoring pass-catcher in New England for fantasy this season, but he’s due for a bit of touchdown regression nonetheless.