While it’s easy to overreact to any game, it’s worth remembering that even a full 16- or 17-game slate is a relatively small sample size. Regression to the mean is an interesting concept to discuss as a player can have an outlier season that may change in the following year. In the context of touchdowns, players can have a high number of touches or targets close to the end zone and not score a high number of touchdowns for any number of reasons. These specific instances are worth discussing as the potential for positive touchdown regression can help fantasy managers identify potential values in a reactionary fantasy football draft community. Below is a list of a handful of players from each position due for positive touchdown regression in the 2021 season.
Derek Carr: While at first glance, Carr’s 27 passing touchdowns last season were pretty much expected for the lower-volume quarterback, I actually think he left some out there. On 85 red zone attempts, he only scored 15 touchdowns. Just 55.6% of his touchdown passes came in the red zone, the fewest among qualified passers (30+ RZ attempts). None of the Raiders’ pass-catchers necessarily profile as elite red-zone receivers, but the talent is there for Las Vegas to do better in this regard next season. Carr’s never thrown for more than 4,200 passing yards in a season, and that limited volume combined with a lack of rushing production negates his fantasy value, but a few more passing touchdowns could be in store next season.
Daniel Jones: One of the biggest acquisitions of the offseason was the Giants’ signing of Kenny Golladay, one of the better receivers in the NFL over the past few seasons. Kenny G played in just 5 games last year, but he had over 2,200 yards and 16 touchdowns in the two seasons prior. If Daniel Jones is going to break through at some point in his career, the arrival of that type of receiver could make it happen. The Giants also have plenty of other offensive talents, with Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Darius Slayton, and Sterling Shepard. Daniel Jones had just a 2.5% touchdown rate last year, and he has a chance to improve that rate significantly with Kenny G and the other offensive talents at his disposal.
Ezekiel Elliott: Fantasy managers who spent a first-round pick on Ezekiel Elliott were disappointed by a finish as the RB11 in 1/2 PPR scoring. The Cowboys’ running back suffered from injuries to Dak Prescott and the majority of the offensive line as he registered career-low yards per attempt of 4.0. Zeke also had just 6 rushing touchdowns despite 32 carries within the 10-yard line and 26 carries within the 5-yard line. Even if the offensive situation around him remained the same, I would expect Elliott to score more touchdowns. However, Prescott will return to play, and the offensive line should go back to one of the best in the NFL. Elliott is due for a massive bounce-back season, and he’s likely to boost his touchdown total significantly.
David Montgomery: As great as David Montgomery was last season on his way to an RB4 1/2 PPR finish, he could have run for more touchdowns. Montgomery had 24 carries in the 10-zone and 14 carries within the 5-yard line, but he ran for just 5 touchdowns in that area. Whether or not Montgomery will see the same volume with Tarik Cohen returning from injury and Damien Williams added to the roster remains to be seen. Regardless, though, Montgomery should see his red-zone usage translate to a higher touchdown rate. If he’s the every-down back again this season with high hopes of improved quarterback play from Justin Fields, watch out for him at a ridiculous draft value.
Cam Akers: One of the heroes of the 2020 NFL postseason, Cam Akers ran for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns on 46 carries through 2 games. However, during the regular season, he had just 2 touchdowns on 145 carries through 13 games. Akers will likely earn a higher carry share in his second professional season, which means more than 21 rushing attempts inside the 10-yard line. With increased volume and a positive regression to the mean, Akers could go from 2 regular-season rushing touchdowns to 10. He’s currently the RB14 in 1/2 PPR scoring in my projections, and he has clear top-ten upside.
Myles Gaskin: The Dolphins were one of the teams consistently linked to the early-round running backs, but they opted to spend their early picks on different positions of need. Myles Gaskin was one of the winners of the draft. Therefore, as I have him down for over 250 touches in my projections. Gaskin had 21 carries inside the 10-yard line last season, but he scored just 3 touchdowns on those rushes. I’m expecting this offense to improve in Tua Tagovailoa’s second season, especially after the additions of Will Fuller and rookie Jaylen Waddle. Gaskin is set to be the clear workhorse back for this team, and a significant touchdown uptick is also on the way.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The Chiefs’ rookie running back had 217 touches in his debut season, but he finished as just the RB22 in fantasy scoring. CEH only had 5 combined touchdowns, which was part of what deflated his fantasy value. He had 15 carries inside the 10-yard line but only scored one touchdown on those touches. The Chiefs have one of the best offenses in the NFL, and CEH’s efficiency should only improve as he gets more NFL work under his belt. With an uptick in touchdown efficiency, Clyde is a top-15 back in fantasy scoring.
Calvin Ridley: The Falcons’ receiver is already due for an uptick in fantasy production after Julio Jones was traded to the Titans, but positive touchdown regression could also be coming his way. Ridley saw 22 targets in the red zone and only scored 7 touchdowns on those looks. That’s not a terrible efficiency rate, but he’s a top talent at receiver and should be able to add a couple of more touchdowns this year. Combine that with a large boost in targets as the clear-cut WR1 on his team, and you’re looking at a guy with top-five potential at the wide receiver position.
Allen Robinson: Despite a lack of consistency at the quarterback position, Allen Robinson has produced top-notch numbers as one of the best receivers in the NFL. However, despite landing near the top of the league in target share the last two years, he hasn’t scored 8+ touchdowns since 2015. The Bears are hoping for improved quarterback play from high-upside rookie Justin Fields, and Robinson could see an uptick in touchdowns due to that improvement. On 19 red-zone receptions, he only scored 4 touchdowns last year. On 19 red-zone looks from Fields, Robinson could easily double his touchdown counts.
DeAndre Hopkins: In his first season with the Cardinals, DeAndre Hopkins had 115 catches, tied for the second-most in the NFL. However, he scored just 6 touchdowns. For context, Davante Adams had the same number of catches and scored a whopping 18 touchdowns. Hopkins saw 18 targets in the red zone, but he caught just 3 touchdowns, a pretty low rate given his clear talent. He’s had 11+ touchdowns in three separate seasons in the NFL. Hopkins still finished as the WR5 in fantasy, and with a few more touchdowns to his name, he easily has the upside to be the top scorer at the position.
Amari Cooper: Along with the rest of the Cowboys’ skill position players, Amari Cooper is already due for an uptick in production with better health from Dak Prescott and the offensive line. Cooper scored just 4 touchdowns on 15 red-zone targets last year. He finished with just 5 touchdowns, his lowest mark since 2016. Cooper has never scored double-digit touchdowns, and he likely won’t this year, but it’s worth noting that he’s due to score a few more times this season as the Dallas offense is far more functionally sound.
Justin Jefferson: After putting together arguably the best rookie season of all time by a receiver, it may seem hard to believe that Jefferson has room for improvement this year. He scored 7 touchdowns last year, a decent number, but I believe Jefferson has the opportunity to land in the double-digit touchdown range this year. He saw 12 red-zone targets but scored just 4 touchdowns on them, and that could easily be improved given Kirk Cousins’s passing efficiency. Jefferson is a clear-cut WR1 in my book this year.
Darren Waller: I mentioned Derek Carr as a potential candidate for positive touchdown regression this season, and that extends to his top target in Darren Waller. One of the few consistently productive tight ends, Waller caught 107 balls for 1,196 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. However, just 6 of those touchdowns came in the red zone, despite him catching 19 of his 24 targets. Carr isn’t likely to challenge for the league lead in touchdowns anytime soon, but Waller has double-digit touchdown potential with a bit of positive regression working in his favor.
Eric Ebron: It seems like ages ago that Eric Ebron caught 13 touchdowns in a season, but it was only three years ago. Ebron is still in the prime of his career, but he dealt with some real drops issues in Pittsburgh last year. However, he saw 18 red-zone targets, the most on the Steelers’ team. Ebron had just 4 touchdowns on those 18 red-zone looks, and he could easily improve that tally in 2020. The Steelers will look to run the ball more in 2021 with the addition of rookie Najee Harris, so Ebron’s target total could be reduced, but it’s worth noting he led the team in red-zone targets last season.