Players who will score fewer touchdowns in 2019


Football statistics can prove hard to predict, but history continues to show that projecting touchdown regression to the mean is significantly easier than you might imagine.

The 2016, 2017 and 2018 versions of this article provide overwhelming evidence:

There are 38 cases, the player scored fewer touchdowns the following season. All three exceptions came during a historically offensive 2018 season. Even if we cross off players who barely saw the field (David Johnson, Karlos Williams), the evidence remains extremely strong.

This is far from surprising, as we've learned over the years that players simply can't sustain extremely high scoring rates. It's not a knock on their talent; scoring is simply more about opportunity.

You want proof? Good -- I have it.

During the 2007 to 2017 seasons, there were 287 instances in which a player totaled nine or more touchdowns as a rusher or receiver. Of those players, a whopping 238 (82.9%) scored fewer touchdowns the very next season, and the average change was a decrease of 4.7. Of the 29 instances in which a player scored 15-plus touchdowns, 28 scored fewer times the next season (average dip of 9.0). The only exception was Todd Gurley II, who improved his total from 17 in 2017 to 21 in 2018. Alvin Kamara (18), Saquon Barkley (15) and Antonio Brown (15) were the only other players to score 15-plus touchdowns in 2018.

As if that's not enough to help us predict touchdown regression, we also have opportunity-adjusted touchdowns (OTD). In this piece, I'll be referencing OTD, which is a statistic that weighs every carry/target and converts the data into one number that indicates a player's scoring opportunity. Put another way, it is how many touchdowns a league-average player would've scored with the exact same opportunity as the player shown.

A careful examination of the 2018 usage of each of the players below tells us that we should expect a drop in scoring production this season.

Be sure to also check out my column on players who will score more touchdowns this season.

Note that this study is limited to regular-season rushing and receiving data.

Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (2018: 10 TDs, OTD: 3.2): Lockett had a ridiculously efficient 2018 campaign, which was highlighted by exactly one touchdown catch in 10 different games. Lockett's impressive total came despite a 3.2 OTD (138th in the league) and seven end zone targets (tied for 44th). The 6.8 gap between Lockett's OTD and TD total was the league's largest divide in 2018. Lockett totaled five all-purpose touchdowns (three receiving) during the 2016-17 seasons. Lockett, whose 84% catch rate is similarly unsustainable, is ticketed for a larger 2019 role following Doug Baldwin's retirement, but we should expect a return to earth in the touchdown category.

2019 Projection: 6 TDs

Eric Ebron, Indianapolis Colts (2018: 14 TDs, OTD: 10.0): Ebron is a strong bet for touchdown regression to the mean, but unlike Lockett, the Colts' tight end actually did see plenty of work near the goal line last season. Ebron's 10.0 OTD was ninth highest, and his 18 end zone targets were second most in the league (he also carried the ball twice inside the five). Still, Ebron's touchdown total was 4.0 above his expected total (10), so it's reckless to project a similar conversion rate in 2019. It's also worth noting that the return of Jack Doyle is baked into the projection below. Ebron's snaps, routes and targets were all drastically lower when Doyle was active last season.

2019 Projection: 6 TDs

Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers (2018: 14 TDs, OTD: 8.0): At 6.0, the gap between Gordon's OTD and touchdown total was second highest, behind that of only Lockett last season. Gordon managed 14 touchdowns despite only four carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line (he scored on three) and a pair of end zone targets (he caught one). Gordon's other touchdowns required runs of 2, 5, 5, 10, 11, 11, 20, 28, 34 and 67 yards. Gordon has scored at least 12 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons, but he was better aligned with his expected total in both 2016 (12 TDs, 12.3 OTD) and 2017 (12 TDs, 11.9 OTD). He figures to defer some touchdowns to teammates in 2019.

2019 Projection: 12 TDs

Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons(2018: 10 TDs, OTD: 4.1): The 5.9 gap between Ridley's OTD and TD total was third largest last season. Operating as Atlanta's No. 3 receiver, the rookie ranked 97th in the league in OTD and tied for 71st in end zone targets (five), but he finished tied for 16th in touchdowns. Ridley caught three end zone targets, and his other touchdowns required post-catch runs of 1, 2, 4, 8, 34, 40 and 43 yards. Ridley's targets are very likely to increase this season, but we should expect the 6-foot receiver's touchdown total to decline.

2019 Projection: 7 TDs

Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers (2018: 15 TDs, OTD: 9.7): Brown paced the entire NFL with 19 end zone targets last season, but his touchdown total was still well above his expected mark. Interestingly, Brown didn't exactly dominate on his end zone looks (seven touchdowns, 6.4 expected), instead relying on post-catch touchdown runs of 3, 7, 8, 8, 21, 26, 29 and 35 yards. Though impressive, consider that Brown entered 2018 having scored on only 11 of 925 targets when he was further than 10 yards away from the end zone. Brown is a good bet to again be near the league lead in touchdowns, but now in Oakland, expect a number below his 2013-17 average (10.4).

2019 Projection: 9 TDs

Todd Gurley II, Los Angeles Rams (2018: 21 TDs, OTD: 16.1): This one probably seems like cheating, considering Gurley's health is in question and he is expected to see a lesser role in 2019. Of course, the focus of this piece is primarily unsustainable touchdown efficiency, an area in which Gurley has blown away expectations in recent seasons. Gurley has led the league in OTD in each of the past two seasons (19 TD, 15.2 OTD in 2017), and his 36 carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line are nine more than any other player during that span. Even in a slightly reduced role, Gurley will be a candidate to reach and perhaps blow past double-digit scores in the Rams' high-powered offense.

2019 Projection: 16 TDs

Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (2018: 11 TDs, OTD: 6.4): Williams might prove to be a premier NFL touchdown scorer, but his 2018 pace is likely unsustainable. The Clemson product registered a healthy 12 end zone targets (tied for 14th), catching seven despite a 4.6 expected total. His other touchdowns required post-catch runs of 2, 16 and 16 yards. Note that Williams failed to score on 22 rookie-season targets, including three end zone looks. Williams is 6-foot-3 and likely to be a featured target near the goal line, but 6-foot-2 Keenan Allen and now-healthy 6-foot-5 Hunter Henry will be, as well.

2019 Projection: 7 TDs

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins (2018: 9 TDs, OTD: 3.9): Similar to his predecessor Lamar Miller, Drake has been strangely underutilized during his time in Miami. Despite ranking 28th in touches last season, Drake was fantasy's No. 14 scoring running back. That overachievement can mostly be explained by scoring, as he ranked 38th among backs in total OTD but ninth in touchdowns. Incredibly, only one of Drake's 120 carries came inside the opponent's 6-yard line, meaning he required runs of 6, 12, 14 and 54 yards to achieve his four rushing scores. His four receiving scores came via one end zone target, as well as post-catch runs of 2, 7 and 39 yards. (The ninth score was on the infamous walk-off lateral touchdown against the Patriots.) Drake will need more touches in order to offset his inevitable touchdown regression in 2019, though Frank Gore's departure and a new coaching staff could allow it.

2019 Projection: 6 TDs

Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos (2018: 10 TDs, OTD: 5.6): Lindsay was a gem find as an undrafted free-agent signing last offseason, but he'll have a hard time repeating his rookie campaign after benefiting greatly from 3.82 yards before contact per attempt (second highest), as well as unsustainable touchdown production. Lindsay was limited to five carries inside the opponent's 4-yard line and scored on all of them. His other touchdowns were runs of 6, 28, 41 and 65 yards and a post-reception run of 28 yards. Lindsay remains the lead back in Denver, but 229-pound second-year back Royce Freeman is an obvious candidate for a larger role and certainly plenty of goal-line work.

2019 Projection: 8 TDs

Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals (2018: 7 TDs, OTD: 3.3): Last year's Nelson Agholor in a lot of ways, Boyd enjoyed a breakout 2018 season after two dreadful campaigns to begin his pro career. Despite the strong season, Boyd was over his head in the touchdown department. He caught all four of his end zone targets and scored on one of his other two targets while inside the opponent's 10-yard line. In fact, all seven of his scores came on the 10 targets he saw while within 11 yards of the goal line. The new coaching staff could change things, but at least so far, Boyd has not been a featured target near the end zone.

2019 Projection: 4 TDs

Alvin Kamara, Saints (2018: 18 TDs, OTD: 14.5): As noted earlier, Kamara was one of three players featured in this piece last season who defied the odds and improved on his 2017 touchdown total. Kamara's OTD trailed only Gurley, and his 13 carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line tied for fourth. After totaling five carries inside the opponent's 6-yard line in 2017, Kamara scorednine touchdowns on 16 carries in the same area in 2018. Like predecessor Mark Ingram II, Latavius Murray has thrived on a big goal-line workload in his career and figures to vulture touchdowns (as will Taysom Hill, who was also a bit unlucky in the touchdown department last season), but Kamara will still see enough volume in a high-scoring offense to allow him double-digit touchdowns.

2019 Projection: 14 TDs

Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers (2018: 9 TDs, OTD: 5.7): You would be hard-pressed to make a case for more than a few players who are actually "good" at scoring touchdowns (that is, players who can consistently exceed their expected total), but perhaps Coleman is one of them. Coleman has blown away his expected total over each of the past three seasons and has 28 career scores to an expected total of 16.2 during that span. Only five players have scored eight or more touchdowns during each of the past three seasons and -- believe it or not -- Coleman is one of them. Despite everything I just laid out, it is hard to expect Coleman to be able to translate his success to San Francisco. He has never cleared six carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line in a single season and has three career end zone targets to his name. Coleman might lead the 49ers' backfield in touches, but a half-dozen scores is his most likely output.

2019 Projection: 6 TDs