Each and every NFL season, statistical irregularities either propel or dispel player success. Those irregularities are useful when searching for touchdown regression candidates, both positive and negative.
Below, we’ll take a look at six candidates due for a positive or negative touchdown regression for 2021.
Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Without Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott had career-worst numbers in rushing yards, yards per carry, and attempts per game. He also tied his career worst in rushing touchdowns at six. On 244 touches, Elliott’s 2.5% touchdown rate is not only a career worst, but also far below the league average of 3.8% (min. 50 attempts).
Further, Elliott was staggeringly inefficient inside in the five yard line. He tied the NFL lead with 26 attempts inside the five (Dalvin Cook). From those 26 attempts, Elliott scored just five times; for reference, Cook scored 10 times from inside the five. With a repaired offensive line and a slight threat in the passing game, Elliott should see a positive regression in his touchdowns.
Even if Elliott sees the exact same number of touches, the Law of Averages says he should score 9.2 touchdowns this season. Adjusting for his high number of carries inside the five, we can confidently say Elliott should be at or near his listed rushing touchdown total of 9.5.
D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
D.J. Moore’s touchdown inefficiency has been historic. Since entering the league in 2018, he is 11th in the NFL in receiving yards and third in yards per carry. In those three seasons, 15 receivers have at least 3,000 receiving yards (including Moore). The average number of touchdowns from that group: 22, compared to Moore’s 10.
Moore’s catch percentage hasn’t been the issue here– he sits near league average (67.2%, min. 50 targets) despite having the 16th-most accurate quarterback (per Sports Reference). He’s averaged 126.5 targets per season the last two years and come away with four touchdowns each time.
Could this just be the player D.J. Moore is? Maybe. But every statistic points towards him being a big positive touchdown regression candidate. His current receiving total is at six, but comes with a +100 price tag– positive value for bettors that buy into the positive regression.
Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Justin Jefferson is coming off one of the best rookie receiving seasons in NFL history. With just one year of a sample size under his belt, how can we name him a positive touchdown regression candidate? His inefficiency inside the 10 yard line points toward a change, big or small.
In 2020, Kirk Cousins targeted Jefferson eight times inside the 10 yard line. Off those eight targets, he caught just two passes and scored just once. Surely, Minnesota’s gameplan isn’t to hyper target Jefferson near the goalline– that work is reserved for Dalvin Cook and goalline magician Adam Thielen.
However, even maintaining those eight 10-zone targets should result in a movement toward league average (around 50%). Not to mention Jefferson didn’t start the first two games of last season. Oddsmakers put Jefferson’s touchdown total at 8.5– an improvement on last year that also offers +110 odds on the over.
Negative Touchdown Regression Candidates
Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Only Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill had more touchdowns in 2020 than Adam Thielen. What led to a lucrative mark of 14 touchdowns was his production at the goalline. 11 of his 14 touchdowns came inside the red zone, with 10 of those coming from inside the 10 yard line. Players like Adams and Travis Kelce tend to be hyper-targeted around the goalline, but that’s not the case with Thielen.
It doesn’t take away from his magic route running that finds him open almost every attempt (he caught 11 of 13 targets inside the 10). However, the game plan clearly favors Dalvin Cook (26 rushes inside the 10 yard line) in short-yardage situations. Other star players with similar 10-zone targets as Thielen (Tyreek Hill, Calvin Ridley) came away with 5-6 touchdowns as opposed to 10.
As Justin Jefferson progresses, targets will stagnate or regress for Thielen. His receiving touchdown total for 2021 is set at nine, five fewer than 2020.
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
This one is fairly straightforward: Alvin Kamara scored six of his 16 rushing touchdowns in one single game. That one performance put him at a ridiculous 8.6% touchdown rate– more than double the league average (3.8%). Kamara is an efficient player in an efficient offense, but even removing his six-touchdown game, his rushing totals are far above league average.
Removed that game, Kamara had 10 rushing touchdowns on just 165 carries, a rate of 6.1%. His career touchdown rate sits at 6.3%, about par with this season. Should he sustain that total on his 187 carries from 2021, Kamara should see about 12 touchdowns instead of 16.
However, compare that to his rushing touchdown total at DraftKings, and he’s slated for 10. Even though Kamara is our negative regression candidate, he could provide some value going over his totals this season.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Calling Aaron Rodgers’ bluff is a move that typically spells disaster. We saw what happened when the league wrote him off last season: Rodgers posted an absolutely ridiculous 9.1% touchdown rate. Behind him was Russell Wilson, who famously posts high touchdown rates, all the way down at 7.2%.
Compare that rate to all-time touchdown performances– Peyton Manning (55 touchdowns in 2015), Tom Brady (50 touchdowns in 2007), and Patrick Mahomes (50 touchdowns in 2018) all stagnated around 8.6%. Those are the three most touchdown passes ever thrown in an NFL season and even their TD rate pales in comparison to Rodgers.
This isn’t an indictment on Rodgers and not to say he’ll drop down to league-average (around 4.5%). The last time Rodgers broke 9.0% was in 2011 and the following season he posted 7.1%. This might be the pinnacle of unsustainable work, and we can expect to see Rodgers’ touchdowns come down this year (current prop is at 35.5).