Which Wide Receivers Will Score More Touchdowns in 2017?

According to our analytics, a few players should have produced more touchdowns in 2016 than they actually did. Who are they?

I'm going to have to ask you to trust the process.

I'm not alluding to the battle cry of the Philadelphia 76ers (but I'm not not alluding to it). I'm really just asking you to trust the process that earlier helped uncover which wide receivers should have scored fewer touchdowns in 2016 than they actually did, based on our metrics at numberFire.

The Process

Essentially, our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric shows how impactful a player is in terms of expected points added to his team. A quick example is a 10-yard catch on 3rd-and-8 compared to the same catch on 3rd-and-12. One extends a drive, and one likely leads to a punt or a field goal try compared to a fresh set of downs.

The more positive plays a player makes, the more expected points he adds -- and the more touchdowns he should score. That's what NEP tells us, anyway. To test this, I've charted each wide receivers touchdown total with his Reception NEP from 2012 to 2016, and Excel popped out this puppy for me.

Reception NEP and TDs

We can use that trendline to see that a receiver with a Reception NEP of 100.00 should generally score around 8 times in a season. A Reception NEP of 30.00 should come with around 2 touchdowns.

Of course, some players can secure NEP upon NEP and not be utilized near the end zone and some players can just snare touchdown grabs after his team gets him into scoring position. Still, 2015's candidates to score fewer touchdowns in 2016 did just that, so we've got that much cooking for us.

2016 Regression Candidates

To give some context, here are the top 10 players the model pegged as players who should have scored more touchdowns in 2015 than they did and their touchdown numbers in 2016. I removed players with fewer than 30 catches in 2016.

Player Rec NEP 2015 TDs TDs/Rec 2016 TDs TDs/Rec
Mike Evans 102.21 3 0.04 12 0.13
Julio Jones 148.18 8 0.06 6 0.07
Brandon LaFell 36.54 0 0.00 6 0.09
TY Hilton 100.58 5 0.07 6 0.07
Terrance Williams 73.53 3 0.06 4 0.09
Willie Snead 72.84 3 0.04 4 0.06
Mohamed Sanu 30.84 0 0.00 4 0.07
Jarvis Landry 82.26 4 0.04 4 0.04
Demaryius Thomas 107.73 6 0.06 5 0.06
Jamison Crowder 52.42 2 0.03 7 0.10

None of these guys went backward significantly (though T.Y. Hilton did drop from 0.072 touchdowns per catch to 0.066). Julio Jones dropped in touchdowns but saw 53 fewer catches in 2016 than he did in 2015.

Basically, the model identified some candidates who did improve their touchdown rates, and some guys on the list played at the same level. Nobody got worse, and that's good news for these 2017 candidates.

2017 Candidates

This is the list of 19 receivers who should have scored at least two more touchdowns than they actually did, based on this process.

Player Rec NEP TD Exp TD Diff
Pierre Garcon 95.23 3 7.01 -4.01
TY Hilton 129.84 6 9.64 -3.64
Julian Edelman 88.95 3 6.54 -3.54
Chris Conley 45.47 0 3.24 -3.24
Alshon Jeffery 70.90 2 5.17 -3.17
Terrelle Pryor 95.88 4 7.06 -3.06
Stefon Diggs 78.90 3 5.78 -2.78
Robert Woods 51.85 1 3.73 -2.73
DeAndre Hopkins 90.71 4 6.67 -2.67
Julio Jones 115.11 6 8.52 -2.52
Brandon Marshall 74.61 3 5.45 -2.45
Victor Cruz 47.47 1 3.39 -2.39
Tyler Lockett 46.88 1 3.35 -2.35
Tyler Boyd 45.44 1 3.24 -2.24
Marqise Lee 71.27 3 5.20 -2.20
Jarvis Landry 83.96 4 6.16 -2.16
Jordan Matthews 70.01 3 5.10 -2.10
Jermaine Kearse 43.52 1 3.09 -2.09
Willie Snead 82.65 4 6.06 -2.06

This is quite the list.

Of course, Pierre Garcon swapped teams (from Washington to San Francisco), and that can complicate things. Still, since 2009, only two other receivers posted a Reception NEP of at least 95.00 and scored fewer than 4 touchdowns: Antonio Brown in 2011 (2 touchdowns, 101.68 Reception NEP) and Mike Evans in 2015 (3 touchdowns, 102.21). Evans was the poster boy for a correction in touchdowns in 2016.

Hilton was on this list last year and produced around the same rate of touchdowns per catch. His teammate, Donte Moncrief, produced touchdowns at an insane level in 2016 and was one of the players the model said scored too many touchdowns relative to his Reception NEP. Of course, Hilton's game is to get the Indianapolis Colts down the field into scoring position, and Moncrief has the body to score touchdowns. Keep that in mind.

That's similarly the case with Julian Edelman, who is a possession-first receiver. The return of Rob Gronkowski should keep eating into Edelman's touchdowns, and if you throw in the addition of Brandin Cooks, it's unlikely Edelman's touchdown number accurately reflects his NEP impact this season.

You'll have to excuse any typos regarding this section (it's not easy to hit the right keys when you're levitating), but Chris Conley did make an impact on the Kansas City Chiefs' offense in 2016. He just didn't get into the end zone. He was one of just six receivers since 2009 to produce at least 45.00 Reception NEP and be held without a touchdown.

Combine that with Tyreek Hill's elevated touchdown number in 2016, and we're (possibly) in business. Of course, Hill is expected to step into a larger role, and Conley is far from a lock to see significant targets. But the numbers say some of Hill's scores could go to Conley in 2017.

Terrelle Pryor is heading to Washington and could eat up some of the touchdowns that Garcon missed out on in 2016, and Alshon Jeffery is in a new uniform for 2017 (though teammate Jordan Matthews also makes an appearance on this list).

Stefon Diggs' production waned after a lingering groin injury in Week 4 last year, but NEP says he should have nearly doubled his actual touchdown output.

DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones are both being drafted in the first three rounds of fantasy drafts (according to FantasyFootballCalculator) and could see a bump in the touchdown column. Each saw just nine red zone targets in 2016 (the same number as Todd Gurley and Terrance West because, well, I don't know why).

Jones drew 21 red zone targets in 2015, and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian wants to use Jones in the red zone this season. Hopkins turned 22 red zone targets in 2015 into 6 touchdowns (and had 11 on the full season).

Brandon Marshall transferred New York teams and joins the New York Giants, who ranked 22nd in Adjusted Passing NEP per play in 2016. That's not a great number, but Marshall's Jets were 30th in 2016. It's an improvement at least.

Of course, none of this is to say that these guys will overcorrect (or even correct at all) in 2017, but the numbers make them interesting candidates to build on underwhelming touchdown totals from 2016.