Which Wide Receivers Will Score Fewer Touchdowns in 2020?

We all want to find the big breakout players in fantasy football. No matter what your strategy is or how much time you prepare, everyone wants to hit on the players who have a big season.

The 12th-rounder who becomes a weekly starter. The fifth-rounder who becomes a top-12 positional player. It happens each year.

But one thing we should avoid doing while trying to find those players is putting too much stock into the total production from last year when we can, instead, look at the underlying data.

Touchdown rates yo-yo up and down around a player and league average, so why buy in at top dollar on a player who just hit the high end of the outcome range?

That doesn't make a ton of sense. Touchdown rates do a pretty good job of correcting year to year, and we already used regression to find that these receivers look likely to increase their scoring rates in 2020.

Now, let's look at the opposite. Which receivers outperformed their expected touchdown rates and seem set for returns to normalcy?

The Math Behind It All

At numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP indicates how a player impacts his team's chance of scoring. NEP values shorter yardage gains that move the sticks (such as a 5-yard catch on 3rd-and-2) and downplays an 18-yard catch on 3rd-and-23 that leads to a punt.

Those expected point changes add up over a full year and, historically, correlate very well with touchdowns.

Here's the relationship between total Reception NEP and total touchdowns since 2000.

Reception NEP vs. Receiving TDs

Pretty linear, yeah?

So, by this measure, there have been 332 receivers who outperformed their touchdown total by at least a full score in one year and who then also had at least 30 catches the next year. Of those 332, 274 of them (82.5%) saw a lower reception-per-touchdown rate the following season. Only 107 of them (32.2%) outperformed their touchdown totals by at least a full score in consecutive years. Some wideouts may be "touchdown makers," but it's definitely the minority of players who outplay touchdown expectations significantly and consistently.

Similarly, 367 receivers underperformed in the touchdown column by at least a full touchdown and saw at least 30 catches the following season. Of those, 270 (73.6%) increased their reception-per-touchdown rate.

So, it's not perfect. Nothing ever will be when it comes to finding touchdown rates, but it's close, and we can feel confident that players who over-performed in touchdown rate should scale it back the following year. Which players fit that criteria for 2020?

2020's Regression Candidates

These are the wideouts who scored at least 1.0 more times than they "should have" based on their Reception NEP output.

Player TD +/- Player TD +/-
Marquise Brown 3.47 Demarcus Robinson 1.95
Marvin Jones 3.42 Taylor Gabriel 1.87
Willie Snead 2.78 Tajae Sharpe 1.63
Darius Slayton 2.71 Nelson Agholor 1.62
Steven Sims 2.63 Bisi Johnson 1.57
Kenny Golladay 2.46 Breshad Perriman 1.40
Mecole Hardman 2.44 AJ Brown 1.37
Phillip Dorsett 2.40 Cooper Kupp 1.34
Adam Thielen 2.40 Tyrell Williams 1.24
Kendrick Bourne 2.26 Calvin Ridley 1.18
DJ Chark 2.09 DK Metcalf 1.06
Curtis Samuel 1.99 Preston Williams 1.06
TY Hilton 1.96 Golden Tate 1.04

With Marquise Brown leading the way and Willie Snead sitting third, we can talk about the Baltimore Ravens as a whole. numberFire editor-in-chief JJ Zachariason found that the Ravens are expected to regress both because of their scoring rate and play-calling trends in 2020. Of course, Snead isn't particularly relevant in fantasy football, but the bigger point here is that the Ravens' pass-catchers could be looking at lowered scoring rates and a still run-heavy offense. It's enough to worry about Brown's 2020 touchdown total.

I never like besmirching Marvin Jones or Kenny Golladay, but here we are. In 2019, Jones put up 9 touchdowns on only 779 yards. Golladay scored 11 times on 1,190 yards. And I already looked it up: if we look only at targets from Matthew Stafford, Golladay (7 touchdowns) still outperformed by 2.65 scores, and Jones (6 touchdowns) did so by 2.38. Their combined 20 touchdowns should dip in 2020.

Darius Slayton is a very intriguing addition here. According to Bestball10 average draft position data, Slayton -- by far -- has the highest cost of any New York Giants wide receiver. That's not wrong just because he's on this list, but his 8-touchdown campaign in 2019 should have been closer to 5.29. That was still the best expected touchdown total of any Giants receiver (meaning he had the best Reception NEP), but Slayton's breakout may not be quite as big as we might want if his touchdown rate scales back toward expectation.

Mecole Hardman is in a better offense than Slayton, but the two are taken right around WR40 territory. Hardman had just 26 catches, but 6 went for touchdowns -- and that doesn't really add up. He should've scored only 3.56 times. Yes, the volume could probably double in 2020, but it may not come with a touchdown rate that gets him near double-digit scores. In fact, only 18 times since the merger has a wide receiver scored 6 times on 26 or fewer catches.

Adam Thielen's 2020 will be a lot different than his 2019 was for a lot of reasons -- mainly no Stefon Diggs and ostensibly better health. Thielen, though, scored 6 touchdowns on 30 catches. Pretty similar to Hardman. Only 39 post-merger wideouts scored 6 catches on 30 or fewer targets. So, Thielen's volume will go up, assuming he's healthy. However, touchdown variance may put him closer to the 6 or 7 range still.

D.J. Chark's Jacksonville Jaguars threw for an abnormally high rate of their touchdowns in 2019, and along with that, Chark's touchdown total got a bit inflated. Chark scored eight times but should've been shy of six last season based on his Reception NEP. Chark is being drafted as a low-end WR2, and that's fine, but if you're looking for a big touchdown total from a receiver in his range, Chark may not be the one.