Fantasy Football: The Top Touchdown Regression Candidates for 2022 (Quarterbacks)
Touchdowns are one of the major components of fantasy football, and I don't mean just that they are one of only a few ways to generate fantasy points. I mean that they matter a lot.
Sort a fantasy football leaderboard by yardage, and you'll see a pretty tight dispersal overall. It's touchdowns that really shake up the fantasy standings (especially in standard and half-PPR leagues).
If a player finds paydirt at a position-high rate, he's going to have a great fantasy season even if the other stats are lagging behind. And, of course, there are always productive players from a yardage standpoint who just don't score much in a 17-game season (whether it's randomness or their offense or their role).
But one truth remains: players generally regress year to year, especially in the touchdown column, and that should help us as we build our fantasy football and best ball lineups.
Here are the biggest touchdown regression candidates among quarterbacks for 2022. If you don't care about the process or its accuracy, just skip ahead to the results.
Foregrounding the Process
Using R^2 values, we have two paths to understanding passing touchdowns pretty well.
If you compare a quarterback's passing yardage output to his touchdown total (among passers with at least 100 attempts since 2016), you'll see an R^2 of 81.1%. If you look at successful passes (measured by our Net Expected Points [NEP] metric), the R^2 is 78.9%.
So, basically, with these two numbers, we can understand around 80% of a player's touchdown output.
If we look at players with at least 100 dropbacks in a season and at least 100 attempts in a follow-up season since 2016, we can view 153 total seasons with a qualified follow-up.
Among these 153 campaigns, there are 38 instances in which a quarterback had at least 3.0 more touchdowns than expected. Only 7 of the 38 (18.4%) increased their touchdown rate (passing touchdowns per pass attempt) the following year. That means there's more than an 80% chance, based on history, that the big overperformers will fall off.
Of the 45 quarterbacks to underperform touchdown expectations by at least 3.0 scores in this sample, 37 increased their touchdown rate the following year (82.2%).
Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates
These quarterbacks should have better touchdown luck in 2022 than they had in 2021.
The 13.7 touchdowns below expected by Trevor Lawrence is the largest gap logged since 2016. He managed a paltry 2.0% touchdown rate but should've been at 4.3%, according to the data. At that rate (i.e. 25.7 passing scores), Lawrence would've been the QB13 last season. He's being drafted as the QB19 in best-ball formats on FanDuel.
Derek Carr was the actual QB13 (and the QB13 in best-ball leagues) last year despite nearly 10 passing scores below expected. Top five in passing yards and with solid efficiency, Carr is a prime candidate to make good on an increased touchdown rate, especially now with historical overperformer Davante Adams.
Matt Ryan (QB17 by best-ball ADP) heads to a new team but will continue to play home games indoors with the Indianapolis Colts. While it's hard to envision a high-end QB1 season for Ryan with the offense flowing through Jonathan Taylor, the underlying data is there for him to be in the QB2 conversation in fantasy leagues.
Negative Touchdown Regression Candidates
These players should see a decrease in their touchdown rate in 2022.
If you look down this list, it's basically a who's who of the league's top passers, and there absolutely is something to outperforming the average when you're an above-average talent. That's not the argument here.
The argument (and what the data says) is that these guys should be seeing a drop in touchdown rate this season. They still have room to finish above the NFL average touchdown rate (4.5%) but below these elevated ones posted in 2021. History says 10 or 11 of these 13 will decline in touchdown rate.
All that said, the group of passers who had overperformed touchdown expectations by at least 3.0 scores had an average touchdown rate of 6.4% and followed it up with a sample average of 5.1%. That's above the NFL average but a big drop from their elevated rates. At 600 attempts, that'd be the difference of 38 touchdowns to just over 30.
Aaron Rodgers will have his work cut out for him to be quite as good as he was last year in fantasy formats (QB6) while tossing 41 touchdowns. He's losing Davante Adams and was destined to see his touchdown rate dip anyway, so even at Rodgers' QB9 best-ball ADP, it might be a tall order to back it up.
Matthew Stafford, the QB12 in best-ball ADP, doesn't necessarily need to be someone we fade outright or anything, but he did notch a career-best touchdown rate (6.8%) in 2021. Of course, he changed teams and had better weapons than in recent seasons, yet we should be embracing fewer scores this year (or, more accurately, at least a lower touchdown rate).
Both Dak Prescott (QB10 in best-ball) and Tom Brady (QB6) have lost key pass-catchers from 2021, and Russell Wilson (QB11) joined a new team. They're prime candidates for scaled-back scoring efficiency. With more volume than he had last season, Wilson could easily outperform the touchdown totals, of course.