Touchdown Regression Candidates: Quarterbacks

Rich Holman takes a look at some quarterbacks that could be in for some regression.

We’re 8 weeks into the NFL season which seems like a good time to check into what players are due for some touchdown regression. Thanks to my No Huddle Podcast partner, Kenny Hyttenhove, most of the legwork was done. In the preseason, Kenny dropped a couple of regression articles (here and here) in which he dove into what statistics were the “stickiest” from year to year based on positions.

In Kenny’s quarterback regression article, he laid out that passing yards had the best correlation to passing touchdowns – r-squared of .54. Once I added the data for our 8 weeks of the 2020 season, this is what we’re looking at.


Quarterback Passing Yards Per Touchdown


For quarterback rushing touchdowns, Kenny determined that rushing attempts correlated the best with rushing touchdowns, producing a .59 r-squared. Here’s the data set once I added 2020’s numbers.


Quarterback Rushing Attempts Per Touchdown


We can see where 2019 and 2020’s numbers have started to adjust some due to the influx of running quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray. Now that we have our data set to include 2020’s numbers, let’s dive into the players that look like regression candidates. Remember, regression to the mean does not always ensure reduced productivity – it goes both ways – so we’ll take a look at some quarterbacks that may have some negative regression, as well as some positive.


Positive Regression


Matt Ryan, Falcons


With everything going on in the world right now, let’s start this off with some positivity. On the surface, the Falcons are a little bit of a nightmare right now. They currently sit in the basement of the NFC South and at 2-6, their playoff hopes are starting to dwindle. Matt Ryan actually leads the league in passing yards with 2,462 but has thrown just 12 touchdown passes (T17). Here’s where our model expects Ryan to be.


Matt Ryan – 2020 Statistics


Currently, Ryan sits as the QB11, but if we add an additional 3 passing touchdowns to his total, he’d bump up to QB6. Of course, that’s not how regression works, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption that if Ryan continues to pass at this rate as the season moves on, that his passing touchdown rate should rebound. With how much the Falcons’ defense has struggled, I’d expect Ryan to continue to air it out to keep Atlanta in the game.


Joe Burrow, Bengals


The number one overall pick has stepped directly into the spotlight for the Bengals. Through 8 games, Joe Burrow sits as the QB10 for fantasy purposes. He’s certainly gone above and beyond his QB19 ADP. For the year, Burrow has thrown for the third-most passing yards. Touchdowns on the other hand are another story, as his 11 passing touchdowns rank 21st in the league. Let’s check out what the model shows for Burrow.


Joe Burrow – 2020 Statistics


Bear with me here. I understand Burrow’s only expected to have 1.70 more touchdowns than he currently has. However, it’s the 3 missing passing touchdowns that have me excited. For the year, the Bengals have passed at the 7th highest rate and as each week passes, Burrow looks more and more comfortable under center. The cherry on top of the sundae has been the rushing stats. With 31 fantasy points accumulated on the ground, Burrow has essentially added an extra passing touchdown per game with his legs. The Bengals are on bye this week but have a really nice stretch coming up starting in Week 12. Burrow gets to face the Giants, Dolphins, and Cowboys as fantasy teams head towards the playoffs.


Daniel Jones, Giants


Let’s go dumpster diving! Heading into this year, I was pretty high on Daniel Jones after he had a monster stretch of games as a rookie. And then I saw his schedule – Steelers, Bears, 49ers, Rams. The Rams haven’t been as scary as I thought they would be, but Aaron Donald is scary enough. As expected, Jones struggled and the struggles have continued regardless of the opponent, kind of. Now that we have a better understanding of what teams are, we know that the Washington Football Team has a legitimate pass rush, as do the Eagles. And the Buccaneers are potentially one of the best defenses in the league. That’s 7 of the Giants’ 8 games. Jones and the Giants still face Washington and the Eagles before their Week 11 bye. Coming out of the bye is when I think we see a major turnaround, as the Giants face the Bengals, Seahawks, Cardinals, and Browns. Now, let’s see what the model makes of these bad stats.


Daniel Jones – 2020 Statistics


So as it stands, Jones is the QB26 in fantasy scoring. However, if we add in 3 passing touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown, he gets a bump up to QB21. Still not rosterable for fantasy purposes, but when we keep in mind his previous opponents, things are looking up. If his touchdown rate catches up to the expected rate for those sweet, sweet matchups following the bye, Jones could be a great streaming option that leads you into the playoffs.


Negative Regression


Russell Wilson, Seahawks


Listen, I know you checked out after seeing Wilson’s name. Personally, I’m a believer in what Russell Wilson is doing, but I refuse to use the most overused phrase “Russ is cooking”. When you combine the success that the Seahawks have had through the air with the injuries to Chris Carson and the running game and the porous, holey defense, I can build the logic that keeps Russell Wilson performing how he has. That being said, I cannot ignore the numbers that the model spits out.


Russell Wilson – 2020 Statistics


As you can see, when we compare Wilson’s passing yardage and rushing attempts to the average data from the last 5.5 years, Wilson has overperformed by 11 touchdowns. Granted, that is just the numbers and lacks the details of what’s going on with the team. Just keep it in the back of your head that Russ’s touchdown rate could normalize some.


Tom Brady, Buccaneers 


Yes, you’re correct – Tom has been terrific in Tampa Bay. Brady has led the Bucs to a 6-2 record and the team has posted a +82 in point differential, thanks in part to an excellent Tampa Bay defense. Brady has thrown 20 touchdowns, which ranks 3rd. Unlike Burrow and the others that seem to be disproportionate between their yardage and touchdowns, Brady has also thrown for the 4th-most yards this year. So what gives?


Tom Brady – 2020 Statistics


As you can see, Brady has outperformed on the rushing touchdown side slightly, but we know Brady loves the QB sneak. The passing touchdown rate is where our data has an issue. When we dive in closer, Brady has thrown for the second-most passing touchdowns inside the opponent’s 5-yard line or the Green Zone. He’s thrown 9 touchdowns from the Green Zone, second only to Russell Wilson. My main concern with this is if Tampa Bay gets a more legit run game going – oh, hey Leonard, didn’t see you there – then Brady’s touchdown rate could regress to the mean moving forward. That’s not to say Brady would “lose 7 touchdowns” because of regression, but the rate at which he throws them would normalize some.


Ryan Tannehill, Titans


Finally, let’s take a look at everyone’s favorite game manager, Ryan Tannehill. The former Dolphins QB has led the Titans to a 5-2 record and a share of the lead in the AFC South. He currently sits as the QB9 for fantasy purposes and is crushing his 13th round ADP. Tannehill has thrown the 5th most touchdown passes this year sitting behind just Wilson, Mahomes, Brady, and Rodgers. That’s some awesome company to be in. However, the Titans’ QB has thrown for just 1,823 yards – 21st in the league.


Ryan Tannehill – 2020 Statistics


Unlike Wilson and Brady, just 5 of Tannehill’s 17 touchdowns have come within the Green Zone, which makes complete sense since that is Derrick Henry territory. That means Tannehill’s passing touchdowns have come from further out, which means he’s been extremely efficient in terms of touchdown rate. With the Titans not passing in the Green Zone, I’d expect Tannehill’s touchdown rate to normalize. That most likely means we won’t be seeing any more 239-4 and 195-3 games moving forward.


(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

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