Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates: QBs & TEs (2020 Fantasy Football)
Recency bias affects us all. As fantasy football players, we become more inclined to hold on to the last piece of information we are given and ignore previous conflicting information. As such, we tend to undervalue players who performed poorly last season even though there is data to suggest their performance was an anomaly. I intend to dispel this psychological fallacy by analyzing players who are most likely to face positive regression next year. When people hear regression, their immediate thoughts go straight to negative regression, in which a player’s performance from the prior year was unsustainable and will likely to fall back to the mean in the coming year. My colleague Isaiah Sirois covered those candidates in this article.
In my analysis, I want to cover those who under-performed in 2019 but should see a general uptick in production in 2020. Much like negative regression, there are a variety of statistics that can be affected by this metric, but touchdowns are the most volatile of them all. Players who scored a below-average amount of touchdowns this year will typically see a positive regression to the mean next year as long as the opportunity stays consistent. Positive regression doesn’t necessarily mean a player will become an All-Star after an under-performing season, but they will see improvement on mathematical probability alone. While negative regression candidates are likely to be over-drafted, players facing positive regression will likely be under-drafted next year and could be potential steals if you buy them at a discount.
In this three-part series, we’ll look at positive regression candidates who could see an uptick in fantasy performance in 2020. Since you typically only start one of each of these positions in standard leagues, let’s combine this list and start with QBs and TEs.
Kyler Murray (QB – ARI)
Murray resurrected an Arizona Cardinals offense that was clinically dead in 2018, averaging 8.5 more points per game and 59.6 more passing yards per game in 2019. Although the offense rose like a phoenix from the ashes with the Offensive Rookie of the Year under center, it could’ve been even better.
Murray had the ninth-most passing attempts in the league, throwing the ball 569 times during the regular season, yet he only managed 20 passing touchdowns, which ranked 23rd among starting quarterbacks. He was able to move the ball but became stagnant inside the 20-yard line. The Cardinals were ranked 29th in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage in 2019, and Murray should be able to convert more of these opportunities into scores in 2020 and increase his touchdown output. From a rushing standpoint, Murray’s 93 rush attempts only translated into four scores. When compared to other quarterbacks with 75 or more rushes, Murray ranked as one of the lowest quarterbacks in terms of touchdown percentage per rush. Opportunity breeds production, and Murray missed out on touchdown gratification in both his run and pass game despite bountiful opportunity.
The Cardinals QB should see greater opportunity and an uptick in performance in his second year as a professional. Given the logjam in the Arizona backfield combined for 14 touchdowns in 2019, some of those touchdowns will go to Murray next season, whether he takes it in himself or passes it instead. Despite finishing as the overall QB7 this year, Murray is a prime candidate for positive regression and could end up a top-five fantasy quarterback next season.
Jared Goff (QB – LAR)
While Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff underwhelmed in 2019, his performance should be a sign of good things to come in 2020. Despite setting a career high in passing attempts this year (tying Jameis Winston for the most in the league), he only ranked 16th among quarterbacks in touchdown passes. Much of this had to do with the Rams’ ability to run the ball at the goal line, as Malcolm Brown and Todd Gurley combined for 17 rushing scores.
Goff will likely see a natural spike in touchdown passes even if he sees a small decline in passing volume due to the team not trailing as much. Over his three previous seasons, he averaged one touchdown per every 19 attempts but only mustered one touchdown per every 28 attempts this year. Positive touchdown regression is on the horizon for Goff, and it should remarkably improve his fantasy outlook. A notable concern by many is that Goff will see a massive decline in passing volume next season as the Rams switched to more two-tight-end sets starting in Week 13, yet Goff still averaged 43.2 attempts per game in the month of December. His passing volume should not see a dramatic drop-off despite the scheme change, and he should see a natural rise in production with his consistent volume.
If you are like me and wait until the later rounds to grab your quarterback, Goff could be a home-run pick. The Rams’ quarterback is going to be undervalued next year and should join top-twelve territory in 2020 after finishing as the overall QB15 this season.
Darren Waller (TE – OAK)
For every person who lost a draft pick by selecting Antonio Brown, there was another who became the benefactor with Darren Waller. The Raiders tight end had a breakout season in 2019, becoming a focal point in John Gruden’s offense and eclipsing 1,100 receiving yards in that role. If you drafted or picked up Waller, you were set at the tight end position.
You are probably thinking to yourself, “Waller was a great tight end. How is he primed for positive regression in 2020?” And you are right – Waller was amazing in 2019. Among all players at the tight end position, he averaged the second-highest snap percentage, third-most targets, and second-most catches, yet positive regression isn’t reserved solely for those who performed poorly the prior year. While Waller performed well across the board in catches and yards, the touchdowns didn’t come his way.
In 2019, Waller only caught three touchdowns, which tied him for 19th at the position. His rookie running mate, Foster Moreau, caught five touchdowns. Despite Waller leading his team by a mile with a 22 percent target share and 46 more targets than the next-closest player, he only caught 14 percent of the Raiders’ touchdowns. Whether or not the Raiders’ offense improves, Waller is a safety blanket for Derek Carr and a mainstay in the offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if he beats his ADP by doubling his touchdown output next season.
Mike Gesicki (TE – MIA)
The Dolphins’ starting tight end might not get the love of fantasy football owners, but he definitely deserves it. Despite Miami being a dumpster fire for a majority of the year, Gesicki held his own among the tight end group, finishing as a TE1. He was tied for the seventh-most targets among tight ends this year, despite only playing the 23rd-highest percentage of snaps (65). He was a physical mismatch as a route runner, and Miami tried to take advantage of his skill set.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins’ quarterback room was unstable last year, and their ineffectiveness diminished the upside of Gesicki’s opportunity. Despite seeing 89 targets, he only caught 51 balls for 570 yards, which both ranked 12th among tight ends. His 57 percent catch rate was the worst among tight ends with 60 or more targets. Opportunity breeds production, but quarterback dysfunction breeds disaster.
Luckily for Gesicki, the Dolphins should see greater stability in the quarterback room in 2020, with either Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over as the full-time starter or a rookie coming in to play on Day 1. Gesicki’s total catches and receiving yards should rise with competent quarterback play given the large amount of opportunity he received in 2019. As the Dolphins enter Year 2 under Brian Flores, expect marked improvement for all offensive players not named DeVante Parker. Gesicki could become a draft-day value come August, as positive regression should help improve his fantasy finish from 2019.