Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates: WRs (2020 Fantasy Football)
In my final installment of “Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates” for 2020, I am going to take a look at wide receivers who could see a natural uptick in production after underwhelming in 2019. These receivers had great opportunity for yards and touchdowns in the prior year, but they could not convert these opportunities into fantasy points. As shown in my last two installments on running backs, and quarterbacks/tight ends, touchdowns are so volatile that it is luck of the draw in some circumstances. The main constant of those who get a large amount of touchdowns year after year is that they see consistent overall opportunity in terms of volume. Sometimes, you’ll have a fluke year where someone with few touches overachieves on touchdowns or someone with massive opportunity doesn’t score as much. That’s where positive regression comes in.
When players receive consistent opportunity and their yards or touchdowns don’t follow suit, it can be expected that they will perform better in the following season if given the same opportunity. Let’s take a look at the wide receivers I see having a bounce back year in 2020, as they are prime candidates for positive regression.
Robert Woods (WR – LAR)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods was a favorite to be a draft-day steal at his fourth-round average draft position in 2019. Coming off a season where he had career-highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, it looked as though Woods would continue to flourish in the Rams offense as an intermediate route runner and Jared Goff’s favorite target. Unfortunately, Woods’ 2019 season was a disappointment, and he finished as the WR19 in PPR formats. Despite setting new career highs in targets and receptions in only 15 games, he managed just two receiving touchdowns on the season. His 139 targets and 67 snaps played per game were ranked eighth-most and second-most respectively among wide receivers. Yet, his two receiving scores were the fewest among wide receivers with 100+ targets.
Woods is bound to recover from his poor touchdown performance next year. Before this past season, his lowest touchdown output in a Rams uniform was five scores in the 12 games he played in 2017. Woods is a big part of the offense, having touched the the ball on more than 10 percent of his snaps this season. That opportunity should breed production next year and allow Woods to see positive regression in 2020. Woods will likely be underdrafted next season, especially since his running mate Cooper Kupp caught five times as many touchdowns on five fewer targets. Grabbing Woods as your WR2 next year could pay dividends as he course-corrects to a normal six touchdown output.
Mike Williams (WR – LAC)
Woods wasn’t the only L.A. wide receiver to disappoint in 2019. Los Angeles Chargers wideout Mike Williams also failed to find himself in the end zone often despite his large frame and immense receiving volume. Williams’ 90 targets ranked only 39th among wide receivers this year, but his two receiving touchdowns tied him, along with Woods and a host of others, for 74th at the position. To put it in perspective, Williams managed eight more touchdowns in 2018 on 24 fewer targets. He is bound for positive regression.
Williams led his team with the most red zone targets and was tied for 12th among all wide receivers in red zone targets. It was clear that the coaching staff and the quarterback believed Williams would be a red zone weapon and could convert his opportunities into touchdowns like he had the year before. Unfortunately for L.A., Williams only converted one of his 17 red zone targets into scores, which was one of the worst conversion rates in the league. He missed on the catches that could’ve propelled him up the fantasy standings. Aside from being a red zone threat, his other targets were also quite valuable. He ranked first among wide receivers in average targeted air yards, meaning he was getting the more valuable downfield targets. If he is able to even slightly improve on his 54 percent catch rate, he could rack up major points from either the downfield throws or red zone looks.
Even though the quarterback situation is unclear in Los Angeles, that shouldn’t have too much of an impact on Williams. He is secure in his role and should still see consistent volume as the No. 2 wideout in this offense. Touchdowns will come for the 6’4” receiver out of Clemson, and he should drastically improve next season. Drafters will likely be sour on Williams next season given his disappointing 2019 campaign, but positive regression dictates he could be a mid-round steal come draft day.
Deebo Samuel (WR – SF)
While the 49ers weren’t known as a high volume passing offense in 2019, Deebo Samuel still made his mark as a rookie, catching 57 balls on 81 targets for 801 yards. However, despite having the 37th-most receptions and 50th-most targets among wideouts, he only caught the 57th-most touchdowns. With such a high reception output, his touchdown total should have risen at a commensurate rate. His red zone targets also failed to coincide with scoring.
Like Mike Williams, Samuel was a red-zone target hog in 2019. He was tied with George Kittle for the most red-zone targets on his team and ranked 12th (tied with Williams) among all wide receivers in red zone looks. Despite catching nine of his 17 red-zone targets, he was only able to convert one of them into points. Samuel should see positive regression in the receiving touchdown department next season as he maintains such a high red-zone target share. The rookie’s target total should also be expected to see an increase given he was shown a larger workload in the latter half of the season. Samuel averaged four targets per game in his first eight games, but jumped to six targets per game in his final eight regular season contests. This trend continued in the playoffs, as he averaged six targets per game in the postseason, including nine looks in the Super Bowl.
While Samuel’s rush touchdowns are likely to see a dip (he scored three times on 14 carries), his receiving touchdowns should see a major spike given his red-zone usage and receiving volume. With a natural uptick in targets and touchdowns, Samuel should see a sharp rise from his 2019 fantasy finish and jump into the WR2 range next season.
Odell Beckham Jr. (WR – CLE)
Odell Beckham’s first year as a Cleveland Brown was underwhelming to say the least. Despite eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards, he did not live up to his second-round billing, finishing as a WR3 on the season. Yet, positive regression is on the horizon for OBJ. Beckham was a target hog in his first year in Cleveland, garnering 133 targets. He averaged 95 percent of Cleveland’s snaps and played through injury for most of the year. Yet, despite the opportunity, he was only able to corral 74 receptions. As Beckham develops more rapport with Baker Mayfield in his second season in Cleveland, he should be able to improve on his career-low 56 percent catch rate and see greater fantasy production.
Beckham also only caught four touchdowns in 2019, which was tied for 47th among wide receivers. Given OBJ was ranked 12th in wide receiver targets, he should see a commensurate jump in touchdowns as his volume stays consistent. Looking at the overall talent level of the Browns offense, it’s hard to see how they don’t improve from their 22nd ranked passing attack. Beckham should show marked improvement even if he sees a slight decline in targets under Kevin Stefanski. Given his disappointing performance in 2019, many will likely undervalue Beckham next draft season and allow him to slip down the draft board. Nonetheless, his touchdown output and catch rate are likely to see an increase back to the mean given the commitment he was shown, making him a potential steal come August. Even if Beckham is ousted to his third team, his new offense will likely see greater efficiency than the 2019 Browns unit. Beckham is a talented WR2 that will be passed over due to fear and recency bias.