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Doug Orth | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Regression Candidates - WRs & TEs
Preseason Matchup Analysis

Year in and year out, fantasy owners are vexed when a breakout player from a season ago cannot come close to replicating his production from the previous year. Why does this happen so often?

Perhaps the best place to start is realizing scoring touchdowns is an opportunity-based statistic and not a talent per se. That's not to say talent doesn't play a huge role because it obviously does. There are countless examples every season in which a player's unique talent helped him score on a play that 95 percent of the rest of the players at his position probably could not have. Talent gets a player on the field. It helps a running back leave a defender flat-footed or break a tackle. It helps a receiver create separation and attract more targets. Among many other factors, scoring touchdowns is by and large a combination of talent, coaching/scheme, some luck and opportunity - the last of those factors likely being the most important. In a vacuum, it would probably be fair to say the longer the distance a player travels to score a touchdown, the more likely talent played a role in it.

There's more to fantasy than scoring touchdowns obviously, but they are a critical piece. And if we can look at metrics to help us make scoring touchdowns a bit more predictable, shouldn't we them a shot?

Regression to the mean is a topic that gets some discussion in the fantasy community but not near enough. After discussing running backs last week, we're going to take a look at touchdown regression candidates at receiver and tight end this week. Why only touchdown regression? The short explanation is my opinion that running backs have more control over their efficiency marks than wideouts or tight ends. What I've done for each player is supplied their efficiency marks going as far back as necessary and provide the league average marks for receivers and tight ends who recorded at least 50 receptions. I settled on that number mainly because it is usually pretty difficult for a pass-catcher to be relevant in fantasy for any length of time in a given season if he does not reach that benchmark.

Most of the column headers below are self-explanatory, so I'll explain only one: Yds/Tgt refers to how many receiving yards a player averaged for every target - a number that will obviously be slightly different than yards per reception.

Likely candidates for touchdown regression

JuJu Smith-Schuster

JuJu is a fine fantasy prospect but James Washington and TE Vance McDonald are a threat to his productionn in 2018.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2017 14 79 58 917 7 73.4 11.3 8.3 131.0 11.6 15.8
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

Let's be clear: Smith-Schuster appears on this list only because of his efficiency rate in regards to scoring touchdowns last year, as opposed to his ability to surpass the seven offensive TDs he actually did manage, because I think seven may be his floor this year. To put his league-best 11.3 targets per TD rate into some recent historical perspective, only Davante Adams (10.1) and Jordy Nelson (10.9) bettered that mark in 2016 (among pass-catchers who met my above criteria). There's no question Smith-Schuster benefits from the attention Antonio Brown draws (and will continue to), but I'm not sure I was dazzled enough by his play last year to believe he is the Adams to Brown's Nelson or the Reggie Wayne to Brown's Marvin Harrison quite yet. Until further notice, he is still the third-best option in the passing game behind Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Rookie James Washington may not have much of a consistent fantasy impact this season, but he's almost certain to do more than Martavis Bryant did last year. Furthermore, the team believes Vance McDonald is about ready to be the seam-stretching tight end it has hoped Ladarius Green was going to be.

Furthermore, Smith-Schuster's 73.4 percent catch rate was about 10 percent higher and his yards-per-catch average (15.8) was more than two yards better than the league average - each of which was among the top six marks among receivers in this study. If we increase his receptions by 20 to 78, bump his target rate of 5.6/game up to 7.0, drop his catch rate a little closer to league average (let's say 68), decrease his targets/TD down to a more reasonable 16 (still well above league average) and lower his YPC to 13 (still pretty high for a receiver who does his best work in the intermediate passing game), we are left with a 78-1,014-7 line in 16 games (he played 14 last season). The point to be made here is not whether or not that looks good for fantasy, but I have almost certainly projected his ceiling and a pretty optimistic one at that since we can assume Brown will get his 100-plus catches and Bell will push for 70-80. A big part of Smith-Schuster's success last year was due to Bryant's indifference and lack of dependability. Anything Washington does to top Bryant and McDonald does to best Jesse James last year figures to take more of a bite out of Smith-Schuster's production than Brown or Bell.

Robby Anderson, New York Jets

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2017 14 79 58 917 7 73.4 11.3 8.3 131.0 11.6 15.8
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

A topic we will discuss at least a few times this week is how often receivers who make their living in the deep passing game are much more likely to appear efficient with some of the metrics (specifically targets/TD and receptions/TD) I'm using. Anderson (one touchdown every nine receptions and one TD every 16.3 targets in 2017) is one such player, although he is certainly not limited to being just a one-trick pony. At any rate, Anderson scored seven times last year - all from distances of at least 18 yards and four of which covered more than 30 yards. That seems unlikely to happen again for any number of reasons, some of which I'll address in the next paragraph. First, for some perspective, Tyreek Hill (seven) was the only player in the NFL last year to score from 30 yards more than four times in 2017. (Amari Cooper and T.Y. Hilton were tied with Anderson at four.)

At some point this season, there figures to be a change of quarterback from Josh McCown to Sam Darnold. Which receiver will the rookie favor? We also should have the return of Quincy Enunwa, who was expected to be the No. 1 receiver in New York prior to his neck injury. Will Terrelle Pryor mess with Anderson's deep-ball thunder? How will the change from former OC John Morton to current play-caller Jeremy Bates change the distribution of touches in this offense? Perhaps most importantly, Anderson seems like a good bet to miss time due to suspension for his recent off-field antics. There are other potential obstacles standing in his way, but those are some of the most notable. Assessing risk is one of the most important things an owner must do when preparing for the draft. For all the talent he brings to the table, Anderson is a receiver who brings WR2 upside into the 2018 season with an end-of-the-fantasy-bench floor if one or two of the different variables don't go his way.

Jarvis Landry, Cleveland

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2014 16 112 84 758 5 75.0 22.4 16.8 151.6 6.8 9.0
2015 16 166 110 1157 4 66.3 41.5 27.5 289.3 7.0 10.5
2016 16 131 94 1136 4 71.8 32.8 23.5 284.0 8.7 12.1
2017 16 161 112 987 9 69.6 17.9 12.4 109.7 6.1 8.8
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

It is rare a receiver can post two 100-catch seasons, amass 401 receptions over the first four years of his career and we still don't know what he really is. Such is the case with Landry, who became the first non-running back in league history to catch 100 passes but fall short of 1,000 receiving yards. (Matt Forte, LaDainian Tomlinson and the incomparable Larry Centers were the others.) What we do know is Miami never allowed him to post an average depth of target more than eight yards, which is about as ridiculous for a receiver as it sounds. Fortunately for Landry and his career arc, the Dolphins gave him plenty of opportunities inside the red zone last year and he cashed in. (All nine of his receiving touchdowns came inside the red zone on 23 targets. Interestingly, Landry also had 23 red zone targets in 2015 but only scored three times, once again proving how fickle scoring touchdowns can be.)

As difficult as this may be for all of us to process, Landry leaves Miami for the talent hotbed Cleveland has become. If Josh Gordon finally has a handle on his off-field issues, he will likely be the No. 1 option in the passing game. The Browns just extended Duke Johnson for three years and $15.6 million, suggesting they are expecting him to catch another 60-70 passes per season through 2021. David Njoku is a prime candidate to see his role expand in 2018 - particularly in the red zone - after finishing with a 32-386-4 line as a rookie. That's not to say there aren't plenty of opportunities left for Landry, but even if Cleveland allows him to become more of an intermediate and downfield receiver, I've already identified players at each level (short, intermediate and deep) who will eat away at his potential production. The Browns have three NFL-caliber running backs and figure to use them all as well as an improving defense, suggesting the volume Landry often saw in Miami may not work in his favor either. And yet again, we have a situation in which a veteran quarterback who is expected to start Week 1 (Tyrod Taylor) stands a great chance of being replaced during the course of the season by a rookie (Baker Mayfield). Furthermore, no pass-catcher exceeded 60 receptions in Taylor's three seasons with Buffalo. Even with a sizable increase in average depth of target, there is just too much working against Landry to match his nine scores from a season ago, much less the one TD per 17.9 targets he managed in 2017 (his career mark entering last season was 31.5).

Marvin Jones, Detroit

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2013 16 80 51 712 10 63.8 8.0 5.1 71.2 8.9 14.0
2015 16 103 65 816 4 63.1 25.8 16.3 204.0 7.9 12.6
2016 15 103 55 930 4 53.4 25.8 13.8 232.5 9.0 16.9
2017 16 107 61 1101 9 57.0 11.9 6.8 122.3 10.3 18.1
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

Jones has enjoyed a brush with efficiency greatness before, scoring 10 times on 51 catches and 80 targets with Cincinnati back in 2013. (His eight targets per touchdown from that season trails only Doug Baldwin's 7.4 in 2015 as the best such mark over the last five seasons.) In other words, Jones' 11.9 rate in 2017 isn't exactly uncharted territory for him. However, it is worth noting he was at 25.8 in both 2015 (Bengals) and 2016 (Lions). There's no question Jones took a step forward and emerged as a more complete receiver in 2017, so nine touchdowns is potentially repeatable. I have my doubts about whether or not he can score once every 12 targets or 6.8 catches two years in a row though. While the departure of Eric Ebron frees up some more scoring opportunities in theory, it is highly likely Kenny Golladay absorbs what Ebron would have done and then some. Detroit also seems fixated on making sure the running game carries its fair share of the offensive weight this season. Ultimately, that's where I expect the pendulum to swing for Jones, as he scored three times from six or fewer yards away last year. With a back like LeGarrette Blount on the roster, perhaps Jones loses those three bunnies in 2018.

Jimmy Graham, Green Bay

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2013 16 142 86 1215 16 60.6 8.9 5.4 75.9 8.6 14.1
2014 16 125 85 889 10 68.0 12.5 8.5 88.9 7.1 10.5
2016 16 95 65 923 6 68.4 15.8 10.8 153.8 9.7 14.2
2017 16 96 57 520 10 59.4 9.6 5.7 52.0 5.4 9.1
League Average 15.2 96.9 64.5 686 5.6 66.8 17.3 11.5 122.2 7.1 10.6

Graham's 9.6 targets and 5.7 receptions for every touchdowns last season seems pretty incredible until one discovers we've usually seen at least one instance of such efficiency from a tight end on an almost annual basis over the last six seasons. (Tyler Eifert was at 5.7 and 4.0, respectively, in 2015. Antonio Gates was at 8.2 and 5.8 in 2014. Graham himself was at 8.9 and 5.4, while Julius Thomas was 7.5 and 5.4 in 2013.) The reason Graham finds himself on this list isn't because he isn't a good bet to score 10 touchdowns again, but rather because it's going to be hard for him to repeat his efficiency numbers entering his age-32 season with at least one receiver (Davante Adams) taking priority over him in the red zone. Graham seemed to lack his usual explosiveness (per Next Gen Stats, his average separation went down from 2.7 yards in 2016 to 2.5 in 2017 - fourth-lowest among qualified tight ends) and his 9.1 YPC was easily the lowest of his career. His seven drops were the most in the NFC and tied for the second most in the league, according to STATS.

Unlike Seattle - where he was the clear top red zone option - the five-time Pro Bowler enters a situation in Green Bay where he may not be. Forget the narrative Aaron Rodgers doesn't like throwing to his tight end - two tight ends (Jermichael Finley and Richard Rodgers) had eight-TD seasons with him, while Jared Cook was starting to form a nice connection with him as well toward the end of the 2016 season. If owners don't want to get on board with Graham this year, refer to the previous paragraph and the possibility Rodgers will opt for Adams in addition to one of the big, young and athletic receivers trying to replace Jordy Nelson (such as Geronimo Allison or J'Mon Moore). The number of other desirable options figures to be the main reason why Graham won't score with near as much regularity or efficiency this season.

Other noteworthy regression candidates:

Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia
Ted Ginn Jr., New Orleans
Evan Engram, New York Giants

Likely candidates for positive touchdown regression

Julio Jones, Atlanta

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2012 16 128 79 1198 10 61.7 12.8 7.9 119.8 9.4 15.2
2014 15 163 104 1593 6 63.8 27.2 17.3 265.5 9.8 15.3
2015 16 203 136 1871 8 67.0 25.4 17.0 233.9 9.2 13.7
2016 14 129 83 1409 6 64.3 21.5 13.8 234.8 10.9 17.0
2017 16 148 88 1444 3 59.5 49.3 29.3 481.3 9.7 16.4
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

I decided to break out five years' worth of information on Jones to illustrate a few points. While Jones may play hurt on a regular basis, I think we can start moving away from questions about his durability. More importantly for the sake of this piece, was he all that much different as a receiver last year than in his previous four "full" seasons? (I left off 2013 because only played five games.) A strong case can be made Jones is still the most talented receiver in the league, but the fantasy community would have owners believe his inability to score touchdowns is something he cannot do anymore for one reason or another. Let's review some facts: 14 of his 19 red zone targets last year fell incomplete. Only one of his five red zone targets resulted in a touchdown. Of the four catches that failed to result in scores, three of them were stopped at the 1- or 2-yard line. (In the interest of full disclosure, one of the four led to his only score on the next play.) Feel any different about his season yet?

Here's some other potential nuggets for fantasy owners who buy into Jones to hang their hat on: in Dirk Koetter's second season as the play-caller in Atlanta in 2013, Jones was on pace for a 131-1,856-6 line on 189 targets before his season was cut short with a foot injury. In Year 2 under Kyle Shanahan in 2016, Jones' 16-game pace was 95-1,610-7 on 147 targets. Need more? Jones' worst catch rate in the red zone since his rookie year was 50 percent. Last year, it was 26.3. If he comes anywhere close to his pre-2017 career norms in that area alone and the red zone targets stay roughly the same, Jones could score eight or more times in 2018.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2014 15 122 68 1051 12 55.7 10.2 5.7 87.6 8.6 15.5
2015 15 148 74 1206 3 50.0 49.3 24.7 402.0 8.2 16.3
2016 16 173 96 1321 12 55.5 14.4 8.0 110.1 7.6 13.8
2017 15 136 71 1001 5 52.2 27.2 14.2 200.2 7.4 14.1
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

It shouldn't be a huge surprise Evans appears on this list. After all, we're talking about a player who has scored 12 touchdowns in two of his four seasons as a pro. But rather than going with the lazy odd-year-off, even-year-on narrative, let's actually see what the numbers say. His catch rate has been right around or just over 50 percent all four years. His YPC has dropped in the last two seasons, but some of that has to be expected since defenses won't allow themselves to get beat deep consistently by Evans when he is the clear alpha dog among the Bucs' receivers.

While I hate to keep going back to red zone production as the answer for everything in regards to touchdown regression because not all red zone passes are designed to score, it's more than just a coincidence we've continually seen inefficiency in the red zone tends to lead to overall touchdown inefficiency. Let's look at Evans' work in the red zone thus far in his career:

2014: 8-15, six TDs
2015: 3-17, two TDs
2016: 9-19, seven TDs
2017: 5-19, three TDs

Shocking (sarcasm alert). In seasons in which Evans has approached a 50 percent catch rate inside the red zone, he has been a beast. Last year, his 5-for-19 showing in the red zone was exactly the same as Julio Jones', with the main difference being Evans scored three times on his opportunities and Jones scored once. Note Evans' red zone targets haven't really varied that much from year to year, but his inefficiency has (unlike Jones' red zone targets, which have varied wildly). Evans' own history suggests he's going to be better inside the 20 this year, and Tampa Bay is starting to assemble enough talent offensively where he is going to start become more efficient year after year or his teammates are going to eat (which seems to be the case in Atlanta). There's probably at least one 14-15 TD season coming up in Evans' career; if the new-and-improved offensive line can do its part, perhaps Jameis Winston will see to it Evans finally hits his statistical ceiling in 2018.

DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2013 16 126 82 1332 9 65.1 14.0 9.1 148.0 10.6 16.2
2014 15 95 56 1169 6 58.9 15.8 9.3 194.8 12.3 20.9
2016 15 100 56 1005 4 56.0 25.0 14.0 251.3 10.1 18.0
2017 14 90 50 668 3 55.6 30.0 16.7 222.7 7.4 13.4
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

With the exception of two nine-touchdown seasons, Jackson has scored between 2-6 times every other year of his career, so the fact he finished with three in 2017 sounds about right. Given his reputation as a deep threat, Jackson is always going to be subject to more volatility in the touchdown department. However, one quick look at his recent efficiency numbers provides a pretty good glimpse of what is happening: his targets/TD and receptions/TD have both increased in four straight seasons (skipped 2015 because he missed the 50-catch threshold to qualify for this study), while his yards per target and yards per catch have decreased in three consecutive years. In fact, his 13.4 YPC in 2017 was nearly four yards lower than his career average and easily the lowest mark of his career.

But let's not pretend as if this is all his fault; the mere fact two starting receivers from the same team can end up in an article such as this one is a pretty good indication Jameis Winston and/or the play-calling of HC Dirk Koetter had their own struggles. Like most vertical receivers, Jackson excels when there is a capable run threat causing safeties to bite on play-action. The mere fact Tampa Bay had two of the game's more capable downfield receivers (and another one who will get there in time in Chris Godwin) and could not either throw the ball or run particularly well is a pretty strong sign the front five wasn't holding up and Koetter wasn't doing a good enough job to mask the deficiency. It's no mystery why Tampa Bay identified the offensive line - specifically adding some nastiness - as an area of need this offseason. Once Ronald Jones establishes himself as the big-play threat the Bucs hope he will be, containing Evans and Jackson may become a near-impossible task.

Adam Thielen, Minnesota

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2016 16 92 69 967 5 75.0 18.4 13.8 193.4 10.5 14.0
2017 16 142 91 1276 4 64.1 35.5 22.8 319.0 9.0 14.0
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

As good as Thielen was last season, he was so close to being so much better in fantasy. The Minnesota State product became only the 20th receiver in league history to catch at least 90 balls and score four or fewer touchdowns. For the answer as to why, let's resume the red zone efficiency discussion. Thielen was targeted four more times inside the 20 than Stefon Diggs (17-13) and two more times inside the 10 (8-6), but Diggs won both battles when it came to catches (11-5 and 4-1, respectively). And in case readers want to point to bad luck playing an important role in Thielen's lack of TDs, Kyle Rudolph was even more efficient than Diggs (14-of-16 on passes in the red zone for six TDs, 8-of-9 for four scores inside the 10). Is all this a reflection on Thielen? Not necessarily. So what gives?

In terms of the targets/TD, Thielen finished in between Jamison Crowder (34.3) and Sterling Shepard (42.0) last year. One year earlier, Shepard scored eight times and Crowder scored seven times. Like it or not, the "art" of scoring touchdowns is volatile. If we believe Thielen is a solid NFL talent and Kirk Cousins is an upgrade over what Minnesota had last year, it's reasonable to project the Vikings' top slot option will probably visit the end zone at least six times in 2018 - even if we assume Diggs becomes Cousins' favorite target.

DeVante Parker, Miami

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2016 15 87 56 744 4 64.4 21.8 14.0 186.0 8.6 13.3
2017 13 96 57 670 1 59.4 96.0 57.0 670.0 7.0 11.8
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

Finding someone to say something nice about Parker is not an easy task. (I get it, I drafted him during my rookie draft in an experts' dynasty league in 2015 and am still waiting for him to realize the NFL comp I gave him back then … a poor man's A.J. Green). But why all the hate? If the answer to that question is "he's always hurt" or "he doesn't score enough," it might be time to step back and remember what has happened to Parker to this point of his pro career. Last season's solid start was ruined by a high-ankle sprain from which he never quite fully recovered. And whether it sounds ridiculous or not, it's been well-documented he didn't exactly know how important rest and nutrition were to his prospects of enjoying a long career during the first two NFL seasons, which obviously contributed to his lack of durability back then - a lesson he reportedly learned last offseason. In short, owners would be wise to dismiss his first two years to being "young and naïve" and remember the 96-1,226-5 pace he was on after three games last season before suffering an injury that has stopped many NFL players dead in their tracks.

It's a virtual certainty Parker will score more than one touchdown in 2018. It's also worth noting that in his last 17 full games with Ryan Tannehill (which obviously does not include last year's fast start), Parker has posted a 66-1,028-6 line on 110 targets. That was with Jarvis Landry averaging almost 150 targets. Will Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola replace all of those empty targets? Doubtful. Look, if Parker doesn't do anything this year, perhaps it's not meant to be for him. Many talented NFL players never live up to their potential because they can never seem to reach or maintain peak health for very long. But isn't there even a small possibility the receiver Miami has touted was (and probably wants to be) its top wideout for each of the last two years actually could fulfill that promise in his age-25 season? As a receiver with a 100-target floor and perhaps a 140-target ceiling, he is a ridiculous potential value pick in the late eighth round right now. (And yes, this is coming from someone who was "burned" by him in at least two high-stakes leagues last season.)

Michael Thomas, New Orleans

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2016 15 121 92 1137 9 76.0 13.4 10.2 126.3 9.4 12.4
2017 16 149 104 1245 5 69.8 29.8 20.8 249.0 8.4 12.0
League Average 15.2 109.2 67.9 874.9 5.2 62.7 21.2 13.2 163.5 8.0 12.9

Subscribers to the notion that scoring touchdowns is mostly a talent may reconsider their stance after considering Thomas' case. The second-year wideout averaged 1.2 more targets, caught 12 more passes and accumulated 108 more receiving yards in 2017 than he did in 2016, yet his TD total dropped from nine to five. As such, the Ohio state product became only the ninth player in league history to catch at least 100 balls for at least 1,200 yards and score five or fewer times. Just as a point of reference, there have been 24 instances over the last five seasons (2012-17) in which a receiver amassed 100-plus receptions and at least 1,200 yards. Exactly half of them scored at least nine times, while 14 finished with at least eight TDs.

Thomas' catch rate dropped a little over six percent as a sophomore, but the biggest difference had to be the ridiculous level of success Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara had in scoring territory last year. Four of Kamara's five receiving TDs covered between 10-18 yards - an area of the field in which Drew Brees was probably more than willing to let Thomas high-point a ball or let him try to make something happen on a short pass one season earlier. Maybe the return of Benjamin Watson and addition of Cameron Meredith caps Thomas' touchdown upside, but it's just as likely the duo is the reason he bounces back with nine or more scores in 2018.

Delanie Walker, Tennessee

Year G Tgt Rec Yds TD Ctch% Tar/TD Rec/TD Yds/TD Yds/Tgt YPC
2013 15 86 60 571 6 69.8 14.3 10.0 95.2 6.6 9.5
2014 15 106 63 890 4 59.4 26.5 15.8 222.5 8.4 14.1
2015 15 133 94 1088 6 70.7 22.2 15.7 181.3 8.2 11.6
2016 15 102 65 800 7 63.7 14.6 9.3 114.3 7.8 12.3
2017 16 111 74 807 3 66.7 37.0 24.7 269 7.3 10.9
League Average 15.2 96.9 64.5 686 5.6 66.8 17.3 11.5 122.2 7.1 10.6

When we look at the totality of Walker's time with the Titans, it doesn't take long to see last year was the exception to the rule. His catch rate in 2017 (66.7) was just a few tenths of a point higher than his first four years in Tennessee (66.0). The big differences from 2016 to 2017 were pretty much the same themes we've discussed throughout this piece. The Titans threw for 29 touchdowns two seasons ago and Walker's target per TD and receptions per TD metrics were at or near career highs. Last year, Tennessee combined for 14 passing touchdowns and Walker predictably suffered. The red zone production followed suit. Walker caught only two passes (of eight) inside the 10 and four (of 12) inside the 20 in 2017, leading to two scores. In 2016, Walker was 9-for-17 with six TDs in the red zone and 4-for-7 inside the TD (all of those catches went for scores).

Walker has some factors working against him in his quest to return to the 6-7 score level he had become accustomed to as a Titan. Jonnu Smith is only going to see more playing time moving forward; he is a player to target in deeper dynasty leagues. Corey Davis has the talent to become a WR1 and should be freed from the restraints injuries as well as former OC Terry Robiskie's offense placed on him as a rookie. Rishard Matthews is a more than capable second receiver. But we are only talking about touchdown regression here, and it seems reasonable enough for Walker to see a few more targets in the red zone this season. He may not experience a huge jump in touchdowns, but a 700-yard, five-score campaign is well within the realm of possibilities even as he enters his age-34 season.

Other noteworthy positive regression candidates:

T.Y. Hilton
Emmanuel Sanders
Pierre Garcon
Rob Gronkowski

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.