Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 9

Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 9

Statistical Analysis

Targets, touches and touchdowns: Week 9

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Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

We’re basically halfway through the NFL regular season and past the midpoint of the fantasy season.

In other words, there’s no time better than the present to run down the league’s touchdown regression-to-the-mean candidates. And, remember, regression to the mean is a two-way street with some players having scored more TDs than their usage dictates while others have too few scores based on their touches, targets and throws so far.

Now we’re not going to delve too deep into the metrics here, and instead, we’ll rely on readily available stats and some basic good old common sense.

That established, here are eight of each: Players likely to total more TDs in the season’s second half, followed by those likely to see fewer trips to the end zone. We start with eight from the contingent primed for an upswing:

MORE TDs AHEAD

Baker Mayfield (Browns)

How real is the struggle for the second-year Browns QB? On the touchdown pass league leaders list, Mayfield’s six are tied for 28th – with Joe Flacco and Mitch Trubisky, who essentially missed two full games. And Mayfield also trails the likes of Mason Rudolph (before Monday night), the benched-for-the-last-two-games Marcus Mariota and Case Keenum. Mayfield has double the number of interceptions (12) – which is tied with Jameis Winston for the league lead – and also double the number of different commercial advertising spots airing during games. That leaves Mayfield nowhere to go but up with his talented by underperforming current cast of weapons and only 12 months removed from setting the league rookie single-season record with 27 scoring passes.

QB Kyler Murray (Cardinals)

Of the season’s 30 qualified quarterbacks coming out of action Sunday, only the scuffling – and now-injured – Flacco (2.3) has a lower TD pass percentage than Murray’s 2.4. Three of Murray’s seven touchdown tosses came in a Week 6 game against the defenseless Falcons, meaning he has only four total in his other seven contests, including none in four of his last five outings. Murray, who has a pair of rushing scores, does have to face the league’s No. 1 pass defense, the division-rival 49ers, in two of his next three games, starting Thursday night, but count on the talented rookie QB and his rookie head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, to settle in and scheme up a much better aerial output over the season’s second half.

QB Andy Dalton (Bengals)

The Red Rifle leads the league with 338 pass attempts but was tied for 19th through Sunday with only nine scoring tosses. That’s a 2.7 percent TD pass rate, a full two points below this career average. Dalton does have three rushing scores, but with the winless Bengals surrendering an average of 26.3 points per contest, Dalton is going to have to keep airing it out and racking up a bushel of garbage-time points. And with standout wide receiver A.J. Green likely back after the team’s Week 9 bye to join an already solid cast of pass-catchers in Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, Alex Erickson and tight end Tyler Eifert, the signs point toward a TD pass uptick for Dalton over his final eight games.

RB Leonard Fournette (Jaguars)

This J’ville workhorse leads the league with 163 rushing attempts and ranks fourth among running backs with 35 receptions – already only one off his career season-high, set in 13 games as a rookie in 2017. But despite those league-high 198 touches, Fournette has found his way into the end zone only once – a 1-yard scoring run in Week 5 – to account for the Jaguars’ lone ground score of the season (compared to 14 aerial TDs). Bank on that ratio balancing out a fair amount over Jacksonville’s final eight games with the RB who’s accounting for a whopping 90 percent of the team’s total running back touches coming out as the primary beneficiary.

RB Le’Veon Bell (Jets)

Of the 11 running backs who have logged at least 140 touches this season, Bell is the only other back aside from Fournette to have totaled two or fewer TDs. It’s a subset of an offense that is averaging only 11.1 points per game (second-worst in the league) due to a variety of factors ranging from injuries and illnesses (QB and offensive line) to a formidable schedule (which has included two games against a Patriots defense off to a historically strong start). Second-year QB Sam Darnold is now back after a month-long bout with mono, the itinerary lightens up considerably with the Jets facing, in order, the Dolphins, Giants, Redskins, Raiders, Bengals and Dolphins, again, over the next six weeks. If Bell continues at his current healthy 20.1-touch-per-game pace, the TD opportunities will follow.

WR Mike Williams (Chargers)

Remember back to this summer, when fantasy analysts were calling for a TD regression for Williams following his unsustainable 11 scoring catches on 66 targets and only 42 receptions in 2018? Well, that’s come to full fruition – and then some –  over Williams’ first seven games so far with no scores on 50 targets and 26 receptions, including only two catches on 10 targets in the red zone. Don’t be surprised if the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Williams finds a balance between the two extremes with 4-to-6 scoring grabs over the Bolts’ final nine games.

WR Robert Woods (Rams)

Fellow L.A. wideout Cooper Kupp is tearing it up with five TD grabs among his team-leading 87 targets and 58 receptions. Meanwhile, Woods is still looking for his first scoring catch halfway through the season – after totaling five and six the previous two campaigns with the Rams – and comes out of Sunday as the wideout with most targets (60) and receptions (38) without a scoring grab. QB Jared Goff has struggled so far with a 3.5 touchdown pass percentage – he finished with 5.9 and 5.7 marks the previous two seasons – and if he picks that up, as anticipated, over the second half, Woods figures to be one of the leading beneficiaries on the receiving end.

TE George Kittle (49ers)

The 7-0 Niners rank third in the league with their average of 29.6 points per game and have scored 22 offensive touchdowns. However, Kittle, San Fran’s best offensive weapon and runaway leader in targets (49, 24 more than any teammate), receptions (40, 22 more) and receiving yards (462, 274 more), only has accounted for one of those 22 TDs. Kittle has had three scores nullified, including one Sunday in the 51-13 beatdown of the Panthers, due to teammates’ offensive penalties and currently ranks as the league tight end with the most targets and receptions with one or fewer TDs. Kittle also had a relatively minuscule five scoring grabs a year ago when he set the NFL single-season tight end yardage record (1,377) on 135 targets and 88 receptions, so Kittle is way past due for a significant touchdown bump.

FEWER TDs AHEAD

QB Matthew Stafford (Lions)

Of qualified quarterbacks, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson currently leads the league with a 6.8 TD pass percentage. Stafford is No. 2 at 6.4, having thrown 16 in seven games. That’s nearly two full percentage points above his career percentage of 4.5 and is why the Lions own one of the league’s most out-of-whack passing-to-rushing offensive touchdown ratios at 16:2. It’s a shocking ratio given all the summer concerns that the 2019 Lions were destined to be a ground-oriented team. Stafford’s highest full single-season TD-pass percentage rate among his 11 campaigns came in the Calvin Johnson heydays of 2011 when he threw 41 and finished with a 6.2 percentage. He hasn’t had another season with more than 32 scoring tosses, and that’s right around where Stafford’s 2019 numbers should settle if Detroit’s passing TD/rushing TD ratio gets even a little more reasonably balanced over the season’s second half.

QB Jacoby Brissett (Colts)

On the subject of lopsided team passing TD/rushing ratios, we have Indy at 14:4 through seven games despite the Colts currently owning the league’s fifth-highest overall rushing-play percentage at 47.1. Brissett himself has accounted for one of those four rushing scores while ranking in a tie for seventh among all QBs with 14 scoring throws and standing fourth with a 6.1 TD pass percentage. Brissett has done a better-than-expected job stepping in for the retired Andrew Luck, tossing multiple TD passes in five of seven games so far and leading the Colts to an AFC South-best 5-2 record so far, but expect Marlon Mack (only three TDs on 138 rushes) and the Indy ground game to shoulder a larger share of the TD load over the final nine games.

RB Aaron Jones (Packers)

Jones has found his way into the end zone in six of the Pack’s last seven games and leads the league with 11 total TDs on 148 total touches in eight contests so far this season. In his previous two seasons, Jones totaled 13 TDs on 249 touches. Keep in mind though that fellow RB Jamaal Williams has essentially missed two full games with a concussion but has played at least 40 percent of the offensive snaps in the three games since his return while scoring four TDs himself, and wide receiver Davante Adams – he of the team-leading 13 TDs a season ago – has been out since Week 4 and doesn’t have a TD among his 36 targets and 25 receptions this season. If Williams and Adams can get – and stay healthy – it adds up to fewer Jones TDs over the season’s second half.

RB Austin Ekeler (Chargers)

Ekeler ranks fourth in the league with eight total touchdowns so far, including a running back-most five receiving scores, but only two of those TDs have come in the four games since fellow RB Melvin Gordon returned from his ill-fated holdout in Week 5. Gordon has matched Ekeler with two TDs over that four-game span. Tight end Hunter Henry returned from injury in Week 6, Mike Williams, as aforementioned, has yet to snare a scoring pass and No. 1 WR Keenan Allen has gone without a TD over his last five games. That all adds up to fewer scores for Ekeler in the season’s second half – a trend that’s already well underway.

RB Tevin Coleman (49ers)

With four TDs Sunday in the thrashing of the Panthers, Coleman now has six on 79 total touches in five games this season, tied for eighth overall in the league with nine others. Four of those scores, though, including three of four Sunday, came on plays of 10 yards or longer, meaning they’re a little less sustainable. In addition, only nine of the Niners’ 22 offensive TDs so far have come via the pass, so expect a greater percentage of the team’s TDs to go to Kittle and the wide receivers – including the newly acquired Emmanuel Sanders – going forward. While Coleman has emerged as the team’s lead back, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are also still going to be involved and will score their share of TDs as well in true traditional Shanahan RB rotation fashion.

WR Adam Thielen (Vikings)

Thielen has been a model of uber-touch efficiency so far with seven scores on only 29 touches, including a rushing TD. That’s only two off Thielen’s career season-high in TDs of nine which came last season – on 118 total touches. And while Thielen’s volume should increase (he’s only averaging 5.7 targets and 3.9 receptions per game) when he comes back from his current hamstring issue that kept him out of Week 8, averaging a touchdown every 4.1 touches is far beyond the realm of sustainability.

WR D.J. Chark (Jaguars)

The second-year wideout has accounted for a full 40 percent of the Jags’ 15 offensive TDs so far, reeling in six scoring passes among his 39 total receptions. That’s five more than his aforementioned teammate Fornette and one more than the total of fellow WRs Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, Keelan Cole and Marqise Lee combined. Expect Chark to remain Jacksonville’s best fantasy pass catcher, but expect him to fall short of the 14-TD pace he’s currently on for the season.

TE Daniel Fells (Texans)

The surprising Fells is currently tied with the Falcons’ Austin Hooper for the league tight end lead with five scoring receptions. He’s done so, though, on only 23 receptions for an absurd average of a TD on every 4.6 catches. For reference, that would better Eric Ebron’s positional leading average of a score every 5.08 receptions a year ago. At 6-7, Fells does present an ideal red-zone target but expecting the towering tight end to continue to pile up TDs at the relative expense of WR DeAndre Hopkins (three TDs so far on 60 receptions) and RBs Carlos Hyde (three on 136 touches) and Duke Johnson (two on 64) is a little too unreasonable.

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