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Who's set to score more or fewer TDs in 2021?

By Jared Smola 8:06am EDT 6/23/21


TDs are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring. They also tend to be fickle and unpredictable from year to year.

That can be fun or frustrating during the season -- depending on what side of the coin you’re on. But TD volatility can give us a real edge as we look ahead to the coming season. If we understand who underachieved and overachieved in the TD column last year, we can spot under and overvalued players for this year.

We found last year that yardage correlates nicely to TD production for QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs. That means we can use yardage production to determine how many TDs players should have scored. The underachievers are more likely to have better TD luck this coming season, and vice versa.

Last year’s article had some nice hits:

  • Lamar Jackson went from an overachieving 36 passing TDs in 2019 to 26 last year.
  • 2019 overachiever Aaron Jones sunk from 16 rushing scores to 9.
  • Nick Chubb underachieved with 8 rushing TDs in 2019 but improved to 12 last year.
  • After underachieving with just 2 TDs in 2019, Robert Woods scored 6 times last year.
  • Darren Waller popped as the biggest TE underachiever with 3 TDs in 2019. He scored 9 times in 2020.

There were misses, too. This is far from a perfect process. TDs, after all, are fickle. But it’s another useful data point as we continue to dig in on the 2021 fantasy season.

So let’s look at 2020’s results. The tables below show actual TDs vs. expected TDs at every position and are sorted from the biggest underachievers to the biggest overachievers.


QBs

  • Aaron Rodgers’ 48 TDs were a career high, the 5th most in NFL history and whopping 19 more than expected. We can safely bet on fewer scores from Rodgers in 2020. But he ranked 4th in red-zone pass attempts, 3rd in attempts inside the 10-yard line and 1st in attempts inside the 5 last year. And he’s been a well-above-average TD producer throughout his career. So don’t expect Rodgers’ TD total to crash. (That’s if he plays this season, of course.)
  • Like Rodgers, Russell Wilson usually appears on the TD overachiever list. He threw 4.6 more TDs than expected in 2019 and has posted a TD rate of 6+% in 7 of his 9 NFL seasons (NFL average is around 4.7%). Also like Rodgers, Wilson benefitted from heavy usage near the goal line last year, ranking 4th in red-zone passes, 6th in passes inside the 10 and 1st in passes into the end zone.
  • Teddy Bridgewater is gone from Carolina, but his well-below-expected TD total last year might hint at upside for new Panthers starter Sam Darnold. (Of course, Darnold was also 1 of the biggest TD underachievers with the Jets last year.)
  • Daniel Jones was already 1 of our favorite late-round QB targets thanks to a strong group of pass-catchers and underrated rushing ability. Add a likely bump in passing TDs to that list. Jones managed just 1 TD for every 267.5 passing yards last year but threw 1 for every 126.1 as a rookie in 2019.


  • RBs

  • Damien Harris can blame QB Cam Newton for his underachieving TD total. Newton ranked 4th league-wide and easily led all QBs with 19 carries inside the 5-yard line. Harris carried just 3 times in that area. His TD projection will get a nice boost if and when QB Mac Jones takes over for New England.
  • Derrick Henry led the league with 17 TDs -- and just barely scored more than expected. Guess that’s what happens when you run for the 5th most yards in NFL history.
  • Alvin Kamara has been the poster boy for TD volatility, scoring 14, 5 and 16 rushing TDs over the past 3 seasons. That 5-score 2019 campaign looks more like an outlier than the other 2, though. The Saints have finished top 6 in rushing TDs in 6 of the last 7 seasons, with 2019 the only exception. We project Kamara for 11 rushing scores this year.
  • Antonio Gibson scored nearly 5 times more than expected based on his yardage total last year. He finished 6th among RBs in rushing TDs despite ranking 20th in carries inside the 10-yard line and 13th in carries inside the 5. He's likely in for some regression in TD efficiency -- but that could be offset by Washington taking a step forward with better QB play this season.


  • WRs

    • Teddy Bridgewater was the biggest TD underachiever at QB -- so it’s no surprise that 3 of his WRs appear among the top 11 biggest underachievers. Curtis Samuel should score more in Washington this season. But D.J. Moore and especially Robby Anderson look like big rebound candidates in the TD department. Anderson, by the way, would have finished 12th in PPR points and 15th in non-PPR had he scored his expected 7 TDs last year.
    • Rams WRs Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp flip-flopped on this list from last year, when Woods scored 4.9 fewer TDs than expected and Kupp scored 2.9 more than expected. Both guys look like nice values in early fantasy drafts.
    • DeAndre Hopkins is a notable underachiever here considering he still finished 4th among WRs in PPR points and 9th in non-PPR. He scored 11+ TDs in 3 of his final 5 seasons in Houston and has that type of ceiling in 2021.
    • Davante Adams’ 18 receiving TDs were the 3rd most in NFL history and over 9 more than expected. He’s always been a strong TD producer but averaged 11.2 scores per 16 games over the previous 4 seasons. We project him for 12 this year -- and that’s assuming he has QB Aaron Rodgers.
    • Adam Thielen beat his previous career high in TDs by 5 and scored 8 more times than expected. But his usage near the goal line was insane. Thielen led the league with 20 targets in the end zone. Only 4 other players (Calvin Ridley, Tyler Lockett, Davante Adams and Allen Robinson) topped 14.



    TEs

    • Robert Tonyan is coming off truly 1 of the most efficient seasons we’ve ever seen. He scored more TDs (11) than he had incompletions when targeted (7). His usage near the goal line was just OK. Tonyan ranked 12th among TEs in both targets inside the 10-yard line and end zone targets. He’s an obvious regression candidate and will need more volume in 2021 if he’s going to match last year’s fantasy-point total.
    • This is the 2nd straight year George Kittle appears as an underachiever. (He scored 2.0 fewer TDs than expected in 2019.) He’s still never topped 5 TDs in a season, but there’s no reason he can’t pop for double-digit scores at some point.
    • Like teammate Daniel Jones, Evan Engram isn’t very fun to draft but does come with some bounce-back potential in the TD department. He ranked 8th among TEs in receiving yards last year but tied for 51st in TDs.


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