Now that we know which elite NFL offenses might be slightly less elite in touchdown scoring this year, it's time for the unglamorous work of seeing which of the league's middling and downright bad offenses might be set for a touchdown surge in 2021.
Surge might be a strong word for many of the below teams. Uptick might be more appropriate.
Examining expected touchdowns vs. actual touchdowns is actionable if only because it offers hints as to which players out-performed in the TD scoring department last year, and which players didn't. Knowing this can serve as a tiebreaker between two guys with similar average draft positions in both springtime best ball drafts and summertime seasonal leagues.
Let's get into it.
2020 expected TDs
The Bolts were (almost) perfectly in line with their expected touchdown scoring during Justin Herbert’s historic rookie season -- a not-hateful sign that Herbert’s numbers won’t crash in his sophomore campaign. Herbert’s 5.2 percent TD rate was 14th among QBs last year, way behind league leaders Aaron Rodgers (9.1 percent) and Russell Wilson (7.2 percent). While a new coaching staff introduces some questions about whether Herbert’s 2021 will look exactly like his 2020, his touchdown numbers don’t raise any flags, red or otherwise.
Keenan Allen scored a TD on 8 percent of his receptions last year, a tad over his career rate of 6.7 percent. It’s nothing much to fret about. The guy who commanded 24 percent of the team’s targets while missing the better part of three games should be fine in 2021. He would have had a 30 percent target share with 16 healthy games.
The Dallas numbers require almighty context: Dak Prescott finished a mere four games in 2020 during which the Cowboys piled on 2,037 yards, or 509.5 yards per contest. I’ve spoken with the greatest minds in football and they agree: That’s a lot of yards. The Boys scored 16 touchdowns during that scorching early-season run -- about 1.1 touchdowns above expectation. Put simply, Dallas didn’t vastly overperform in the touchdown scoring department in Prescott’s four 2020 games.
Will Dak rush for 12 touchdowns in 2021, as he was on pace to do last season before his harrowing ankle injury? I can confidently say he will not. But no one is drafting Prescott expecting a Lamar Jackson-type stat line. If the Cowboys Offense is unleashed in 2021 -- not a sure thing, if the team’s putrid defense improves -- they should be able to repeat their TD scoring from a year ago.
With the addition of Will Fuller to an already-solid pass catching group, Tua Tagovailoa should be in line for a touchdown boost in 2021. In his immense rookie season struggles, Tagovailoa threw a TD on just 3.8 percent of his throws -- good for 23rd in the NFL. An increase in touchdown tosses for Tagovailoa could coincide with a bump in his woeful 6.3 adjusted yards per pass attempt from 2020, one of the lowest in the league. That’s where Fuller could make the difference for Tagovailoa.
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Kenyan Drake’s 10 rushing scores in an otherwise lackluster season demonstrate just how valuable Kyler Murray’s running back can be for fantasy managers. Get this: Only Dalvin Cook saw more carries inside the five yard line than Drake in 2020, and no one had more inside-the-10 attempts than Drake. The Kyler Murray option play puts the fear of the almighty into opposing defenses, and will continue to prove fruitful for whoever lines up beside him in the Arizona backfield this season. For now, that appears to be Chase Edmonds.
2020 expected TDs
Robby Anderson was affected the most by Carolina’s touchdown under-performance in 2020. Curiously used as an intermediate target while D.J. Moore was unleashed as the downfield threat, Anderson posted a touchdown rate of 2.2 percent -- exactly half of his career TD rate.
We, as of this writing, have little idea about who will be under center for Carolina in 2021. Probably it won’t be Teddy Bridgewater, who wasn’t good for anyone in the Panthers Offense last season. If Carolina acquires a QB with more downfield pop and let Anderson resume his role as downfield burner, we could (should) see his yards per reception go from a career-low 11.5 to something closer -- or beyond -- his career 13.9 yards per catch. That, plus the potential for touchdown regression, means Anderson shapes up as a sneaky mid-round pick.
Research for this fine piece of fantasy football analysis has me looking like the eyeballs emoji while sifting through Jerry Jeudy’s 2020 peripheral numbers. The rookie was sixth in air yards last year (1,522), had a higher air yards per target than Tyreek Hill, Will Fuller, and D.K. Metcalf, and commanded a 21 percent target share while dealing with some of the worst quarterbacking in recent NFL history.
If Denver upgrades at QB in the coming months -- a big if, considering they didn’t sign a free agent quarterback who could give Drew Lock real competition -- Jeudy is set to be one of the most underrated wideouts in fantasy. He scored a touchdown on a mere three of his 113 targets in 2020, and his ship full of air yards -- large enough to block the Suez Canal, many are saying -- translated to a paltry 856 real yards thanks to Lock’s inaccuracy. Jeudy’s TD underperformance is a big part of why the Broncos were well below expected touchdowns despite being 22nd in total offensive yardage.
Average QB play for Denver in 2020 would probably mean Jeudy’s ADP would be in the third or fourth round. Instead, it sits in the late eighth round.
The Bengals’ numbers, like the Cowboys’ TD scoring, requires some context. Yes, they were 4.6 touchdowns under expectation in yet another lost season. But in Joe Burrow’s nine full games, Cincy was 2.7 touchdowns under expectation. They were inconsistent with Burrow under center -- laying a dud one week, exploding the next week -- while failing to consistently punch the ball into the end zone paint. That’s hardly bad news for Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and the rest of the team’s skill position players. Boyd, for one, had a touchdown rate of 5.5 percent in Burrow’s eight games, about a half percent lower than his career TD rate. In other words, Boyd’s 16.9 PPR points per game with Burrow throwing the ball -- 15th among receivers -- is very much repeatable.
Burrow was QB17 in average fantasy points per game (19.36) when he went down with his season-ending ACL injury. That should be seen as an underperformance, especially since the rookie averaged 4.1 rushing attempts per game. That’s not nothing in fantasy, where QB rushing production is king, or at least royalty. Major sophomore year progression might be presumptuous with Burrow coming back from a serious knee injury, but nothing in these regression numbers say he was lucky in 2020. In fact, they say the opposite.
Daniel Jones had the lowest touchdown rate (2.5 percent) of all but two quarterbacks in 2020 and marks a steep drop from his 5.2 percent TD rate in 2019. Every other passing stat remained stable for Jones in his second season -- it was just the touchdowns that dropped off.
In an otherwise forgettable season in Jason Garrett’s outmoded and ineffective offense, Jones showed us he’ll maintain rushing upside, rushing 65 times in 14 games. In fact, his rushing attempts jumped from 3.46 per game in 2019 to 4.61 per game in 2020. What I’m saying is that Jones could be less horrendous in 2021. Kenny Golladay playing 16 games for New York could be both the catalyst and the beneficiary of a better season for Jones.