Regression isn't the most popular word to a lot of Fantasy Football players. It makes sense. When we talk about regression, we're often saying that the best performers from the previous season won't repeat their feats. However, it also means some players who were disappointing are probably going to be better. It would be much easier if we could just take one season's stats and apply them to the next year, but without accounting for regression, you might have taken Patrick Mahomes in the first round and been disappointed that he failed to repeat his breakout 2018.
I've done regression alert columns for years, and this year's will be a four-part series, with separate articles for each position. That's because 2019 had a lot of outlier performances. When I set out to compile a list of regression candidates, I came up with more than 40 names across the four main Fantasy positions. Yes, some of 2019's best were there including Lamar Jackson, Aaron Jones, Chris Godwin and Mark Andrews. But there were plenty of middling players as well. Let's get started with the quarterbacks.
And immediately, I'm on everyone's bad side. Much like with Mahomes in 2019, Jackson's CBS ADP is in the first round. That leaves me no choice but to call Jackson a bust -- based on his ADP.
To clarify: Jackson is awesome. He's one of the most exciting young players in the league and I can't wait to watch him play this year, but there's no way he's repeating a 9.0% TD rate or averaging 6.9 yards per carry (YPC) on the ground again.
Last year was only the third time in the past 20 years that a quarterback attempted at least 300 passes and had a touchdown rate this high. The first was Peyton Manning in 2004. The following year Manning fell to a 6.2% rate. The second was Aaron Rodgers in 2011, who actually still posted a very high 7.1% rate the following year. For reference, Rodgers and Manning both have a career rate around 6.0%. League median last year was just below 4.5%. in 2020, which gives him 25.5 passing touchdowns on 464 attempts. That sound you just heard was me lopping 60 Fantasy points of Jackson's 2019 total.
As for the rushing totals, Jackson averaged 4.7 YPC as a rookie, or about two-thirds of his 2019 efficiency. Jamaal Charles is the only other player to average better than 6.1 YPC on at least 150 carries since 2000. Charles' career average was 5.4. Michael Vick did average 7 yards per carry for his career, but Russell Wilson is second all time at 5.5. I've projected Jackson for Wilson's 5.5 mark in 2020, which would give him 738 rushing yards if he runs it 134 times. There go another 47 Fantasy points.
Do I really think Jackson will score 100 fewer Fantasy points in 2020 than he did last year? Pretty much. The nice thing is, he outscored every other quarterback by at least 93 points in 2019, so he's got plenty of room to regress and remain an elite option. Jackson should still be one of the first two or three quarterbacks drafted. He just shouldn't go before Round 3.
Small sample sizes beget outliers, and outliers are prime regression candidates. Ryan Tannehill is the perfect example. He only threw 286 passes last year, which helps explain how he had a 7.7% touchdown rate and averaged 9.6 yards per attempt. He won't come close to either in 2020.
Tannehill's touchdown rate wasn't just 3.2 percentage points better than league median. It was also 3.5 points better than his career average. Generally speaking, if a player has a career year at age 31, your first thought should be of regression. But that touchdown rate isn't even as outrageous as the yards per pass attempt.
Even if you drop the pass attempt qualifier to 200, you'll find six other seasons in the past 20 years where a quarterback averaged at least 9.0 yards per attempt. No quarterback did it more than once. Peyton Manning was the only quarterback whose Y/A didn't dip by at least a full yard the following year, while Ryan Fitzpatrick and Nick Foles saw a drop of more than two points. Do we think Tannehill is more Manning or Fitzpatrick?
The biggest problem for Tannehill is he'll still be in a very run-heavy offense, so extreme efficiency is needed to be worthwhile in Fantasy. I've projected him for 500 attempts at 8.0 Y/A and a 5.0% touchdown rate, and that doesn't make him a top-12 quarterback, and that's an optimistic projection on all counts.
- Drew Brees probably won't have 7.1% touchdown rate again, which is why he's a low-end No. 1 for me.
- At some point Josh Allen's 8.6% rushing touchdown rate has to drop, right?
- Dak Prescott set a career high with his 8.2 Y/A. I expect that to fall a little, but not enough to drop him out of my top three quarterbacks.
It's Not All Bad
I shouldn't make this a different section, but I'm tired of fighting about it. Regression works in both ways; you can regress positively or negatively. If a player's efficiency improves towards league average or his career norms, that is regression.
And it should happen for these guys in 2020:
- Jared Goff has a career touchdown rate of 4.7%. Last year it was 3.5%. Doesn't seem like a big difference, right? Well, on the 626 pass attempts he threw last year, it's 7.5 touchdowns. If he'd thrown 29 touchdowns last year and finished as QB7, I think we'd all be looking at him a bit differently right now. Of course, we don't know how close he'll come to 626 attempts again. Before last year he'd never thrown more than 561 times. I have him projected at 576 attempts (and 27 touchdowns), which makes him a borderline No. 1.
- Tom Brady is a weird case because he changed teams this offseason. It's also weird because he's a million years old. His 3.9% touchdown rate was his worst ever, while his 6.6 yards per attempt was his worst mark since 2002. He turns 43 on Aug. 3, and Father Time is undefeated. But he also just went from Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu as his top options to Chris Godwin, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski. I'm gonna guess Brady bounces back.
- Rookie quarterbacks are notoriously bad in the red zone, so you should expect Kyler Murray's 3.7% touchdown rate to improve.
- Carson Wentz was at 7.5 Y/A or better for two seasons before he fell to 6.7 in 2019.
- Like Brady, we have to decide if Philip Rivers is due for regression from a 3.9% touchdown rate or if he's just old (turns 39 on Dec, 8).