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Aug 20

TD Ratio as a Performance Indicator: Buyer Beware

Last week we looked at the value of considering catch rate and yards per reception when assessing a player’s draft stock for the upcoming season. When doing so, we left off another important buyer-beware stat: Touchdown Ratio.

To help illustrate the importance of this statistic, I’ve included a summary table at the end of this post.

Given his suspect Quarterback and the addition of new targets in Minnesota, TE Kyle Rudolph is a prime candidate for TD Ratio regression (Photo: Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

Given his suspect Quarterback and the addition of new targets in Minnesota, TE Kyle Rudolph is a prime candidate for TD Ratio regression (Photo: Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)

There are players in the league who catch touchdowns more often than others, this much we know. However, there are also players who have exceptional years crossing the chalk and then find themselves struggling to repeat in subsequent seasons. Catching a touchdown once every six balls in the NFL is an impressive feat – but because it is so impressive it is one that is difficult to repeat. As fantasy owners, we should avoid paying an expectant price based on a stat that is unlikely to be repeated.

Consider my pal Mike. Mike loves the ladies, he really does, and he goes hard at it – his success rate tends to be somewhere around 1 of every 12 pickup attempts though. However, Mike is having an awesome month of August, currently he’s ‘catching a TD’ once every 4 tries. Well, barring some major change (new haircut, he stopped asking girls what their sign was, whatever) if you asked me to bet on Mike’s success ratio I’d probably lean more toward his career average than I would toward his most recent month of success. It’s a jungle out there, folks. We have to do the same thing with our virtual footballers.

With that in mind, let’s consider a few things from the data set below and then look at some names to be wary of in 2013.

The process is simple, I’ve calculated the top 10 WRs and TEs from the last four seasons when ranked by their TD Ratio (to control for small sample effects and exclude guys you don’t want to draft anyway, the minimum number of receptions for inclusion was set at 40). Here’s what I learned:

  • It is tough to repeat. Only eight players appear on this list more than once (Antonio Gates, Calvin Johnson, Eric Decker, Jordy Nelson, Mike Williams, Miles Austin, Rob Gronkowski and Robert Meachem) with only one player made it three times and Rob Gronkowski is awesome. Robert Meachem is an interesting case as he’d have been on the list in 2012 had he qualified.
    • Of the eight double dippers just Gronkowski, Decker, Nelson and Megatron have been inside the top ten in consecutive seasons. This stands to reason; it’s a rare/challenging feat and thus it is extremely difficult to repeat. Calvin Johnson went back to back in 2010/2011 and followed with a mind boggling 24.4 ratio in 2012.
  • After qualifying for the list in a given season, only five players improved or maintained their position rank in the following year: Decker, Johnson, Gronkowski and Vincent Jackson and Lance Moore.
  • Injuries and other contextual factors skew the data set as a whole and this calculation in particular, but, the average drop (including the five who improved/maintained stock) was 31 spots in positional ranking for wide receivers and 11 for tight ends. When controlling for extremes (more than -20) the numbers are still significant at 6.67 (WR) and 8.42 (TE).
    • Put simply: players are unlikely to follow up on a season where they relied on a high number of touchdown catches relative to overall receptions to achieve fantasy success.

I’ll leave the rest of the interpretation up to you. Have a thought, opinion, question or criticism? Feel free to share it in the comments.

Building on the final point, I’m not saying that the players who made the top 10 in 2012 aren’t draftable… but I will say that if you are picking them and expecting the TDs to come at the same clip as they did in 2012 you’re likely overpaying. If you are factoring in a regression in scores (one more stat – the average drop in td ratio when factoring out players who caught 0 TDs the next year is more than 5.5) or an uptick in yards per reception/targets/catch rate, then they may have equal value.

Of the 2012 top 10 there are three in particular that I’d like to discuss.

James Jones – WR – Green Bay Packers

Jones was the leader in this category, but I’m actually preaching a different approach. In 2012 he set career highs across the board, so while his fantasy stock was buoyed by the fact that he caught a touchdown on nearly 22% of his receptions, he is a player who is trending in the right direction and you’re not paying an expectant price on him – he’s the 26th WR off the board in a standard draft according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com. While Greg Jennings and Donald Driver didn’t steal a lot of Jones’ targets last season, it seems certain that he’ll match last year’s 103 if not exceed it. Given his consistent catch rate (69% two seasons running) you can expect Jones to convert most of his targets to receptions, even if there is a dip in scores. Plus, Aaron Rodgers’ wideouts have given us three top 10 finishes in the last two seasons so if anyone on the list can be a repeat offender Jones has a good shot (Nelson arguably has a better one, having repeated from ’11 to ’12 despite enduring an injury marred campaign).

Santana Moss – WR – Washington Redskins

Moss on the other hand is a player to beware of – more as an example of the problems that come with predicting a high ratio than any real risk associated with Moss himself. Moss has dropped considerably in targets over each of the last three seasons from 142 in 2010 to 90 in 2011 before seeing just 64 looks last year. Despite that, Moss posted his highest TD total during that span – and his best since 2005 – with eight scores. Did he suddenly get faster? Or perhaps more influential for scoring TDs than speed, did he grow four inches and put on some weight? No. His quarterback changed ,and that was a factor no doubt, but Moss is not a receiver built to score a wealth of TDs. Assuming that he’ll match last year’s numbers will leave owners disappointed. ProFootballFocus graded Moss as just the 61st best wide receiver, so it’s not as if he’s coming off an astounding campaign and if he finished last year with something more like 2011’s TD ratio (4 scores on 46 catches) he’d lose half his touchdowns and all his fantasy appeal.

Kyle Rudolph – TE – Minnesota Vikings

Rudolph is a pre-season favorite to improve a couple of notches in position rank this year. He finished as the 9th best fantasy Tight End in 2012, however Fantasy Pros experts have him ranked as their number seven TE this season and he’s going off the board as the 8th TE in average drafts (with a 5th round price tag). The problem with expecting bigger things this season is that Rudolph scored a touchdown once every 5.89 catches last year. No one is projecting a major change in production from Christian Ponder who turned in a woeful 2012 campaign so Rudolph will be expected to succeed in spite of his Quarterback again this season. Last year, in his first full campaign, Rudolph converted 62.9% of his targets into receptions – a reasonably strong number – and matched his 2011 average with 9.6 yards per reception. All in all it was a good year from a player exhibiting real growth. However, that doesn’t take his team context into account. Knowing what we know about Rudolph’s QB, and the difficulty of returning to the list in consecutive years it is challenging to predict a similar ratio in 2013 as was achieved in 2012.

If Rudolph’s number looks somewhere in between his 8.66 mark in 2011 and last season’s number he could finish with a score once every seven catches or so. Last year Rudolph picked up 17 targets in the redzone, second among Tight Ends, and he’ll still receive a lot of looks there, but Minnesota has added more threats to the passing game that should limit his production both inside and between the 20s – Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson should demand a significant chunk of Ponder’s attention. Last year’s TD rate simply isn’t sustainable and I can’t project more targets/receptions for Rudolph elsewhere on the field, so expecting a jump in fantasy points this season just doesn’t add up. For my money, a tight end like Brandon Myers who scored just once every 19.5 receptions has a better chance of even modestly improving on that ratio – and thus delivering a modest value over his expectant price than does Rudolph.

2012 Top 10 Td Ratio TD % Catch Yards YPC TD Pos. Rank    
James Jones 4.57 21.88 64 784 12.3 14 16
Rob Gronkowski* 5.00 20.00 55 790 14.4 11 2
Santana Moss 5.13 19.51 41 573 14 8 41
Kyle Rudolph 5.89 16.98 53 493 9.3 9 9
Torrey Smith 6.13 16.33 49 855 17.4 8 23
Golden Tate 6.43 15.56 45 688 15.3 7 32
Eric Decker 6.54 15.29 85 1064 12.5 13 8
Mike Williams 7.00 14.29 63 996 15.8 9 17
Antonio Gates 7.00 14.29 49 538 11 7 12
Jordy Nelson 7.00 14.29 49 745 15.2 7 29
2011 Top 10 Td Ratio TD % Catch Yards YPC TD Pos. Rank 2012 Pos. Rank 2012 Ratio
Jordy Nelson 4.53 22.06 68 1263 18.6 15 2 29 7
Laurent Robinson 4.91 20.37 54 858 15.9 11 15 119 0
Rob Gronkowski*+ 5.29 18.89 90 1327 14.7 17 1 2 5
Eric Decker 5.50 18.18 44 612 13.9 8 35 8 6.54
Plaxico Burress 5.63 17.78 45 612 13.6 8 36 149 n/a
Calvin Johnson*+ 6.00 16.67 96 1681 17.5 16 1 1 24.4
Miles Austin 6.14 16.28 43 579 13.5 7 26 43 11
Santonio Holmes 6.38 15.69 51 654 12.8 8 30 105 20
Lance Moore 6.50 15.38 52 627 12.1 8 34 20 10.83333333
Vincent Jackson* 6.67 15.00 60 1106 18.4 9 10 6 9
Robert Meachem 6.67 15.00 40 620 15.5 6 44 103 7
2010 Top 10 Td Ratio TD % Catch Yards YPC TD Pos. Rank 2011 Pos. Rank 2011 Ratio
Rob Gronkowski 4.20 23.81 42 546 13 10 5 2 5.29
Kenny Britt 4.67 21.43 42 775 18.5 9 22 89 5.666666667
Dwayne Bowe* 4.80 20.83 72 1162 16.1 15 2 20 16.2
Antonio Gates* 5.00 20.00 50 782 15.6 10 2 7 9.142857143
Marcedes Lewis* 5.80 17.24 58 700 12.1 10 4 33 0
Mike Williams 5.91 16.92 65 964 14.8 11 11 50 21.66666667
Mike Wallace 6.00 16.67 60 1257 21 10 5 9 9
Mike Sims-Walker 6.14 16.28 43 562 13.1 7 44 132 0
Greg Jennings* 6.33 15.79 76 1265 16.6 12 4 18 7.444444444
Calvin Johnson* 6.42 15.58 77 1120 14.5 12 6 1 6
2009 Top 10 Td Ratio TD % Catch Yards YPC TD Pos. Rank 2010 Pos. Rank 2010 Ratio
Robert Meachem 5.00 20.00 45 722 16 9 22 46 8.8
Visanthe Shiancoe 5.09 19.64 56 566 10.1 11 6 24 23.5
Vernon Davis* 6.00 16.67 78 965 12.4 13 1 3 8
Lee Evans 6.29 15.91 44 612 13.9 7 35 55 9.25
Randy Moss 6.38 15.66 83 1264 15.2 13 2 66 5.6
DeSean Jackson* 6.89 14.52 62 1156 18.6 9 4 14 7.833333333
John Carlson 7.29 13.73 51 574 11.3 7 11 35 31
Miles Austin* 7.36 13.58 81 1320 16.3 11 3 12 9.857142857
Larry Fitzgerald* 7.46 13.40 97 1092 11.3 13 5 16 15
Greg Olsen 7.50 13.33 60 612 10.2 8 10 22 8.2

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