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2021 Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates Based on Touchdown Dependency

Using 2020 Touchdown Dependency to determine which players are likely in for a breakout performance in 2021 fantasy football.

Touchdowns are king in both real and fantasy football. I’m stating the obvious but it’s always worth reminding yourself that any one play that can get you six points is a big deal and should not be taken lightly. Touchdowns also aren’t easy to come-by. It’s why a) they’re worth so much and b) only 25 players in the NFL scored double-digit total TDs last year. Getting a top touchdown producer assures you fantasy success.

About a month ago, I used Touchdown Dependency (TDd) to flag potential busts for 2021 fantasy football. I built a database of every skill position player and their touchdown dependency in 2020 and used it to find players with a TDd% I didn’t think they could reliably replicate.

This is the companion article.

It’s time to take a positive look at TDd data and figure out players who might be in for a breakout season in 2021 due to positive regression in the touchdown department.

Here are five players who’s low touchdown dependency last year has me pumped for their 2021 fantasy football potential.

RB Ezekiel Elliott (24.3% TDd)

Using the term “breakout” to describe Ezekiel Elliott might be stretching it a little given the fact that Zeke has already broken out multiple times in fantasy football during his career. However, coming off a “down” year in which he still managed to finish RB11 in .5PPR, the hype surrounding Zeke has lessened. He’s currently being drafted as the RB6 in .5PPR (per FF Calculator) after long being in contention for the top running back selected in fantasy drafts.

Among 2020’s RB1s (top-12 backs), Zeke has the lowest TDd% at just 24.3%. The next lowest is David Montgomery with 25.2%. This means most of Elliott’s fantasy production last year came despite him not scoring a lot of touchdowns. When you look at the 2020 Dallas Cowboys, you can understand why.

The Cowboys’ offense was off to a roaring start last year with Dak Prescott under center. During that time—Week 1 through Week 5—Elliott was the RB3 in .5PPR total scoring. The Cowboys averaged four touchdowns per game. Then Dak injured his ankle and the Dallas offense became a shell of itself, averaging just 2.4 touchdowns per game. After his torrid start, Elliott fell all the way to RB25 from Week 6 onward.

With Dak back healthy under center, the Cowboys offense presumably will look a lot more like it did to start 2020. That means a boom in scoring opportunities which will help thrust Zeke back into the RB1 title contention. Unless coming off a serious injury, this might be the lowest ADP you’ll be able to draft Zeke at for quite a bit of time. My money is on him outplaying it.

RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (19.0% TDd)

Don’t let the air coming out of the Clyde Edwards-Helaire hype balloon convince you he’s not a top fantasy option in 2021. First off, there was way too much air being pumped into that balloon last year to begin with. Edwards-Helaire was a rookie running back entering a COVID year with no real offseason and people were drafting him as a top-5 fantasy running back. Even at the time I could’ve told you that is way too high.

A popular narrative around CEH’s rookie year was that the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t use him in the red zone because of his diminutive stature (CEH stands 5-foot-7). In reality, Edwards-Helaire recorded 44.4% of the Chiefs’ red zone rush attempts, top 15 in the league last year. The issue wasn’t that CEH wasn’t getting the bulk of work. He wasn’t wildly efficient with his red zone touches—just 3 touchdowns on 28 attempts—but there also just wasn’t much work to go around.

The Chiefs offense was top 5 in lowest Run% inside the red zone last year—just 28.1% inside the 20 and 32.6% inside the 10. Both these numbers are well below the average NFL team. Even just a slight regression to the middle will mean more rushing opportunities around the goal line for CEH to score.

Long story short: All the reasons people were hyped about CEH in 2020 still ring true in 2021 and now you get him at a discount ADP. Entering his second year with a full, traditional offseason, Edwards-Helaire is bound to improve upon his rookie year. Factor into that positive regression in both his TDd and the Chiefs’ Run%, and you could easily be drafting a RB1 in the third round.

WR Terry McLaurin (13.3% TDd)

I have a feeling this is the year everything comes together for Scary Terry McLaurin and he finally finds himself among the WR1s where he belongs. Among WR2s last year (top-24 receivers), only Robby Anderson (*cough* more on him later *cough*) had a lower Touchdown Dependency. McLaurin finished WR21 in .5PPR despite a mid-season quarterback change and catching only four touchdowns.

Washington’s offense was far from explosive last year with Alex Smith under center. The team ranked 27th in plays inside the 20 and had one of the highest Run% from inside the 10. Smith threw the ball 31 times inside the 20, but only for 5 touchdowns. Washington had trouble making it to the red zone and even when they got close to the goal line, they ran the ball.

Now compare Smith’s red zone touchdowns per attempt to Washington’s new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Last year in his starts with the Miami Dolphins, Fitzpatrick had 34 attempts in the red zone and tossed double Smith’s touchdowns (10). We’ve seen Fitzpatrick’s care-free attitude when throwing the ball lead to his receivers putting up career years in the past. Remember when DeVante Parker was the WR7 in 2019 thanks almost entirely to Fitzmagic?

McLaurin has established himself as one of the best young receivers in the league right now. He’s now playing in an offense loaded with talent, and with a quarterback who’ll push the ball down the field and will throw when around the end zone. McLaurin has top-7 upside this year and isn’t even being drafted as a WR1 currently.

WR Robby Anderson (10.2% TDd)

His first season with the Carolina Panthers was a career year for Anderson in many regards. He set personal bests in targets, catches, and yards, finishing as the WR24 in .5PPR. However, you have to go back to his rookie year to find a season in which he caught fewer touchdowns. He only caught 3 all of 2020 despite seeing 136 targets. No wide receiver in the top 48 had a lower TDd than Anderson last year.

Never fear, positive regression here! Anderson led the Panthers in red zone targets last year with 15. However, he only caught seven of those targets, and just one went for a touchdown. I went back and looked at each of his red zone targets and while there were some which Anderson just couldn’t make the play, over half of the nine missed targets were undefended throws, meaning the throw wasn’t even on target.

With Sam Darnold in the mix, a quarterback who’s more willing to take risks in the red zone than Teddy Bridgewater (which can be both a blessing and a curse), I would expect Anderson to put up similar counting stats as 2020 but with a higher touchdown output. His current ADP of WR34 in the seventh round is a screaming deal in my book.

TE Gerald Everett (16.6% TDd)

Gerald Everett is easily one of my favorite sleeper tight ends this year given the situation he’s stepping into. Joining the Seattle Seahawks, Everett leaves the TE1b/TE2 role next to Tyler Higbee in Los Angeles and steps into a full fledged TE1 role with Russell Wilson as his quarterback. A quarterback, mind you, who targeted his tight ends 23 times last year in the red zone.

While the Seahawks had a rotating cast of tight ends last year, Everett was signed to be the team’s clear No. 1 option. With just Will Dissly to back him up, Everett is likely walking into a huge red zone workload on an offense with one of the highest Pass% inside the 20 last year.

I’ll admit, switching teams in the offseason kind of null and voids Touchdown Dependency as a player’s role is likely to change on a new team. But it’s important to note that Everett has shown fantasy promise even without a high touchdown count. Imagine what he can do with plenty of scoring opportunities.