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.
Relying on touchdowns however, can lead to fantasy busts.
In order to help flag potential busts, I’ve built out a database of every skill position player and their touchdown dependency last year. Since touchdown production is hard to replicate and rely on, TD Dependency (TDd) can be a great tool to see which players might regress in the coming season and see their fantasy production drop.
Here are five players who’s high touchdown dependency last year has me worried for 2021 fantasy football.
RB Alvin Kamara (37.5% TDd)
Given the amount of turnover with the New Orleans Saints this offseason, there are already plenty of reasons to worry about Alvin Kamara’s 2021 fantasy potential. So it’s not great to see that Kamara had the fourth-worst TDd among running backs last year and ranked No. 1 among backs who started at least four games. It’s doubly not great that 6 of Kamara’s 16 rushing touchdowns last year came in 1 game last year against the Minnesota Vikings. That game alone propelled Kamara from the RB3 in .5PPR to RB1. Not a huge jump obviously but it shows the power that one game had.
I don’t expect the Saints offense to nearly be as explosive or high-scoring with Drew Brees now retired, which doesn’t bode well for Kamara’s own touchdown production. In the few games without Brees under center last year, Kamara saw his fantasy output drop significantly, falling from the RB1 in .5PPR to the RB11 between Week 11 to Week 14 when Taysom Hill was New Orleans’ starting quarterback.
Of all the players on this list, Kamara is the player I’m least worried about. I have him ranked as my RB6 this year and he’s still firmly a RB1 in my book. Just don’t be surprised if Kamara has a lower fantasy output than we’ve seen in the past.
RB D’Andre Swift (36.0% TDd)
I know it’s becoming all the rage to shit on D’Andre Swift’s 2021 fantasy potential right now, but man it’s really hard not to. Outside of the just ridiculous amount of volume he’s likely to see in Detroit, there’s not much else to love about his situation.
Related: Detroit Lions 2021 Fantasy Football Preview
Swift’s TDd last year clearly stands out among his fellow 2020 RB2s. Fifteen running backs scored double-digit total touchdowns last year and only two of those backs finished outside the top 14 in .5PPR last year: Swift and Jeff Wilson. To make matters worse, all eight of Swift’s rushing touchdowns came from within the 10-yard line.
So, what we have here is a running back who’s fantasy production last year was largely tied to getting the ball 10-yards away from the end zone and rumbling his way in. While that might seem like a great gig for fantasy, the offense actually has to get into the red zone in order for said running back to do the said rumbling.
The Lions offense is going to be a hot mess next year with Jared Goff learning how to live without Sean McVay whispering sweet nothings into his ear, while throwing to a receiver core that’s third-year tight end T.J. Hockenson and… *shrug emoji*. The tables are not set for Swift to have a breakout sophomore season.
WR Adam Thielen (38.7% TDd)
Even without knowing Adam Thielen’s TDd last year, I am not high on him for 2021 fantasy football (and clearly so aren’t most of the staff here). Justin Jefferson has firmly solidified himself as the WR1 in Minnesota and the Vikings aren’t traditionally an offense that supports two top flight fantasy receivers. We saw a glimpse of this hierarchy shift at the end of last year with Jefferson averaging 10.1 targets and 6.8 catches from Week 10 onward. Thielen averaged 7.1 targets and 5.3 catches.
But Pete, Jefferson AND Thielen finished top 10 in .5PPR last year!
While you are right Italicized Text, Thielen’s top 10 finish was in large part due to his touchdown production.
Last year only Davante Adams (18) and Tyreek Hill (15) caught more touchdowns than the 14 Thielen snagged. However Thielen outranked both of them in Touchdown Dependency. Among wide receivers last year, no one ranked higher in TDd than Thielen. His 38.7% TDd was over 2% points higher than the second receiver on the list, Mike Evans. His 14 touchdowns were also five touchdowns more than his previous career high of nine back in 2018. Had Thielen scored nine touchdowns last year, he would have dropped to the WR19, which incidentally is below where he’s currently being drafted at.
Thielen seems relegated to a touchdown boom-or-bust role in the Vikings offense with Jefferson taking center stage. I’m happy to draft that as my WR4 or maybe WR3, but with Thielen still going as a mid-tier WR2 in drafts, I will be staying away from him in 2021.
WR Chase Claypool (35.9% TDd)
Chase Claypool had an explosive and dynamic rookie season for the Pittsburgh Steelers that saw him finish WR19 in .5PPR, ahead of players like Terry McLaurin, D.J. Moore, and Cooper Kupp. While the expectation might be for Claypool to build off this rookie performance, the reality might be we see him slide down the leader board in 2021.
Related: Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Fantasy Football Preview
Claypool managed to score 11 total touchdowns last year (9 through the air and 2 on the ground), tied for top-5 among wide receivers. His 62 catches and 35.9% TDd however are a huge outlier among his fellow WR2s. Claypool’s fantasy performance last year was predicated on scoring more touchdowns on fewer catches than the receivers who finished around him in the rankings. Just taking away Claypool’s two rushing touchdowns last year drops him from WR19 to WR24.
Claypool’s early ADP does reflect some of this skepticism as he’s currently being drafted as the WR25 in .5PPR (according to Fantasy Football Calculator). I think Claypool has a lot of potential in 2021, but he shouldn’t be relied upon top be your WR2 this year.
TE Jonnu Smith (45.1% TDd)
I thought, when starting this article, Robert Tonyan would be the poster boy for fantasy regression based on TDd. I was startled to see that it was in fact Jonnu Smith who’s fantasy game relied the most on touchdowns in 2020. Over 45% of Smith’s fantasy points came from touchdowns and he still only managed to finish TE10 last year in .5PPR. Yikes.
Double yikes when you remember Smith is now playing in New England with Cam Newton at quarterback.
I love me some Cam Newton but Cam threw for as many touchdowns last year as Smith caught with the Tennessee Titans. With Newton under center, the Patriots red zone offense is a) give the ball to Cam, b) give the ball to a running back, or c) give the ball to Cam after he pretends to give the ball to a running back. There’s not a whole lot of d) pass the ball happening in the Patriots offense.
Smith will see more work in the passing game now that he’s more or less his team’s best receiver, but I don’t think his eight touchdowns is going to happen again. Smith being drafted early as the TE8 is too rich for my blood. We have Smith ranked as TE12 this year, right on the fringe of TE1 territory.