As we are pushing into July and further downhill toward the 2022 fantasy season, we are going to extend our top-down approach that started with a look at the state of leaguewide production and usage at each skill position for fantasy by looking at team performance and output.
Earlier this week, we dove into scoring and touchdown production per drive for teams.
Today, we are going to do the same for the rates of which type of offensive touchdowns NFL offenses score.
League Offensive Touchdown Splits Since 2010
The 2021 season continued to see more of a push for rushing touchdown influence taking up more of the trips to the end zone than in years past. With 37.6% of the league’s touchdowns stemming from rushing, the two highest rates of rushing touchdowns in the sample above have come from the past two seasons. Extending outside of the sample, these are the two highest rushing touchdown rates since the 2008 season (42.4%).
My working hypothesis is that increase also lines up with the quarterback position posting their largest influence on rushing touchdown production ever in league history.
Regardless of the cause of the increased rate of rushing scores compared to the league total, touchdown production is still a passing game. The last time that fewer than 60% of the league’s offensive touchdowns came via passing was that same 2008 campaign.
Playing the Regression Game
Over the previous 10 seasons, 78% of the teams that were above the league average in passing touchdown reliance came back the following season and had a decrease in passing touchdown share.
Those teams had an average drop of 10.9% share of passing touchdowns and average loss of 4.5 passing touchdowns per season. Among all of those 160 teams, 72% scored more rushing touchdowns the following season with an average increase of 4.9 scores on the ground.
Looking at the impact of the most recent NFL season, 12 of the 16 teams in the top half of the league in passing touchdown dependency in 2020 had a decrease in that reliance last year while 11 of those teams scored more rushing touchdowns on the ground than the year prior. Just four threw more overall touchdown passes, with the 12 teams that saw a decrease of 7.1 passing touchdowns each on average.
On the other side of things, 68.8% of the teams below the league average in passing touchdown reliance over the past 10 years had an increase in that rate the following season with an average spike of 12.3% per team.
68.2% of those teams threw more overall touchdown passes the following season with an average increase of 8.6 passing scores among those teams.
Inversely, 60% of those teams had a decrease in overall team rushing touchdowns the following season, with an average loss of 5.6 rushing scores per season among those teams.
With the idea of where regression in touchdown dependency shows up the following season, let’s look at the 2021 team splits and carve out some notes with an eye on the 2022 season.
2021 Team Offensive Touchdown Splits
LOS ANGELES RAMS
We talked about the top-down scoring increase that the Rams had in their first season with Matthew Stafford and it extends further in showing up here.
No team relied on the passing to reach the end zone more than the Rams last season as 41 of their 51 (80.4%) offensive touchdowns came via passing. It was the highest rate of team passing touchdown dependency since the 2019 Jaguars.
Over the previous decade, we have had 29 other teams rely on passing scores to occupy 80% or more of their season touchdown output. Of those teams, all but one had a decrease in passing touchdown rate the following season with an average loss of 14.1% among those teams. 21 of them threw fewer overall passing touchdowns the following season with an average loss of 8.6 passing touchdowns among those teams.
On the flip side, 26 of those teams increased their rushing touchdown production the following season with an average increase of 6.1 rushing scores per team.
This is part of the natural regression we should see from Cooper Kupp in 2022, but also one of the top-down cornerstones in being positive on Cam Akers in one of the league’s best offenses.
The Vikings were right behind the Rams last season with 77.3% (34-of-44) of their trips to the paint coming through the air.
If you were a gamer that invested a top two draft pick in Dalvin Cook this past season then you already understand this pain. After 29 rushing touchdowns over the previous two seasons, Cook managed just six scores on the ground while the Vikings as a team produced just four more.
Now, new head coach Kevin O’Connell does come from the same system as the lone team ahead of the Vikings in passing touchdown rate from a year ago, but historically, we should some reversion in rushing scores here for Minnesota.
Of teams that have had over 75% of their touchdowns come via passing, 79.1% of them see an increase in rushing scores the following season with an average spike of 5.9 scores on the ground.
Just six of those 67 teams saw an increased rate of passing touchdown share, but 19 did throw more counting touchdown passes the following season. There is still potential here for having our cake and eating it with O’Connell improving output in the passing game while also betting on Cook and the rushing scores to rise.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The only other team with over 75% or more of their touchdowns coming through the air was the Packers. This is how you win back-to-back MVP Awards if you are Aaron Rodgers and the Packers leaned on him to put the ball in the end zone down the stretch. Over the final eight games of last season, 21 of the 27 touchdowns scored by Green Bay came through the air.
Of course, the large talking point outside of the natural regression mentioned above was the trade of Davante Adams this offseason.
The interesting thing here is that Rodgers does have 523 dropbacks without Adams on the field over the past six seasons (the stretch in which Adams was an established WR1), and his rate stats do not take a massive hit.
Rodgers has played 10 full games (excluding season finales) without Adams available over that span. In those 10 games, Rodgers had a 6.1% touchdown rate compared to a 6.3% touchdown rate when Adams was on the field.
THE REST OF THE 70% PASSING TD CLUB
The Cowboys, Texans, Saints, and Buccaneers were the other teams last season to have 70% or more of their touchdowns come through the passing game.
The Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to the Browns while Cedrick Wilson signed with the Dolphins. Those two combined for 35% of the touchdowns in 2021 among Dallas pass catchers.
Tampa Bay has lost Rob Gronkowski (for now) and Antonio Brown, and is dealing with a potential prolonged absence for Chris Godwin due to ACL and MCL surgery in January. Those players accounted for 35% of the team receiving scores a year ago and 43% in 2020.
The Saints are unique because they sported a 29-12 passing-to-rushing touchdown total in 2021 despite having one of the worst pass catching corps in the NFL. One they have completely upgraded this season, especially if Michael Thomas does return. But Jameis Winston also was living off a completely unsustainable 8.7% touchdown rate while he was active while Trevor Siemian’s 5.9% touchdown rate was lofty.
We also have the potential suspension for Alvin Kamara here, with the Saints doing little of note in preparation for that event in their backfield. The most frequent offensive line combination used by New Orleans during the season played just 167 total snaps together (15.9%), the lowest rate in the league for a team’s most-used five-lineman combination. A more consistently available line could lead a potential improvement up front, however.
Moving to the bottom of the pile here, no team relied on rushing scores a year ago than the Eagles. 55.6% of the Philadelphia offensive touchdowns were on the ground, the eighth-highest rate since 2010. The seven teams ahead of them all rushed for fewer touchdowns the following season with an average loss of 7.8 rushing scores per team.
All but one of those teams threw more passing touchdowns the following season with an average increase of 4.1.
A strong start in this shift was acquiring A.J. Brown via trade, who has scored at least one touchdown in 51.2% of his career games to this point, which trails only Davante Adams (59.2%), Ja’Marr Chase (52.9%), and Adam Thielen (51.4%) over the past five seasons among wide receivers.
The Panthers are in a special place. Coming off another season in which they had more rushing touchdowns than passing scores (17-14), Carolina has now had more rushing touchdowns than passing touchdowns in three straight seasons. To put how weird that is into context, no other team has gone back-to-back years with more rushing scores than passing scores since 2010.
We can’t even use having Christian McCaffrey as an out since he has been off the field so much the past two years, but it does further illuminate the massive struggle this franchise has had in terms of getting their quarterback room in order.
Between Sam Darnold, Cam Newton, and Phillip Walker, the Panthers were dead last in expected points added via passing in 2021 (-80.6 EPA). They ranked 32nd in team completion percentage (58.1%), 31st in touchdown rate (2.3%), 31st in interception rate (3.5%), and 31st in yards per pass attempt (6.0 Y/A) in 2021. The team only has added Matt Corral in the third round this offseason, but there is low probability that Carolina can be good enough overall for Darnold to start the full season, meaning we should see Corral at some point in 2022.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AND TENNESSEE TITANS
We had two other teams last season with more rushing scores than through the air and both were in the AFC South.
Over the previous decade there were 28 other teams to have more rushing than passing scores. 23 of those teams (again, thanks Panthers) threw more passing touchdowns the following season with an average increase of 8.5 more scores through the air. Eight of those teams even had hit 25 or more passing touchdowns with four throwing 30-plus. Just five ran for more touchdowns in the following season.
Jacksonville had the third-highest rushing touchdown dependency rate (48%) as the passing game was a nightmare in producing points a year ago. The only games in which Trevor Lawrence threw multiple touchdowns were the season opener and final game of the year while over Weeks 9-16 he threw just one touchdown pass overall.
Even with Derrick Henry on the shelf for a portion of the season, the Titans ran for more touchdowns due to how battered their wide receiving room was a year ago. 31.3% of Tannehill’s dropbacks in the regular season came with both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones off the field.
Now both Brown and Jones are no longer with the team, are the replacement options able to aid this passing game to return to a hyper-efficient unit and potentially improve it? While replacing the minimal production from Jones in 2021 should not be a major obstacle, the additions here still come with question marks.
Robert Woods will turn 30 years old this April, coming off suffering an ACL injury in November after appearing in nine games. Woods only managed to top 70 yards in two of his nine games. That raises the question of his dependence on being in the Rams’ passing game compared to this significantly lower-volume passing game. The Rams have thrown 361 more passes than the Titans over the past three seasons.
With the Titans moving Brown, they had a massive void to fill. Their immediate response was using their first-round pick on Treylon Burks.
Burks was comped to Brown by a number of people this offseason. Although asking him to perform on the same level as Brown is a tall ask, where Burks wins does fit the Tennessee offense if he is able to get past initial conditioning concerns that have clouded his first summer with the team.
A prototypical alpha frame (6’2” and 225 pounds), Burks does carry some volatility in terms of refinement, but he was an electric prospect with the football in his hands. 57.2% of his yardage in 2021 came after the catch (third in this class) while he was second in yards after the catch per reception (9.6 yards).
Fewer than 60% Passing TD Club
Taking that arbitrary dependency closer to the league averages and looking at teams with 40% or more of their offensive scores coming on the ground, we have a much larger 110-team sample.
82 (74.5%) of those teams increased their rate of passing touchdowns the following season with an average spike of 13.4% and 6.2 passing touchdowns while having an average loss of 4.1 rushing touchdowns.
With nearly three-fourths of these teams historically swinging in the other direction the next season, there are another eight teams in that department from a year ago that we can place bets on improving their passing touchdown rate and total passing scores in 2022 in the Broncos, Colts, 49ers, Cardinals, Ravens, Bears, Browns, and Patriots.
In the case of Broncos and Colts (potential quarterback upgrades), Ravens (Lamar Jackson’s injury), and bad touchdown luck a year ago for the Patriots, there’s already a handful of support for those teams improving.