As we approach July and are changing over into a strong push into 2020 fantasy draft season, we are going to start exploring some of the data points from the most recent NFL season and see what kind notes and lessons we can take away in application to the 2020 season. The goal, in the long run, is that come late-August, we have covered all corners of the fantasy Earth from a team, player, position, and game theory angle to finely calibrate our draft strategy for this upcoming season.
To start things off, we are going to take a top-down, team-level look at how teams performed per possession a year ago.
Leaguewide Scoring and Touchdown Rates per Drive Over the Past 10 Years
|Year||Drive/Gm||oTD/Gm||Score %||TD %|
*All NFL Drives excluding ones that ended in kneel downs
The NFL game as a whole has become increasingly efficient in the scoring department. Teams are scoring and reaching the end zone on more drives while that efficiency is reducing the overall volume of possessions.
2017 was a historically poor NFL season, but prior to that year, scoring rates per drive and touchdowns scored per offensive possession had risen every year over the 20012-2016 seasons from the year prior. Following that 2017 drop-off, the regression pendulum swung back in full force, as 2018 was the highest-scoring season in league history. Unable to sustain that highest-level of output, there was slight recoil a year ago, but 2019 remained a hyper-efficient scoring season, with the third-highest scoring rate per drive and second-highest touchdown rates and offensive touchdowns scored per game over the past decade. Overall, the NFL has set up offenses to succeed, and teams are doing so at the highest levels.
The first question to ask is how sticky is scoring and touchdown rates per drive heading into the following season?
Year-Over-Year R-Squared Correlation Per Drive Over the Past 10 Seasons
In terms of predictability of scoring rates per drive, things are not particularly good. Over the past decade, roughly 20% of a team’s scoring rate per drive can be explained by the output from the season prior while that falls into roughly 15% in touchdown rate per drive and 10% of offensive touchdowns scored per game. When looking at just the teams at the top and bottom of the league those seasons, those marks take significant hits, Top-10 teams in scoring efficiency fare better than bottom-rung teams, but there is no tangible correlation to latch onto for either end of the spectrum. The fluctuation and volatility of scoring efficiency are strong across the league. With that noted, let us dive into some notes from the 2019 season.
2019 Team Per Drive Rates
*Drives excluding ones that ended in kneel downs
Despite there not being any tangible year-over-year correlations per team, we can take away a few bulk notes with an eye on the 2020 season. Over the previous decade, 61.5% of the teams that were below the league average in scoring rate per drive came back the following season to score more offensive touchdowns than the season prior with an average increase of 10 touchdowns per season per those teams. On the flip side, an identical 61.5% of the teams above league base rate, scored fewer touchdowns the following season, with an average loss of nine touchdowns per game among those teams.
Diving into some team specifics, there is no doubt that we should be expecting the Baltimore offense to have a reduction in scoring efficiency after their blitzkrieg on the league a year ago.
On the team level, the Ravens scored on 57.0% of their offensive possessions in 2019, matching the 2007 Patriots for the highest scoring rate per drive since 2000. Just 10 other teams from 2000-2018 have scored on half of their offensive possessions in a season.
Teams to Score on 50% of their Drives Since 2000
The following year, all 10 off those team had a decrease in scoring rate per drive and touchdown rate per drive with an average decrease of 8.9% per drive. All 10 of those had a drop in offensive touchdowns the following season with an average decrease of 14 offensive touchdowns.
We can see that this type of scoring efficiency is relatively a new development for the NFL, with just the 2007 Patriots coming before 2010, and seven of the 14 total teams here coming just over the past three NFL seasons. The most recent inclusions of both the Chiefs and Saints here from the past two seasons is reason why not all regression should be treated as a boogeyman to avoid, just provide proper context to how special those spike seasons were. Both of the Chiefs and Saints came back last season and were among the league’s most efficient offenses once again while also seeing a reduction across the board. Baltimore can still remain one of the league’s best offenses in context of the 2020 season while still having reduced scoring efficiency and overall touchdown production.
Baltimore scored 58 offensive touchdowns last season, so even if they lost the average 14 scores, there would be a lot to like still. But from a projection stance, this is why you cannot just take what some of the numbers and edge that the individual pieces of their offense were able to post a year ago and treat them as absolutes in draft slotting for this season.
On the other end of the field was the Jets. No team scored on a lower rate of their possessions (24.1%) and only the Steelers (13.7%) scored a touchdown at a lower rate of drives than the Jets did at 13.8%.
Just 20 teams over the previous decade have scored on fewer than 25% of their drives. Of those 20 teams, 19 scored at a higher rate the following season with an average increase scoring rate of +10.8%. 19 scored more offensive touchdowns the following season with an average increase of +14 touchdowns. I know the Jets and Adam Gase have become a bit of a punchline for football narratives, but New York is an objectively good bet to score more touchdowns in 2020.
Including the Jets, there are 10 teams that scored a touchdown of fewer than 20% of their possessions last season. Over the previous decade, we have a 142-team sample of teams in the same arbitrary bucket. 71.8% of those teams had an increase In touchdown rate per drive the following season with an average increase of nine offensive touchdowns. That is a long way to say do not expect bottom-run offenses to remain so poorly below the league baseline. But while providing the actual numbers, a few of those teams out those 10 mentioned with the Jets that I find personally appealing in scoring more touchdowns in 2020 are the Steelers, Bengals, Broncos, and Bills. All of those bottom-dwelling teams should be projected to score closer to the base rate for this upcoming season instead of overly fitting their 2019 output into projections.
One last final note here and it is on something not entirely pictured in the team output above. Of course efficiency (and lack thereof) impacts overall volume, but so do turnovers. Looking at turnover rate per drive, it has a .2502 correlation to total offensive possessions.
In 2019, the Buccaneers paced the league in possessions per game (11.7) in part due to turning the ball over at an astronomical rate. Tampa Bay turned the ball over a league-high 21.9% of their drives last season. League average outside of them was 12.0%. It was the highest turnover rate per drive since the 2006 Raiders (25.1%). All of those turnovers did help create volume for the offense, but with the addition of Tom Brady, that is an avenue we can see the volume for this offense naturally reduced.
Over the past 10 seasons, the Patriots have had the lowest turnover rate per drive (7.8%) while ranking third or better in seven of those 10 seasons (with a low mark of seventh). Over that same span, the Patriots were 25th in the league in overall possessions. The good news is that they also ranked first in scoring rate (46.3%) and second in touchdown rate (29.0%) per drive over that span, but the overall volume for the Tampa Bay offense can naturally come back a bit just by Brady protecting the football better than Jameis Winston did a year ago and then we will see where their scoring efficiency lies. On an inversely note out of the door, the 2019 Saints just had the fewest turnovers (eight) in league history.
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