Fantasy Football 2014: Predicting Touchdown Leaders
Everyone loves touchdowns.
I mean, some fantasy formats gravitate towards rewarding points for only scoring touchdowns. And, of course, everyone loves scoring as many fantasy points as possible. Most fantasy owners tend to target guys who score the most touchdowns, though, it is very difficult to do because touchdowns are such a fickle statistic, changing from year to year. So, what am I going to do? I’m going to attempt to predict the highest-scoring touchdown guys for the upcoming season.
Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (46 TD)
This was tough for me, seeing as a certain Green Bay gunslinger is my number one ranked fantasy passer, but out of respect, I’ll give the slight edge to Manning, who is coming off the greatest season a quarterback has ever had. Regression is obviously coming in a big way, especially since Eric Decker and his 24 touchdowns over the last two seasons are gone. Decker was an elite red zone target during that span, and Manning relied on him in such situations, targeting him 50 times in the red zone and 26 times from inside the 10-yard line. Manning’s touchdowns will surely decrease, but even when they do, he should still be able to lead the league in the department. He still has incredible weapons around him, and this offense is just too talented for him not to have another big fantasy season.
Notables: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan.
Zac Stacy, St.Louis Rams (12)
The apple of my eye, the peanut butter to my jelly, it’s no secret that I love Stacy. My number seven running back, Stacy was an absolute workhorse for the Rams after Week 5 last year, ranking second in carries to Eddie Lacy, seeing over 20 per contest. And sure, while I’m higher on him than anyone, this prediction has some actual fantasy analysis and reasoning behind it. First of all, Jeff Fisher loves his new lead back, envisioning him as a 70 percent of the carry type of guy, while rookie runner Tre Mason was called a “change of pace” back. And from Week 5 on last year, he posted six top-12 fantasy finishes, ranking 7th in the league in rushing. Fisher knows that Stacy may already be their best offensive player, so he gave him some running room by adding Greg Robinson in the draft, making it the first time in 18 seasons that he’s used a first round pick on an offensive lineman. Stacy is going to get the majority of work in an offense that will run the ball a ton, and he knows how to convert scoring chances. Last year, six of his seven rushing scores came from inside the five-yard line, converting almost 30 percent of his red zone chances into scores. And while many may say he’s a volume-dependent back, the volume is going to be there, so who cares?
Montee Ball, Denver Broncos (11)
Last year, Knowshon Moreno found the end zone 10 times, en route to a top-five fantasy finish. Now, Moreno is gone, and Ball is the number one back in Denver, which is like checking into the greatest hotel ever– led by Peyton Manning. Because Moreno was in Manning’s dynamite offense last year, 80 percent of his carries came with six men or fewer in the box, as defenses feared the pass. Also, Denver faced dime defense a league-leading 15 percent of the time last year. And the Broncos very quietly ranked 10th in rushing attempts per game last season, and they want to run the football when they get in close, too. Last year, Moreno had a healthy 37 carries from the red zone, as well as 21 from inside the 10-yard line. We’ve seen less talented backs produce in a Manning-led offense, as Joseph Addai averaged almost nine rushing scores with the Colts from 2006 to 2009.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (15)
This is the easiest one for me, despite wide receiver being so darn deep. Sure, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas led the league in receiving scores, but I think Dez has the most upside of the three. Playing in what will be a pass-happy offense, under pass-happy Scott Linehan, Dez could easily also lead the NFL in targets. Number one wideouts in Linehan’s offenses have averaged over 150 targets per year, while a guy like Torry Holt posted three double-digit touchdown campaigns under Linehan in St.Louis. Meanwhile, according to ESPN, Bryant was tackled inside the five-yard line a league-leading seven times last year, while his 111 fantasy points on short throws ranked among the top-two among wideouts last year. He also led the NFL in targets from inside the 10-yard line with 16. He converted 56 percent of such chances into touchdowns, while converting 48 percent of his 21 red zone looks into scores, too. There may not be a more physical wideout in the end zone, making Dez my pick here.
Notables: Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson.
This one is a bit trickier.
If you could guarantee me that Rob Gronkowski would suit up for 16– heck, even 13 games, I’d probably pick him. I mean, there is no bigger end zone threat in football than Gronk, and his 42 receiving touchdowns in 50 career regular season games backs that up. However, he is still a big injury risk, making it hard to bank on that type of production.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Graham would be the most obvious and popular pick, and odds are, he’ll lead all tight ends in scores at the end of the year. But I’m going a different route here, one that may surprise some folks …
Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens (12)
I love me some Pitta bread.
Many had Pitta pegged as a breakout candidate for 2013, but a serious hip injury shortened his season significantly. However, the pick made sense, as quarterback Joe Flacco absolutely loves the guy and the departure of Anquan Boldin would make things easier for him. The two often ate at each other’s fantasy production. However, now that he’s healthy, I think he’s in line for a top-five finish among tight ends in 2014. In the four games Pitta played last year, he averaged almost nine targets per game and scored once. Now, Gary Kubiak is calling the plays, a guy who loved targeting tight ends in the red zone during his time in Houston. In fact, according to Matthew Berry, only four teams in the league have targeted the tight end position more than Houston from 2006 to 2013. And, a great stat from Rich Hribar of XN Sports, tight ends have accounted for over 40 percent of the Texans’ touchdowns from the 10-yard line during Kubiak’s tenure in Houston. This will be at least a double-digit touchdown campaign from Pitta.
Notables: Gronk, Graham, Julius Thomas.