Touchdowns are fluky. Touchdowns are impossible to predict. And there is such a thing as touchdown regression, right?
Scoring touchdowns is arguably the most important part of the game of football, and definitely most important in the game of fantasy football, so it’s easy to understand why some leagues are choosing to play with a touchdown-only scoring format this season. As I understand it, this is the way the earliest fantasy football leagues were played, in the days of newspaper box scores and making taunts via phone calls over landlines. It’s simple, clean, and doesn’t give anyone credit for meaningless catches behind the line of scrimmage or 74-yard drives that result in turnovers on downs just outside the end zone.
As important as touchdowns are, everything I said in the first sentence is true. A fantastic RB1 who led the drive to the red zone can be spelled for rest while his backup rushes in for an easy score on fresh legs. Trick plays are designed to confuse defenses and usually result in an unorthodox player catching (or throwing) the TD. A defender falls down, yielding a touchdown on what would have otherwise been a small gain or incomplete pass. It’s why they play the game, as they say — our best predictions are often wrong. So how, if at all, should you adjust your draft strategy for a TD-only scoring league?
We turn to our old friend, volume. Everyone should be looking at team offensive stats when preparing to draft, in my opinion, but it is especially weighty information for this format. The following stats were obtained from Team Rankings:
Let’s start simple with offensive plays per game. Teams that run a lot of plays have the most opportunities to score. In 2021, those were, in order: Baltimore, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, LA Chargers, Buffalo, Tennessee, Arizona, Pittsburgh (!!), and Carolina (!!!). Of the Top 10, the Chargers, Dallas, Arizona, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City were also Top 10 in plays per game in the 2020 season.
Now, let’s overlay that with the simple points per game to confirm the correlation. Teams with the most points per game in 2021 were: Dallas, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Kansas City, LA Chargers, LA Rams, New England, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Arizona and Green Bay (T-10th). New England and Cincinnati are notable outliers, falling in the bottom third of the league in offensive plays per game but being efficient enough to score with the best of the league. On the flip side, teams that scored the fewest points (Jacksonville, NY Giants, Houston, Carolina, NY Jets, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Denver and Washington) tended to run fewer plays, with the notable exception of Carolina.
Since not all scoring is treated equally in our TD-only format, let’s zero in on red zone (RZ) opportunities and offensive TD scoring. The best team in the league had 4.5 red zone scoring attempts per game in 2021, up from their league-leading 4.1 RZ attempts in 2020. That would be the Buffalo Bills. The Chargers, Rams, Chiefs, Packers, Bucs, Colts, Cowboys, Cardinals, Raiders and Patriots round out the Top 10 in RZ plays per game, while you won’t be surprised to find Houston, NY Giants, Jacksonville, Detroit, Carolina, Seattle, Chicago, Miami, Cleveland and Washington at the bottom in this metric.
Offensive touchdowns scored per game is a pretty consistent statistic, year over year, with outliers (like New Orleans with and without Drew Brees) easily explained. Tampa Bay and Buffalo led the league with 3.6 offensive touchdowns per game last season and both were Top 3 in 2020 as well. Kansas City, LA Chargers, Dallas, LA Rams, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Arizona, and Seattle were all Top 10 in offensive TDs scored last season.
Before we get to the individuals, let’s just check in on how the offensive touchdowns break out by rushing or receiving. The best team in rushing touchdowns per game last season, the Philadelphia Eagles, averaged 1.4 per game. The worst team, NY Giants, just 0.5 rushing TDs per game. Among the worst teams in 2021, only Minnesota and New Orleans had been significantly better in 2020. Teams with at least 1.2 rushing TDs per game in 2021 included Tennessee, Arizona, New England, Indianapolis, Buffalo, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay. Not surprisingly, six of them ranked in the Top 7 in rushing play percentage (45.7 percent (Patriots) – 49.9 percent (Eagles). Tampa Bay (32nd), Buffalo (18th), and Arizona (12th) showed high efficiency in scoring on the ground while ranking much lower in rushing percentage.
We are starting to get a little redundant here, but bear with me for one or two more sentences. Teams with the highest passing touchdowns per game were Kansas City (2.5), Tampa Bay, LA Rams, Buffalo, Dallas, LA Chargers, Green Bay, Cincinnati, and Minnesota, with at least 2.2 per game. As you might expect, some of these teams scored an overwhelming majority of their offensive touchdowns through the air. The Rams come in first with a whopping 78.1 percent of their TDs coming off the pass, with Green Bay and Minnesota close behind with 71 percent. Kansas City and Cincinnati round out the Top 5.
To summarize, when you’re looking for players in your TD-only league, you’re looking at Dallas, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Kansas City, LA Chargers, LA Rams, Green Bay, New England and Indianapolis. You might look at RBs and/or QBs from Philadelphia, Tennessee, Arizona, New England, Buffalo, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Cleveland and Tampa Bay for rushing scores. You might zero in on pass-catchers from Kansas City, Tampa Bay, LA Rams, Dallas, Buffalo, LA Chargers, Green Bay, Cincinnati, or Minnesota when you’re looking for WRs or TEs.
At QB, I’m most eager to roster Josh Allen, followed by Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts. These guys have a solid balance of passing and rushing scores, and play for teams that support their style of play. They were the Top 3 in red zone rushing attempts. Allen was first, and Herbert fifth, in red zone pass attempts. In the case of Hurts, the addition of A.J. Brown increases his passing touchdown potential significantly, and assuming Hurts plays a full season, the rushing TDs should also compete for top of position honors. Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott make for safe, and somewhat cheaper, QB targets in this format.
When it comes to running backs, there is one player who basically made it possible for his team to rank high in any of the aforementioned stats. That is Jonathan Taylor, as his 18 rushing touchdowns led the league by far. It’ll take the No. 1 overall pick in most leagues to get him, but in TD-only scoring, you have to do it if you can, given that nothing has changed (for the worse) for him this season. Ditto for a healthy Austin Ekeler, who is ready to handle another heavy workload for the offensive-minded Chargers, and is an equally good rusher and receiver (he matched Taylor’s 20 total TDs in 2021). James Conner is the RB I’m moving up the most in the TD-only format, as Arizona is not only an offensive powerhouse, they prioritize the run when they get in the red zone. Conner had 15 rushing touchdowns and three receiving, while losing zero fumbles. With Chase Edmonds gone, a healthy Conner should continue to be used in highly efficient scoring situations — all 15 of his 2021 scores on the ground came in the red zone.
First round running backs that get a downgrade in TD-only scoring include Dalvin Cook, Najee Harris and Joe Mixon. Both Minnesota and Cincinnati have trended toward more passing plays, and getting the ball in the end zone through the air, although neither ranked in the Top 10 in red zone plays per game. Cook is an able receiver, but only three of his 49 targets last season came in the red zone. Harris had amazing volume last season, and Pittsburgh ran a lot of plays, but it was a team that failed to score and has some questions — and almost certainly some transitions in store — at QB. Harris finished as the half-PPR RB4 last season on his rushing and receiving yardage more so than his touchdowns (10 total). Could that TD-regression be in store? It’s possible, but in this format, I’m selecting Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry, all of whom have demonstrated a nose for the end zone, ahead of Harris. Nick Chubb is a player I’m on the fence about here. The volume is great and the talent is there. Opportunity looms even larger if Kareem Hunt leaves the team. However, the team is one I’m happy to avoid in most fantasy formats. If Chubb were to fall late in the first round, or early second round, of a TD-only league, I’d probably grab him. Slightly later in the draft, palyers like Leonard Fournette, J.K. Dobbins, Elijah Mitchell and Damien Harris all get a boost in this scoring system.
Your top receivers remain your top receivers in TD-only scoring formats. Cooper Kupp, Justin Jefferson, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, CeeDee Lamb, Ja’Marr Chase… all still first or second round picks given their demonstrated dominance and strong team dynamics around the passing touchdown. JuJu Smith-Schuster is an interesting riser in this format, given Kansas City’s passing prowess under Patrick Mahomes, which also makes me wonder, will Tyreek Hill see as many scores in Miami as he did in KC? I’m downgrading Hill in TD-only scoring, but he could definitely be a risk/reward player. I view Adams, now in Las Vegas, as a more trustable commodity with Derek Carr. Speaking of Las Vegas, last season Hunter Renfrow ranked sixth in red zone targets (tied with Hill) and, as noted above, the Raiders were Top 10 in red zone scoring attempts. Renfrow is a very affordable late-round pick in this format. Allen Lazard, Tee Higgins, Gabriel Davis, A.J. Green and Mecole Hardman are also coming off a season with higher-than-average red zone usage. Green is probably the least buzzy name on this list, but despite his own admission of poor chemistry with Kyler Murray last year, Green’s big body and sure hands saw 16 red zone targets, tied for 16th among wide receivers.
If you have to use a TE in a TD-only scoring league, I’m sorry. Some TEs do seem made for this format — looking at you Hunter Henry, Dawson Knox, and Zach Ertz. All three were more targeted in the red zone than Travis Kelce or Kyle Pitts last season. Mark Andrews is the TE I’d be most happy to roster, as he led all tight ends with 20 red zone targets, tying Henry with nine RZ TD catches. But if I miss on Andrews, I’m waiting until the later rounds to secure Henry, Ertz, Cameron Brate or Knox. All have end-zone-target written all over them, and all play for teams that score the most points. Stacking a QB and lead receiver, which could be a TE for Kansas City and Baltimore, from one of the highest scoring teams is a good way to maximize your TDs.
My ideal TD-only draft with the 1.01 pick (round, ADP per FantasyPros):
QB: Lamar Jackson (4)
RB: Jonathan Taylor (1)
RB: Elijah Mitchell (5)
WR: Mike Evans (3)
WR: JuJu Smith-Schuster (6)
WR: Gabriel Davis (7)
TE: Mark Andrews (2)
(Top photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)