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  • These four quarterbacks should bounce back this season.
By C.D. Carter
June 20, 2019

The perfect fantasy football player isn't so much human as robot. The robot has no emotional attachment to a player or team. It discounts no player for any reason but draft day price point. 

The robot will draft the same player who ripped out its mechanical heart last year if that player's average draft position is reasonable. May we all strive to be less human in our approach to this quirky little game. 

This robot fantasy footballer would take at least a cursory look at players who might be primed for a bounceback in touchdown production after a disappointing season during which they underperformed, failing to reach career averages. Touchdowns are volatile, as the robot knows, but career touchdown rates can tell us a bit about whether the previous season was a fluke or on par with how a player produces. 

Below, my good robot (hopefully) readers, are four quarterbacks whose touchdown rates dropped—or, in some cases, plummeted—in 2018, setting up for a rebound in 2019 touchdown throws. A fallen touchdown rate doesn't guarantee a bounce back of any kind, but it can point us toward guys who got unlucky with touchdown passes and may be subject to the more positive end of that touchdown volatility.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers

2018 touchdown rate: 4.2%
Career touchdown rate: 6.2%

Rodgers’ nightmarish 2018 campaign—in which everything that could go wrong did go wrong—ended with the Packers’ signal caller as fantasy’s fifth-highest scoring quarterback. You’d have to look for a while to find a bigger gap in TD rate than Rodgers’ 2018 numbers compared with his sterling career rate. That Rodgers had a relatively abysmal 2018 season shouldn’t come as a great shock, as Green Bay’s stale offense had run its course, the team’s head coach had mailed it in, and Rodgers was limping around on one leg for much of the season. The Rodgers haters have never been so smitten. 

Everything else was in line for Rodgers in 2018: his interception rate (0.3%) remained microscopic, his completion rate (62.5%) stayed steady, and his adjusted yards per pass attempt (8.1) was just 0.3 under his career AY/A. There’s nothing to indicate Rodgers, who enjoys “dad runner” jokes, has fallen off the proverbial cliff. The guy, after all, has posted a touchdown rate of 5.9% five times over his 10 full seasons as Green Bay’s starter. 

Rodgers, had he posted his career average touchdown rate in 2018, would have thrown 37 touchdowns, which would have elevated him to QB2 on the year. Even though quarterback barely matters in traditional one-QB leagues, Rodgers, at his sixth-round ADP, seems like a passer to target if you’re bound and determined to take an elite signal caller in 2019. The bounceback is coming. But be sure to avoid Rodgers in point-per-beers-chugged leagues, though.

Matthew Stafford, Lions

2018 touchdown rate: 3.8%
Career touchdown rate: 4.4%

Speaking of chugging beers, Stafford's utterly disastrous 2018 campaign, featuring a humble 21 touchdown tosses, ended with his second-lowest touchdown rate since his first full season as Detroit's starter in 2011. Stafford, who used to be fun for fantasy purposes, has posted gaudy touchdown rates over his career, including a 6.4% rate in 2011. I'd like to have Stafford's 2012 season—in which he threw 21 touchdowns on 727 attempts—expunged from my brain. Alas, that technology remains under development.

Stafford's career touchdown rate of 4.4% at least hints that we might see a modest bump in touchdowns for the signal caller in an offense with a backward approach to the game. Had he hit his career average in 2018, Stafford would have posted 3.5 more touchdowns, or 14 more fantasy points. No matter how one slices this data, Stafford shapes up as nothing more than a desperate streaming option for standard fantasy formats—a weird thing to write about a guy who has averaged 273.3 passing yards in 141 career starts.

Derek Carr. Raiders

2018 touchdown rate: 3.4%
Career touchdown rate: 4.4%

Not only did Carr’s touchdown rate drop by a not-insignificant amount in 2018, but his 3.4% mark represents a dramatic fall from the days before Jon Gruden was his coach. Carr, in case you missed it, posted a 5.6% touchdown rate in 2015, when he tossed 32 touchdowns for the Silver and Black. He followed that statistically sparkling season—in which he finished as the QB12—with a 5% touchdown rate in 2016. 

For the sake of context, Carr’s career average touchdown rate would have tacked on 5.5 touchdowns to his total. That’s 22 fantasy points—enough to have put him at borderline top-12 status. I’m not sure what the Raiders’ commitment to running a 1990s-style offense means for Carr’s volume potential, but Vegas expects Oakland to be bad this season, perhaps forcing Gruden to establish the pass. 

Another hint that the good kind of regression could be coming for the Raiders' quarterback: the Raiders averaged a horrific 1.9 touchdowns per game in 2018, the third-lowest mark in the NFL. Oakland had one of the league's lowest percentages of offensive possessions that ended with a touchdown. Carr could certainly benefit from a reversal of those touchdown-scoring struggles.

While no one but the most deranged Raiders truther is going to draft Carr in traditional redraft leagues this summer, the potential to come back from his career-worst touchdown rate will be something to keep in mind for those who do the right thing and stream the position.

Marcus Mariota, Titans

2018 touchdown rate: 3.3%
Career touchdown rate: 4.3%

Mariota’s touchdown production has taken a two-year nosedive that should turn the stomachs of the last remaining Mariota truthers. After posting a gleaming 5.4% touchdown rate over his first two full seasons as Tennessee’s starter, Mariota’s rate has fallen to one of the league’s lowest: 2.9% in 2017 and 3.3% in 2018. That’s Case Keenum/Joe Flacco territory—a terrifying place for a quarterback who once seemed so promising. Whatever Mariota brings to an offense—a guy who really looks like a good QB, someone who seems to be a good athlete—he offers below-replacement-level touchdown production.

But wait, you say, you’re writing about Mariota in an article about bounceback candidates. It’s true, savvy reader. Assuming Mariota plays a full season, his touchdown rate should tick closer toward his career average. The complication, of course, is that the Titans’ run a prehistoric offense with a slow pace and a commitment to establishing the run, meaning a considerable uptick in touchdown rate wouldn’t mean a bunch more TDs for Mariota. His career high 5.6% touchdown rate in 2016 netted 26 touchdowns; 13 quarterbacks had as many or more touchdown tosses that year. 

Mariota would have thrown an extra 3.4 touchdowns last year had he hit his career TD rate. Like Stafford, Mariota’s potential bounce back, which should be aided by the return of Delanie Walker and hopeful emergence of Corey Davis, could make him a go-to streaming option in 2019, or a less-than-awful QB2 in a two-quarterback league. Lest we forget, Mariota has averaged around 49 fantasy points per season on the ground over his career, adding a dash of rushing appeal to what could be a rebound in touchdown throws.

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