News & Analysis

Sammy Watkins' unsustainable touchdown luck of 2017

By Daniel Kelley
Feb 13, 2018

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Dec 3, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Sammy Watkins (12) scores a touchdown during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Are you a tight end? Are you a 2011 Packers wide receiver? If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, then congratulations! There’s a chance you can maintain ridiculous touchdown luck multiple seasons in a row. If you answered “no” — and I’m sorry, Sammy Watkins, but we’ll get to that — you likely cannot.

Let’s back up a little. There are certain thresholds that signify receiving touchdown luck. Personally, my favorite is 10 percent. If you are scoring a touchdown on 10 percent of your targets, well, congrats on a nice season, but maybe don’t get too comfortable at that rate.

Since 2007, there have been 1,388 player-seasons with at least 50 targets. Of those, 64 have reached the 10-percent touchdown rate, ranging from 2011 Robert Meachem and 2010 Greg Jennings at exactly 10 percent up to 2014 Julius Thomas at exactly 20. That’s 64 of 1,388, or 4.6 percent of player-seasons. Let’s call that appropriately exclusive. Take out the 2017 seasons (because I want to look at the next year, and those guys haven’t had a next year), and it’s 60 of 1,265, 4.7 percent.

So, from 2007 to 2016, 60 players had a 10-percent touchdown rate on 50-plus targets. Of those 60, two (2012-13 Danario Alexander and 2013-14 Marvin Jones) did not play at all the next season. So 58, then. Those 58 players averaged 10.8 touchdowns on 87.12 targets (12.7 percent). A year later, that same group averaged 5.5 touchdowns on 83.8 targets (6.8 percent). Essentially, guys who score touchdowns at a 10-percent rate one year see that rate cut in half the next.

But there are exceptions to every rule. What players have broken the string, and reached a 10-percent touchdown rate in consecutive seasons? Well, let’s look:

Players with a 10% TD rate on 50+ targets consecutive years, 2007-2016
First year Second year
Player Year Tgt TD Rate Year Tgt TD Rate
Visanthe Shiancoe 2008 57 7 12.28% 2009 74 11 14.87%
Fred Davis 2009 65 7 10.77% 2010 28 3 10.71%
Kenny Britt 2010 66 9 13.64% 2011 25 3 12.00%
Rob Gronkowski 2010 57 10 17.54% 2011 121 17 14.05%
Rob Gronkowski 2011 121 17 14.05% 2012 77 11 14.29%
Donald Driver 2011 54 6 11.11% 2012 13 2 15.39%
James Jones 2011 54 7 12.96% 2012 93 14 15.05%
Julius Thomas 2013 88 12 13.64% 2014 60 12 20.00%
Tyler Eifert 2015 66 13 19.70% 2016 39 5 12.82%

For those following along at home, let’s break that group down:

  • Nine players total;
  • Six tight ends;
  • Two receivers on the 2011-12 Packers;
  • Four players who didn’t even get to 40 targets in the second year, so they wouldn’t qualify for the initial sample;
  • 2010-11 Kenny Britt, whose 2011 was basically a wash anyway.

In short: If you are a wide receiver who puts up ridiculous touchdown luck one year, the only way you’re likely to do it again is if you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback.

Sammy Watkins (probably) does not have Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.

What does it mean for 2018? Four players qualified for our sample in 2017. Three (Tyler Kroft, Jimmy Graham, Kyle Rudolph) were tight ends, and while their production is unlikely to repeat in 2018, there’s at least precedent for them to do so. The fourth, as was so subtly hinted at above, was Sammy Watkins.

Watkins did not have a vintage Watkins year as a Ram. He put up his lowest PFF grade (76.2) since his rookie year, averaging only 4.7 targets per game (he averaged 7.2 in three years as a Bill) and tying with Ted Ginn as the No. 33 fantasy wide receiver. But where he lacked in yardage, he more than made up in scoring, as Watkins scored eight times on only 66 targets, good for an NFL-best 12.12-percent rate in 2017.

As we’ve seen above, wide receivers just don’t do that two years in a row. Watkins is a free agent this offseason, so it’s theoretically possible he lands with Aaron Rodgers, but it remains unlikely. Considering his injury history, it’s unlikely any team signs Watkins as its clear-cut No. 1 receiver, as he was in Buffalo.

Factoring in Watkins’ likely touchdown regression and the fact that he’s going to be one of multiple mouths to feed wherever he lands, and the Watkins who has been a top-30 WR draft commodity the last three years isn’t likely to appear in 2018. Instead, we will have a health-dependent flex option at best who is likely to see his scoring fall off this year. Tread carefully.

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