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Who would be the top fantasy football scorers if touchdowns are removed?

Touchdowns can be a fickle beast. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette scored three touchdowns on 341 touches last season — fewer TDs than Brandon Bolden, Qadree Ollison and Darrel Williams scored on 103 touches combined

Sometimes players with big workloads — the ones we expect to score touchdowns — fail to live up to expectations. Because of how volatile touchdown scoring can be year to year, chasing volume and touches is a better method for predicting player outlooks for the 2020 NFL season.

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For that reason, I removed all touchdown production from the skill positions in 2019 to look at which players posted the best numbers without scoring buoyancy — and which ones earned the touchdown-or-bust scarlet letter.

Running Backs

Sep 8, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) celebrates a touchdown in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If you remove Christian McCaffrey’s 19 touchdowns from 2019, he would still have finished as the RB1 with 355.2 PPR fantasy points. Safe to stay, CMC does not even need to repeat his 2019 efforts to be deserving of the 1.01 overall pick across all fantasy formats.

Total PPR points without TDs in 2019 (RBs)
Christian McCaffrey 355.2
Austin Ekeler 247.0
Leonard Fournette 243.4
Ezekiel Elliott 231.6
Dalvin Cook 218.4
Alvin Kamara 214.0
Nick Chubb 213.2

McCaffrey's 19 combined TDs tied Aaron Jones for the league lead, but McCaffrey's touchdown scores accounted for 24% of his total fantasy points whereas Jones' accounted for 36% — the fifth-highest rate among qualifiers. 

Highest Percentage of PPR points from TDs in 2019 (RBs)
Todd Gurley II 38%
Jordan Howard 38%
Mark Ingram II 37%
Derrick Henry 36%
Aaron Jones 36%
Raheem Mostert 35%
Tevin Coleman 31%

The addition of second-round pick A.J. Dillon to the Packers' backfield poses a severe threat to Jones’ touchdown upside in 2019. The 250-pound bruising back will surely see his fair share of carries near the end zone. This entire list, in fact, should be approached cautiously in fantasy drafts.

In 2018, among the 14 running backs who finished with over 30% of their fantasy production from touchdowns, only five — Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry, Aaron Jones and Jordan Howardduplicated their efforts in 2019. 

Henry has been super touchdown reliant over the past two seasons. With no inclination of an increase in his workload as a receiver, he looks like a tough bet to pay off his ADP as RB7 in 2020. 

If a TD-dependent running back is going to see limited opportunities at the goal line, he probably should be faded. The Miami Dolphins will not be a prolific offense in 2020 (hot take), so you will want to stay as far away from Howard as possible.

Lowest percentage of PPR points from TDs in 2019 (RBs)
Miles Sanders 17%
Devin Singletary 16%
Alvin Kamara 14%
Gus Edwards 13%
Frank Gore 13%
Matt Breida 11%
Le'Veon Bell 11%
Leonard Fournette 7%

The other Dolphins’ running back, Matt Breida, could potentially be a sneaky target later in drafts. His 2019 production was barely tied to touchdowns, which significantly differed from every other San Francisco running back — Jeff Wilson Jr. (64%), Raheem Mostert (35%) and Tevin Coleman (31%) were all above the 30% clip in 2019.

Alvin Kamara’s touchdown totals from his first two seasons nosedived, but that did not stop his overall fantasy production. He finished sixth in total fantasy points without touchdowns. With Kamara fully healthy in 2020 and his touchdowns likely to regress positively toward his totals in his first two seasons, you should feel stoked to get Kamara at the top of the first round.

The other running backs to call attention to are Miles Sanders, Le’Veon Bell and, of course, Leonard Fournette, who helped us kick off this article. Sanders was already producing fantasy points without the aid of touchdowns. With Howard gone, he should continue to rack up even more fantasy points with additional chances to score. 

Bell and Fournette are a bit trickier to decipher because their offenses don’t project well for the 2020 season. Even though Fournette finished as the No. 3 running back in fantasy football without touchdowns, I am not confident in him delivering on third-round draft capital. It's highly unlikely we see the same workload based on his inefficiency in 2019. Plus, I see Fournette and Bell in a similar vein — bell-cow backs on bad offenses — but Bell goes one round later, so I lean toward the value.

Another noteworthy point is that the lead running back in Kansas City over the past two seasons has had a high percentage of fantasy points from touchdowns: Kareem Hunt in 2018 (36%) and Damien Williams in 2018 (36%) and 2019 (29%). In an offense led by the best quarterback on the planet, you can be confident this trend continues for Clyde Edwards-Helaire in 2020.

Wide Receivers

Dec 22, 2019; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) breaks the record for receptions in a season with this touchdown reception during the second half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Like CMC, Michael Thomas’ season was indeed one for the ages. Remove all his touchdowns and he still would have finished No. 1 overall. Wide receivers score so many points from receptions that touchdowns are not as integral to their overall performance. Robert Woods scored just two touchdowns last season and still finished as the WR14.

Total PPR points without TDs in 2019 (WRs)
Michael Thomas 320.6
Julio Jones 238.1
Keenan Allen 225.5
DeAndre Hopkins 222.3
Chris Godwin 220.1
Robert Woods 214.9
Julian Edelman 214.4

I've been advocating for Woods all draft season because of the security he offers. His rank as the sixth-highest receiver when you remove touchdowns just further solidifies that argument. He does not need to score to be a productive fantasy asset — he's house money if he ever starts to see the end zone regularly. 

Highest percentage of PPR points from TDs in 2019 (WRs)
Adam Thielen 37%
Willie Snead IV 32%
Kendrick Bourne 31%
Mecole Hardman 31%
Phillip Dorsett 30%
Tajae Sharpe 29%
Steven Sims 29%
Marquise Brown 29%
Darius Slayton 28%
Marvin Jones Jr. 28%

In terms of raw fantasy points, Kenny Golladay saw the most significant drop off in overall rank after leading all wide receivers with 11 scores, but he still put up WR2 numbers outside of his touchdowns. His percentage of fantasy points from touchdowns (26%) ranked 12th. Without them, he would have finished as the WR17.

His teammate, Marvin Jones Jr., was slightly more touchdown-dependent, ranking 10th (28%) out of wide receivers with at least 25 receptions. He also saw the third-highest difference in fantasy points among wide receivers from touchdowns. 

The list above features plenty of typical boom-or-bust receivers who should not be the core build of any rosters. If these players don't see an uptick in volume in 2020, there are going to be some tough start/sit decisions come September.

In 2018, 11 wide receivers finished with over 28% of their fantasy production stemming from touchdowns — none of duplicated their efforts in 2019. Jones was closest at 26% in 2018.

Adam Thielen is the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings — given that he is healthy in 2020, he should again see a high touchdown percentage. Marquise Brown looks ready to break out as Baltimore’s No. 1 receiver, so he is another player we can confidently project a big workload. 

The guys who are more worrisome are Marvin Jones, Darius Slayton, Steven Sims and Mecole Hardman. Matthew Stafford is not going to keep the same pace as last season, so I'm hesitant to buy into him supporting Jones, Golladay and the emerging T.J. Hockenson.

Daniel Jones is already a volatile quarterback, so mixing him with Slayton could scream disaster. Sims’ narrative is that he is a sleeper with upside, but he scored all four of his touchdowns in the last three weeks of the season.

Hardman is the most difficult to evaluate because his upside in the Chiefs offense is rocket-high, but until we see him command targets in the offense, he is going to be tough to start weekly. It may sound surprising, but Hardman did not even have that many “boom” weeks in 2019 — he posted just one top-20 wide receiver performance.

Lowest percentage of PPR points from TDs in 2019 (WRs)
Odell Beckham Jr. 12%
Christian Kirk 11%
D.J. Moore 10%
Brandin Cooks 10%
Mohamed Sanu 10%
Anthony Miller 9%
Robert Woods 8%
Mike Williams 7%

Instead of taking a late-round flier on players who produced solely on the backs of touchdowns, consider players with sneaky upside and more stability. Mike Williams is vastly undervalued, and the same goes for most players on this list. Christian Kirk is on the consensus breakout team of 2020, and he is behind Deebo Samuel and his broken foot in ADP (WR39).   

Fantasy drafters aren't clamoring for these guys, but they've all shown the ability to stay involved in an offense and to put up fantasy points. The ones going late could easily see some positive TD regression — or luck — and spike. For the more high-profile players (Odell Beckham Jr., D.J. Moore), even with ADPs inside the top-11 receivers, they're a strong bet to outproduce their draft cost.

Tight Ends

Jan 12, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Blake Bell (81) and tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrate with fans after Bell s touchdown during the AFC Divisional Round playoff football game against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Total PPR points without TDs in 2019 (TEs)
Travis Kelce 220.3
Darren Waller 205.1
George Kittle 192.5
Zach Ertz 179.6
Austin Hooper 153.7
Mark Andrews 149.2
Tyler Higbee 142.4
Hunter Henry 120.2
Dallas Goedert 118.7
Jason Witten 115.9

Darren Waller got sniped in the end-zone by Foster Moreau in 2019. Had those touchdowns gone Waller’s way, he could have beaten out Travis Kelce as the TE1. Though his scores should increase in 2020, my biggest concern for Waller is that he will not see the same type of target volume with all the new pieces added to the Las Vegas Raiders offense.

This table also tells me that Dallas Cowboys Blake Jarwin is still such a great value. Jason Witten was a solid producer last season and was not touchdown dependent. Jarwin’s floor in the Dallas offense might be safer than you think, and we know Jarwin can deliver more big plays.

Highest percentage of PPR points from TDs in 2019 (TEs)
Foster Moreau 44%
Taysom Hill 42%
Ross Dwelley 33%
Will Dissly 32%
Jared Cook 32%
Kyle Rudolph 32%
Ryan Griffin 31%
Mark Andrews 29%
Josh Hill 27%
Cameron Brate 26%

Unless head coach Jon Gruden has an affinity for Moreau, the percentage of fantasy points (44%) from touchdowns cannot continue into 2020.

Eight tight ends in 2018 had over 25% of their fantasy production from touchdowns — only Cameron Brate was above 25% both seasons, but even his fell drastically (38% vs. 26%).

These are real big flags for guys like Jared Cook and Kyle Rudolph, as they are the definition of touchdown-or-bust at the tight end position. Rudolph, specifically, saw most of his touchdowns during the second half of the season when the Vikings were without Thielen.

I would not be concerned with Mark Andrews, as his situation is similar to Marquise Brown. He is still going to see plenty of volume in 2020, and with the Baltimore Ravens a candidate to throw more in 2020, he should be good to go.

The table also spotlights Brate as potentially arbitrage play on Rob Gronkowski — if and when Gronk suffers an injury, Brate would be a heavy favorite for looks in the end-zone.

Lowest percentage of PPR points from TDs in 2019 (TEs)
T.J. Hockenson 15%
Travis Kelce 14%
George Kittle 13%
Gerald Everett 13%
Jordan Akins 13%
Tyler Higbee 11%
Jeremy Sprinkle 11%
Greg Olsen 10%
Darren Waller 8%
O.J. Howard 7%

O.J. Howard is another Tampa Bay tight end who could benefit from a Gronkowski injury. He destroyed fantasy teams (including mine) as a fourth-round pick who was total dust all season. But all the efficiency metrics are still great for Howard — over the past two seasons, he ranks first in yards per reception (15.5) and sixth in receiving plays over 15 yards (33) among tight ends with at least 70 targets.

Considering he was the tight end least-reliant on touchdowns, you just can't ignore him as the TE25 in drafts, especially considering the Buccaneers will run a substantial amount of 12 personnel in 2020.

Final Thoughts

If you hadn’t noticed by now, Todd Gurley has been an absolute touchdown hog for the Los Angeles Rams. Almost all the other Rams wide receivers and tight ends have scored fantasy points through receptions and yardage because Gurley has gobbled those extra six points.

Gurley's departure could potentially open those touchdowns to other players. I favor Robert Woods and Gerald Everett, but it would be wise to leave drafts with at least one L.A. player — any of them could be the one who cashes in big time in the touchdown department. 

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