A simple look at a box score or a study of fantasy categories doesn't always tell the whole story of how a player is performing. Dalton Del Don attempts to identify misleading numbers that are worth a closer look.
Yes ... The Numbers Do Lie.
Diontae Johnson’s zero touchdowns were a lie
Johnson set an NFL record for most targets without a touchdown last season; his 147 looks ranked eighth in the league. He had by far the biggest difference in expected fantasy points and actual fantasy points among all pass catchers last year, with seven “expected” touchdowns. He ranked sixth among WRs in red-zone target share (30.3%), racking up more looks in the RZ than A.J. Brown and the same number as CeeDee Lamb.
Put differently, Johnson scored eight touchdowns in 2021 despite seeing half as many end-zone targets as he did last season.
Johnson is a terrific route-runner who’s due for TD regression in 2023. He also gets to play in an emerging Steelers offense that averaged the third-most yards per drive after their bye last year. Kenny Pickett looks primed to make a leap this season, with Johnson a huge beneficiary.
Saying he’ll score more touchdowns after failing to hit pay dirt last season may be Captain Obvious, but I have Johnson ranked as a top-15 fantasy WR in Week 1.
Joe Mixon’s seven rushing touchdowns were a lie
Mixon recorded a modest seven rushing scores (including four in one game) last season despite seeing the second-most carries inside the 10-yard line; the only player ahead of him led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns. Mixon also had the third-most attempts inside the five and saw the sixth-highest team red-zone carry% last season, yet 15 players had more rushing TDs.
He ran for nearly twice as many TDs (13) in 2021 while playing just two more games.
Mixon also had the third-most red-zone targets and the fourth-most targets inside the five among backs, so he’s due for touchdown regression. Put differently, Mixon had the second-most expected fantasy points per game last season, sandwiched between Austin Ekeler and Christian McCaffrey.
Mixon doesn’t have to suddenly become a much more efficient back at this stage of his career (although it’s worth noting he’s still just 26 years old with modest mileage), as a loaded Bengals offense will help with that. Cincinnati should enjoy one final season before its offensive stars get too expensive to keep together, and a bunch of points should follow.
With Samaje Perine gone and an improved Bengals offensive line, a healthy Mixon should score 10+ touchdowns in 2023.
Amon-Ra St. Brown’s six receiving touchdowns were a lie
St. Brown isn’t a monster red-zone target at six feet tall but his usage should lead to more touchdowns in 2023. He was tackled at the 1-yard line three separate times last season (and inside the 5 multiple other times), helping teammate Jamaal Williams lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns by 24%. Detroit replaced Williams with David Montgomery, who’s been the league’s least efficient back over the last four years and may not be suited for the goal-line role.
Detroit had an elite offense last season that averaged an NFL-high 33-plus points at home, yet the Lions have one of the thinnest receiving groups (including a full season without TJ Hockenson) outside of Sun God even after Jameson Williams eventually returns from his suspension. Detroit will be relying heavily on a rookie tight end as well as Josh Reynolds, the team's projected No. 2 receiver.
St. Brown has the most catches over his first two years in NFL history and had a higher first-read target% (33.9) than Justin Jefferson last season. He also had the fifth-most red-zone targets, tied with Davante Adams, so St. Brown might double his touchdown production in 2023.
Garrett Wilson’s stats were a lie
A rookie receiver recording 1,103 yards and four touchdowns is highly impressive, but it could’ve been even more in Wilson’s case. He was top-10 in expected fantasy points among receivers yet finished outside the top-20 WR fantasy scorers. Since Wilson is clearly a baller, expect major positive regression in Year 2, especially with such a significant upgrade at quarterback. Wilson caught passes thrown by Magic Mike White, 42-year-old Joe Flacco and Zach Wilson last season, the latter being legitimately one of the most inaccurate and worst quarterbacks of all time.
Enter Aaron Rodgers, who’s seemingly on the downside but played through a broken thumb last season and represents a massive upgrade even at this stage of his career. The Jets somehow led the NFL in passing yards last year in games without Zach Wilson!
Garrett Wilson’s pace without Zach at QB would’ve had him leading the league in targets and finishing with 1,380 yards and nine touchdowns. Wilson averaged 1.85 yards per route run last season while all other Jets WRs combined to average just 1.10. He now has an inner circle Hall of Famer (who led the league in deep attempts last year) throwing to him.
Wilson commanded end-zone looks, led the league in first-read target share inside the 10 and frankly dominated as a rookie despite missing most of the preseason. New York downgraded at WR2 (Elijah Moore left and Corey Davis retired) during the offseason while dramatically upgrading at QB.
I have Wilson ranked as a top-five fantasy receiver in 2023.
Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill & Jaylen Waddle's stats were a lie
Tagovailoa threw as many touchdown passes as Tom Brady in 333 fewer attempts last season. What could have been if not for injuries? YPA that good has been historically unsustainable, but Tagovailoa can regress 10% and still lead the league. Removing games he left injured, Tagovailoa’s season pace was 37 touchdown passes. Few quarterbacks in NFL history have been given the advantage of throwing to two better receivers.
Speaking of which, Hill and Waddle caught all 15 of their touchdowns from Tagovailoa, totaling zero during the other six games. Hill somewhat quietly had a legendary season last year and finished as the WR2 in fantasy despite a career-low in TD%. And Waddle wasn’t far behind him when Tagovailoa was on the field, which made a stark difference for Miami’s entire offense.
The season-long paces with Tagovailoa at QB for both Hill (172-119-1,768-10) and Waddle (124-79-1,514-11) are truly wild.