When we were taking a look at what we could learn from team red zone production in 2020 as it applies to the 2021 fantasy season, we highlighted how not all red zone plays were the same. With 73.4% of all red zone touchdowns scored from inside of the 10-yard line and 47.1% scored from inside of the 5-yard line, success rates and in turn fantasy points scored on those plays closer to the end zone carry far more weight than a passing or rushing attempt or target from further out, which is inherently known, but drastically different than often presented.
We started to explore the players that ran hot or cold on their red zone opportunities in 2020 with wide receivers first earlier this week and then followed that up with a look into the running backs that over and underachieved. Today, we are looking at the red zone performances for quarterbacks.
Before we fully dive in for any potential regression candidates for the 2020 season among quarterbacks, we always like to check in on how sticky a stat can be in rollover to the next season.
Year-Over-Year Red Zone Pass Attempt Correlation
|FIELD POSITION||Pass Att.|
|Inside 10-Yard Line||0.2996|
|Inside 5-Yard Line||0.1245|
Red zone pass attempts do hold a modest rollover, while progressively scaling down the closer you get to the end zone. Those real attempts we care about from inside of the 10-yard line and 5-yard line which accelerate in touchdown success rate become increasingly fragile as you progress each yard line.
So with everything in place, let us jump into some of the output from a year ago to highlight those who out-produced and fell short of expected output on their actual opportunities per yard line in the red zone.
2020 QB Red Zone Fantasy Points Vs. Expectation
|QB||RZ FF Pts||Exp. Pts||(+/-)|
We have done a similar post to this in the past to spot potential regression and last season had more of an impact for the underachievers bouncing back than pulling a lot of the overachievers back to the field. Quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Kyler Murray, and Aaron Rodgers were at the bottom of the field in 2019 and then roared back to the top of the list here in out-producing expectations a year ago.
Right off the bat, something that stood out was that not many quarterbacks actually underachieved last season.
That could be a byproduct from the overall tide of the 2020 season being the highest-scoring and most efficient scoring season in NFL history as we have been hammering home in all of the top-down league posts so far. Collectively, teams were especially historically great getting near the end zone and capping off drives with touchdowns.
Only a small sample of quarterbacks actually struggled to outproduce their expected output near the end zone last zone. We will get to that handful of underachievers, but let’s start with the strong performances.
RED ZONE OVERACHIEVERS
You typically do not win the MVP Award unless you turned in a massive season over expectation and Aaron Rodgers leads things off with a gaudy 174.1 fantasy points scored from the red zone alone. After being 13.8 points below expectation in 2019, Rodgers outshot his 2020 expectation by 70.9 points. Rodgers led all passers in red zone points despite being sixth in expected points scored.
Rodgers led the league with a career-high 35 red zone passing touchdowns after throwing 16 or fewer red zone passing scores in each of the previous three seasons. His 42.7% red zone touchdown rate per pass attempt smashed his previous career-high of 36.4% back in 2012.
Rodgers was a bonkers 36-of-44 (81.8%) for 29 touchdowns to zero picks inside of the 10-yard line. He threw 15 touchdown passes from inside of the 5-yard line, which also led the league. He also threw eight passing touchdowns from 1-yard out while the next highest quarterback had just four. Even for a quarterback with as decorated of a career as Rodgers, regression to the mean has found him in the past. This was the fifth time in his career he had a red zone touchdown rate over 30% and just once has one of those been done in back-to-back campaigns.
Right behind Rodgers as another quarterback that was significantly higher than the field in the overachievement department was Ryan Tannehill. We have covered how the Titans were the first team in the modern era to convert over 70% of the red zone trips into touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. Both A.J. Brown and Corey Davis were in the top-10 among wideouts in points over expectation in the red zone as beneficiaries and contributors to Tannehill’s success near the end zone while (spoiler alert) we will surely see Jonnu Smith in the tight end field. Then you have to add on Tannehill’s rushing contributions as well.
Tannehill was 15th among all quarterbacks in expected points, but was third in actual red zone fantasy production. Tannehill did have efficiency regression across the board last season compared to 2019, but he still was hyper-efficient once again near end zone, After positing a league-high 66.7% touchdown rate on throws inside of the 10-yard line in 2019, Tannehill trailed only Rodgers in that department last season at 59.4% while tacking on another four rushing touchdowns in that area of the field. Through two seasons with the Titans, Tannehill is now 34-of-47 (72.3%) with 29 touchdown passes and two interceptions inside of the 10-yard line passing to go along with six rushing scores. Tannehill’s 61.7% touchdown rate in that area of the field is tops while the league rate over the past two years has been 38.4%. We have been waiting for significant regression to find the Titans’ style of offense. That may come from the added departure of Arthur Smith to Atlanta, but no team has run as pure in the red zone over the past two years as the Titans.
While Rodgers and Tannehill are the two standouts in a field of standouts last season, after them we hit a pocket of six quarterbacks in roughly the same area of overachievement.
Josh Allen is the Buffalo offense the closer they get to the end zone and he led all quarterbacks in expected red zone points last season while finishing second in actual points scored. This after he was fourth among all quarterbacks in red zone points scored in 2019.
Allen scored 96.2 fantasy points inside of the 5-yard line while the next closest quarterback (Rodgers) scored 67.4 in that area of the field. Allen had 13 passing touchdowns inside of the 5-yard line, which trailed only Rodgers to go along with seven rushing touchdowns, all of which came from three yards or closer. Allen added on another 30.1 fantasy points from the 1-yard line, making him and Derrick Henry the only players to post over 30 fantasy points from the 1-yard line in each of the past two seasons.
Allen being the de facto goal line back for his team (he had nine carries from the 1-3 yard lines while the rest of the team combined for nine themselves) gives him an added out if his passing spike from last year takes a hit. Allen is the first quarterback in league history to rush for seven or more touchdowns in three straight seasons.
Related to the latter point, it is no surprise that nearly all of the dual-threat passers outproduced their output in the red zone last season after quarterbacks had their largest share of rushing touchdowns in league history.
A couple of other quick hits from the top of the leaderboard here…
Kirk Cousins was second in the league with a career-high 40.3% touchdown rate in the red zone behind Rodgers after a 25.9% rate for his career prior.
Russell Wilson led the NFL with 61 pass attempts into the end zone. It was the second year in a row he has led the league in that category while finishing first or second in end zone pass attempts in each of the past four seasons.
Tom Brady threw 28 red zone passing scores after 31 combined over the previous two seasons. After a career-low 15.8% touchdown rate inside of the 10-yard line in 2019, he posted a 46.9% touchdown rate there last season, his highest rate since the 2007 season (48%). Brady threw 12 touchdown passes inside of the 5-yard line, just the second time in his career he threw double-digit touchdowns inside of the five after throwing six total touchdown passes in that area over the previous two seasons.
Cam Newton tied for the league-lead with nine rushing touchdowns inside of the 5-yard line. His 60.1 fantasy points in that area of the field made up 23.2% of his season scoring output.
RED ZONE UNDERACHIEVERS
The underachiever section is far less sexy in spotting brand name quarterbacks to buy discounts on compared to last season.
The Giants were already among the worst teams at reaching the red zone and the performance of Daniel Jones when they did get to that area of the field compounded their issues in scoring points. At the bottom of the list is Jones, who despite playing in 14 games, posted fewer red zone fantasy points than Dak Prescott, Joe Burrow, and Tua Tagovailoa among others, who all played just partial seasons. Jones even scored less than half of the red zone points as Drew Lock did last year.
After a 5.2% touchdown rate as a rookie, Jones posted just a 2.5% rate in 2020 and threw 8.6 touchdown passes below his expectation, which trailed only Teddy Bridgewater and Cam Newton. Among the 42 quarterbacks to throw over 10 red zone passes; Jones’s 12.9% touchdown rate was dead last as he threw just seven red zone touchdowns last season on 54 attempts. Just 18 of those 54 attempts came inside of the 10-yard line due to the inefficiency. His 22.2% touchdown rate in that area of the field was nearly half of the league rate (40.4%). To compound his passing struggles when the field shrinks, the Giants have not used Jones in the running game at all near the end zone. Through two seasons, Jones has just four rushing attempts inside of the 10-yard line and just one inside of the 5-yard line.
The only quarterbacks to score below red zone expectation in each of the past two seasons have been Derek Carr and Andy Dalton. Carr was fifth among all quarterbacks in red zone expected points, but closed the season 16th in actual scoring output. Despite having a strong season that rivaled the best of his career in a number of areas, Carr had a career-low 19.2% touchdown rate in the red zone. He was seventh in red zone pass attempts (78), but ranked 32nd in red zone completion rate (53.8%) and tied for 19th in passing touchdowns (15).
The only other standout among the underachievers was Joe Burrow. Among the 42 passers to throw over 10 red zone passes, Burrow ranked 33rd in completion rate (53.7%) and 28th in touchdown rate (22.2%). The positive news here is that Burrow was 12-of-18 (66.7%) with seven touchdowns (38.9% touchdown rate) targeting Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in the red zone through his nine full games, but was just 16-of-31 (51.6%) passing with four touchdowns (12.9%) to everyone else in the offense over that same span in the red zone.