When we were taking a look at what we could learn from team red zone production in 2020, we highlighted how not all red zone plays were the same. With 72.7% of all red zone touchdowns scored from inside of the 10-yard line and 46.5% 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 say the 18-yard line.
For example, over the past decade, a carry from the 1-yard has been worth on average 3.3 fantasy points, but a carry from the 10-yard line dips to 0.77 fantasy points on average and down to 0.53 points from the 19-yard line. Using the expected points per each yard line, we are going to explore the players that ran hot or cold on their red zone opportunities in 2019, starting with the quarterbacks.
If you look at last season’s top players at each position in red zone points scored over expectation, they were Patrick Mahomes, Todd Gurley, Davante Adams, and Eric Ebron, all of which scored fewer fantasy points in 2019 than the 2018 season. All of those players all had missed time due to injury, but also reduction in expected red zone points per game played as well. But 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||0.2968|
|Inside 5-Yard Line||0.1225|
Red zone opportunities had hardly any noteworthy stickiness on a team level, but there is a higher correlation on the individual player level. 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.
2019 QB Red Zone Fantasy Points Vs. Expectation
|Player||FF Pts.||Exp. Pts||(+/-)|
No quarterback scored more red zone fantasy points last season than Lamar Jackson. Jackson was fourth among all quarterbacks in expected fantasy points, outscoring that expected point total by a league-high 52.3 actual fantasy points. Last season, Patrick Mahomes led the league in this area by outscoring his expected point total by 55.5 points. You can see how much more inline Mahomes fell to the expectation rate following up a hyper-efficient scoring season. Mahomes missed essentially two and a half games, but he went from 35 red zone passing touchdowns in 2018 down to 11 a year ago, while his expected red zone points per game in 2018 went from 6.9 per game in 2018 down to 4.4 points per game.
The positive for Jackson’s inevitable regression is that although he did go bonkers in the red zone, he was far less dependent than other passers on his fantasy points scored from that area. 35.1% of his overall fantasy output was scored in the red zone, which only ranked 15th at the position. Even compared to Mahomes from a year ago, red zone production made up 41.7% of Mahomes’s 2018 fantasy point total. Scoring regression is still coming for Jackson in 2020, but his unique rushing ceiling is a trump card in his pocket to fend off the bottom falling out unlike many quarterbacks in the past that were operating at warp speed for a season.
Behind Jackson, Deshaun Watson was not far off in differential over expectation. Watson was third in overall red zone scoring output above, but 12th in expected points. Watson has ranked as the QB1, QB2, and QB4 in fantasy points per game over his first three seasons and is the first quarterback to average over 7.0 yards per pass attempt and a 5.0% touchdown rate in each of his first three NFL seasons since Dan Marino.
Watson has even run hot in this exact metric before, beating his scoring expectation by 17.8 points a year ago. That said, there is a big difference in +45 points and +18 and there should be recoil in this area. Watson of course has lost DeAndre Hopkins and has one of our worst opening-season outlooks for passing efficiency this season as potential red flags.
Josh Allen was 18th in expected points above but fourth in actual scoring output. No quarterback scored more fantasy points from the 1-yard line (32.5 points) than Allen last year. Allen had four rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth in the league) from the 1-yard line and added another two passing scores. A common theme from the top players a year ago is the added rushing touchdown weight each provided.
Allen’s 17 rushing touchdowns through two seasons trail only Cam Newton’s 22 for a quarterback over their first two years in the league. Only Andy Dalton (34.0%) and Kirk Cousins (29.3%) had a higher dependency than Allen’s 28.2% of red zone points to come from just the 1-yard line. Only Jacoby Brissett (28.1%) and Kyle Allen (27.1%) had a higher rate of their overall seasonal fantasy points come from inside of the 10-yard line than Josh Allen (25.7%).
Russell Wilson has made a habit of being stellar in this area. Wilson is the only quarterback to have at least 30 touchdown passes in each of the past three seasons and while he ranked second in red zone fantasy points and fourth in points over expectation, he also ranked second in expected points among the passers above. Wilson led the NFL in end zone pass attempts (59) while finishing second in that category in each of the 2017 (50) and 2018 (48) seasons. Wilson has run hot, but puts the ball into the end zone more attempt-wise than any other passer.
Wilson is an example of where team philosophy can come into play and this season we have some players changing teams that struggled in the red zone a year ago. Philip Rivers ranked 11th in expected points above, yet was 25th in actual points scored. Rivers had the most completed red zone passes (six) get tackled at the 1-yard line. But Rivers should once again run into similar scoring opportunities near the end zone.
Over Frank Reich’s first two seasons in Indianapolis, the Colts have thrown the ball 51.3% of the time inside of the 5-yard line, the fifth-highest rate in the league (league rate is 43.9%) and have the most passing touchdowns (21) from that area of the field among all NFL teams. It was one thing when they had Andrew Luck throw 10 touchdowns from inside of the five in 2018 (trailing only Patrick Mahomes), but Jacoby Brissett (nine) and Brian Hoyer (two) also combined for 11 touchdown passes from inside of the 5-yard line a year ago, which led the league.
No quarterback ran worse in the red zone last season than Tom Brady. Brady was first in expected points as he led the league in red zone pass attempts (91) and was tied for first in attempts inside of the 10-yard line (38). Despite that, he ranked 16th in actual points scored, good for a -34.9 point differential which was the worst in the league. There is also absolutely a relationship between Brady’s ineffectiveness in the red zone and his expected point total since inefficiency creates more volume while the inverse is also true for our players that ran hot.
Where Brady particularly struggled was in that money area we so frequently talk about from inside of the 10-yard line. Brady was 14-of-38 passing (36.8%) inside of the 10-yard line with six touchdowns (15.8% touchdown rate). That 36.8% completion rate was ahead of only Andy Dalton (31.3%) while that touchdown rate was dead last for qualifying passers. League rates were 50.3% and 36.2%. For his career coming into last season, Brady’s rates were at 56.2% and 42.6%.
Inside of the 5-yard line, Brady completed just 3-of-13 passes for two touchdowns, an area where league rates were 49.9% completion percentage with a 42.9% touchdown rate. Father Time is inevitably undefeated, but anticipating Brady to be this poor below the base rates of the league again are quite a stretch while Tampa Bay quarterbacks have ranked seventh and ninth collectively in expected red zone fantasy points over the past two seasons.
Kyler Murray was third in the league in expected red zone points scored, but just 18th in actual points scored. Aaron Rodgers was fifth in expected points and 15th in actual points. Both the Cardinals and Packers showed up as teams that we can bet on having a higher passing touchdown split this upcoming season, so there is no surprise that both players show up here. The interesting part for Rodgers is that he was third in the NFL in end zone pass attempts (46) a year ago. 8.1% of Rodgers’s pass attempts were into the end zone, which was sixth in the league. But he threw a touchdown just 2.3% of those throws, which was 18th.
Murray did not have the end zone volume of Rodgers, throwing 27 times into the end zone (tied for 17th), but just 1.7% of those attempts resulted in scores, which was 27th. Murray is already being priced in for making a second-year leap in fantasy, but Rodgers has become sort of a punching bag this offseason and is an objectively good bet to have more passing touchdowns in 2020 than he did a year ago.
We can mess around with some thoughts on every player here, but I will bring us out of there with some quick nuggets…
Ryan Tannehill was 12-of-15 passing (80%) with 10 touchdowns (66.7%) inside of the 10-yard line, the second-highest completion and touchdown rates for any passer in that area since 2000, trailing only 2017 Deshaun Watson, who was 9-of-11 for nine touchdowns inside of the 10-yard line.
No team threw the ball at a lower rate inside of the 10-yard line (31.6%) than the Cowboys did last season. Dak Prescott was 17.1 points scored over expectation inside of the 10-yard line, but just 12.7% of his overall seasonal fantasy points came in that area of the field, which was 30th out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks.
The quarterback that was last in that area was Patrick Mahomes. Just 6.9% of his fantasy points last season were scored inside of the 10-yard line. Of those 32 passers mentioned, the average among them was 20.1%. In 2018, Mahomes was at 21.5%. Mahomes threw just five touchdown passes inside of the 10-yard line after 18 in 2018. Mahomes did lead the league in touchdown passes from outside of the red zone (15), which cut off a portion of his drives reaching the money zone, but Mahomes still led the league in touchdown passes from outside of the red zone (15) in 2018.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was fifth in red zone fantasy points scored, but 17th in expected points. He had the highest differential for any individual yard line among all passers, scoring 23.3 fantasy points from the 11-yard line (5.5 expected points) with two touchdowns rushing on three carries and two passing scores on just four attempts.
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