We have been spending some time in the red zone lately. First, we covered what we can take away from team-level production in the red zone. Following that up, we covered the actual fantasy scoring compared to expected points scored in the red zone for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. With one final dive into red zone production, we are going to explore which players rely on the red zone the most and the least to produce their touchdowns.
Here, we can get a good gauge on which players are not solely reliant on their respective teams reaching one section of the field regularly and those who do. The added bonus gained is if you are in a league that rewards fantasy points based on touchdown length.
We are arbitrarily breaking the passing touchdowns for quarterbacks over their careers down into buckets of scores thrown from outside of the red zone (the remaining percentage of that being touchdowns thrown inside of the red zone) and touchdowns thrown from inside of the 10-yard line to go along with the average length of touchdown pass thrown.
|QB||>RZ TD%||<10 TD%||Avg. PaTD|
>RZ TD% = PaTD thrown Outside of the Red Zone
<10 TD% = PaTD thrown inside of the 10-yard line
Avg. PaTD = Length of average PaTD
As a reminder for league-wide context, the league average for rate of touchdown passes in the red zone is 65% while the rate of touchdown passes inside of the 10-yard line is 42.4% and average length of passing touchdown is 18.6 yards.
Striking From Long Range
Starting with the passers who have thrown the highest rates of their touchdowns, Daniel Jones, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Tyrod Taylor, Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Philip Rivers are all over that 35% base rate for deeper touchdown tosses. These are the passers that are getting those bonus points in those distance scoring leagues, but some also struggle to tack on a lot of shorter scores, forced to rely on longer touchdown passes due to team environment and sustaining a number of drives into the red zone regularly.
We have some varying sample sizes with Jones and Murray playing just one season so far, while Darnold, Allen, and Mahomes have just two full seasons as starters on their resumes.
- Patrick Mahomes is the current gold standard in vertical touchdown passes. He has the longest average touchdown length above while his average touchdown pass was 28.5 yards last season, the highest in the league. He has led the league in touchdown passes from outside of the red zone in each of the past two seasons with 15 in each season. His 16 touchdown passes of 40 or more yards the past two seasons are the most in the NFL while Prescott (12) and Rivers (11) are the only other passers to have double-digit touchdowns of that length. Performance inside of the red zone is what played the largest role in the scoring regression for Mahomes a year ago as he was 29-of-56 (51.8%) for 11 touchdowns in the red zone in 2019 compared to 63-of-96 (65.56%) for 35 touchdowns there in 2018.
- The next closest quarterback to Mahomes in touchdown passes outside of the red zone over the past two seasons is Prescott with 24. Prescott does not get the added short-yardage passing touchdowns some other passers do because Dallas simply does not throw a lot at all in the red zone. Since Prescott entered the league in 2016, Dallas has ranked 29th in the league in red zone passing rate (48.1%) and 30th in passing rate inside of the 10-yard line (38.8%). Even with Prescott having his best season throwing the football a year ago, Dallas still reverted to having Prescott hand the ball off near the end zone, ranking 30th in red zone passing rate (45.7%) and 32nd in passing rate inside of the 10-yard line (31.6%) in 2019. Since entering the league, Prescott has thrown 56 touchdowns to six interceptions in the red zone.
- In the case of Josh Allen, when windows have gotten tighter, his struggles as a passer have cropped up. Allen has yet to throw a red zone interception so far in the NFL with 16 red zone passing touchdowns, but his 47.4% completion rate in the red zone over the past two seasons is last of all quarterbacks over the past two seasons with 50 or more red zone pass attempts and ahead of only Blake Bortles (44.7%) and Josh Rosen (38.6%) for those with 25 or more red zone pass attempts. Even using only 2019, Allen’s 48% completion percentage in the red zone was ahead of only Joe Flacco (47.1%), Baker Mayfield (40.5%), and Dwayne Haskins (34.8%) among passers with 20 or more red zone attempts. Allen has the added benefit of using his legs to outproduce his expectations in the red zone, but this is why he had relied so greatly on vertical touchdown passes to make up the crux of his passing scores.
- It has only been two years in the league, but Sam Darnold has been forced to live on deeper touchdown passes due to the offense’s inability to sustain longer drives and his performance in the red zone. Over the past two seasons, only Washington has had fewer drives end inside of the red zone (68) than the Jets (77). Once in the red zone, Darnold’s 78.9 passer rating is ahead of just Case Keenum (78.7) for qualifying quarterbacks. Darnold’s five red zone interceptions are tied with Rivers and Mitchell Trubisky for the most in the league over the past two seasons.
- Since taking over a regular starting quarterback in 2015, only Russell Wilson (54) and Rivers (51) have more touchdown passes from outside of the red zone than Kirk Cousins at 49.
- Outside of Mahomes, Daniel Jones was the only quarterback last season to have at least half of his touchdown passes come from outside of the red zone.
- Of the passers above, Nick Foles’s average length of career touchdown pass trails only Mahomes. 45.1% of Foles’s career touchdown passes have come from outside of the red zone, which is the highest rate for any passer here with more than two years of starting experience, trailing only Jones and Allen overall on the list. Just 25.4% of Foles’s career touchdown passes have come from inside of the 10-yard line, the lowest rate for any passer above regardless of sample size. He only threw three touchdowns last year in limited duty, but it held true on that small sample as Foles threw touchdown passes of 35, 34, and 20 yards a year ago. This is one of the starkest contrasts in comparing Foles to Mitchell Trubisky, who is completely on the other end of things above.
Getting Close to the Target
On the other end of the spectrum, Drew Lock, Jared Goff, Gardner Minshew, Trubisky, Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, Dwayne Haskins, and Tom Brady are the starting quarterbacks above with fewer than 30% of their career touchdown passes coming from outside of the red zone. If the passers here are not throwing a lot of overall touchdowns then they are the ones who are not only taking a hit overall, but also in those scoring formats that reward yardage bonuses. As was the case above, we have some limited samples from Lock, Minshew, and Haskins playing just partial rookie seasons.
- Lock had just five starts. His first-ever NFL touchdown pass was a 26-yard sensational throw and catch to Courtland Sutton, then his remaining six touchdown passes were from just 5, 14, 8, 3, 3, and 1 yards out.
- There is not a lot to say about what went right for Haskins in his limited rookie season as he was one the league’s worst passers at taking sacks, passing on third down, and passing in the red zone. Washington reached the red zone just 2.6 times per game (30th), but when they got there Haskins was just 8-of-23 (34.8%) passing with five of his seven touchdown passes as a rookie. Haskins had 75- and 45-yard touchdown passes sprinkled in, with his other scores coming from 1, 13, 5, 10, and 6 yards out.
- Gardner Minshew’s 21 passing touchdowns trailed only Daniel Jones (24) a year ago among rookies. Just five of Minshew’s passing scores came from outside of the red zone, with 10 of them coming from inside of the 10-yard line. Minshew was actually good throwing downfield as a rookie, ranking 12th in adjusted completion percentage (51%) and fourth in rating (129.0) on throws 20 or more yards downfield per Pro Football Focus, but just 10.4% of his attempts were those types of passes, which was 42nd on the same list. We have already highlighted how much of an outlier the Jacksonville scoring season was in terms of being lopsided to the pass, so Minshew will need to ramp up his deep attempts if all of the short scores he relied upon revert to more team rushing touchdowns.
- Baker Mayfield took a step back last season in his second season and a lot went into it. Unlike someone like Darnold or Allen above, whose red zone struggles aided their reliance on deeper touchdown passes, Mayfield was bad in the red zone last year yet still relied on the red zone for his touchdown passes. Through two seasons, 35 of Mayfield’s 49 touchdowns passes have come from inside of the red zone with 23 coming from inside of the 10-yard line. What injured Mayfield a year ago was his performance in the red zone. In 2019, Mayfield was 30-of-74 passing (40.5%) with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions (71.1 rating). He also took six red zone sacks, which were tied for the most in the league. Unlike Darnold and Allen, however, who have had struggles in the red zone in each season, Mayfield’s 2019 red zone output was a far cry from his rookie season in which he completed 34-of-54 passes (64.8%) for 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions (115.7 rating) while taking just two sacks.
- Of the passers with larger samples here, Goff has the lowest rate of passing touchdowns (21.8%) from outside of the red zone while 49.4% of his career touchdown passes have come from inside of the 10-yard line, the highest rate for any non-rookie passer above. Since Goff has been paired with Sean McVay in 2017, Goff’s 40 touchdown passes from inside of the 10-yard line lead the league. With Goff’s primary pass catchers heading into 2019 lacking a real vertical component, we could see Goff have to work hard in stacking shorter passing scores again.
- Carson Wentz is only behind Goff and Trubisky with the lowest rate of passing touchdowns to come from outside of the red zone for multi-year starters, although his reliance on passing touchdowns from inside of the 10-yard line is not as high one-sided as Goff’s as Wentz is 12th in that area from the passers above. Wentz needing to rely on shorter touchdowns is not a surprise given the lack of downfield targets he has played with to start his career. The best deep threat Wentz had prior to last season was Torrey Smith. The team added DeSean Jackson last offseason to unlock that missing element and Wentz threw 51- and 53-yard touchdown passes to Jackson in Week 1 last season. Jackson was then injured in Week 2. From that point on, Wentz’s longest touchdown pass for the remainder of the season was a 32-yard touchdown pass to Miles Sanders, a running back. The longest touchdown pass a Philadelphia wide receiver scored after Week 1 was a 20-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor in Week 3. With Jackson returning to the Eagles and the team concentrating efforts on adding speed via the draft in Jalen Reagor (4.47 40-yard time at the combine), John Hightower (4.43), and Quez Watkins (4.35) while trading for speedster Marquise Goodwin.
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