Continuing to move towards the 2021 fantasy season, we have recently been spending a lot of time in the red zone (because we care about touchdowns).
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.
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 are. 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 passes thrown.
|QB||PaTD||>RZ TD%||<10 TD%||Avg PaTD|
Looking at some passers that have relied on longer touchdown passes to carry their totals, Daniel Jones (45.7%), Tyrod Taylor (44.4%), Sam Darnold (44.4%), and Dak Prescott (44.3%) have all thrown over 40% of their career scores from outside of the red zone. In the events of Jones and Darnold, it is not that these passers have posed genuine deep-passing acumen in bulk, it is also that they have all struggled so much in the red zone as passers.
We covered Daniel Jones’s struggles near the end zone through two seasons last week. Just about nothing went right for Sam Darnold over his initial venture in the league with the Jets and that was magnified in the red zone. Since Darnold entered the league in 2018, Darnold ranks 42nd in red zone completion rate (48%) and 38th in touchdown rate (20%) out of 43 quarterbacks to have at least 50 red zone pass attempts over that span. The Panthers were one of the worst teams in the NFL in the red zone last season and it made them one of the worst underachievers in converting yardage to touchdowns, so Darnold will need to be a lot better in that area in his new home in Carolina.
Dak Prescott has also underachieved in the red zone for his career, but nowhere near the degree of Jones and Darnold. Prescott’s 54.2% completion rate and 23.3% touchdown rate in the red zone are slightly below league rates of 55.5% and 24.4% since entering the league.
Outside of being just below the baseline in red zone performance, Prescott’s reliance on longer passing scores also stems from the Cowboys consistently being so run-heavy near the end zone. Since Prescott entered the league, Dallas has thrown the ball just 48.5% of the time in the red zone, 25th in the NFL. They have ranked 29th in passing rate inside of the 10-yard line (40.6%). Through five games with Prescott last season under a new coaching staff, things remained the same as Dallas was 22nd in red zone passing rate (43.3%) and 27th in passing rate inside of the 10-yard line (31.3%). Just 28.3% of Prescott’s career passing touchdowns have come from inside of the 10-yard line, the lowest rate of any quarterback above with double-digit career passing scores while his average passing touchdown length of 22.6 yards is the highest among all passers in the same bucket.
Patrick Mahomes is right below the 40% mark with 39.5% of his career touchdown passes coming from outside of the red zone. Being paired with Tyreek Hill has aided that long-range scoring prowess, but unlike the previously mentioned passers, Mahomes has an elite sample of scores from all over the field. Since becoming a regular starter in 2018, Mahomes has the most passing touchdowns from outside of the red zone (45) while still ranking second in red zone scores (69) behind Russell Wilson (77). Mahomes is the consensus QB1 in all formats, but gets an even larger boost if the format is touchdown driven and awards bonus points based on length of scores.
On the other end of the spectrum, Drew Lock (65.2%), Kyler Murray (54.4%), and Baker Mayfield (53.3%) are the only multi-year passers that have thrown over 50% of their career scores from inside of the 10-yard line.
In the case of Lock, it may be a surprise since he has quite an affection for pushing the ball down the field. Out of the 44 passers to throw 200 or more passes the past two seasons, Lock ranks eighth in percentage of throws over 15-yards downfield at 19.7%. But among the same group, Lock ranks 42nd in completion rate (32.2%), 30th in touchdown passes (five), and 36th in touchdown rate (4.2%) on those throws. As a byproduct, 15 of Lock’s 23 passing scores have come from inside of the 10-yard line.
Kyler Murray made strides in Year 2 as a passer in nearly every department, but the lack of team aggressiveness with on early downs and forcing him into a plethora of bad passing situations still held back his passing ceiling. Murray is right behind Lock in rate of touchdown passes inside of 10 yards, but he also does have a solid showing outside of the red zone, where he ranks 13th in rate of scores (34.8%). He just has been all long-range or next to the end zone.
That is not the case for his former Oklahoma incumbent Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is ahead of only Jared Goff (22.4%) in rate of career touchdown strikes from outside of the red zone (25.3%) while ranking third in percentage of scores coming from inside of the 10-yard line among passers to play more than one season. Mayfield bounced back in his first season under Kevin Stefanski, but of his 26 passing scores, just five came from outside of the red zone, which was 20th in the league.
Let’s hit on some rookie quarterback nuggets from last season in the touchdown department.
Justin Herbert’s average passing touchdown length of 20.8 yards ranked fourth among all quarterbacks with double-digit touchdown passes last season. Herbert was eighth in the league in touchdown passes from outside of the red zone last season (11) while he still had a 20-to-1 TD-to-INT rate in the red zone and was 15th in touchdown rate per pass attempt in the red zone (28.2%).
Jalen Hurts only had a small cup of tea as a rookie passer, but his average passing touchdown length of 28.6 yards was the highest in the league. Of his six passing touchdowns, just two came inside of 15 yards with additional strikes of 32, 32, and 81 yards making up half of the small sample. Hurts had the highest depth of target in the NFL last season (10.1 yards), but to go along with that, the Eagles also used Hurts’s rushing acumen near the end zone when he was in. With Hurts as the starter Weeks 14-17, Philadelphia had a 41.0% passing rate in the red zone, which was 28th in the league over that small stretch.
The same treatment happened for Taysom Hill in his small sample as a starter. In the games Drew Brees missed, the Saints averaged 9.8 red zone plays per game as opposed to 12.3 per game with him active. When the Saints reached the red zone last season in Hill’s four starts, they threw the ball on just 35.8% of their plays, which was 28th in the NFL over that span. Prior to Brees’s injury, that rate was 47.8%, which was 19th. With that, the shortest of Hill’s four passing scores was just 11 yards.
No team had fewer touchdown passes from outside of the red zone than the Bengals last season with just three. Joe Burrow accounted for just one of them as his average passing touchdown length of 7.7 yards was the lowest in the NFL last season among 45 players to throw more than two touchdowns. Burrow’s deep-passing acumen was an area of critique last season, but there is hope that just swapping out A.J. Green for Ja’Marr Chase can raise that tide. We discussed Burrow’s red zone struggles as a rookie targeting Green compared to the rest of the team and that held true on downfield passes. On throws over 15 yards downfield, Burrow and Green connected on just 3-of-27 targets (11.1%) while Burrow was 21-of-47 targeting anyone else with those downfield targets (44.6%), which was a tick above the league’s base rate of 43.8%.
Tua Tagovailoa was 42nd on that same list with an average touchdown length of 9.7 yards. Tagovailoa threw just two of his 11 touchdown passes outside of the red zone as Miami scored the fewest offensive touchdowns in the NFL last season outside of the red zone with just five. We covered how their new personnel additions are significant upgrades in terms of downfield playmaking in elevating their explosive passing plays in 2021.