As we continue to approach 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 do. The added bonus gained is if you are in a league that rewards fantasy points based on touchdown length.
What is different for the tight ends compared to wide receivers is that the position inherently relies on shorter scoring opportunities more consistently. For the field below, 74.5% of all of the receiving touchdowns have come from inside of the red zone while 48.9% have come from inside of the 10-yard line.
Tight End TD Distribution
|TE||ReTD||>RZ TD%||RZ TD%||<10%||Avg. ReTD|
|Irv Smith Jr.||7||0.00%||100.00%||71.43%||5.9|
>RZ TD% = ReTD rate from Outside of the Red Zone
<10 TD% = ReTD from inside of the 10-yard line
Avg. ReTD = Length of average ReTD
KEEPING IT SHORT
Just nine players in our 36-player sample here have scored at least 20 touchdowns over their career to date while half of the tight ends here have yet to reach double-digit career touchdowns through the air. We have a lot of smaller touchdown samples with so much of the position being younger players. We have 11 players above that have an average length of touchdown reception below 10 yards. Nine of those players have played multiple seasons, but five of them have played just two years or fewer in the league so far.
The players with the largest samples and the shortest length of touchdowns are Jack Doyle (7.8 yards) and Hunter Henry (8.9 yards). Doyle has averaged just 9.1 yards per any reception over his career and hardly a yards after the catch demon, so there is no surprise here that he has scored just two career touchdowns from outside of the red zone.
We talked a bit about the incoming red zone dynamic between Henry and Jonnu Smith with both joining the Patriots. Henry had been a strong red zone performer prior to last season, but he has relied on those red zone looks to carry his touchdown totals while Smith has had a bit more juice downfield. Just three of Henry’s 21 career touchdown grabs have come from outside of the red zone while his 85.7% red zone touchdown rate is the fifth-highest among the tight ends here with double-digit career scores.
The player with the largest red zone dependency for touchdown grabs is Evan Engram at 92.3%. For an elite athlete and expected downfield chess piece exiting Ole Miss, Engram has been anything but in the NFL. Of his 13 career receiving scores, just one has come from outside of the red zone. This is problematic for a player that has routinely underperformed on the few red zone opportunities he has had to this point compared to his teammates.
While Engram has relied on red zone scores the most among tight ends with a double-digit touchdown sample, no tight end has relied on scoring from inside of 10 yards like Tyler Higbee has at 83.3%. Higbee has the lowest average length of touchdown among all tight ends with double-digit scores at 6.1 yards. Of his 12 career touchdown grabs, eight have come from four yards or closer with just one over 10 yards downfield. Nine of Higbee’s 12 career touchdowns have come with him already in the end zone.
Behind Higbee, 80% of Austin Hooper’s 20 career scores have come from inside of the 10-yard line. All four his touchdowns with the Browns came from that area of field (plus another in the playoffs) while his past 10 career scores have come from 10 yards and in.
The players with the lowest average length of touchdown that have played multiple seasons are Irv Smith Jr. (5.9 yards) and T.J. Hockenson (6.0 yards), who have relied on bunnies early in their careers.
Smith has seven touchdowns over his first two seasons, with four coming from inside of the 5-yard line. There have been whispers this offseason that Smith’s role is not going to truly grow and Tyler Conklin could still be a thorn in his side, but so far throughout each of their careers, this has been a no-contest near the end zone. In two NFL seasons, Smith has nine targets inside of the 10-yard line and nine end zone targets while Conklin has just two targets inside of the 10 and two end zone targets over his three seasons in the league.
Six of the eight touchdowns Hockenson has caught so far have come from five yards or closer with four coming from 1-2 yards out. He had just one longer than 11 yards out, which was his first career touchdown at 23 yards. He has scored just twice when he was not already in the end zone at the time of the catch. If Hockenson has to continually rely on short touchdowns to reach the end zone, that could be an issue on a team we are anticipating to struggle getting short scoring opportunities in general, but Hockenson has respectable YAC numbers through two seasons to give some hope that he can start generating his own scores more than he has. Hockenson was sixth among all tight ends to play 50% of their team snaps in YAC per reception as a rookie (6.2 yards) and 15th last season at 4.8 yards after the catch.
SCORING SIZZLE FOR A BIG MAN
Two tight ends have scored 50% of their career touchdowns to date outside of the red zone in George Kittle and Noah Fant.
Kittle has been the Saquon Barkley of tight ends when it comes to scoring from long range and getting shut out near the end zone. Kittle has the longest average length of touchdown here at 29.4 yards. Of his seven touchdowns scored outside of the red zone since he entered the league in 2017, five have come 40 yards or longer. The next closest tight end over that span has two. On the flip side, Kittle has trended towards becoming tight end Julio Jones as he has yet to clear more than five touchdowns in a season yet due to running cold the closer San Francisco gets to the end zone. Kittle has converted just 3-of-22 career end zone targets for scores. His shortest career touchdown is from five yards out. As mentioned last week, Brandon Aiyuk had five more touchdown receptions from inside of the 5-yard line as a rookie than Kittle has over the start of his career. One year it will all come together for Kittle, but we have still been waiting to date.
Like Kittle, Fant has shown to be a YAC monster to start his career. Fant led all tight ends in yards after the catch per reception as a rookie (8.3 yards) and was third in 2020 at 6.0 yards after the catch. Same as Kittle, Fant has run cold on his end zone targets, catching just 3-of-12 through two seasons. Moving forward, it would be great if we could meld the best of both former Iowa tight end prospects from 2019 through two NFL seasons as each hits their third season.
Jared Cook is right behind both in scoring 46.4% of his career touchdowns from outside of the red zone and has the third-largest touchdown sample on the board. Cook has 19 career scores from outside of the red zone with just 31.7% of his touchdown catches coming from inside of the 10-yard line, the lowest rate among all tight ends with double-digit scores. Cook was the de facto deep threat in New Orleans. After never posting a season with more than six touchdowns through 10 NFL seasons, Cook caught nine and seven scores over the past two seasons while compiling 15.1 yards per catch.
Among tight ends with double-digit touchdowns, Robert Tonyan (38.5%), O.J. Howard (35.7%), and Mark Andrews (35%) are the remaining tight ends to score at least 30% of their career touchdowns from outside of the red zone while Rob Gronkowski (29.1%), Travis Kelce (27.1%), Jonnu Smith (25%), and Dallas Goedert (25%) have all hit the 25% mark.
Andrews almost feels like a forgotten man this offseason among top tight end ranks after he pushed up as an elite option a year ago. We are seeing him being drafted after both Kyle Pitts and T.J. Hockenson in drafts this summer. Andrews had another seven scores last year despite missing time due to COVID and getting caught in the anticipated regression for the Baltimore offense from their 2019 blitzkrieg on the league. Andrews caught another three of those scores from outside of the red zone.
Goedert has sprinkled in some big-play ability and could really benefit from a pending trade or release of veteran Zach Ertz in earning more opportunity near the end zone. Over the past three seasons, Ertz has out-targeted Goedert 17-11 inside of the 10-yard line while Ertz has soaked up 20 end zone targets over that span.