As we continue to lay the foundation for the fantasy football landscape for 2022 we are following up our look at league and team performance in the red zone last season, and spilling that over into individual player analysis.
So far, we have already laid out which running backs and wide receivers ran hot or cold in the red zone in 2021 in hopes of finding primary regression candidates. In that initial running back post, we went through the methodology, so I won’t double down here in the intro. Go and check that one out for the lead in.
Today, we are doing the same for wide receivers, using the top-40 tight ends in current ADP excluding rookies and players who missed all of 2021.
2021 TE Red Zone Fantasy Points Vs. Expectation
|TE||RZ FF Pts||Exp. Pts||(+/-)|
It is not overly shocking to see the top two tight ends in fantasy hold down the top two spots in terms of outproducing expectations in the red zone.
I have brought up the natural regression we should expect for Mark Andrews surrounding his output with and without Lamar Jackson in the lineup, and this is another area where Andrews should inherently have some recoil.
Andrews turned 45.0% of his red zone targets into touchdowns (second among tight ends). His rate entering 2021 was 36.1%. He cashed in 70% of his targets inside of the 10, the highest rate for a tight end with double-digit targets in that area of the field since Rob Gronkowski in 2010. He secured 8-of-15 end zone targets (53.3%) after holding a 45.8% rate entering last season.
Even with expected regression in the efficiency department, Andrews still carries stellar scoring opportunity, which is why we chase players like him in the first place. Over the past three years, Andrews has ranked third, sixth, and fourth in red zone expected points. He also is the only tight end in the league to catch seven or more touchdowns in each of those seasons.
Travis Kelce ran even hotter in the efficiency department than Andrews did in 2021 in a number of areas. Kelce was just behind him in touchdown conversion rate in the red zone (42.9%), but Kelce led the entire NFL last season in converting 85.7% of his targets (6-of-7) inside of the 10-yard line for touchdowns. Kelce’s career conversion rate on those targets coming into last season was 39.6%.
The amazing part of Kelce’s season last year is that he had just four targets in the end zone (he caught all four), which was fewer than gems such as Josiah Deguara, Geoff Swaim, and Ricky Seals-Jones. This is a number that was egregious but should definitely rise to help alleviate some efficiency decline. Not just because the Chiefs have had so much turnover in the wide receiver room, but those four end zone targets were the fewest in a season for Kelce since 2015 after averaging 9.8 per season (with a low of eight) over the five previous seasons.
No tight end maxed out their red zone opportunity last season like Hunter Henry did. Henry converted 47.1% (8-of-17) of his red zone targets for touchdowns, the highest rate among tight ends with double-digit looks a year ago. Henry was second at his position with 13 end zone targets, while catching eight of them, tying Andrews for the league lead. That 61.5% conversion rate spiked over his 52.9% career rate entering New England.
Dalton Schultz broke out a year ago in large thanks to running hot near the end zone. He finished sixth in red zone scoring despite ranking 10th in expected points in that area of the field. Only the three previous names here converted a higher rate of red zone targets for touchdowns than Schultz (42.9%) last season. He converted 5-of-7 targets (71.4%) inside of the 10-yard line, a rate only bested by Kelce. Like Kelce, Schultz was fortunate to have that level of efficiency because Schultz only had five targets actually in the end zone, which was tied for 21st at the position (Cole Kmet had more). He even only caught two of those.
You may not have noticed because he still only scored six touchdowns (it was a career-high), but we finally saw George Kittle have some red zone fortune come his way based on opportunity. Kittle converted a career-high 44.4% of his red zone targets for touchdowns after turning just 6-of-52 (11.5%) of his red zone targets for scores entering last season. Kittle corralled 4-of-6 end zone targets after securing just 3-of-22 coming into last season. Now, the downside here is that once again Kittle’s overall opportunities were suspect compared to his ADP peers as Kittle ranked 24th in the list above in expected points scored.
Not only did Pat Freiermuth run hot, ranking fifth in points scored over expectation, but he also ranked second among the group above in expected points scored in the red zone, despite playing just 62% of the offensive snaps as a rookie. 20 of Freiermuth’s 79 targets came inside of the red zone, which was tied for the most among tight ends (along with a few names coming up). I have been skeptical about leaning into Freiermuth’s ADP since he was so touchdown-centric and the Steelers offense has a wide range of outcomes this season, but with full-time snaps and a large red zone role, Freiermuth does carry significant touchdown upside should Pittsburgh come out on the positive end of those outcomes.
The player that led the position in expected points in the red zone last season was actually Zach Ertz, although he closed the year 11th in actual points scored. Only the extremely touchdown-deprived Kyle Pitts and Cole Kmet finished further below expectation than Ertz did.
Ertz converted just 4-of-20 red zone targets for touchdowns. He led all tight ends with six targets inside of the 5-yard line. Only Mark Andrews and Hunter Henry had more end zone targets than Ertz last season, but he managed to secure just two for touchdowns. Previously in his career, Ertz had converted 45.2% of his end zone targets for scores.
This has been a bugaboo for Ertz over the course of his career (he has a 25.6% career red zone conversion rate), but if his opportunities remain static in another full season in Arizona in the actual end zone, we should find more touchdowns.
You all knew Kyle Pitts was going to be here as he had the most points below expectation of this group. Pitts was tied for 10th in expected points in the red zone at the position with Dalton Schultz but managed to score just 12.4 fantasy points in the red zone, which ranked 35th among the group above, below the likes of Jonnu Smith, Tommy Tremble, and Adam Trautman. Pitts converted just 1-of-14 red zone targets for scores and just 1-of-6 end zone targets.
While running cold on his opportunities, you can still see the potential hang up that Pitts faces in this Atlanta offense. An offense that actually still could even get worse quarterback play than a year ago. While Pitts scored 4.1 fewer touchdowns than expected, he also only had a 5.1 expected touchdown rate. I believe Pitts has far more YAC ability to create a few more touchdowns for himself over his career, but for a player currently being selected in the third round, this offensive environment still is a significant short-term hurdle in getting up to the expected scoring output of the position leaders.
The same holds true for Cole Kmet in the Chicago offense, although the opportunity cost is greatly reduced. Kmet failed to score on any of his 12 red zone, four targets inside of the 10, and six end zone targets during his second season. Only Pitts had more points below expectations, but Kmet also was just 15th at the position in expected points in that area of the field. The positive news is that the ghost of Jimmy Graham is now gone, who commanded eight red zone and six end zone targets himself in 2021.
Pitts is not the only name with a high ADP that ran below expectations a year ago. Darren Waller is also here after being drafted as the TE2 in leagues a year ago. Waller converted a career-low 15.4% (2-of-13) red zone targets for scores after converting 27.3% in each of the previous two seasons with the Raiders. Waller secured just one of his eight end zone targets after coming down with 7-of-11 in 2020. We still need to see how much of the pie Davante Adams comes in and takes from the Las Vegas offense, but 2021 was close to a lost efficiency season for Waller compared to his previous two seasons playing with Derek Carr.
One other player below expectation I want to mention is Cameron Brate. Brate was fourth among all tight ends last season in expected points in the red zone. He had just 57 total targets, but 20 of them came inside the red zone (tied for tops among tight ends), eight came inside of the 10-yard line (fourth), and another eight in the end zone (eighth). And that was playing just 40% of the offensive snaps.
Now, Brate offers next to no upside between the 20s as he has averaged just 9.1 yards per catch over the past four seasons, but as a touchdown-or-bust best ball and late-round tight end, there is a clear path to scoring opportunities for him in 2022 at a low-bar position.