Following what we can take away from team production in the red zone, we covered that the crux of touchdowns scored in the NFL come from inside of the red zone and that not all red zone touches are created equal. With that, we have been diving into the red zone production versus expectation for fantasy skill players based on their actual opportunities in the red zone as opposed to just blanket red zone stats. So far we have covered the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions with an eye on spotting some regression candidates in each direction heading into the 2020 season.
You can check out the post on team production linked above to get a more detailed picture of how not all red zone opportunities are equal, but the short story for the passing game is that over the past decade, 65.9% of all passing touchdowns have come from inside of the red zone while 64.3% of those red zone passing touchdowns have come from inside of the 10-yard line (which make up 42.4% of all passing touchdowns). Passing touchdown rates climb the closer the target comes to the end zone and are more successful than rushing attempts at every yard line up until the 1-yard line.
In the quarterback piece, we ran down the methodology in using player production per yard line in the red zone to create an expected points outline and in the wide receiver piece covered how sticky year-over-year targets are in each area of the red zone for individual players. Circle back to those posts if you still come across the questions.
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. For our player sample, we are using the top tight ends in current ADP minus Rob Gronkowski since he did not play last season, plus a bonus player in there for some grins (and potential fantasy viability). If there is another tight end that did not make the cut and you would like to know his output, just reach out to me on Twitter.
2019 TE Red Zone Fantasy Points Vs. Expectation
|TE||RZ FF Pts||Exp. Pts||(+/-)|
|Irv Smith Jr.||22.9||23.1||-0.2|
Coming off the 2018 season, the top five tight ends in points scored over expectation in the red zone were Eric Ebron (+39.4 points), Travis Kelce (25.2), Cameron Brate (22.8), O.J. Howard (16.5), and Chris Herndon (15.8). All five of those players scored fewer overall fantasy points in 2019 than they did in 2018 while four of the five — excluding Herndon due to just 18 snaps played — oscillated to the negative area of points scored versus expectation in the red zone after running so hot the year prior.
Typically we start at the top and work in some names from the bottom when diving into our potential regression candidates, but we have a lot of high cost tight ends at the bottom, making it more intriguing using that as a point to begin.
What if I told you that the number one tight end in fantasy football is due to score more touchdowns in 2020? Is that something you would be interested in? After running hot attached to a record-breaking fantasy season from Patrick Mahomes in 2018, Travis Kelce did the inverse a year ago as he checks in as the tight end with the largest discrepancy between actual points scored on his near the end zone targets versus expectation. He ranked first in expected points in the table above, but just 14th in actual points scored.
Kelce had just five touchdown receptions on his 97 catches a year ago, converting two of his 19 red zone targets in the regular season, two of his targets inside of the 10-yard line, and just one of his eight end zone targets into touchdowns. He even caught just seven of those 19 red zone targets (36.8%) which was well below the league 58.8% rate in that area of the field.
Despite that touchdown and scoring suppression, Kelce still led the position in fantasy points for the fourth consecutive season while his scoring advantage in 2019 over the field at the tight end position was the largest it has ever been in any of those four seasons. Kelce did have some regression finally come in the postseason, catching four touchdowns, but that was a little too late for seasonal leagues.
Of the 30 players listed above, Noah Fant was 29th in red zone points scored, but was 16th in expected points scored. The rookie tight end had a great inaugural season. He led all NFL tight ends in yards after catch per reception (8.3 yards). He led all rookie tight ends in targets (66), receptions (40) and yards (562) while averaging a robust 14.1 yards per catch. But Fant turned just one of his nine red zone targets into a touchdown with his lone conversion coming from 14 yards out. He had six targets from the 6-yard line or closer with zero scores while converting just one of his eight end zone targets into a touchdown.
George Kittle’s start to his career has been sensational. Kittle is an efficiency savant in nearly every metric you can have for a tight end… except for scoring touchdowns. Kittle has scored just two, five, and five touchdowns over his first three NFL seasons. After scoring 14.5 points below his red zone expectations in 2018, Kittle was 12.6 points below his expected output last year.
He was fourth at the position in expected points scored, but 16th in actual output. Kittle had just two touchdowns on 16 red zone targets, 2-of-9 from inside of the 10-yard line, and just one of his seven end zone targets. Kittle did have two touchdowns come back due to penalty in Week 1. It took Travis Kelce until his fifth NFL season to finally break the touchdown dam and when Kittle finally does, he has potential to be the best fantasy player at the position.
We talked about Evan Engram’s lack of scoring opportunities under Pat Shurmur here, so the last high-priced tight end here below expectations I want to touch on is Tyler Higbee. As scorching as Higbee was to close the 2019 season, he actually should have been a bit better and ran cold in the scoring department. Higbee had just three touchdowns on the season and twice (both vs Arizona) over his final five-game blitzkrieg where he was the highest scoring fantasy tight end by a wide margin.
Higbee tied Kelce for the lead among all tight ends in the NFL in red zone targets (19). Higbee caught 14 of those targets (73.37%) which paced all tight ends with double-digit red zone opportunities, but scored a touchdown on just three of them. Higbee led the Rams with eight end zone targets, converting three for his three scores on the season. Failing to score a touchdown on a target that was not in the end zone last year, Higbee was tackled at the 1-yard line three times, which tied for the most in the league with Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen. No one expects Higbee to sustain his torrid pace to close the season, but a reversion in scoring luck could mitigate some of the yardage and receptions per game he concedes.
At the top of the list, Darren Fells led all tight ends in actual red zone production for fantasy while checking in 10th in expected points. Fells had seven touchdowns on 12 red zone targets (58.3%). He only had four targets from inside of the 10-yard line. He converted all four for a touchdown while turning five of his six end zone targets into scores. 38.2% of Fells’s overall fantasy points came from touchdowns alone last season, which was the highest rate of the top-36 scoring tight ends on the season. Fells was out-targeted by Jordan Akins on the season, but Fells’s grip and crazy conversion rates on the scoring opportunities put him on the map last year.
We highlighted how much Lamar Jackson overshot his expectations in the quarterback piece, so it is not shocking to see Mark Andrews near the top of things here. Andrews trailed only Fells in actual points scored and was sixth in expected points while his 10 touchdowns were the most among tight ends a year ago. Andrews tied Jared Cook for the position-lead with 11 end zone targets (converting six). He converted four of his five targets inside of the 10-yard line for scores and 7-of-14 red zone targets in total for touchdowns. While we have several posts so far providing the context on how the Ravens are expected to score fewer touchdowns this season, Andrews still can soften any potential touchdown dip in his third season with an increase in playing time. Andrews ranked 25th in routes run (295) among all tight ends in 2019 and played just 41% of the team snaps.
Like Robert Woods from yesterday’s post, you may be initially surprised to see that Darren Waller actually outproduced his expectations in the red zone despite scoring just three times last season on 90 receptions. Waller’s expected touchdown total on the season was just 3.9 using Mike Clay’s OTD metric, which was the same as teammate Hunter Renfrow. Waller had 11 red zone targets, but just four inside of the 10-yard line with six end zone targets, which was tied for 15th at the position.
Some musical chairs notes on our way out… Austin Hooper ranked third in actual red zone points scored and third in expected points scored. His opportunities in the Atlanta offense in that area could be another promising feather in the cap of Hayden Hurst’s anticipated career-high usage this season.
While Hooper will be conceding a large red zone role, both Kyle Rudolph (ninth) and Irv Smith (19th) were in the top-20 in expected red zone scoring. Rudolph was tied for the position lead with four targets inside of the 5-yard line and had seven end zone targets compared to Hooper’s nine. The overall passing game for Cleveland will inherently lower the volume for Hooper compared to what he received a year ago, but he should still be expected to have his number called in the red zone frequently.
He did not appear here since we were using 2020 ADP, but Jason Witten’s 24.8 red zone expected points were 14th at the position and he turned that expectation into 36 actual point scored, which was seventh. Blake Jarwin had just two red zone targets (from the one and 11-yard lines) while Witten had 10, with five coming from inside of the 10-yard line and four in the end zone.
To close this out, I included Taysom Hill here since he actually has gained tight end eligibility on some sites. Hill was 10th among the players above in points scored while 21st in expected points. Despite throwing six passes on the season, only three of Hill’s passes came across midfield with the closest coming from the 22-yard line.
When the Saints did use Hill in the passing game, they had a ton of success. Hill had six red zone targets, catching all six for four touchdowns. Four of those six targets came from inside of the 5-yard line. Hill did have six rushing attempts in the red zone, but the closest one came to the end zone was from the 6-yard line. That played a role in him failing to score a rushing touchdown on those carries and at least he was not interfering with actual rushing opportunities for Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray inside of the 5-yard line.
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