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 have started to explore which players rely on the red zone the most and the least to produce their touchdowns. So far, we have looked at the red zone reliance for both the quarterbacks and running backs.
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.
When looking at red zone production from a top-down perspective in that opening post, we covered how the red zone is where the bulk of the scoring happens in the league. Not much a surprise, but even through the air, over the past decade 65.9% of all passing touchdowns have come from inside of the red zone, with 42.4% coming from inside of the 10-yard line and 27.5% occurring from five yards or closer. Touchdown success rates soar the closer you get to the end zone, making those targets valuable. Starting at the 10-yard line, pass attempts hit a 20% success rate as a floor per yard line to the end zone (compared to 10.6% at the 19-yard line) while climbing to 30% or higher starting at the 6-yard line and then 42.8%, 45.9% and finally 52.9% over the final three yard lines to the end zone.
With nearly two-thirds of the NFL passing touchdowns coming from inside of the red zone, everyone is dependent on those scores to some degree, but with a much larger percentage of passing touchdowns coming from outside of the red zone compared to rushing touchdowns, we have a lot more surface area for wide receivers to reach the end zone from longer range.
Taking a look at the top-40 wideouts in current ADP, here is a breakdown on how those receivers have scored their touchdowns.
|WR||ReTD||>RZ TD%||RZ TD%||<10%||Avg. ReTD|
>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
Needing to Make a Splash
There are 17 wideouts above who have caught at least 50% of their receiving touchdowns from outside of the red zone (remember that base rate is ~35%). Of those 17 players, 10 of them are players with just two years or fewer on their resumes with five rookies from last season. Their sample size is still at a fledgling state, but we can hit a few bullet points on them still.
No player with more than three receiving scores last season had a longer average distance on their touchdown receptions than A.J. Brown (37.8 yards). Brown led the NFL with four receiving scores of 50-plus yards last season and this does not even include a 49-yard touchdown run he had in Week 16. Brown’s expected touchdown total based on actual opportunity was 4.1. While that signals some regression in living off the big play, at 6’0” and 226 pounds, Brown does profile as a wideout that also can have a strong red zone presence. He did lead the Titans in red zone targets (eight) and end zone targets (six) a year ago, but we would like to see those raw target numbers take a spike. The fact that both Brown and Derrick Henry were so electric on long-distance touchdowns last year also played a part in why Tennessee ranked 25th in percentage of drives to reach the red zone last season.
Being forced to live on big plays alone to reach the end zone can create some volatility, however. Darius Slayton matched Brown with eight receiving scores last year, with six coming from outside of the red zone. Slayton’s expected touchdown total based on target opportunity was just 3.5. Slayton had only six red zone targets all season (tied with Cody Latimer and Kaden Smith on the team). It was just a one-year sample for Slayton and his role can expand in year two, but we would like to see more usage near the end zone to stock his rookie-season touchdown total rolling over.
Terry McLaurin scored four of his seven rookie-season touchdowns from 25-plus yards. Like Brown earlier, McLaurin did lead his team in red zone targets (13) and end zone targets (10). The potential early-career touchdown rub for McLaurin needing to score from outside of the red zone is that his team just may not get to the promised land often enough to give him a high touchdown ceiling.
Washington was dead last in the league in number of possessions to end inside of the red zone (34) last season and had that exact same number of drives end inside of the red zone in 2018. The marriage of being the lead target in the red zone and a strong deep threat are why so many are high on the ceiling for McLaurin, we just need Washington to sustain some more scoring drives in 2020 to get us to a higher touchdown ceiling.
A couple of two-year wideouts in the category of relying on long-range scores so far are D.J. Moore (50% outside of the red zone) and Christian Kirk (66.7%). Both have scored just six times through two seasons, but the main issue for both to start their careers has just been a lack of money-zone opportunities.
Three of Moore’s six receiving scores have been from over 50 yards out while he has just five targets total inside of the 10-yard line through two seasons and 10 total end zone targets. The positive spin is that Moore has displayed a high floor without touchdowns and has an entirely new offensive system in place that could deploy him differently in the red zone.
Four of Kirk’s six receiving scores have come from outside of the red zone with three coming from 59 yards out or further. Like Moore, Kirk has totaled just eight targets inside of the 10-yard line and just seven end zone targets through two seasons.
Touching on some of the smaller samples here, we are left with our primary big-play wideouts that have lived on scoring from outside of the red zone in Tyreek Hill (65.6%), Amari Cooper (60.6%), T.Y. Hilton (53.3%), Brandin Cooks (52.9%), Tyler Lockett (51.9%), Stefon Diggs (50%), and Will Fuller (50%).
In our quarterback post, we labeled Patrick Mahomes as the gold standard at his position for distance-based scoring and the long touchdown pass. His teammate Tyreek Hill is that for the wide receiver position. Hill’s average length of receiving touchdown for his career has been 35.6 yards, the longest of any player above with double-digit touchdown receptions.
Since entering the league in 2016, no player has more touchdowns outside of the red zone than Hill’s 28. Antonio Brown (22) is second and then the next closest players are Amari Cooper and Kenny Stills at 16 each. With another four touchdowns of 35-plus yards in 2019, Hill now has 24 of those touchdowns since entering the league in 2016, double that of the next closest player over that span.
Of Amari Cooper’s 33 career receiving touchdowns, 20 of them have come from outside of the red zone and just six have come from inside of the 10-yard line. The average length of his touchdown receptions for his career is 33.5 yards. With Dallas, that is 31.0 yards, with just two of his 15 touchdown receptions coming from inside the 10-yard line.
We talked about how Cooper was a major red zone regression candidate based on production from a year ago a week ago. In that same article, we covered how both T.Y. Hilton and Tyler Lockett finally got significant red zone usage in 2019 compared to their career usage prior. Both are still red zone regression candidates based on how they produced on that opportunity, but any added use in that area gives their respective ceilings a lot more appeal based on how well they have scored from long range over their careers.
In the case of Stefon Diggs, we covered how there is a wide gap between how Josh Allen has performed in the vertical game compared to Kirk Cousins over the past two seasons. Diggs can help Allen’s improvement in that area, but his splash-play production in reaching the end zone may not offer a lot of improvement for Allen’s red zone struggles as a passer to start his career.
One interesting development this offseason is how the Houston passing game is going to operate with so much potential overlap in the archetype of the wide receiving corps they have assembled. Both Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller are in this department of wideouts that have scored heavily from outside of the red zone and both project to be the top-two projectable targets while on the field. Kenny Stills has also caught 69.4% of his career touchdown passes from outside of the red zone. DeShaun Watson was 18th in the league in red zone pass attempts in 2019 (59) after ranking ninth in 2018 (72). Watson was still able to outproduce his red zone volume a year ago at the second-highest level behind only Lamar Jackson.
There are surely going to be spike weeks for the Houston offense and plenty of big plays, but the trade of DeAndre Hopkins may aid Watson’s regression to the mean in that department since the primary targets in the Houston offense have so much vertical overlap.
Get Us Close To the Paint
When it comes to needing short passing touchdowns, just two wideouts, Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry, above have scored fewer than 20% of their receiving touchdowns from outside of the red zone.
Thomas has been the wide receiver Gibraltar for fantasy production at his position since entering the league, but he has yet to have a double-digit touchdown season through the air, in large part because he is not generating longer touchdowns frequently. Thomas’s average touchdown reception has been 10.9 yards, 4.3 yards fewer than the next closest wideout above. Thomas has caught just five touchdown passes over his career from outside of the red zone with just two from over 23 yards out. Of his 32 receiving scores, 20 have come from inside of the 10-yard line and 15 from five yards an in, both of which lead the league over that span of him entering the league.
Landry has not been as fortunate to play on teams that reach the red zone and get inside of the 10-yard line as much as Thomas has which is why he has cleared six receiving scores in just one of his six NFL seasons. 20 of Landry’s 32 receiving scores have come from inside of the 10-yard line with 12 from five yards or closer. Cleveland has actually deployed Landry as an all-around receiver compared to his low aDOT days in Miami, but still six of his 10 scores through the air with the Browns have also been from inside of the 10 with seven coming from inside of the red zone.
Both Thomas and Landry have scored 62.5% of their receiving touchdowns inside of the 10-yard line while the other wideouts above over 50% in that are Mike Williams (53.9%), Julian Edelman (52.8%), and Robert Woods (52%).
The player closest to Thomas in average length of receiving touchdown is Davante Adams (15.2 yards), who has been similar to Thomas in that he is fourth in rate of touchdowns to come from inside of the red zone (72.7%), but whereas 62.5% of Thomas’s touchdowns have come from inside of the 10-yard line, just 38.4% of Adams’s have come from that area.
That has given him a little but higher of a touchdown ceiling since his scores are not quite as predicated on getting right on the doorstep of the end zone, but is still heavily involved in that area. Adams only has three receiving touchdowns of 30 yards or longer in the regular season with the last one coming in 2017.
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