Using Red Zone Expected Value to Find 6 Quarterback Touchdown Regression Candidates

Using Red Zone Expected Value to Find 6 Quarterback Touchdown Regression Candidates

By TJ Hernandez (Associate Editor), last update Aug 14, 2017

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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Last season, I introduced a metric called Red Zone Expected Value (Red Zone EV). The idea behind Red Zone EV is to quantify a player's scoring expectations of all plays that take place in the red zone by calculating how many points a player should have generated from touchdowns based on the yard line that a play started.

For example, over the last three seasons, a pass play that starts between the opponent's 16 and 20 yard line has a 10.8% chance of scoring a touchdown, resulting in an expected value of 0.65 points scored per pass attempt (6 points per touchdown * 0.108), whereas a pass play that starts inside the five yard line has a Red Zone EV of 2.62 (43.7% touchdown rate).

More Touchdown Regression Candidates: RB | WR | TE

Here are the expected values for all red zone pass attempts:

Expected Value of Red Zone Pass Attempts
Starting Yard Line % Chance of a TD EV of a Pass Attempt
20 – 16 10.8% 0.65
15 – 11 15.6% 0.94
10 – 6 28.6% 1.72
5 – 1 43.7% 2.62

This metric is especially useful in that pinpointing players that performed well above or well below touchdown expectation could be strong candidates for significant touchdown regression, which could result in very surprising fantasy seasons to owners.

After compiling every red zone pass attempt for every quarterback in the league last season and comparing their Red Zone EV to actual points generated from red zone passes, I’ve uncovered the following touchdown regression candidates.


Negative Touchdown Regression Candidates

League Average Touchdown Rate - 4.3%; League Average Red Zone Touchdown Rate - 21.8%

Marcus Mariota, Titans

2016 TD Rate - 5.8%; Career TD Rate - 5.5%
2016 Red Zone TD Rate - 33.3%; Career Red Zone TD Rate - 33.7%
Red Zone EV - 87; Actual Points from Red Zone TDs - 114

In his first two seasons, Marcus Mariota has been one of the most efficient passers in the league, but history suggests that his rate numbers may be unsustainable. No active quarterback besides Mariota has a career red zone touchdown rate above 28% and Mariota’s sample size is relatively small, having attempted just 65 passes inside the 20 so far in his career.

Last year, the Titans' signal caller was especially fortunate inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, converting 57.7% of his 26 attempts into scores, the highest mark of any passer with at least 15 such attempts -- and 22 percentage points above the league average.

Mariota may prove to be one of the better passers in the league, and Tennessee’s investment in the passing game could prop up his fantasy value with more volume, but his dominance in the red zone will eventually come back to Earth a bit.


Aaron Rodgers, Packers

2016 TD Rate - 6.6%; Career TD Rate - 6.4%
2016 Red Zone TD Rate - 28.7%; Career Red Zone TD Rate - 26.4%
Red Zone EV - 163.7; Actual Points from Red Zone TDs - 198

In terms of scoring rates, Aaron Rodgers performed as we’d expect -- like one of the best passers in the game. Like Mariota, though, Rodgers bested even his high standard inside the 10, with a 51% touchdown rate on 49 attempts. By scoring so often from close range, ARod scored roughly six red zone touchdowns over expectation, based on starting field position.

Going into 2016, Rodgers had converted 39% of his career attempts inside the 10-yard line into scores, so last year was extraordinary even for the Packers star. While Rodgers will still be in the running for the overall QB1 in 2017, he may see a slight drop off from his league-leading 40 touchdown 2016 season.


Positive Touchdown Regression Candidates

Kirk Cousins, Redskins

2016 TD Rate - 4.1%; Career TD Rate - 4.6%
2016 Red Zone TD Rate - 16.9%; Career Red Zone TD Rate - 22.3%
Red Zone EV - 130.6; Actual Points from Red Zone TDs - 84

No quarterback in the league scored further below red zone expectation last season than Cousins, who threw just 14 touchdowns inside the 20 despite an expected 22 scores. Much of Cousins’ struggles might be attributed to his targets -- Jordan Reed missed four games, while two of Cousins’ primary receivers, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, ranked 42nd and 49th, respectively, out of 49 qualifying receivers1 in career red zone touchdown rate.

Stepping into a primary receiver role in 2017 will be Terrelle Pryor, who converted 30.8% of his red zone looks into scores in his first season as a full-time receiver. If Reed can manage to stay on the field, he and Pryor will provide Cousins with a dual threat that can boost the Washington quarterback’s red zone numbers back to respectability.


Derek Carr, Raiders

2016 TD Rate - 5.0%; Career TD Rate - 4.7%
2016 Red Zone TD Rate - 20.7%; Career Red Zone TD Rate - 26.9%
Red Zone EV - 150.7; Actual Points from Red Zone TDs - 114

In 2016, the Raiders had the seventh-highest passing rate and fifth-highest amount of pass attempts in the red zone, but Carr ranked 11th in red zone passing touchdowns. When Oakland got the ball in close, they scored at an absurdly high rate on the ground, converting 38.2% of their rushes inside the 10 into scores, the fourth-highest rate in the league. This good fortune on the ground may have cost Carr some easy opportunities to boost his red zone scoring.

Had Carr scored six more red zone touchdowns as expected last season, he would have jumped from the QB15 to QB7, making him an intriguing candidate to break into the QB1 ranks in his third season.


Carson Wentz, Eagles

2016 TD Rate - 2.6%
2016 Red Zone TD Rate - 14.4%
Red Zone EV - 110.8; Actual Points from Red Zone TDs - 78

It’s no surprise that Carson Wentz struggled to score touchdowns last year -- over the past 10 seasons, the average touchdown rate for rookie quarterbacks is 3.3%, and only three have posted rate above 5% on at least 100 attempts. Lucky for Wentz, Philadelphia added Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery in the offseason. Smith ranks eighth among qualifying receivers in career red zone touchdown rate and Alshon has been slightly above average inside the 20 as well. A bolstered receiving corps along with Jordan Matthews, who is quietly one of the better red zone targets in the league (34.1% career red zone touchdown rate), should result in Wentz approaching at least league average scoring rates.


Andy Dalton, Bengals

2016 TD Rate - 3.2%; Career TD Rate - 4.6%
2016 Red Zone TD Rate - 18.1%; Career Red Zone TD Rate - 25.5%
Red Zone EV - 101.9; Actual Points from Red Zone TDs - 78

Andy Dalton had the second-lowest scoring rate relative to his career average, both overall and in the red zone, of any quarterback last season. Some regression was expected for Dalton after he more than exceeded expectations in 2015, but last season likely represented the very bottom of his range of outcomes. With A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert missing a combined 14 games, Dalton struggled to find reliable targets near the goal line.

Going into 2017, Dalton’s top two weapons should be all systems go and the Bengals added John Ross via the draft, giving Cincinnati a deep threat to keep secondaries honest. Look for Dalton to rebound in a big way in 2017, especially inside the red zone.


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1. Minimum 40 career targets

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