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How Do Pass-Happy Red-Zone NFL QBs Fare?

The Red Zone

The field shrinks in the red zone, as defenders have less overall space to defend. Several offensive players have overcome the cramped nature of the red zone, putting up some truly unbelievable stats. A few examples:

• Marcus Mariota has thrown 33 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the red zone during his two-year career.

• Donte Moncrief‘s six touchdowns inside the 10-yard line are tied for the second-most in the league. Moncrief has six targets inside the 10 this season.

• Jeremy Langford has scored on nine of his 10 career carries inside the five-yard line.

All three of these players have dominated in the red zone during the past two seasons, but they’ve had very different impacts as DFS assets:

• Mariota finished 2016 as a top-13 QB in DraftKings points per game (PPG). He threw for multiple TDs in eight consecutive games during the middle of the season and was a QB1 more weeks than not.

• Moncrief’s dominance has mostly been limited to the red zone, as he’s failed to gain over 65 yards in a game this season. He’s 44th at his position in DK PPG.

• Langford has averaged 3.6 yards per carry during his two seasons and lost his starting job to Jordan Howard.

Clearly, success in the red zone does not ensure DFS success at large. How important is red-zone usage to a player’s overall DFS success? Let’s find out.

The Study

This post will focus on QBs and how the most active red-zone QBs have fared over the past three seasons. I’ll look at the impact of red-zone usage on the three other offensive positions in other posts.

Using our Trends tool, I’m paying attention to three main factors:

  1. Consistency: Do active red-zone QBs tend to be more consistent than QBs who don’t throw as often in the red zone?
  2. Plus/Minus: Do QBs who throw more often in the red zone tend to exceed their salary-based expectations? — and by how much?
  3. Raw Points: Do QBs who throw more often in the red zone tend to rack up fantasy points regularly?

Below are the top-10 QBs in red-zone pass attempts per game over the past three seasons (minimum eight games played):

top red zone qbs

A few notes:

• Aaron Rodgers is the only QB to make the list in all three seasons. Drew Brees had the 11th-highest average in 2015. Otherwise he would’ve joined Rodgers.

• Most of the QBs above are #good, but not all. Mark Sanchez, Jay Cutler and Carson Wentz all made the list.

• Most of the QBs above are in pass-first offenses without good/great running backs. There are exceptions (2014 Eddie Lacy with Rodgers and 2016 LeGarrette Blount with Brady, for example) but most of these QBs routinely chuck the ball all around the field without relying on the running game.

• Five red-zone pass attempts per game is roughly the threshold for cracking the top 10.

Let’s take a look at how high-volume red-zone QBs have done by year.


2014 dk qb2014 fd qb

We see that the group of 2014 QBs balled out. They exceeded their salary-based expectations over 61 percent of the time on both DK and FanDuel.

There are undoubtedly some stud QBs in our sample group, but the cohort also includes several of the season’s surprising performers. Four of the sample’s QBs (Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Sanchez, and Tannehill) finished among the top-eight QBs in average Plus/Minus during the 2014 season.


2015 dk qb2015 fd qb

2015 tells us the same story. Once again, the most active red-zone QBs have been consistent and productive. The group includes Kirk Cousins and Blake Bortles, who finished second and third among all QBs in average Plus/Minus.


2016 dk qb2016 fd qb

We see the same trend for all three seasons. Rodgers, Cousins, and Matt Ryan (through 16 weeks) are three of the top-five QBs this season in average Plus/Minus.


So what does all of this tell us?

• The top-10 QBs in red-zone pass attempts per game have been consistent DFS options. All else equal, we should expect a player’s Consistency to be around 50 percent. The top-10 red-zone QBs have combined to exceed their salary-based expectations over 61 percent of the time on DK and 57 percent of the time on FD.

• The top-10 red-zone QBs have been better values on DK. A few factors can help explain this. QBs on DK get an extra three points for exceeding 300 passing yards, while no such bonus exists on FD. Because of this, the more pass-happy red-zone QBs on FD have been priced more precisely over the past three seasons, as TDs are relatively more important on FD. Yardage is of course important on both sites, but it perhaps has been overvalued on DK.

• QBs with five-plus red-zone pass attempts per game have regularly posted strong Plus/Minus averages. Overall, seven of the top-15 QBs in Plus/Minus average over the past three seasons have been QBs in our sample group.

It turns out that pass-happy red-zone QBs have historically been high-scoring, consistent DFS options. The magnitude with which they’ve exceeded their salary-based expectations suggests that perhaps QB red-zone usage isn’t being fully incorporated into pricing (especially on DK). Top-10 red-zone QBs tend to have at least five such pass attempts per game. Keep that number in mind when you’re looking for TD upside at the QB position.

Next week we’ll take a look at running backs.