100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 53: How to Locate Touchdown-Scoring Tight Ends
At rotoViz, I examined which trait best predicts touchdown-scoring ability for tight ends:
I think a lot of NFL teams could maximize their red zone efficiency by removing all of their small-ish WRs and replacing them with TEs near the goal line. To give you an idea of how much better TEs can be over WRs in tight areas, I charted the red zone touchdown rate for the top 70 players in red zone targets at both positions since 2000.
While the best red zone receivers have converted just over 24 percent of their looks into scores, TEs check in at 30 percent. On any given red zone target since 2000, a TE has been 24 percent more likely to score than a WR.
Despite that, we still consistently see players like Santana Moss and DeSean Jackson (despite horrific red zone efficiency) playing near the goal line. Overall, the top 70 red zone receivers since 2000 have seen 6,487 targets inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, compared to just 4,202 for TEs. Those numbers should be reversed.
We know that weight is the best predictor of red zone success for WRs, with heavy ones checking in above 220 pounds and a few approaching 240 pounds. So how far does the correlation extend? I think it’s obvious that extra weight isn’t always a positive because, at a certain point, it will hinder a player’s ability to move athletically and make plays on the ball.
So, let’s break down TE red zone play based on size.
TE RED ZONE EFFICIENCY
Weight seems to be much more closely linked to red zone efficiency than height. And since WRs rarely top even 230 pounds, heavier is pretty much always better. The same goes for height, but to a lesser degree.
There seems to be a pretty linear relationship between height and red zone production for TEs, too, at least in the height range we observe in the NFL. I broke down every TE drafted since 2000 to receive at least 20 red zone targets. Here’s how they’ve produced.
Much like the WRs, the tallest TEs have produced the greatest efficiency. On average, a TE standing 6’6” or greater has been 13.8 percent more likely than a TE 6’3” or shorter to take a red zone target into the end zone.
This is interesting because 6’3” is actually fairly tall for a WR. There’s really no reason that we should think of WRs and TEs differently, though, at least in regards to their receiving numbers. A 6’4”, 235-pound player is a 6’4”, 235-pound player–it doesn’t matter where or how we file him.
This suggests that although height isn’t necessarily as important as weight for pass-catchers in the red zone, more is better. Being in the top-tier of pass-catchers in terms of height isn’t a hindrance. Hello Joseph Fauria.
However, the same “more is better” mentality doesn’t seem to apply to weight. At a certain point, it just hurts to be a fatass. There’s a reason Fauria could potentially dominate in the red zone but Haloti Ngata wouldn’t, even if he had a normal TE skill set.
Looking at the numbers, it appears as though more mass equates to better red zone efficiency up until around 260 pounds. That’s represented in the graph. It’s not like being 265 is a deathblow—you can see that TEs in that range have still been far more efficient in the red zone than those under 250 pounds—but just that efficiency seems to flatten out.