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Like Scoring Touchdowns? Tight Ends Help
Dustin Keller’s RZ TD rate is low for a tight end, but it would be average for a WR.

One more post  on red zone touchdown rates here as I pulled together some interesting info to further illustrate my idea that teams are leaving value on the table as it relates to point expectations for WRs and TEs.

In the table below I show red zone touchdown rates for WRs and TEs, except that I’ve broken them into quantiles and then deleted the very upper end and the lower end, leaving us with three groups – Low, Median and High.  The point of the table is that a low RZ TD rate for a tight end is comparable to the median for a WR.  The median RZ TD rate for a tight end is comparable to a high TD rate for a wide receiver.

Low 0.156 0.206
Median 0.212 0.286
High 0.273 0.341

So basically if you want to reproduce the RZ TD rate of a very good WR, an average tight end will do.  Want to reproduce the TD rate of a median WR?  You can use a lower end tight end for that.

The interesting thing is that when you count up RZ targets by position, do you think that the results will look like teams know that TEs produce more points?  Let’s look.  The following table includes both total red zone targets and RZ TD rate for both positions.

RZTDR Total Targets
TE 0.29 6145
WR 0.22 14854

Despite the fact that tight ends are more efficient in the red zone, they see less than half of the targets that wide receivers do in that part of the field. Perhaps it’s the case that some amount of red zone efficiency for tight ends is the reverse usage efficiency argument.  The problem with that argument is that there is no negative correlation between number of targets and red zone efficiency.  In fact, the correlation is positive.  So the reverse usage efficiency argument at least has an important hurdle to clear in order to be a valid reason for teams to not throw to the tight end more.  Perhaps the reasoning is that there are just more wide receivers running routes, which makes some sense.  But this data isn’t route data, it’s target data.  That means that there are suboptimal choices taking place either at the play calling level or by the quarterback.

Even if the reverse usage efficiency argument is valid, what should be happening is that teams should be throwing to tight ends until their efficiency goes down and then in theory you would see efficiency rates for TEs and WRs end up at the same spot.

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