Which quarterbacks handle the most red zone load?
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We head around to quarterbacks as we continue our quest to shed some light on red zone stats this year. The best quarterbacks to have for fantasy -- other than the ones that just run for the most yardage -- are the ones that are trusted to make the action happen in the red zone. Which quarterbacks throw the most in the red zone, and which quarterbacks run the most in the red zone? How did they do in Week 6, and should we expect trends to continue at this point?
Tom Brady -- 45 red zone pass attempts, six red zone rush attempts (51) through Week 6
Week 6: Seven passes, one rush, three kneelouts.[[ad:athena]]
Brady has continued to crush his ADP because a) he was one behind the NFL leader in red zone pass attempts in 2020 and b) the Bucs run game continues to look fairly shaky. Leonard Fournette has stabilized the starting job, but Fournette has hardly made life easy for Brady in the red zone. Tampa’s offense is cruising to the point where Brady would, on a 16-game pace, hit 120 red zone pass attempts. He finished with 84 last year. I don’t necessarily think that anything about what Brady and the Bucs are doing is fluky, but simple regression and game scripts would tell you they’re probably not going to be able to throw that many more times. A 17 game-season could very easily yield close to 100 without me batting an eye though, and that means Brady will continue to pay off for those that waited for him at quarterback.
Josh Allen -- 38 red zone pass attempts, 12 red zone rush attempts (50) through Week 5
Week 6: MNF
Buffalo’s offense has evolved a bit this year. It went from a pure spread showcase of Allen’s talents into one that can play a little bit heavier when it has to, one that is running the ball more effectively than it did last year. So with that bit of knowledge in hand, it’s interesting that Allen is still well on pace to top his 2020 season as far as the red zone goes. Allen had 24 red zone carries in 2020 and is blitzing past that in 2021, with only three of his 12 attempts coming as scrambles. Even with running more than he did last year, somehow it feels like he is almost underperforming the raw numbers here with just two rushing touchdowns in the red zone so far.
Allen tied with Brady for the second-most pass attempts in the red zone in 2020 and, like Brady, is on pace to obliterate the numbers this year. His biggest threat might be the Bills defense making games so uninteresting that the Bills bubble-wrap Allen and start managing him through the second half of some of the bigger blowouts. I do expect to see nearly eight red zone passing attempts per game come down a little bit over the course of the year, but as with Brady, 100 is pretty easily in reach.
Jalen Hurts -- 28 red zone rush attempts, 14 red zone rush attempts (42) through Week 6
Week 6: Two passes, four rushes
What Hurts lacks in passing efficiency, he makes up for in fantasy by rushing attempts, as he led the league through Sunday’s slate and continued to help crush Miles Sanders’ fantasy value by being a major part of the Eagles offense in the red zone. In four starts last year, Hurts had 10 red zone passes and only six red zone runs despite being used earlier in the season in some trick packages to replace Carson Wentz. The NFL leader in quarterback red zone runs last year, Cam Newton, had 42. Hurts is on a seventeen-game pace for roughly 40, so that doesn’t seem wildly out of line. Hurts’ improved rushing usage in the red zone is one of the main reasons the young quarterback is thriving as a fantasy quarterback and, while it’s a big boost from his rushing totals last year, this is a brand new coaching staff that loved what they did with Jacoby Brissett last year. I think you can trust them to keep playing read-option games in the red zone.
Justin Herbert -- 29 red zone pass attempts, 10 red zone rush attempts (39) through Week 5
Week 6: One pass
Los Angeles’ offense was so discombobulated by the Ravens defense that they didn’t cross the Baltimore 47 until the 4:20 mark of the second quarter, and they only got there on an interception. They didn’t cross past midfield purely as an offense until the fourth quarter. It was a disastrous outing for the Brandon Staley head coach of the year and Analytics Galaxy Brain of the millennium award campaigns. It also did not help Justin Herbert‘s red zone stats as the Chargers ran just two plays there all game, one of which was Austin Ekeler losing enough to push them out of the red zone again.
Herbert’s rushing usage might look a little fluky on the surface and that is because they very much are: five of his carries are kneel downs and three of them are scrambles. Of Herbert’s 20 rushing attempts in the red zone last year, six more of them are also kneeldowns. While Herbert’s a very good quarterback on the move, nothing about that should tell you he is going to run for a lot of touchdowns this year. Which isn’t to say that Herbert isn’t still a QB1, just, you know, don’t look for him to notch six or seven rushing touchdowns like a Kyler Murray or something.
Kyler Murray -- 28 red zone pass attempts, nine red zone rush attempts (37) through Week 5
Week 6: Ten passes, five rushes
What can you even say at this point? Murray has crushed the doubters that he’d be too small to be a franchise quarterback. Murray is not running quite as effectively in the red zone as he did last year, but it was always going to be hard for him to rush for nine red zone touchdowns again. He also hung four fumbles in this game and still somehow threw for four touchdowns. The change that matters is that Murray is going to smash last season’s 62 red zone passing attempts between a mixture of the Arizona offense being a lot better and Murray’s next evolution as a passer. The 17-game pace is over 100 red zone passing attempts. Even if he slows down some from this current pace, the red zone rushing is going to make it hard to pick him to not be a weekly QB1 and, likely, be projected in the top five at the position every week.
Given where he was likely drafted in your league and the fact that he wasn’t talked up too often as QB1 overall, Murray may very well have an argument to be fantasy football’s overall MVP when the season wraps if he keeps this up. Murray’s been that good, and the red zone offense flows through him even though James Conner gets a bushel of totes per game there.
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Matt Ryan -- 34 red zone pass attempts, zero red zone rush attempts through Week 5
Week 6: Bye
By far the most surprising name on the list that I pulled, Ryan adds nothing as a rusher. But luckily for him, nobody else on the team does either! The Falcons main running backs, Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis, have a combined 15 carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns in the red zone. It’s that lack of success that has spearheaded Ryan’s statistical burst in the red zone. 14 of Ryan’s 34 red zone throws have come on third or fourth down, and 15 of them have come with nine or more yards to go. It may not surprise you to learn that only two of those 15 passes became touchdowns if you’re familiar with Ryan’s greater genre of “my offensive line is going to destroy me unless I dump if off” this year.
So Ryan’s high ranking in this stat is more of a tell on the Falcons as an offense than anything the veteran is doing particularly well. It may continue if the Falcons continue to run as poorly as they have, but Ryan isn’t in a position to elevate the offense and make these high-value attempts on his own. He would need to be running a better passing game for this stat to look tantalizing enough to elevate him off the low QB1/high QB2 matchup play zone.