A Classic Goal-Line Play Is Disappearing From the NFL

Quarterbacks are throwing fewer fades for touchdowns than ever before

Dallas Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier defends a fade to tight end Anthony Denham.
Dallas Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier defends a fade to Houston Texans tight end Anthony Denham.
Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportwire via Getty Images
By Evan Bleier / July 10, 2020 12:03 pm

Thanks to its high rate of ineffectiveness, the goal-line fade pass is slowly being phased out of the NFL.

The play, which is nearly indefensible when executed perfectly but also very difficult to pull off, used to be a goal-line staple but has been being run less and less in recent years.

That makes sense because only 13.5 percent of the 37 fades that were thrown from five yards or less last season were caught for touchdowns, compared with 57 percent of flat routes, 42 percent of slants and 42.5 percent of out routes, as ESPN tallied.

The success rate on those 37 attempts in 2019, which were down from 42 in 2018 and 51 in 2017, hit a new low for the play as NFL QBs connected on 30 percent of fades thrown close to the goal line compared with 48 percent of all other routes over the previous two seasons.

This is nothing new. The fade has been decreasing in effectiveness over the last decade, in part because there are just so many variables that can go wrong, from a bad pass by the quarterback to a mistimed jump or drop by the receiver to a strong effort by the cornerback.

“A lot of coaches will say it’s a jump ball, like basketball, but that’s a hope and a prayer, not having a plan,” said former NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “There are so many nuances with this play. The wide receiver and quarterback must be on the same page.”

As all of this suggests, unless something changes, NFL quarterbacks and offensive coordinators are going to keep fading the fade until it fades away completely.

Unless Calvin Johnson decided to play again. One of the game’s biggest targets when he was playing for the Detroit Lions, Johnson is the only player ever to bring in more than 50 percent of his fade-route targets, according to Pro Football Focus,

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