Fantasy Football buys, sells based off red zone stats

Michael Salfino

Let’s focus on the area of the field that makes all fantasy players sit on the edge of their seats: the red zone. Who is targeted, gets the goal-line carries, which teams predominantly run or pass there, which teams score the most TDs on a percentage basis and, most importantly for predicting future scoring opportunities, which teams get into the red zone most frequently.

Let’s start with the most important stat we have: red zone possessions per game. This stat comes courtesy of All other stats are via Pro-Football-Reference.

The Rams lead the NFL with 4.4 red zone possessions per game. They are not converting a high number into TDs — their rate 48.4% is below the average of 53.2%. Look at quarterback Jared Goff, who has just eight red zone TDs. That seems good but Carson Wentz has 12 even though he’s leading the Eagles into the red zone about one less time per game (more on why later). This could easily flip going forward; Goff’s red zone rating is 101.

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The Steelers have the greatest variance in red zone possessions and success rate at converting touchdowns. If they were merely average at converting, they’d have 0.4 more TDs per game. On the other end of the spectrum are the insanely red zone efficient Packers (0.7 more red zone TDs per game than expected, meaning if they converted at a league average rate) and the Cowboys (0.54). Of course you’d fade the Packers now that Aaron Rodgers is out indefinitely. The Cowboys are built to score in the red zone because running well there tends to correlate to superior efficiency. But the Texans and Eagles are scoring about four more points per game than expected just due to red zone efficiency. And, again, bet frequency not efficiency.

Offenses you have to worry about going forward due to a dearth of quality scoring opportunities are obvious ones like the Bears, Jets, Dolphins and Giants. But Oakland and Tennessee also rate very poorly at 2.1 and 2.4 red zone trips per game, respectively. The last three weeks the Bears have an incredibly anemic 0.7 red zone trips per game. Sell Jordan Howard high, please. Chicago had five first downs on Sunday and John Fox treated Mitchell Trubisky (four completions on just seven attempts) like he was Tim Tebow (who Fox also coached).

Marcus Mariota has yet to throw a TD pass in the red zone, which is quite incredible. I’d advise to bet on a correction if the Titans were getting there more. Jacoby Brissett has been sacked more times in the red zone (which begins at the 19 yard line, not the 20), four, than he has TD passes there (two).

The NFL average is 54% passing plays in the red zone. Outlier teams on the pass-heavy side are the Cardinals (71%), Lions (68%) and Seahawks (65%). Of course all bets are off with the Cardinals with Carson Palmer out. But betting on Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson to throw more TDs going forward seems wise. But you need a slight correction in possessions, too, as their teams rank 25th and 20th currently in the red zone possessions stat.

I define goal-line plays as plays from the the opponent’s three-yard line and in. Jay Ajayi does not have a goal-line run yet. The Dolphins have thrown on their two plays there. Goff is obviously hurt by not throwing in close — just one of 10 plays. Seattle has thrown on six of 10 goal-line plays — what is it with Pete Carroll not liking to run on the goal-line? The Eagles have a league-leading 18 goal-line plays. The 49ers, shockingly, are next with 16. The Dolphins and Bengals each have two, not too surprising given their offensive woes.

The story here is that the Chiefs have just four total goal-line plays even though they have gotten into the red zone three times per game. They also have a lot of long TDs. Still, this stat is hurting Kareem Hunt especially (one goal-line run, which he converted). Carlos Hyde has 10 (converting five). Other leaders are LeGarrette Blount and Todd Gurley (8 each), Leonard Fournette and Mike Gillislee (seven each) and Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman (six each).

Blount is setting a record for futility on the goal line, where he made a living last year. He’s lost five yards on those eight attempts and scored one TD. Blount’s failings on first down are the reason why Wentz, four TDs inside the five, is feasting in close. (Note we extended the area relative to Blount because Blount loses yards on so many carries.)

Note that inside the 3-yard line, teams run 60% overall. On first down it’s 68% — the Eagles are 7-for-7 running on first down in these spots but because Blount has been so bad, zero touchdowns. Forty years ago, teams always ran in these situations but this year 23 of 37 first down pass attempts here are TDs (62%) vs. only 27 of 79 runs (34.2%)

The red zone target leaders are Davante Adams, Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant (12 each). But 11 of Bryant’s have been thrown into the end zone, which is incredible. Next in red zone targets is Cooper Kupp with 11 and Chris Hogan with 10. Cameron Brate has nine — and so does Keenan Allen; note eight of Allen’s have been into the end zone so there’s no reason why he should not be expected to score touchdowns going forward. Tyreek Hill has one red zone target; I’d view that as a bullish number because that can only get better (and Hill has been productive anyway).

Speedy receivers DeSean Jackson and Robby Anderson have six end zone targets each, which is a positive development for projecting their future value since you know they can score from distance.

On the negative side, Adam Thielen has not had an end zone target (he has five red zone targets, catching none).

And remember how Jarvis Landry couldn’t score? He has caught five of six red zone targets for three touchdowns.