Red zone production is a big factor in determining fantasy success. Every Wednesday throughout the season we’ll examine red zone statistics at each position and what it means going forward. We look back at Week 4 to see which players excelled in the red zone and which ones struggled.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans – Watson has been impressive in the red zone and he didn’t even start the first game of the year. That was Tom Savage. Remember Tom Savage? Bill O’Brien would rather you forget. Watson has completed 7 of 14 passes with six touchdowns and one interception in the red zone. His six touchdown passes ranks tied for third, despite playing one fewer game. Watson has also rushed for one red zone score. The rookie has gone from backup on his own team to every-week fantasy starter. Watson will continue to be a factor in the red zone as both a passer and a runner all season.
Eli Manning, New York Giants – Manning has been one of the most efficient red zone quarterbacks through four games. He’s completed 13 of 17 of his red zone attempts with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The Giants are still searching for a running game but they still have a dangerous group of pass catchers in Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. New York’s offense has played better in its last two games. With a running game that’s likely to struggle all season, Manning will continue to rely on his receivers inside the 20-yard line.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks – There’s a couple of ways to look at Wilson. The Seahawks can’t run the football inside the red zone similar to teams like the Giants and Cardinals. Because of that, Wilson ranks third in the NFL with 23 red zone attempts through four games. However, he’s only completed nine of those attempts. He does have five touchdowns. Wilson’s red zone completion percentage of 39 percent is the third lowest in the league (Marcus Mariota, Jacoby Brissett). For comparison, Aaron Rodgers is completing 69.5 percent of his red zone passes and Jared Goff 70 percent. Wilson is having a good season, especially considering his porous offensive line and lack of running game. If he gets his red zone completion percentage up over 50 percent, Wilson’s fantasy numbers will be enough better.
DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns – Kizer has been struggling with turnovers in his last few games. The rookie has two touchdown passes and seven interceptions in his last three games. Kizer’s three red zone interceptions are by far the most in the NFL. He’s just 4 of 9 with three touchdowns and three interceptions in the red zone. You don’t have to look hard to see why the Browns haven’t won a game yet. Until Kizer improves in the red zone, not many Browns skill position players outside of Duke Johnson have much fantasy value.
Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings – Murray and Jerick McKinnon take over in the Vikings backfield with Dalvin Cook out for the season. Expect Murray to handle most of the red zone carries. Before getting injured, Cook received nine red zone carries and scored twice. That was 56 percent of the Vikings red zone attempts. Murray has seen two carries, while McKinnon got one in four games. Both backs will be used to replace Cook’s production but Murray is going to see the most usage near the goal line.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants – As we mentioned above, the Giants don’t run the ball well and that’s likely not going to change all year. However, Gallman may have more fantasy value than Paul Perkins or Orleans Darkwa because he’s a bigger, more powerful inside runner. In just one game, Gallman has already gotten six red zone carries. That’s more than Perkins and Darkwa combined (5) all year. Gallman also caught a touchdown pass in the red zone. The Giants are going to lean more on Eli and the passing game but Gallman could become more of a red zone factor as the season goes on.
LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles – Blount is up to eight red zone attempts which is impressive considering he didn’t even receive a carry three weeks ago against the Chiefs. Blount has received seven of his eight carries and scored his lone red zone touchdown in the last two games. He’s now gotten 50 percent of the Eagles red zone carries this season. Blount still won’t approach last season’s red zone numbers where he ranked first in the NFL in attempts, yards and touchdowns, but his arrow is pointing up again after not being used the first two weeks.
Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins – It’s hard to be a factor in the red zone when your team is never there. The Dolphins have been basically shutout two weeks in a row by the Jets and Saints. Miami scored on the final play of the game against the Jets to avoid consecutive shutouts. Ajayi has only seen four red zone carries and has yet to score. He’s only gotten one red zone carry in the last two games with the Dolphins offense struggling. The good news for Ajayi owners is Miami’s offense can’t get much worse. The bad news is the season is a quarter over and you used a Top 20 pick on a running back already battling a knee injury who only has one touchdown in three games.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns – Crowell is one of fantasy football’s biggest disappointments through four games. Playing with a rookie quarterback, Crowell has been an absolute non-factor. He has 134 yards and no touchdowns. Crowell has received just two red zone carries so far this season. That’s not what fantasy owners signed up for when they selected Crowell in the fourth or fifth rounds of fantasy drafts this summer. One issue for Crowell owners is the presence of Kizer. Crowell is currently seeing 14.3 percent of the Browns red zone attempts, while Kizer is seeing 43 percent. Those numbers are likely to even out but having a running quarterback like Kizer hurts Crowell’s already shaky fantasy value.
Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks – Lacy’s has obviously been a disaster in Seattle. If you think he has a shot to step up with Chris Carson out for the season, think again. Lacy has one red zone carry in four games with the Seahawks. That carry netted -3 yards. To put Lacy’s impact in perspective, he has the same number of red zone carries as Titans tight end Delanie Walker. Don’t expect anything out of Lacy. He’s done.
Chris Hogan, New England Patriots – Hogan has really stepped up for the loss of Julian Edelman, especially in the red zone. Hogan has already been targeted eight times in the red zone with three touchdowns. His eight targets rank second in the NFL only to Larry Fitzgerald’s 10. What’s even more impressive is Hogan is seeing 30.8 percent of the Patriots red zone targets. That’s high considering how much Tom Brady spreads the ball around. Brandin Cooks was expected to be Brady’s top target this year but he’s yet to be targeted in the red zone. Hogan will remain the Pats No. 1 fantasy wideout if he continues to get so many red zone opportunities.
Jaron Brown, Arizona Cardinals – Brown is an interesting receiver because Carson Palmer leads the NFL with 32 red zone passing attempts. While Larry Fitzgerald leads the league with 10 red zone targets, Brown is tied for fourth with six. J.J. Nelson and John Brown are more speed receivers. The 6-2, 205-pound Jaron Brown gives Palmer another bigger target near the goal line. Brown has been targeted 12 and 11 times in two of his last three games. On a team that can’t run the football, he should continue to get plenty of looks in the red zone.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans – Remember when Hopkins backed Tom Savage? That’s what you call being a good teammate. No player has benefited more from Watson’s play than Hopkins. He’s been targeted five times in the red zone with two touchdowns. It’s easy to forget how good Hopkins is because of the bad quarterbacks he’s played with but Nuk is one of the elite receivers in the NFL. Few receivers in the league can go up and come down with contested balls like Hopkins. Watson has shown he’ll throw it up and give Hopkins a chance to make a play. Hopkins saw nine red zone targets in 2016. He’s going to shatter that number this season.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos – Thomas has always been a force in the red zone. Last season he was targeted 18 times with four touchdowns. This year Thomas has been a ghost through four games. He’s only been targeted twice and has yet to record a reception. Thomas is only seeing 10 percent of the Broncos red zone targets. For a receiver who goes 6-3, 230 pounds, that’s disappointing. Thomas is too talented to stay quiet in the red zone all year but no touchdowns in four games is a big letdown for fantasy owners.
Terrelle Pryor, Washington Redskins – Despite his impressive size (6-4, 228 pounds), Pryor has yet to become a big factor in the red zone. Last year with the Browns, Pryor was only targeted 13 times in the red zone, scoring four touchdowns. Through four games this season, Pryor has just two targets. He’s only seeing 15.4 percent of the Redskins red zone targets, despite being the team’s No. 1 receiver. Pryor finally scored his first touchdown of the season last week but it came on a 44-yard pass. Until he starts producing more in the red zone, it’s going to be hard to justify all the preseason hype surrounding Pryor.
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers – Benjamin scored five red zone touchdowns last year but so far through four games, he’s given way to Devin Funchess inside the 20. Benjamin has only been targeted twice, while Funchess has four targets with two touchdowns. Both of Funchess’ touchdowns came last week against the Patriots defense, which is like playing versus air, but it’s a little disappointing Benjamin hasn’t been more involved in the red zone with tight end Greg Olsen sidelined. The Panthers offense has been sputtering early in the year, so Benjamin should pick things up in the coming weeks.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills – Clay is already one of the top red zone threats in the NFL. He ranks fifth with five targets and Clay has scored twice. He’s seen 38.5 percent of the Bills red zone targets. That ranks fourth most in the NFL. Clay may see even more balls come his way now that Jordan Matthews is out a month with a thumb injury. Zay Jones takes over as the Bills No. 1 receiver. He’s been targeted once in the red zone through four games. Look for Clay to become an even bigger part of the Bills offense with Matthews out.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots – Gronk is tied for fourth most red zone targets with six. However, he’s caught just 16.7 percent of those targets and scored only once. If you own Gronkowski, the best is yet to come. He and Brady have been a little off in the red zone so far this year but the targets have been there. At some point, history says so will the touchdowns.
Ben Watson, Baltimore Ravens – Watson had one game against the Browns where he caught eight passes. That’s half of his season total. He had another game where he caught a garbage time touchdown versus the Jaguars. That’s the only time he’s been targeted in the red zone all season. The Ravens have one of the most inconsistent offenses in the NFL. Watson has as many red zone targets as Danny Woodhead. Woodhead has played half a quarter of football this season.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins – Reed has completely fallen off the map. Once a terror in the red zone, Reed has been targeted once in three games. Touchdowns used to be a big part of Reed’s fantasy success but he’s only scored one in his last six games. The Redskins haven’t targeted the tight end much in the red zone this year. Vernon Davis hasn’t been targeted at all. The Redskins are 2-2. They aren’t going to make the playoffs if they don’t target their No. 1 receiver or stud tight end in the red zone all season.