In the final red zone article of the season, we’ll look at one of the best and worst players at each position and what to expect from them in 2018.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles – Wentz was so good in the red zone this season that he’s still tied for the most touchdowns (24) along with Tom Brady, despite missing the last two games. He was extremely efficient in the red zone. Wentz leads the NFL in red zone touchdowns even though he ranks ninth in attempts (60). Add in Nick Foles’ five red zone scores and Eagles quarterbacks are by far tops in the league. Philadelphia did run the ball much better in 2017 and that, along with more weapons, really helped Wentz. He was one of the worst red zone quarterbacks last year. We don’t know if Wentz will be healthy for the start of 2018 yet but he’ll be an elite fantasy quarterback again once he returns.
DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns – Not surprisingly, Kizer was the worst red zone quarterback in 2017. He threw seven touchdown passes with six interceptions. No other quarterback in the NFL had more than three red zone interceptions. Kizer completed just 30 percent of his passes in the red zone. That ranked third worst behind Jacoby Brissett and Tom Savage. Cleveland will almost certainly have a new starting quarterback next year. The Browns have some talent at the skill positions with Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and David Njoku. Cleveland’s offense could be a fantasy sleeper in 2018 with improved quarterback play.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams – Jeff Fisher recently stated the Rams success this year reflects well on him. He must be living in fantasy land. Gurley went from one of the least effective red zone running backs in 2017 to the most productive this season. Last year, Gurley scored just five touchdowns on 35 carries. This season he leads the NFL in red zone touchdowns (12) and ranks second in attempts (62) to Le’Veon Bell’s 63. He has an NFL-best nine touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line. Gurley single-handedly helped owners win a fantasy title with monster games in Weeks 15 and 16. Last year under Fisher, Gurley was being benched by some owners during fantasy playoffs. What a difference a year, good coaching, and improved offensive line play makes.
Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles – One of the most perplexing stats of the year is that Ajayi has received 20 red zone carries but is yet to score a touchdown. A tough, physical runner, Ajayi is a prototypical red zone running back on paper. However, he’s gained just 10 yards on 20 carries. More surprisingly is Ajayi hasn’t received one carry inside the 5-yard line with either the Dolphins or Eagles. Ajayi should be a much bigger part of the Eagles offense in 2018 and have more red zone success.
Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams – Kupp was expected to have a big role as the Rams slot receiver in his first season. A bonus for Kupp owners is the number of red zone targets the rookie is seeing. Kupp ranks tied for second in the NFL with 23 red zone targets. He has five touchdowns. Kupp’s numbers could be even better but he dropped two sure touchdowns in the end zone this season. Kupp is seeing 28.4 percent of the Rams red zone targets. That’s the same percentage as Antonio Brown. He’ll be a popular target in PPR leagues next summer. Remember that Kupp brings added fantasy value as Jared Goff’s top red zone option.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – We’ve mentioned Jones a couple of times this year. He was supposed to be a bigger factor in the red zone under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Instead, Jones has one touchdown on 19 red zone targets. The number of targets Jones has seen through 15 games isn’t awful but it’s hard to believe one of the NFL’s best receivers has scored just three times in the red zone over the last two years. Jones is a great receiver but he’s only scored 10 touchdowns in a season once. His lack of red zone production is a big reason why.
Jimmy Graham, Seattle Seahawks – Graham hadn’t been a huge factor in the red zone since coming to Seattle. That changed in 2017. He leads the NFL with 26 red zone targets and 10 touchdowns. Graham had only scored eight touchdowns in his previous two seasons with the Seahawks. He also ranks first in the NFL by seeing 35.6 percent of his team’s red zone targets. With all due respect to Zach Ertz, Graham has been the top tight end in the red zone this season.
Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titans – One of the biggest red zone disappointments this season has been Walker. It’s not his fault. Marcus Mariota has really struggled inside the 20. Mariota is completing just 48 percent of his passes with six touchdowns. Walker has caught two of those scores on 11 targets. The good news is Walker is still seeing a robust 22.4 percent of the Titans red zone targets. He could be a nice bounce-back player in 2017 if a healthier Mariota improves his play in the red zone.