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 1 to see which players excelled in the red zone and which ones struggled.
Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots – Last week we mentioned LeGarrette Blount and how he was by far the best red zone running back in 2016. After one game, the Patriots don’t miss him. Gillislee leads all running backs following Week 1 in red zone carries (8), yards (20) and touchdowns (3). The Patriots running game will look different from week-to-week but Gillislee is cemented as New England’s goal line back. He scored seven red zone touchdowns on just 15 carries last season backing up LeSean McCoy. Gillislee is a lock to score double-digit red zone touchdowns this year if he stays healthy.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars – Coaching plays a big part in not only a player’s overall success but his red zone success. Let’s look at what happened to the Jaguars running game last year after Nathaniel Hackett took over as the offensive coordinator in Week 9. The Jaguars improved from 30th (72.6) to fifth (124.8) in rushing yards per game and went from 26th (3.79) to 13th (4.35) in yards per rush under Hackett. One game and Fournette saw seven red zone carries (second to only Gillislee) and scored a touchdown. Fournette touched the ball 29 times in his first NFL start. He’s going to eat in the red zone all season.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs – Last week we pointed out that the combination of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West combined for 41 red zone carries in 2016 but only scored four touchdowns. In one game, Hunt saw two red zone carries and scored a touchdown. Hunt got both Chiefs red zone carries against the Patriots. It’s a small sample size but Hunt looks to be more talented than either of the other two Chiefs running backs. Hunt will see plenty of red zone work this season in Kansas City.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Gore – We don’t want to overreact to Gore after one game but it’s obvious the Colts are a bad football team. Gore received no red zone carries against the Rams, while rookie Marlon Mack saw three and scored. The Colts were getting blown out for much of the game but that may be the case most week until Andrew Luck returns – and it could be a while. The other thing that’s concerning if you’re a Gore owner is he started to lose goal line carries last season. Gore did get a respectable 29 red zone carries but scored only four touchdowns in 2016. Backup Robert Turbin began to steal goal line carries at the end of the season, however, and was more effective. Turbin got 18 red zone carries and scored seven times. Keep an eye on Mack. The talented rookie is lurking.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions – Everyone wants Abdullah to be the workhorse so badly in Detroit. Everyone but the Lions coaching staff. There’s good news and bad news when looking at Abdullah’s Week 1 red zone stats. The good news is he got four red zone carries. The bad news is he turned them into zero yards. There’s more bad news. Dwayne Washington also saw two red zone carries and Theo Riddick caught a red zone touchdown pass. The bottom line is while Abdullah will get the most red zone carries, he’s not the only show in town, which makes it frustrating for fantasy owners.
Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders – Cooper led all pass catchers in Week 1 with four red zone targets. He caught one touchdown. He dropped another. It’s nice to see the Raiders targeting Cooper in the red zone. Last season Cooper’s 13 red zone targets ranked third on the team behind Seth Roberts (20) and Michael Crabtree (21). Don’t expect Cooper to gobble up red zone targets every week. Carr distributes the ball in the red zone to different players and with the addition of Marshawn Lynch, the Raiders will run the ball the ball more near the goal line too. It is encouraging though that Cooper is already a third of the way to last season’s red zone targets after only one game.
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings – Diggs has all the makings of a stud fantasy receiver. The only thing holding him back is touchdowns. Diggs caught 84 passes last season but found the end zone just three times. He had only seven touchdown receptions in his first two seasons. One problem is Diggs wasn’t being targeted in the red zone. Last season, Diggs was targeted in the red zone just 12 times and scored once. That was one fewer target than Darren Sproles. In one game this season, Diggs has already been targeted three times in the red zone and scored two touchdowns. If the Vikings continue to target Diggs in the red zone and he can get up 8-9 scores, he’ll have a huge fantasy season.
Eric Decker, Tennessee Titans – It took Decker just one game to start seeing red zone targets again. In his first game back from a hip injury, Decker was targeted three times by Marcus Mariota. He caught two passes but didn’t score. Two years ago, Decker led the NFL with 28 red zone targets and scored 10 touchdowns. In 2013, Decker was third in red zone targets (23) and scored seven touchdowns. Remember, Mariota hasn’t thrown a red zone interception in just over three seasons as an NFL quarterback. Decker and Mariota are going to be a dangerous red zone connection all season for the Titans.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons said they were going to make a concerted effort this season to target Jones in the red zone more after he saw just nine targets in 2016. After one game, we’re still waiting. Jones didn’t see a red zone target on Sunday. Taylor Gabriel saw two. It’s only one game but Jones has only scored 10 touchdowns in a season once. If he’s going to do it a second time, he needs to become a bigger factor near the goal line.
Sammy Watkins, Los Angeles Rams – Watkins is more of a big-play receiver but his red zone presence will take an even bigger hit with the presence of Cooper Kupp. Kupp was targeted just once in the red zone and scored. However, Kupp is an exceptional route-runner and he’s going to be a red zone favorite of Jared Goff all season. Back in 2014 with the Buffalo Bills, Watkins was only targeted in the red zone 10 times. The closer the Rams get to the end zone, the chances of Watkins scoring decrease.
Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers – Touchdowns can be a weird stat because sometimes they come in bunches. Over the course of a season, red zone targets are a better indicator of success than a freaky multiple touchdown game. On Sunday, James caught two short touchdowns against the Browns. His performance is likely more trap than trend. Le’Veon Bell was shut down by the Browns defense and Ben Roethlisberger had to pass near the goal line. James was targeted three times in the red zone, catching the two scores. James may catch a short score every now and then but he’s not likely to have prolonged fantasy success.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills – Clay also saw three red zone targets, scoring once. Dating back to last season, Clay has scored in four of the Bills last five games. Clay wasn’t heavily targeted in the red zone last season (13 targets, 3 touchdowns). A big reason for that is because the Bills are such a run-heavy team, especially inside the 10-yard line. Tyrod Taylor could rely on Clay more this season with the Bills lacking depth at receiver but Clay’s first priority inside the red zone will still be as a blocker for McCoy.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles – Ertz had a nice game on Sunday catching eight passes for 93 yards but he was once again a non-factor in the red zone. Touchdowns have always been the one thing lacking for Ertz. He has just 13 touchdowns in 62 career games. Last year, Ertz was targeted 14 times in the red zone and scored three times. The silver lining for Ertz is the Eagles offense looks much improved, so he’s likely to have more red zone opportunities this year.
Hunter Henry, TE San Diego Chargers – Henry was so invisible against the Broncos on Monday night, it was hard to tell if he even played. He did. He just didn’t do anything. A popular breakout pick by many, Henry scored seven red zone touchdowns on 16 targets last season. There will be better days for Henry but he still must deal with Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Tyrell Williams and Melvin Gordon when the Chargers get into the red zone. That’s a lot of mouths to feed.