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 3 to see which players excelled in the red zone and which ones struggled.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams – What a difference a year makes. Goff is playing better this season primarily for two reasons. The main reason is that Jeff Fisher is gone and been replaced by Sean McVay. The second reason is the Rams offense is actually in the red zone. Last year Los Angeles’ offense was so bad, it rarely visited the red zone. Statistically, Goff is the top red zone quarterback through three games. How’s that for a shocker? He’s completed 11 of 11 passes for 82 yards and five touchdowns. Goff only ranks tied for 10th in attempts because Todd Gurley is featured inside the 10-yard line but he’s made the most of his opportunities thus far. Goff’s red zone success has vaulted him from fantasy also-ran to high-end QB2 status. Look for that to continue in Week 4 when Goff faces a Cowboys defense with injuries in its secondary.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars – What were the odds that the two quarterbacks featured on this list heading into Week 4 would be Goff and Bortles? Las Vegas really cleaned up on that one. Bortles makes the list because he’s coming off arguably the best game of his career last week versus the Ravens where he threw for 244 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Three of those touchdown passes came in the red zone. Bortles now has five red zone touchdowns on the season. Don’t look for this to continue, however. Bortles is just 8 of 14 in the red zone this season and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has a long history of running the ball inside the 10-yard line. Leonard Fournette is already tied for the NFL lead with 12 red zone carries. Bortles is tied for second in red zone touchdowns right now. That won’t last.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles – Wentz continues to struggle with accuracy issues inside the red zone. Through three games this season, he’s completed just 8 of 15 passes in the red zone. Wentz does have four touchdowns but his completion percentage (53.3) ranks 17th. Last year, Wentz completed just 42 of 86 passes (47.2 percent) with 12 touchdowns and one interception. It was believed that Wentz would improve with more weapons but after three games, he’s still struggling with his accuracy in the red zone and on deep balls. Wentz is a good fantasy quarterback but if his accuracy improves and he converts on more scoring opportunities, he’ll turn into an elite one.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals – Palmer ranks first in the NFL with 26 red zone attempts. However, he’s only completed 11 passes for two touchdowns. There’s a good news, bad news scenario when looking at Palmer. He’s likely to continue throwing the football inside the 20 because the Cardinals don’t have David Johnson. Johnson was the second-most productive red zone runner last season behind LeGarrette Blount. Without Johnson, the Cardinals are struggling to run the football. Palmer is a lock to be one of the leaders in red zone attempts this season. However, the Cardinals don’t have big receivers outside of Larry Fitzgerald or a tight end that scares defenses so Palmer could continue to leave fantasy points on the field. No player is more important to a team as both a runner and receiver than Johnson is to the Cardinals, especially inside the red zone.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers – Bell owners are still waiting for him to explode and have a huge fantasy performance. Be patient. It’s coming. Bell only has one red zone rushing touchdown in three games but he ranks first in attempts (12), third in yards (36) and second in percentage of his team’s red zone carries (92.3). The issue right now with Bell is he only has one attempt from inside the 5-yard line and he converted that into a score. He’ll start to see more of those opportunities as the year goes on. Bell is getting the carries; the touchdowns will come.
Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears – It was only a couple of weeks ago that owners were running to sell Howard. After his 138-yard and two-touchdown performance against the Steelers, things are looking up for Howard owners. Even with Tarik Cohen carving out a role in the Bears offense, Howard is clearly the No. 1 option in the red zone. He’s carried the ball seven times and scored three touchdowns. Howard has received 77.8 percent of the Bears red zone rushing attempts through three games. Cohen has gotten one red zone carry. The Bears may not get into the red zone a lot this year but when they do, Howard will see the football.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons – It wasn’t long ago that some people were worried about Freeman splitting carries with Tevin Coleman. It’s not an issue, especially in the red zone. Freeman has carried the ball nine times in the red zone through three games and scored four touchdowns. He’s seen 75 percent of the Falcons red zone attempts so far this year. Coleman has one red zone carry. Going back to last season, Freeman had 50 red zone carries and 10 touchdowns, while Coleman had 21 carries and six scores. There’s a reason why the Falcons gave Freeman a big contract. He’s clearly the Falcons No. 1 back and the numbers prove it.
C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos – Anderson’s red zone numbers are good right now but he looks like a back on the decline due to the presence of Jamaal Charles. Anderson has 10 red zone carries and four touchdowns, while Charles has seven carries and three scores. Anderson had a big game against the Cowboys but this is trending towards more of even timeshare between the two. Considering Anderson (45.5 percent of RZ carries) and Charles (32 percent of RZ carries) have been equally effective in the red zone through three games, there’s no clear-cut leader in the clubhouse at this point.
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals – Hill has 29 touchdowns over the last three seasons. He also leads the Bengals will seven red zone attempts in the first three games. However, he’s yet to score a touchdown and Hill’s stranglehold on red zone carries may be about to end. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said he’s going to give rookie Joe Mixon more carries. He made good on that promise in his first game calling plays. Mixon got 18 carries, including two in the red zone. It’s still unclear how the Bengals backfield will shake out but there’s a good chance you’ll see more Mixon and less Hill as the season goes on.
LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills – Out of all the stud backs, McCoy is seeing by far the lowest percentage of his team’s red zone attempts. McCoy is receiving just 57.1 percent of his team’s red zone rushing attempts. Todd Gurley is also seeing 57.1 percent of his team’s attempts but those numbers are skewed because Malcolm Brown got carries in the Rams Week 1 blowout win over the Colts. The problem here is Mike Tolbert. He’s already sucked four red zone carries away from McCoy. McCoy will still probably see over 70 percent of the carries at the end of the year but when you compare that number to guys like Bell, Kareem Hunt and Ezekiel Elliott, it’s going to be hard to justify McCoy as a Top 5 pick.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals – As stated above, Palmer leads the NFL in red zone passing attempts but he hasn’t been very accurate. It’s not surprising Fitzgerald also leads the NFL in red zone targets with eight but he’s only scored once. Fitz is seeing 30.8 percent of the Cardinals red zone targets. He’s always a factor inside the 20 and that won’t change this year.
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants – Shepard is currently third in the NFL with six red zone targets. That’s impressive when you consider how bad the Giants offense has been early in the season. Shepard has emerged as the Giants No. 2 receiver with Brandon Marshall filing for an early retirement. The Giants have the worst running game in the NFL. It’s laughable every time Eli Manning hands the ball off. Manning will need to throw the ball a lot inside the 20 this year, which means opportunities for Shepard, Odell Beckham and Evan Engram. Shepard has already scored two red zone touchdowns this season and he could have had a third if not for a close call in the Eagles game. He could triple that total by the end of the year.
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals – We mentioned how Lazor kept his promise to get Mixon more involved in the offense. He kept another promise. He got the ball to Green. In his first game with Lazor as the offensive coordinator, Green caught 10 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets. The score was Green’s first in the red zone and he was targeted twice. Green was vastly underused in the red zone last season under former offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. He was only targeted nine times in 10 games. It’s only been one game under Lazor but things are looking up for Green.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons – We’re still waiting. One year after Jones was only targeted nine times in the red zone, we were told new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian worked all offseason to get Jones more involved. So far, one red zone target in three games. There is, however, a silver lining for Jones owners. Matt Ryan has only attempted nine red zone passes with six completions through three games, so hopefully there are more touchdowns in Julio’s future.
Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers – Bryant has never been a big red zone threat. He’s more of a big-play receiver. When the Steelers get inside the red zone, they rely on Bell and their tight ends. Bryant has only seen two red zone targets this year and hasn’t caught either of them. If you own Bryant, you’re banking on him providing big plays to cash in on his fantasy value. He’s not going to be a big factor in the red zone like a Fitzgerald or Dez Bryant.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – A guy who typically is a big factor in the red zone is Evans. It just hasn’t happened yet. The Buccaneers have played one less game but Evans has been targeted in the red zone just twice with one touchdown. Last season Evans ranked third in the NFL with seven red zone touchdowns and eighth in targets (17). Evans had a tough matchup last week against the Vikings Xavier Rhodes. Look for him to get going soon.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills – Clay doesn’t rack up a lot of yards but he has a nose for the end zone. He’s scored in five of the Bills last seven games, usually from close range. Clay ranks tied for third in the NFL with five red zone targets through three games and he’s scored twice. Because the Bills are so weak at receiver, Clay has seen 50 percent of Buffalo’s red zone targets this year. While that number will likely decrease, look for Clay to remain Tyrod Taylor’s top red zone option all season.
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars – Lewis makes the good list only because he scored three touchdowns last week against the Ravens, including two in the red zone. While that was impressive, keep in mind Lewis had only scored three total touchdowns since 2013 prior to that game. It’s surprising the 6-6, 267-pound Lewis never became more of a red zone threat though. He has the size and athleticism to be a mismatch near the goal line. However, he’s been in the NFL for 12 years and Lewis only has one season with more than four touchdowns (10 in 2010). Unless the Jaguars have figured something out, last week’s game is a mirage for Lewis.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions – We keep waiting on Ebron to be a factor in the red zone but it may be one of those things that never comes. After Anquan Boldin left, Ebron was supposed to be a bigger factor in the red zone this year. Through three games, he’s been targeted three times with one touchdown. Those aren’t awful numbers but Ebron is a 6-4, 250-pound tight end who was drafted ahead of Odell Beckham with only eight career touchdowns. He should be dominating in the red zone, instead it’s a surprise when he scores a touchdown. That’s not good enough.
Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers – Henry has been shut out in two of three games this season. Not shut out in receptions but in targets. This is a guy who scored eight touchdowns in 2016. Henry has one red zone target this year and it’s surprising he has that many considering he’s been a ghost in two games. There’s still time for Henry to save his season but his disappearance, especially in the red zone, is a mystery.