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 5 to see which players excelled in the red zone and which ones struggled.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs – Smith is the top scoring quarterback in fantasy football through the first five weeks of the season. How many people saw that coming? One reason Smith is off to such a hot start is because of his production in the red zone. Smith is completing 70 percent of his red zone passes (16 of 22) with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. His 22 attempts rank ninth in the NFL and his eight touchdowns rank third. Smith has been particularly good inside the 10 where he’s 6 of 7 with five touchdowns. With defenses focused on stopping Kareem Hunt, Smith is having success using play action near the goal line. Hunt will be a big factor in the red zone as well but remember one thing about Andy Reid, he doesn’t care about your fantasy football team. He’ll continue to run a diverse offense inside the 10-yard line.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys – We wrote a couple of weeks ago how Prescott was struggling in the red zone and to expect his numbers to get better. They have. Prescott’s completion percentage is still under 50 percent (48.1) but he’s thrown eight touchdowns with just one interception. Dak is also dangerous as a runner in the red zone. He has two red zone rushing touchdowns as well. One thing about Prescott if you watch him closely going back to last year is he does a lot of things well but the one pass he struggles with is the fade near the goal line. The reason his red zone completion percentage is down this year is because he’s missed Dez Bryant on several fades. He did last year too. He throws the pass flat. For some reason, the Cowboys coaches keep calling the play. Prescott is much better when he’s on the move near the goal line. Prescott is currently the fourth highest-scoring fantasy quarterback with a red zone completion percentage under 50 percent. That’s good news for Dak owners.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Winston has played one less game than most quarterbacks but he’s been struggling in the red zone. He’s completed 8 of 18 passes (42 percent) with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The fantasy value of quarterbacks can be greatly increased by short touchdown passes. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees live of them. Winston is killing owners inside the 10-yard line right now. He’s just 1 of 6 with one touchdown through four games. Winston’s numbers are likely to improve but with Doug Martin back, expect the Bucs to also lean on the running game more inside the 5-yard line.
Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts – All things considered, Brissett has done a good job filling in for Andrew Luck. He came over from the Patriots in a trade right before the season and has led the Colts to two wins. That’s not bad. One area where Brissett needs to get better though is in the red zone. He’s completed just 5 of 12 passes (33 percent) with one touchdown and one interception. Brissett has added three rushing touchdowns but he needs to improve as a red zone passer. Brissett’s red zone completion percentage is the lowest in the NFL. He can be a streamer when the matchup is favorable but Brissett will be a much bigger fantasy asset if he starts producing more in the red zone.
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers – Jones has been a fantasy revelation over the last two games. He’s got seven red zone carries and two touchdowns. Jones is already seeing 39 percent of the Packers red zone carries this year. All those numbers have come in Green Bay’s last two games. Ty Montgomery has the exact same numbers as Jones, only he had an extra game to get them. The Packers are going to use both backs going forward. The only question is, how? Jones appears to be the stronger inside runner. He’s likely to get more goal line work. It’s hard to decipher between the two because looking at the numbers, they really are identical inside the 20, 10 and five-yard lines. However, if you have to bet, put your money on Jones being the bigger red zone factor going forward, although both backs are likely to see opportunities.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars – How good has Fournette been in the red zone so far this year? He ranks second in both attempts (16) and touchdowns (4). All four of his scores have come from inside the 5-yard line where Fournette is seeing 88 percent of the Jaguars carries. Basically, when Jacksonville gets close the goal line, Fournette is going to get the football nine out of 10 times. Blake Bortles is throwing the ball less and less, as Jacksonville’s offense centers around Fournette. He may not have a great YPC every week but the volume is there. Fournette has seen over 20 carries in three of five games this season. He’ll eat in the red zone all year long.
Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Martin returned from suspension Thursday night against the Patriots and made an instant fantasy impact. He got two red zone carries and scored once. In the first three games, average Jacquizz Rodgers got seven red zone carries but turned them into just one touchdown. Martin is a much more talented player. Rodgers and Martin’s combined nine red zone carries would rank ninth in the NFL and they played one fewer game than most teams. Expect Martin to see plenty of carries inside the 5-yard line for the rest of the year as long as he stays on the field.
Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots – Remember back on opening night when Gillislee scored three short touchdowns? Four weeks later he’s only scored one more red zone touchdown. Gillislee still ranks tied for second with 16 red zone carries but he’s only received 50 percent of the Patriots red zone rushing attempts. James White has eight attempts and Dion Lewis has five. Keep in mind, Rex Burkhead has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. Gillislee will likely remain the Patriots goal line back. He’s averaging 3.2 RZ carries a game but it’s concerning that he’s only scored once since Week 1 and Lewis is starting to be used more. It’s certainly a situation to monitor, especially with Lewis playing more snaps and Burkhead getting healthy.
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts – Gore has a respectable nine red zone carries and two touchdowns. The issue is he’s been a ghost inside the 5-yard line where Gore has gotten just one carry in five games. To put that in perspective, both Marlon Mack (3) and Robert Turbin (3) have more carries than Gore inside the five. So what does this mean? Well, if you go back to the end of last year, it means the Colts don’t like Gore running the football close to the goal line. It’s simple. The Colts have had seven rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line this season. Gore has gotten one of them. Mack is coming off an impressive game and Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he needs to get more carries. It’s likely more of those carries will be in the red zone, where Gore has been getting phased out since last season.
Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions – Abdullah owners must be wondering what they did wrong. In a game where Abdullah rushed for only 31 yards on 10 carries, it was Zach Zenner who scored a 1-yard touchdown. To make matters worse, Abdullah got first crack at scoring but was stopped. Then Zenner replaced him and plunged in from a yard away for the touchdown. Abdullah has seven red zone carries on the season but only one touchdown. He’s received just two carries from inside the five. It’s encouraging that Abdullah got the first carry but it’s discouraging he was replaced on the next play. Those are the kind of things that separate good fantasy running backs from elite ones. Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson get the ball again on the next play.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans – It’s hard to get better than Hopkins in the red zone. He ranks tied for third in targets (7) and tied for second in touchdowns (4). Hopkins’ 38.8 percent of his team’s red zone target share ranks second in the NFL to only Jarvis Landry. As we stated before in this article, Deshaun Watson’s willingness to throw the ball up to Hopkins can’t be understated. Some quarterbacks have guts and others don’t. Like Larry Fitzgerald, Hopkins just needs his quarterback to give him opportunities in the red zone to produce. He’s getting those with Watson under center.
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants – Shepard injured his ankle last week but unlike Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall, he’s expected to return at some point. When he does, he’ll be Eli Manning’s top target. He’s already been Manning’s top target in the red zone this season. Shepard has been targeted six times in the red zone, although he’s yet to score. The Giants have been decimated by injuries at the receiver position and they can’t run the football. Look for Shepard to join tight end Evan Engram as Manning’s top two red zone options for the rest of the season once he’s healthy.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers – Jordy Nelson leads the NFL with five red zone touchdowns but Adams is right behind him with four. He also ranks tied for second in the NFL with nine red zone targets. Adams was a big red zone factor last year and that’s carrying over to this season as well. He’s currently seeing 31 percent of the Packers red zone targets, compared to Nelson’s 24. 1 percent. Nelson may still be Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receiver but Adams is making a strong case for being 1B dating back to last season. The Packers are running the ball better in 2017 but Adams will continue to be a red zone factor as long as Rodgers is under center.
Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers – Allen ranks tied for third in the NFL with seven red zone targets. However, he’s only caught one pass. His 14.29 percent red zone catch rate is the worst in the NFL. Obviously, this isn’t all Allen’s fault. Some of it is on quarterback Philip Rivers too. Rivers is completing just 44 percent (11 of 24) of his red zone passes through five games. Allen is seeing a respectable 29.2 percent of the Chargers red zone targets but none of that matters until he and Rivers start connecting more often inside the 20.
Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks – Baldwin is off to a slow start in 2017 and that includes in the red zone. He’s only been targeted four times in the red zone through the first five games with one touchdown. Even more disturbing is that Baldwin is seeing just 14.8 percent of Seattle’s red zone targets so far this season. Baldwin scored a career-high 14 touchdowns in 2015 but only half that many last year. Right now, he has fewer red zone targets than Alvin Kamara, George Kittle and Albert Wilson. That’s not what owners envisioned when they took him in the second or third rounds of fantasy drafts.
Pierre Garcon, San Francisco 49ers – Garcon has never been a touchdown machine. He’s never scored more than six in a season. He’s not in danger of eclipsing that total this year either. Garcon hasn’t scored yet through five games in 2017. He’s been targeted four times in the red zone and is seeing just 14.8 percent of the 49ers red zone targets. Garcon was getting a lot of love this offseason because of his projected targets and receptions in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The bottom line is though he simply doesn’t score enough to be a true No. 1 receiver.
Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills – The Bills have dealt with a lot of injuries early in the year but Clay is a big one. He’s expected to miss at least a month with a knee injury. Clay has been pretty much Buffalo’s entire passing game. He’s been targeted five times in the red zone with two touchdowns. Clay is seeing 24 percent of the Bills red zone targets. It ranks fifth in the NFL among tight ends. Nick O’Leary will replace Clay. He caught five passes for 54 yards last game against the Bengals after Clay got injured. Expect O’Leary to become a presence in the red zone for the Bills offense.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers – Kittle is coming off the best game of his career where he caught seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. He was also targeted in the red zone twice. Kittle now has five red zone targets on the year. He’s seeing 18.5 percent of the 49ers red zone targets. That’s more than Garcon. Keep an eye on Kittle going forward. He’s an emerging player for the 49ers.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions – The good news for Ebron is that he was targeted once in the red zone Sunday against the Panthers. The bad news is he dropped a wide-open touchdown in the end zone. After that, backup tight end Darren Fells caught two Matthew Stafford touchdown passes from four and 20 yards. Ebron’s struggles have opened the door for Fells. It may not mean Fells will be a fantasy factor but we know Ebron sure isn’t one.