Fantasy Football: Week 2 Red Zone Report
Things change quickly in the NFL, especially early in the season. The large number of games played in other sports means you don't have to read too much into game-by-game variations and can focus almost entirely on the broader trends. We're now already 12.5% of the way through the fantasy football season, though, and you can't afford to wait for a huge sample before taking action.
We have an even smaller sample to draw on when we narrow our view to the red zone, with most teams only averaging a handful of plays there per game. The red zone is also the most important area of the field to have a handle on in fantasy football.
Of the 120 touchdowns scored on offensive snaps so far this season, 92 have come within the red zone despite only 539 of the 3,854 total offensive snaps happening inside the 20-yard line. This means that teams have averaged a touchdown per 5.9 red zone snaps, compared to every 118.4 snaps outside of the red zone. With a huge premium on touchdowns in fantasy football, it's easy to see why this is so important.
Let's take a look at some of the most interesting red zone situations through two weeks of the NFL season.
C.J. Anderson's Numbers Can Get Even Better
C.J. Anderson has been a workhorse for the Denver Broncos. He's not only collected 20-plus carries in each of their first two games, but he's also racked up nearly 40 fantasy points. While this is obviously a strong start, but he has plenty of room to improve, too.
He saw six opportunities (rushes and targets) in the red zone in Week 1, along with another seven in Week 2. His 13 total opportunities are tied for the most in the NFL, and that week-to-week consistency is also very encouraging. Despite this, he has scored only one touchdown (a 16-yard reception).
Anderson has converted 16.8% of his career red zone carries and 13.3% of his targets into touchdowns, with an overall 16.3% touchdown rate on his red zone opportunities. Opening 2017 with a low 7.7% touchdown rate leaves him with plenty of room for increased scoring, especially while he's seeing one of the league's biggest red zone workloads.
Dez Bryant Will Bounce Back
Dez Bryant is one of the league's most efficient red zone threats.
Since entering the league in 2011, Bryant's 39.3% red zone receiving touchdown rate is the top mark among all wideouts with at least 50 red zone targets. If we include tight ends (who generally see higher touchdown rates than receivers), he still ranks fourth among 88 players.
He has commanded 50% (6 of 12) of the Dallas Cowboys' red zone targets on the season (the fourth-biggest market share in the league), but has only notched one receiving touchdown.
Six targets is way too small of a sample size to read into that touchdown rate, and we can expect it to climb a lot closer to his career average over the course of the season. With his high volume, that means a significant increase in scoring, both from a real-world and fantasy standpoint.
Stop Worrying About Le'Veon Bell
Last year's RB3 in fantasy football, Le'Veon Bell has underwhelmed to start 2017 and isn't even cracking the top 20. His volume has been solid -- 37 carries and 10 targets over two games -- but he has yet to find the end zone.
Nobody in the league has played a bigger role for his team in the red zone than Bell has, though. His 56.3% market share of the Pittsburgh Steelers' red zone opportunities is the highest mark in the league, and he's also the only player to have handled at least half of their team's opportunities in each game.
His 15.3% career touchdown rate on red zone opportunities isn't anything special, sitting a bit below the league average, but it's not an egregious mark by any stretch. It's certainly a far cry better than the donut he has opened the season with, as well. The Steelers aren't going to stop feeding him in the red zone any time soon, so the touchdowns will eventually come.
More Reasons to Worry About Jordan Howard
The Chicago Bears have basically refused to run the ball in the red zone. After running just six pass plays and three run plays in Week 1, they followed it up with 11 pass plays and no runs this past weekend. They have also been one of the league's worst offenses, ranking 24th in numberFire's Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play metric, meaning they're not likely to remain in the top six in total red zone opportunities for long.
Despite the high number of plays Chicago has run inside the 20, Jordan Howard has only seen two opportunities, and his one target accounts for only 6.3% of the team's total.
While the Bears' pass-to-run ratio will likely come down a bit moving forward, the likely dip in total plays as well as the tiny market share that Howard has commanded will limit his upside in fantasy -- something that is particularly concerning with his fairly small workload and snap count through two games.
Mike Gillislee Sets Himself Apart in New England
Things changed in Week 2, though. Gillislee once again saw plenty of work, running the ball five times inside the 20, while White saw only one opportunity. Gillislee has now accounted for 59.1% of the Patriots' red zone carries -- 53.3% in Week 1 and 71.4% in Week 2.
His 30.8% touchdown rate is likely not sustainable, but he should continue to see a big workload in the red zone. This gives him elite upside in the New England Patriots offense that ranks top five in Adjusted NEP per play and should be in scoring position plenty this year.
Reflecting on Last Week's Trends
Cooper's numbers came crashing down in Week 2, not seeing a single one of the Oakland Raiders' seven red zone targets, bringing his target market share down to 30.8% on the season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars only ran the ball twice in the red zone (while also passing twice), but Fournette did see one of those two carries. His 61.5% market share of red zone carries on the year ranks 14th in the NFL.
Stewart's role shrunk a bit -- he saw 22.2% of the Carolina Panthers' opportunities, compared to 33.3% for rookie Christian McCaffrey. However, Stewart still holds a 35.7% to 28.6% edge over McCaffrey on the season.
Gore bounced back with four carries and one target after not seeing a single opportunity in Week 1, accounting for 55.6% of the Indianapolis Colts' opportunities in Week 2.
Notable Play-Calling Trends
Six teams -- the Jaguars, Patriots, Panthers, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have pass-to-run ratios of 0.67 or lower so far. The Jags have been especially run-heavy; their 0.38 is the league's lowest by a huge margin, with the Rams' 0.56 coming in second.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Bears, Cowboys, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles all have ratios of at least 2.50. The Bears and Jets especially stand out, with marks above 5.0. Both teams called only passing plays in the red zone over the weekend, with the Jets' lone red zone rush on the season was from quarterback Josh McCown.
It's worth noting that the Jets have only run seven total red zone plays, so a sample that small leaves plenty of room for variance. And as one of the league's worst offenses, we can't expect them to be spending much time in the red zone this year, either.
Other team's with small samples that make it tough to read much into their play-calling tendencies include the Green Bay Packers (8 plays), the New York Giants (10 plays), Miami Dolphins (11 plays), Houston Texans (11 plays) and Los Angeles Chargers (7 plays), who didn't even run one offensive play in the Red Zone in Week 1. The Buffalo Bills ran a solid 14 red zone plays in Week 1, but then ran none in Week 2.
Each week's worth of additional data is important when we're dealing with such small sample sizes, so be sure to check back after Week 3, where we can reflect on how this week's trends have played out, identify where there's likely to be continued consistency, and find players due for touchdown regression.