5 NFL Red Zone Trends to Monitor for Week 2
Through one week of action, NFL teams have produced 85 offensive touchdowns. Of those, 61 have come through the air with another 24 on the ground, which shows a tilt toward the pass when you look at last year's Week 1 numbers: 49 passing scores and 21 rushing.
Compared to last year, though, numbers in the red zone are up early. A total of 31 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns have originated inside the 20-yard-line. Through one week, passing and overall scores are up, but rushing touchdowns fell by two from 2018. Those scores account for 124 fantasy points from passers, 126 from rushers and 180 for those on the receiving end of those touchdown throws.
All that is to say that red zone opportunities are valuable for fantasy football players. In season-long leagues and daily games alike, we want to target guys with touchdown upside because of the amount of points you get on that one play compared to the 60 rushing or receiving yards you need to add up to that touchdown.
The question is, why are we talking about this if it is such a logical approach? The reasoning is simple: touchdowns are pretty hard to predict. Certain players are off the field in certain situations and packages, while others might be called upon as go-to guys in the red zone because of their size or versatility.
That's why we're here. All season, we're diving into the data to uncover valuable red zone trends that either point us toward one player or suggest we avoid another. Let's get down to it.
Todd Gurley Goes Scoreless
Last year, you would've been right to assume so, as Gurley ran for a league-high 17 touchdowns after accounting for 13 rushing scores in 2017. Of those 30 touchdowns, 29 originated from inside the opponent's 20-yard line, where Gurley toted the ball a combined 120 times. But through one game, Gurley is scoreless. He didn't get a single attempt in the red zone, while Malcolm Brown turned five into two scores (even Darrell Henderson got one).
Because of the heightened opportunity, Brown accounted for 17.3 fantasy points to Gurley's 11.1. The former ended the week as the RB14, but if we were to hand Gurley those two scores, he would've finished with 23.2 points, a total that would've tied him for eighth (17 spots higher) among backs in PPR scoring. Those red zone attempts are just too valuable to give up, especially for a guy that -- according to Fantasy Football Calculator -- went with pick 2.04 in PPR drafts.
Gurley's injury concerns kept him from being a first round pick in 2019, but his early usage is more concerning than any chance of re-injury. Even in a positive game script, and in a game that ended within one score, Sean McVay opted for Brown when in tight to the end line. You're still starting Gurley in season-long leagues, but fantasy owners should be looking to Brown as an emergency add going into Week 2.
Is Damien Williams Just Buying Time?
The Kansas City Chiefs' backfield has been quite the whirlwind. It's only one week into the new year, but a lot has changed over the past month. Back on August 1, Damien Williams was a coveted asset as the lead back in a high-powered Andy Reid offense, going off the board (on average) with the first pick in the second round of drafts. But then Williams was forced to sit with an injury and watched rookie Darwin Thompson emerge. His ADP plummeted a round, but it rebounded when the team traded away Carlos Hyde.
The final chapter of the preseason played out when Reid went out and added a former player of his in LeSean McCoy -- and that caused Williams to go as late as pick 3.07 some six days after the signing. Questions around who will be the primary back quickly surfaced, but Williams was still the leader in Week 1, having played 45 snaps to McCoy's 20. He also received four of five running back attempts in the red zone (one for a score), as well as 3 of the Chiefs' 11 total targets inside the 20.
Williams gave fantasy owners a respectable 18.5 PPR points, but should we expect that to change going forward? Last year, a 30-year-old Shady tallied only three touchdowns (all rushing) across 161 carries and 14 games with the Buffalo Bills. His touchdown numbers were cut by more than half from the year before, and his three scores from scrimmage marked a career-low. However, back in his early days under Reid, McCoy totaled 44 touchdowns over six seasons. That's not to say that this is prime Shady, but we already saw him get 11 touches and play 20 snaps in his very first live game with the team.
Given Williams' rocky offseason, along with McCoy getting more money than him at his age, it could only be a matter of time until the wily veteran supplants him and steals the oh-so-valuable red zone touches.
Cam Newton Is a Non-Factor in the Red Zone
In years' past, Cam Newton and his touchdown numbers were as consistent as things come in fantasy football. Since entering the league in 2011 he's tallied up 182 touchdowns through the air and another 58 in the ground game. In fact, his 58 rushing scores ranked third among all players -- not just quarterbacks -- in that eight-year span, trailing only Marshawn Lynch and Shady McCoy.
Even in last year's 14-game campaign, the 30-year-old tossed for 24 scores and ran for a career-low four. He was bested by four other quarterbacks in that category, while even Drew Brees tallied as many scores with his feet.
Now, after a pair of injuries and one game of work, the one-time MVP has zero touchdowns to his credit despite his team scoring three times against the Rams.
That alone isn't the chief cause for concern, though. Newton had absolutely zero pass and rush attempts in the team's five red zone plays. Four (two touchdowns) went to Christian McCaffrey, and the other went to backup back Alex Armah (one touchdown). And when we go back to the 50-yard line -- mind you, in a 30-27 game -- he threw just 10 passes on L.A.'s side of the field, none of which traveled further than 13 yards, according to airyards.com.
That is alarming, especially when he's off the mark and completed a mere 65.8% of passes while managing a measly 5.8 average depth of target (aDOT). That number is down from last year's career-low of 7.5 and 3.4 short of his career average. On top of McCaffrey's emergence as an elite back goal line to goal line, all the early signs point down for Newton's fantasy value.
Tight Ends Make the Most of Their Opportunities
In Week 1, a number of tight ends rewarded their fantasy owners with nice outings -- and that had a lot to do with them hitting paydirt as drives got closer to the goal line. As a whole, the tight end position converted 28 red zone targets into eight touchdowns -- good for a touchdown rate of 28.6%. All other players -- wide receivers included -- combined to score on 25.9% of their 85 targets in that same area.
And in case you were wondering, no, it's not like Travis Kelce or George Kittle scored four or five of those. It was quite the opposite, as Kelce failed to bring in any of his four red zone targets, and Kittle did nothing with his two looks. Rather, it was the unknowns who contributed to season-long and weekly lineups alike.
Even if we want to bypass the two-score day from Delanie Walker, we get names like Tyler Higbee, Mark Andrews and the un-retired Jason Witten. Andrews is the highest-owned of those three at 51.0% in ESPN leagues.
In other words, Week 1 played out well for those who waited on their tight end and decided to stream the position. And it just so happens the winner of FanDuel's Sunday Million paid down for Andrews at minimal ownership. Take note.
Piggybacking on last week's first trend, here's a look at each team's tendency to either run or pass in the red zone, as well as their success rates, courtesy of Sharp Football Stats.
|Team||Pass Rate||Pass Success||Rush Rate||Rush Success||Team||Pass Rate||Pass Succcess||Rush Rate||Rush Success|
* Data unavailable for teams that played Monday Night.
For the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, there are really small samples to deal with, and those are heavily influenced by game script. Of the three teams with a 100% pass rate in the red zone, it's somewhat shocking to admit that the Washington Redskins' is most notable. Case Keenum and company threw the ball on all seven plays inside the 20 despite a first half lead over the Philadelphia Eagles. That could certainty stick, too, considering the loss of Derrius Guice and the likely uptick in snaps for pass-catching specialist Chris Thompson.
The Arizona Cardinals' air raid offense followed its name despite Kingsbury's high tendency to run the ball in close while at Texas Tech. That, however, could do with the severe negative game script because Arizona still managed 4 rushes on their 12 plays in the red zone.
Offensive juggernauts Kansas City and New England splits their plays quite evenly but had above-average success rates in the run not the pass. The Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings were very much imbalanced in favor of the run. Again, both found themselves in positive game scripts, but the Lamar Jackson factor -- as a red zone rushing threat and deep-ball chucker -- led to 17 red zone runs to 6 passes, while things are playing out as planned with the Minnesota offense under the direction of Kevin Stefanski. Five of their six red zone snaps stayed on the ground.
Brett Oswalt is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Brett Oswalt also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username BrettOswalt. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.