5 NFL Red Zone Trends to Monitor for Week 4
Through a couple weeks of play, NFL teams have produced 238 offensive touchdowns. Of those, 159 have come through the air with another 79 on the ground -- a 66.8% share that is down from last week but still in favor of the passing game.
In the red zone, it is closer to even as teams have accounted for 94 passing and 72 rushing scores inside the 20-yard line. Through Weeks 1 to 3, passing and overall scores are slightly down in the red zone, but rushing touchdowns have maintained an 8.8% increase. Those scores account for 296 fantasy points from passers, 432 from rushers and 564 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.
Kyle Shanahan Is No Liar
Leading up to Week 3, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan hinted quite strongly that "third-string back" Jeff Wilson was the team's preferred red zone back over Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. As with most coach-speak, we couldn't 100% trust his words at the time, but if Week 3 means anything, we certainly should believe in that going forward.
In the team's 24-20 win over the visiting Steelers, Wilson received eight attempts inside the red zone, according to Pro Football Reference. He converted two for touchdowns without one of those originating from inside the 10.
Since Tevin Coleman went down in Week 1, the second-year back has taken 13 red zone carries for 31 yards and 4 touchdowns over the last two games. His backfield mates, Breida and Mostert, have combined for 4 carries, 19 yards and zero touchdowns in that same time span.
Thanks to his involvement in the red zone, Wilson has ranked as the RB9 and RB13 over the last two weeks in standard formats. Mostert was the highest-scoring back in Week 2, but that was the result of a long catch-and-run for a score. Wilson's usage is much more reliable, particularly in games where the Niners will find themselves scoring multiple touchdowns.
Until Coleman returns, and likely beyond then, if you can trust anyone to produce startable games it's probably Wilson. But given the shared workload, this is a spot better avoided in daily formats.
The Brees-less Saints
Similar to Shanahan, Wilson and the San Francisco backfield, there was a lot of talk around coach Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints' quarterback situation without Drew Brees. Prior to their Week 3 game against Seattle, New Orleans played it relatively close to the vest but did give a little reason for doubt around Teddy Bridgewater as the unquestioned starter. That was until Sunday morning, when Bridgewater was named the featured quarterback over offensive weapon Taysom Hill.
During the Saints' Week 3 win, Bridgewater mostly managed the game, throwing just 27 passes, but he did pass for two scores. One of those was on a one-yard strike to Michael Thomas, marking one of Bridgewater's two completions in the red zone. He also rushed once, which is something Hill did not do once inside the 20. In fact, he had just a single rush in the entire game.
Most of the rushing was done by Alvin Kamara, who pretty much dominated the red zone touches against the Seahawks. He received five of the team's seven rushing attempts there, in addition to one catch on one target for eight yards. Per Al Zeidenfeld, his six red zone opportunities trailed only two other backs and Mike Evans.
Furthermore, Kamara's five rushes had an average start around the seven-yard line. The dynamic back garnered three inside the five and one at the goal line.
Kamara was well under-owned in Week 3, in large part due to the uncertainty around the quarterback position and the threat of a drop in offensive efficiency as a whole. Don't expect that to hold up as long as Brees is out, even against a tough Dallas Cowboys rush defense for slates that include the Sunday night matchup. And as for season-long owners, hold on to Kamara because he's basically worth a king's ransom at this point.
The Giants Under Daniel Jones
The New York Giants made a change of their own at quarterback, but we knew well in advance that Daniel Jones would be the man under center over Eli Manning. What was surprising was how well he played in his first NFL start. Jones became the first rookie since 1970 to throw for 300 passing yards and 2 touchdowns and also run for 2 scores in the Giants' comeback over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In his historic effort, Jones attempted eight passes in the red zone, and his two rushes led the team. Saquon Barkley went down with injury and his replacement, Wayne Gallman, ran one time for one yard, coming up three yards short of the end zone. The 6'5" Jones scampered for two seven-yard scores en route to 34.24 FanDuel points and over 34 in standard scoring.
On the receiving end, Jones favored Sterling Shepard (nine) and Evan Engram (eight) in total targets, but in scoring territory he distributed the ball across five targets, including Barkley before his departure. Russell Shepard led the way with three targets while Sterling caught his only target for a seven-yard touchdown. Engram failed to haul in either of his two looks.
A lot of this is a result of the Giants operating in catch-up mode late, but we should be in for more scrambles from Jones for starters. In his days at Duke, Jones showed off his athleticism with 1,323 career rushing yards for 17 touchdowns. He had 14 rushing scores in his freshman and sophomore years alone. That dual-threat ability will make him a waiver wire pick-up and a streaming option across both season-long and daily leagues.
As far as his weapons are concerned, not much will change outside of the running back situation. Engram will be a red zone target from his tight end role, and Sterling Shepard will get work close out of the slot. Russell Shepard could be involved in negative game scripts as well, but Golden Tate's return looms for Week 5.
Either way, we can expect more fantasy-friendly things from these Giants in the near future.
The Vikings' Pass Defense
The Minnesota Vikings boast an elite defense. No one would argue that, and the numbers fail to refute it as well.
In giving up just 15.7 points per game, the Vikings are fifth in scoring defense and have held their first three opponents to 21 or fewer points. They are ninth as a unit in our power rankings, and they are top 10 against the rush (fifth) and pass (ninth). However, when teams get in close they've found one way of capitalizing: through the air.
According to Sharp Football Stats' defensive situational ranks, the Vikings are 30th in pass success rate (71%) against in the red zone. They are better than only the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, and on 14 plays, they have allowed 5 total touchdowns with 4 of those on 11 pass attempts from Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Derek Carr. Three more plays went for at least a first down.
One touchdown and one first down have gone to running backs, while all four touchdowns were to receivers with only one (a two-yard catch by Julio Jones) from fewer than 11 yards out.
Minnesota has upcoming games against the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. Red zone targets like Allen Robinson, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor are in play, especially for tournament lineups in DFS.
Again, our last trend is a full snapshot of each team's pass and run rate in the red zone, as well as their success rate in those two facets, per Sharp Football Stats.
|Team||Pass Rate||Pass Success||Run Rate||Run Success||Team||Pass Rate||Pass Success||Run Rate||Run Success|
For teams like Washington and the Miami Dolphins, the lean towards passing has just about everything to do with consistently negative game scripts and below-average running backs. The New York Jets, albeit in a limited sample, are a surprise team near the top as they have turned a pair of Le'Veon Bell runs into eight yards (four yards each).
Of the top eight teams in red zone rushing rate, five have actually been above league average in rushing success rate. The Denver Broncos are one of the more surprising teams to be above league average in passing rate despite sitting at a 70% success rate on 20 rushing attempts. But Denver's lost all three of their games so far, and they have trailed at the end of 10 of their 12 quarters played.
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.