5 NFL Red Zone Trends to Monitor for Week 15
With 14 weeks in the books, NFL teams have put up 1,003 offensive touchdowns. Of those, 654 have come through the air with the other 349 on the ground, giving us a 65.2% share on the side of passing games.
In the red zone, teams have accounted for 427 passing (38 in Week 13) and 309 rushing scores (28 this past week) inside the 20-yard line. As we are now used to this year, passing touchdowns and overall scores are way down from where they were in 2018, but rushing touchdowns are up by two. Those same scores account for 1,708 fantasy points from passers, 1,854 from rushers, and 2,562 for those on the receiving end of red zone touchdown passes.
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.
Regression for Lamar Jackson?
Lamar Jackson has been outstanding this season, proving himself the top fantasy quarterback and a borderline first-round option next season. Over 13 games, the second-year star has produced a total of 35 touchdowns with 28 through the air and another 7 on the ground. He's also amassed 2,677 passing yards and another 1,000-plus rushing. And for all his efforts, he is the heavy favorite to win this year's NFL MVP award, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
However, the superstar is accounting for touchdowns at a ridiculous rate. According to Pro Football Reference, his 8.1% touchdown rate through the air is tops in the league -- 0.7% above Ryan Tannehill and 3.6% above the league average. The rushing touchdowns make more sense, but in the red zone, Jackson has converted 19 of his 53 attempts for a 35.8% rate while the league is at 23.5%.
In the last five weeks, Jackson's numbers have really shown how he has out-performed his volume via the pass. His 12 touchdown passes are 3 more than the next-closest passer and account for exactly half of his attempts and 66.7% of his completions over that time. Just last week, he had 3 touchdown passes on 25 attempts en route to 145 yards.
Jackson was dinged up this past week, and while he draws good matchups against the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns before meeting the Pittsburgh Steelers, we can expect his passing touchdowns to level off. He's projected for the most FanDuel points of any quarterback, but his $9,000 tag might not be worth the investment on Thursday-to-Monday slates.
Tyler Higbee Is a Thing
Jackson has been doing it all year, but Tyler Higbee has come out of nowhere to spark the Los Angeles Rams' struggling offense of late. With fellow tight end Gerald Everett sidelined, Higbee has served as L.A.'s unquestioned top tight end for the past two weeks. He has managed to turn 19 targets into 14 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown. He's played 72 and 68 snaps, but none have been more important than those that have originated inside the opponent's 20.
Even with Higbee going off in only two games, since Week 10 his eight red zone targets are tied for first in the league with names like Davante Adams, Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore. That puts him above all other tight ends.
Higbee has only one touchdown on five red zone catches, but there's promise of more if Everett remains out (he hasn't practiced). At $5,700, he travels to take on the Dallas Cowboys, who have been hit up for seven passing touchdowns, including two to the Minnesota Vikings' Kyle Rudolph.
Russell Gage's Usage
Over this five-game stretch, Russell Gage is right behind Higbee with seven red zone targets to his credit. The Atlanta Falcons wideout has taken in only three of those passes for 24 yards and a touchdown, but clearly the opportunity is there. We know that Matt Ryan isn't going out of his way to target Julio Jones, and recent news could elevate Gage's chances of scoring even more.
On Monday, it was announced that Calvin Ridley would miss the remainder of the season with an abdomen injury, making Gage the number two wideout in Atlanta for the final stretch. Ridley ends the year with three touchdowns on four red zone catches and seven targets, not to mention 63 total catches.
Gage has been getting some looks, and that shouldn't change ahead of this week's showdown with the stingy San Francisco 49ers. The Falcons will, in all likelihood, be in a negative game script and passing from behind. Plus, the New Orleans Saints did just hang 349 passing yards, 46 points and 5 passing touchdowns on a defense that is expected to be without Richard Sherman. At a cost of $5,400, Gage figures to be a go-to value in most formats. And if he's still out there, he's a great pickup for those looking to replace a receiver in a semifinal matchup.
Target the Buccaneers' Defense
Over the last five weeks, only five defenses have faced 55 or more plays inside in their own 20-yard line. Of those, four have given up 11 touchdowns in that area with three combined turnovers (all interceptions). The fifth team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers' defense has been a very up-and-down unit all year, ranking 10th overall but 3rd against the rush and 18th versus the pass. They've allowed 29 passing touchdowns to only 8 rushing scores, though those numbers are closer to even in the red zone, where they have given up 19 passing to 8 rushing.
However, since Week 10 Tampa has held teams to just eight touchdowns on 58 plays (13.8%). They've turned their opponents over twice on interceptions and twice on fumbles, but the sheer number of plays is bad for their prospects and good for their opponents down the stretch. And that is particularly the case for passing attacks, as they have allowed the third-most pass plays in the red zone over that span.
After what could be a good matchup against David Blough and the Detroit Lions, the Bucs draw Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans for what is championship week in most season-long leagues. In DFS, don't be afraid to target Lions, Texans and Atlanta Falcons over the final three weeks of the regular season.
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|
Inside the opponent's five, the Philadelphia Eagles have refused to throw the ball once on their three such plays. That might have to do with the injury to Jordan Howard and a lack of confidence in a guy like Miles Sanders.
In a surprising move, the Buccaneers have actually ran the ball the most in these situations in that time frame. Their 13 carries are 2 more than any other team, and it gives them a 68% run rate. That's despite a higher success rate (50%) through the air than on the ground (38%).
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.