2014 Fantasy Football: Red Zone Targets Statistical Trends

When a team is inside the 20, who is most likely to get the ball?

In the red zone, no one was targeted more than Calvin Johnson last season.

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images North America

The red zone. It’s only 20 yards, but a distance which glues people to their high-def televisions. Heck, a channel pays homage to the landscape. When an offense resides inside their opponent's 20-yard line, you’ll quickly reference your fantasy team(s) to see which player to pull for when a touchdown looms.

The word target is popular term tossed around the fantasy football world, too. It’s easy to review who racked up the most receptions, but it’s going beyond the box score to dissect how many times the quarterback threw to a certain player.

When you combine the two expressions, red zone targets, the metric can provide loads of fantasy-relevant information before the season heats up.

The cream obviously rises to the top in these scenarios. Out of all the wide receivers, Calvin Johnson led the way with 26 targets inside the red zone, which was 30.2 percent of the Lions RZT (red zone targets). Wes Welker was second to Megatron with 24 RTZ (26.1 percent of Denver’s RZT). The big name that has fallen in the receiver rankings this year, Larry Fitzgerald, was fourth with 22 RZT (40 percent of Carson Palmer’s red zone passes).

Much like the WRs, the tight end position is one where there is no surprise at the top: Jimmy Graham. The Saints ‘tight end’ recorded 24 RZT (39.3 percent of Brees’ RZT). Second among TEs, Vernon Davis, had 19 RZT. Jordan Cameron tied Davis, but Cameron had a disadvantage of three different quarterbacks passing to him throughout the season. The next two names may surprise you. Greg Olsen of the Panthers and Delanie Walker of the Titans tallied 17 RZT.

Looking back at 2012 numbers and projecting 2013 success, Eric Decker had the most red zone targets with 25 looks from Peyton Manning. The following season, Decker finished with 23 RZT, the third-most in the NFL. However, this year, I would expect a significant drop in the rankings for Decker with the combination of Geno Smith and Mike Vick throwing him passes for the Jets.

Reliability becomes a large factor for the amount of red zone targets a player receives. Much like a crucial third or fourth down conversion, the quarterback will want a sure-handed teammate in a situation where every play could determine the final outcome. So, it shouldn’t surprise you to find receivers like A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, and Fitzgerald on the top of RZT lists.

As for the 2012 red zone target stats, four of the wide receivers in the top five RZT category concluded 2013 in the top 10 for receiving touchdowns. Looking forward, that would mean that Calvin Johnson, Wes Welker, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, and Dez Bryant should produce double-digit TDs. Though that conclusion won’t shock many, players like Julian Edelman and Keenan Allen are just a couple names among the top 10 RZT from 2013 to keep an eye on for this fantasy football season.

One other name that stood out among wide receivers from the 2013 RZT rankings was Cecil Shorts. In just 13 starts with the Jaguars, Shorts was targeted 16 times inside the 20-yard line and 11 times inside the 10, last season. With Justin Blackmon suspended, again, Shorts is the top receiver on Jacksonville’s depth chart. Shorts’ average draft position of 77.5 a year ago should definitely rise in 2014.

Red zone stats aren’t just for receivers and tight ends. Seeing the amount of carries a running back gets closer to the goal line can help provide some fantasy draft advice once the top backs are off the board.

Two years ago, fantasy experts saw that Stevan Ridley recorded the second-most rushes inside the 20-yard line, behind only Arian Foster. Because of that, Ridley’s average draft position jumped from 56 in 2012 to 17.5 in 2013. Unfortunately, for teams that drafted Ridley, fumbling issues put him in Bill Belichick’s dog house.

Last year, Frank Gore led the league with 58 carries inside the red zone. Marshawn Lynch finished second with 55 attempts. However, both of those running backs have RBBC threats looming over their draft stock.

That brings us to the third name on the red zone rushes list: Le’Veon Bell. Last season, Bell had an ADP of 78.8 overall. The second player named on the Steelers depth chart at running back is LeGarrette Blount. Even a bulldozer like Blount only tallied 23 carries inside the 20 last year with the Patriots (Ridley led New England with 32 red zone carries).

When inside the five-yard line last year, Bell finished in second place with 16 rushes, only five behind Lynch.

If it’s red zone targets you’re looking for, Danny Woodhead led the NFL with 22 RZT in 2013.

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