Rich Hribar

The Worksheet

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Red Zone Worksheet

Friday, June 29, 2018

Last week, we kicked off the summer Worksheet series with a look at scoring, drives and plays. This week, we’re extending that scoring branch over into a look at red-zone productivity.


The red zone is vital because it’s where fantasy football money is made. They even dedicated an entire channel for you to watch on Sundays labeled after the moniker. 72.1 percent of all offensive touchdowns over the past 20 years have been scored inside the red zone. The tricky part of red-zone analysis is that it's often presented as if we arbitrarily designated the 20-yard line to be the Holy Grail of touchdowns. It’s no secret that the closer you get to the end zone, the more likely you are to put the ball in the end zone.



53.1 percent of all offensive touchdowns have come inside the 10-yard line over this 20-year span. 73.6 percent of all red-zone touchdowns occur inside the 10-yard line, while 47.7 percent of all red-zone touchdowns come inside the 5-yard line. Given the addition of automatic spots for defensive penalties in the end zone, it’s not a surprise to see the 1-yard line hold the main spot for TD production, but the gap it has over the field is staggering, being nearly three times as valuable than just the next yard out.


A week ago, we talked about how offensive touchdown production cratered in 2017 and, of course, the lack of production in this area of the field payed a huge part in that decline. There were 172 fewer offensive plays run from inside the 5-yard line in 2017 compared to 2016 with 81 fewer touchdowns scored. Those 860 offensive snaps from inside the 5-yard line were a league low since 2001. We inherently are aware that a touch or target from the 19-yard line isn’t as valuable for fantasy purposes as one from the 1-yard line, yet we still stir all of those opportunities up in one big pot. If the 20-yard line is the red zone, then the 10-yard line is the green zone, and the 5-yard line is the gold zone.


The other inherently tricky thing when presenting red-zone production with an eye toward predictability is that red-zone opportunity year over year is among the most volatile we have.


Year Over Year Red Zone Opportunity Correlation

FieldTm PlaysPlayer PaAttPlayer TgtPlayer RuAtt
Inside RZ 0.0846 0.4403 0.2557 0.4177
Inside 10 0.0418 0.2968 0.0935 0.3482
Inside 5 0.0203 0.1225 0.0481 0.2367


The way to read this is that just 8.46 percent of the following season’s red-zone opportunity for a team can be explained by their previous-year total and so on down the line and across the table. Predicting year-over-year team opportunity is a nightmare, and that rolls right into individual player opportunity. If you squint, you can talk yourself into the entirety of red-zone opportunity holding some water year-over-year for passing and rushing work, but when we get to those green and gold zones that we truly care about, yearly rollover can just about be thrown in the shredder. Scoring touchdowns is more about opportunity that anything else, and you shouldn’t take too much stock in adjusting your outlook on players solely based on spikes and lulls in the red zone.


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While placing too much stock in prior-season red-zone production is thin ice to skate on, we still don’t have to throw everything out when searching for a few signals. But since we’re aware that those opportunities are attached to a stick of dynamite, I’m going to spare you a post solely about last season’s individual red-zone performances. Instead, we’re going to shift gears and look at players that have been most reliant on red-zone opportunities and those who have shown a true skill in creating end-zone trips.


Those Who Have Needed Short Scores


PlayerReTDIn10TDTD%Avg. ReTD
Justin Hardy 7 7 100.0% 4.9
Jack Doyle 12 9 75.0% 7.3
Danny Amendola 19 14 73.7% 7.8
Michael Thomas 14 10 71.4% 8.4
Cole Beasley 20 14 70.0% 10.9
Jordan Reed 22 15 68.2% 8.8
Ed Dickson 12 8 66.7% 8.6
Austin Hooper 6 4 66.7% 23.8
Jarvis Landry 23 15 65.2% 12.1
Marqise Lee 8 5 62.5% 11.1
Austin Seferian-Jenkins 10 6 60.0% 15.9
Terrelle Pryor 5 3 60.0% 15.4
Kyle Rudolph 36 21 58.3% 11.7
Ben Watson 42 24 57.1% 10.9
Willie Snead 7 4 57.1% 11.1
Mohamed Sanu 20 11 55.0% 14.0
Dwayne Allen 20 11 55.0% 12.8
Emmanuel Sanders 33 18 54.5% 18.7
Allen Robinson 22 12 54.5% 15.3
Julian Edelman 24 13 54.2% 18.9
Randall Cobb 39 21 53.8% 16.1
Jimmy Graham 69 36 52.2% 12.9


This is a group of pass catchers who have caught more than half of their career scores on targets inside the 10-yard line, where 40.8 percent of all touchdown passes were thrown over the past 20 seasons and 43 percent over the past five seasons.


Given his athletic profile, Jordan Reed is a bit of a surprising name here, but he hasn’t been a major big-play asset in the passing game like you’d believe. That may stem from compiling injuries or not. Reed has been more of a reception asset, averaging just 10.2 yards per catch for his career, while just two of his 22 touchdowns have come from outside the red zone. Fighting through a plethora of ailments in 2017, Reed was having his worst season to date, averaging career lows in yards per reception (7.8) and yards per game (35.2). Entering 2018 at age 28, Reed gets a new quarterback in Alex Smith who reinvented himself as a downfield passer a year ago. That may not hold up, but Smith has shown he can utilize a tight end advantage with Travis Kelce and Vernon Davis.


Jimmy Graham is coming off a season in which he was practically Seattle's goal-line back. Graham caught seven touchdowns inside the 5-yard line with four coming from one or two yards out. His 50.6 PPR points inside the 5-yard line were the second most a tight end has scored over the past 20 seasons, trailing only Bubba Franks in 2001. Graham averaged a career-low 9.1 yards per reception and just 32.5 receiving yards per game, his lowest marks in both areas since his rookie season in 2010. To go along with the addition of Graham, the Packers released Jordy Nelson, who produced like a tight end last year. Despite his pedestrian yardage in Aaron Rodgers' seven games, Nelson still managed six touchdowns with five of those coming from 10 yards and in, where Graham led the NFL in targets (16). Even if he fails to regain his production downfield, Graham can be identical to what he was a year ago – a glorified goal-line option – and still make a fantasy impact at a depressed tight end position.


With the emergence of Adam Thielen to go with Stefon Diggs, Kyle Rudolph was once again relegated to a touchdown-dependent fantasy option. After a 132-target 2016 season, Rudolph saw 51 fewer targets in 2017. After pacing the position with 8.3 targets per game in 2016, Rudolph’s 5.1 targets per game ranked 15th.


Here's where you can easily spot who has benefited most from Julio Jones struggling to convert short-scoring opportunities and drawing defensive attention. Teammates Justin Hardy, Austin Hooper, and Mohamed Sanu all make the cut on needing to score from short distance.


Danny Amendola will compete with Albert Wilson to soak up the 13 targets that Jarvis Landry left behind in this area of the field. Going back to last week, I believe Miami is due for a more evenly distributed rushing-to-passing touchdown ratio. I want to place bets on Kenyan Drake being the beneficiary, but the best short-term bet is that the Dolphins use a combination of players to make up Landry’s departure rather than just one guy taking over all that vacated opportunity.


Speaking of Landry, he led the league in receptions (10) and touchdowns (nine) from inside the 10-yard line. His longest touchdown reception on the year was nine yards out, so the Browns will have to create far more scoring opportunities for him to roll that production over.


Michael Thomas is the sole alpha wide receiver on this list. Thomas has scored 10 of his 14 touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line with just one coming from longer than 21 yards out. New Orleans was linked to both Jimmy Graham and Jordy Nelson this offseason – two players who thrived near the goal line -- before they signed with other teams, which was huge for Thomas maintaining his feature role in that area of the field. The Saints did bring in Ben Watson, who pops up on the list, but Watson had just three scores from this area of the field in 2015 when he was with New Orleans. Watson is fine deep cut as a TE2 but not someone we should be concerned with pushing Thomas out of a touchdown-scoring gig.


Allen Hurns has been getting a lot of push in the community lately as a potential beneficiary from the lack of options in Dallas, but we probably don’t want to completely forget about Cole Beasley. Beasley is far from a special talent, but he does have three multiple touchdown games over the past two seasons. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s tied for fourth most in the NFL. Also, the last time Dallas was without Dez Bryant, it was Beasley who developed an instant rapport with Dak Prescott, catching five or more passes in 8-of-11 games to open 2016.


32 percent of Andrew Luck’s targets inside the 10-yard line over his past four seasons have gone to tight ends, so it’s not surprising to see both Jack Doyle and Dwayne Allen in this group. In 2017, Doyle became just the second tight end to ever catch over 70 passes in a season and average fewer than 9.0 yards per reception, joining Dennis Pitta from the year prior. Doyle now has direct competition from Eric Ebron. On the plus side, Doyle may get Luck back under center, from whom he caught 59-of-75 targets (78.7 percent) in 2016 for 584 yards and five touchdowns.


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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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