Keith Lott of WeTalkFantasySports.com breaks down how Fantasy Football owners can use red-zone targets to find value on Draft Day.
There were just nine players targeted 20-plus times in the red-zone in 2016, led by Jordy Nelson‘s 29 red-zone targets. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers also targeted Davante Adams 20 times inside the 20-yard line. Sam Bradford threw toward Kyle Rudolph 24 times inside the red zone and he was the only TE on that list.
Jordy Nelson and Anquan Boldin racked up 100-plus yards inside the red zone.
When we moved even closer to the end zone, Nelson saw 18 of his 29 RZ targets from inside the 10-yard line, which led to nine touchdowns. Saints WR Michael Thomas (six) and Colts WR Donte Moncrief (six) were the only others to catch more than five touchdowns inside the 10.
In Atlanta, QB Matt Ryan‘s favorite target is WR Julio Jones, but it was Devonta Freeman (20%) who saw the majority of targets inside the 20-yard line. Five other Falcons saw a higher percentage of targets in the red zone than Jones. Inside the 10, it was Justin Hardy (20%) who received the most targets — Jones and TE Jacob Tamme each had 6 targets.
Targets are great, but you have to complete the catch for it to mean anything. Brandon Marshall (7%), Seth Roberts (40%) & Odell Beckham (42%) struggled to catch their 20+ targets. Nobody saw a higher percentage of their teams red zone targets than OBJ (34.4%). Rudolph (32.4%) and Jason Witten (30.2%) were the only others above 30%.
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We’ll ignore Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce because they are already considered elite players. Let’s see how the FantasyPros’ “experts” rank the rest of the bunch.
5 Wide Receivers Expected To Improve In 2017
Brandon Marshall, N.Y. Giants: From Jets/Ryan Fitzpatrick to Giants/Eli Manning, he is no longer the #1 option but he has had to deal with Eric Decker stealing RZ targets for a while now so if he can improve on that 35% catch rate in the red zone, he should have a much better year. FantasyPros consensus rankings has him 20 spots higher (WR29) than his 2016 finish (WR49).
Allen Robinson, Jacksonville: The Jaguars seem to be shifting towards a run first offense after drafting Leonard Fournette and improving that O-Line. If that means improved and sustained drives that lead to more red zone opportunities, that’s a good thing. Blake Bortles was actually pretty impressive inside the 20 yard line, despite the fact that Robinson caught just 8 of his 22 targets last year. He finished in the top 30 last year and FantasyPros ranks him WR16 heading into 2017.
Devin Funchess, Carolina: Just a 20% catch rate in the RZ but three of them were scores. The addition of rookies Christian McCaffery/Curtis Samuels scare me away from the Panthers 3rd year WR. The “experts” disagree and rank him WR78 despite finishing last year as WR88.
Chris Conley, Kansas City: Jeremy Maclin is gone and that will open up 10 RZ targets from last year but he still is behind Kelce/Hill as the Chiefs #3 passing option. Finished as WR81 and ranked as WR71.
Amari Cooper, Oakland: Did not catch one RZ touchdown despite all the success the Raiders had in 2016. Michael Crabtree/Seth Roberts saw a combined 46 RZ targets. That being said, he was still a top WR2 in fantasy football and is just a couple RZ receptions (29.4% catch) in the end zone away from finishing 2017 as a WR1 – draft with confidence! (Gonos has Cooper ranked seventh in his Wide Receiver Rankings.)
9 Players Expected To Regress In 2017
Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati: Finished 2016 as WR34, Lafell caught four of his 6 TDs in the RZ and saw a team high 20 targets thanks to injuries to A.J. Green/Tyler Eifert. He falls 58 spots and ranks as WR92 heading into 2017.
Seth Roberts, Oakland: As stated above, Roberts was a RZ favorite of Raiders QB Derek Carr. I would imagine this did not make Cooper very happy and if Oakland is serious about being a championship team, they will need to target their top receiver in the end zone. Roberts was a TD dependent player in 2016 finishing as WR72 and is ranked as WR116 this summer.
Jermaine Kearse, Seattle: He caught just one of his 16 targets. Doug Baldwin also had 16 targets but caught 11 of them for 8 touchdowns! Kearse could have a better year if he comes down with the ball in the end zone, but I imagine he will go undrafted in most leagues. He finished as WR80 and being ranked as WR121.
Julian Edelman, New England: PPR gold, but touchdowns are always important. He led the Pats with 17.8% of Tom Brady‘s RZ targets, but that’s the problem, his 15 RZ targets led the team. Brady will throw the ball to anyone wearing a Patriots uniform. Have no fear though, Edelman was still WR14 last year with just 3 touchdowns! Draft with confidence despite his WR25 ranking. I will gladly take him over Sammy Watkins, Terrelle Pryor and Larry Fitzgerald.
Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia: No RZ touchdowns last year despite leading the team in targets. The Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to Jordan Matthews. They also added a goalline beast in LeGarrette Blount. Ignore him despite being ranked ahead of Robert/Kearse at WR98.
Marvin Jones, Detroit: He was third on the Lion in RZ targets behind Boldin/Tate and could find himself there again, with RB Theo Riddick jumping him. However, last year Boldin caught 7 RZ touchdowns and caught 16 of his 24 targets. If just a handful of those go toward Jones, they could turn into a few more scores. Jones was WR42 heading into year 1 with the Lions but now is ranked WR51. I would draft Jones ahead of Rams rookie Mike Williams who is going a round earlier.
Michael Crabtree, Oakland: One thing is for sure — if Derek Carr can start converting in the red zone, the Raiders are going to be unbeatable. Carr completed less than 50% of his 92 attempts inside the 20 yard line and just 37% inside the 10. The production could easily be reproduced on Crabtree’s end though for a third straight season. I like him right at his WR20 ranking heading into 2017 with the upside to finish as a WR1 again. However, his ADP is lower than I expected and if you can still get him at the backend of the 4th round come draft season, that is a steal!
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver: QB Trevor Semien had the 10th most pass attempts inside the 10 yard line last year but just 8 TDs. Only Kirk Cousins was worse. That’s the problem, Sanders is only as valuable as Semien allows. Sanders is as safe a low end WR2 there is though so draft him with confidence and as WR26 I would much rather have Sanders than Donte Moncrief (WR28).
Antonio Gates, San Diego: He managed to catch 7 RZ touchdowns at at 36 but he will be a 37 year old TE before the season starts. Hunter Henry caught 8 RZ TDs on fewer targets. There is a reason Gates is ranked as TE20 this summer.
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Red-zone targets are a great stat to look at from season to season, and we thank Keith Lott for posting this article for our readers!
Brandon Marshall Photo Credit: Brook Ward