Following what we can take away from team production in the red zone, we covered that the crux of touchdowns scored in the NFL come from inside of the red zone and that not all red zone touches are created equal. With that, we have been diving into the red zone production versus expectation for fantasy skill players based on their actual opportunities in the red zone as opposed to just blanket red zone stats. So far we have covered the quarterback and running back positions with an eye on spotting some regression candidates in each direction heading into the 2020 season.
You can check out the post on team production linked above to get a more detailed picture of how not all red zone opportunities are equal, but the short story for the passing game is that over the past decade, 65.9% of all passing touchdowns have come from inside of the red zone while 64.3% of those red zone passing touchdowns have come from inside of the 10-yard line (which make up 42.4% of all passing touchdowns). Passing touchdown rates climb the closer the target comes to the end zone. As is the case as always, we always like to take a peek at just how sticky any of these stats can be.
Year-Over-Year Red Zone Target Correlation
|Inside 10-Yard Line||0.0935|
|Inside 5-Yard Line||0.0481|
Compared to passing and rushing attempts on the individual player level, targets in the red zone carry the lowest correlation year-over-year while progressively decreasing the closer you get to the goal line, which has been the story in every one of these posts so far. When it comes to the true red zone opportunities that we care about the most (inside of the 10 and 5-yard lines), the passing-game targets carry the most volatility.
So with everything in place, let us jump into some of the output from a year ago to highlight those who out-produced and fell short of expected output on their actual opportunities per yard line in the red zone. For our player sample, we are using the top-40 wide receivers in current ADP minus A.J. Green since he did not play last season. If there is a wideout you would like to know the results of, that is a deeper play, just reach out to me on Twitter.
2019 WR Red Zone Fantasy Points Vs. Expectation
|WR||RZ FF Pts||Exp. Pts||(+/-)|
No player maxed out their scoring chances from a year ago like Marvin Jones. Jones was 16th among the players above in expected points, but third in actual scoring output. He converted 8-of-14 (57.1%) of his red zone scores into touchdowns after turning 9-of-39 (23.1%) of those opportunities with the Lions over the 2016-2018 seasons. The league conversion rate was 24.9% in 2019. He ran especially hot from 10 yards and out, turning 4-of-7 of those opportunities into scores, where the league conversion rate was at 15.2% on those targets. His Week 7 dominance over the Vikings did not hurt, either. In that game, Jones turned 4-of-5 red zone targets into touchdowns, with those targets coming from the two, three, 10 and 16 yard lines.
If there is a wide receiver efficiency metric, you can bet Michael Thomas is crushing it. No receiver has been as hyper-efficient as Thomas over his first four NFL seasons. Given the quality of production on massive volume a year ago, it is no surprise to see him here. After ranking second in expected red zone points scored in 2018, Thomas paced the position a year ago in both expected points and actual points scored in the red zone. Thomas caught nine touchdowns a year ago. Eight of those came from inside of the red zone, with four from inside of the 10-yard line. Since entering the league in 2016, Thomas leads all players in the league in targets (41) and touchdown receptions (20) inside of the 10-yard line.
You probably do not correlate Amari Cooper with running hot in the red zone, but he out-produced his opportunity at the third-highest rate a year ago. Cooper was 30th in expected red zone points, yet ranked 11th in overall production. His expected point total of 18.6 points was the highest of the Dallas wideouts, but much tighter with Michael Gallup (17.2) and Randall Cobb (15.8) than his output suggests. Cooper had just nine red zone targets, but turned five of them into scores (55.6%) after turning 8-of-40 (20%) career red zone targets into touchdowns over his first four seasons in the league. He did this on just two targets from inside of the 10-yard line, but did lead Dallas with nine total targets in the end zone.
Tyler Lockett’s usage near the goal line did a complete 180 from 2018. After scoring 64.4 fantasy points in the red zone through four seasons, Lockett scored 73.4 points in that area in 2019. Lockett’s conversion rate a year ago (30.4%) was not out of whack with his career-to-date output (28.6%), the biggest difference was all about opportunity. In 2018, Lockett had just 13.3 expected red zone fantasy points on just six total red zone targets. Last year, Lockett led the NFL with 23 red zone targets. Just six of Lockett’s red zone targets came from inside of the 10-yard while, but he did manage 13 end zone targets.
Lockett’s teammate D.K. Metcalf did not run as efficient as Lockett did in his rookie season, but his opportunities should be mentioned. Metcalf was 13th in expected points scored, but 20th in actual output. As a rookie, Metcalf led all players with 18 end zone targets while we highlighted that Russell Wilson has consistently stayed on top of the league in that area.
T.Y. Hilton was another player who ran hot near the goal line a year ago. Hilton led all wide receivers in fantasy points scored inside of the 5-yard line last season with 29.4 points, which accounted for 23.5% of his season-long scoring output. In the quarterback post, we highlighted how pass-heavy the Colts are inside of the 5-yard line under Frank Reich and Hilton has benefited from the play selection. In his two years under Reich, Hilton has nine targets inside of the 5-yard line after receiving just 13 total targets from that area of the field over his first six seasons in the league.
You may be surprised to see Robert Woods actually outproduce his expected point total. Woods had just two touchdowns last season, which made up just 5.2% of his fantasy production, by far the lowest touchdown dependency among top-36 scoring wideouts in 2019. While I would absolutely bet on Woods scoring more than twice in 2020, this does show you the lack of true scoring opportunities he did have a year ago, however. Woods was 27th in expected red zone points, nearly half that of his teammate Cooper Kupp, who maxed out his opportunities.
Woods had just two total end zone targets all season long while he had just one target and two rushing attempts from inside of the 10-yard line. In three years with the Rams, Woods has just 15 end zone targets, and in games played alongside Kupp, Kupp has received 17 end zone targets to 10 for Woods. Woods has proven he is plenty useful for fantasy even without high-end touchdown production, but his lack of opportunities in that department are what has held him back, not poor scoring fortune. As was the case with Lockett, that usage can still spike if the team begins to deploy him differently.
Regression in the NFL can come swift and in unusual fashion. In 2018, Davante Adams was the wideout who outproduced his red zone expectation the most (+48.5 points) and he fell below his expected output in that department for the first time in four seasons a year ago. Adams missed four games Weeks 5-8 to hold his output back, but he did not find the end zone for the time until Week 12.
That six-game scoreless streak was his longest drought since the start of the 2015 season. Over that span, Adams converted zero of his seven red zone opportunities or any of his four end zone targets for touchdowns. Over his final eight games including the postseason, Adams did find the end zone seven times, but he still lagged behind his career conversion rates on his scoring chances, converting 3-of-12 red zone targets, 2-of-5 targets from inside of the 10-yard line and 3-of-8 end zone targets for scores.
Another player who hit hard by the swing of the regression hammer was Mike Williams. Williams was fourth in points over expectation in the red zone in 2018 (+18.7 points) after scoring 10 touchdowns. Last season, Williams was 15th in expected points scored above, but 38th in actual output as he found the end zone just two times despite 12 targets in the end zone.
Joining Williams on the potential oscillation of regression to the mean in a positive sense are Courtland Sutton and Odell Beckham. Sutton was sixth in the league in expected points among wide receivers, yet 19th in scoring output. Sutton ranked fifth in red zone targets (19), 11th in targets inside of the 10-yard line (eight) and tied for sixth in end zone targets (12). The questions for Sutton remain quarterback play firsthand, and if he can sustain the same grip on opportunities with all of the new additions to the Denver offense in 2020.
Beckham was not nearly as strong in expected points above (21st), but checked in 35th in actual output. Beckham converted just one of his 11 red zone targets for touchdowns and just three of his 13 end zone targets for scores in his first season with the Browns.
Bringing this home since we are running out of space to touch on everyone here, JuJu Smith-Schuster had a season to forget in 2019 and it bled over into his red zone output in terms of both expected point totals and actual output. For whatever it is worth, Smith-Schuster led all wide receivers in expected red zone points in 2018.
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