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.
For example, over the past decade, a carry from the 1-yard has been worth an average of 3.3 fantasy points, but a carry from the 10-yard line dips to 0.77 fantasy points on average and down to 0.53 points from the 19-yard line.
With that, the next step is then 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.
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 condensed story for the passing game is that over the past decade, 66.3% of all passing touchdowns have come from inside of the red zone while 65.1% of those red zone passing touchdowns have come from inside of the 10-yard line (which make up 43.1% of all passing touchdowns). Passing touchdown rates climb the closer the target is 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||0.0948|
|Inside 5-Yard Line||0.0517|
We are starting with wide receivers, but compared to passing and rushing attempts on the individual player level, targets in the red zone have the lowest correlation year-over-year while progressively decreasing the closer you get to the goal line. When it comes to the true red zone opportunities that we care about the most (inside of the 10- and 5-yard lines and targets in the end zone), 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. Our list below is the current top-60 wideouts (excluding all rookies and Courtland Sutton, who have no sample last season) in ADP in FFPC formats.
2020 WR Red Zone Fantasy Points Vs. Expectation
|WR||RZ FF Pts||Exp. Pts||(+/-)|
|Laviska Shenault Jr.||28.9||23.1||5.8|
|Henry Ruggs III||0||5||-5|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||10.4||17.6||-7.2|
|Michael Pittman Jr.||9.3||18.1||-8.8|
Red Zone OVERACHIEVERS
I have done a similar post to this over the past two seasons and you can find last year’s here. For regression purposes, you can see that a huge chunk of the overachievers from a year ago had an immediate step back this past season. Now, there are players that are simply better in this area of the field than others are, but this is a great way to diagnose true touchdown regression.
Last year, a player like Cooper Kupp massively out-kicked his actual scoring opportunities and took a step back this past season. This season, he had obvious touchdown regression and although he did underperform his actual opportunity near the end zone in 2020, his loss of touchdown production truly was opportunity driven. Using yardage gained into touchdown conversion is strong at the team level, but here is where it can get you into trouble on the player level, especially when hunting for in-season regression via trading and in DFS. Kupp went from 10th in true red zone opportunity at his position in 2019 down to 26th in 2020. He simply wasn’t overly unlucky on his scoring opportunities; his main scoring problem came from not being used as much near the end zone as the previous season.
Two players scored over 100 fantasy points in the red zone last season and sit as the top two players here.
Davante Adams has been a prolific touchdown scorer after a slow start to his career and has regularly out-performed in this department, but even last season dunked on his previous efficiency. In 2020, Adams caught a career-high 18 touchdowns in the regular season while setting career-highs with 28 red zone targets and an 82.1% catch rate on his red zone targets (his previous high was 68.2% in 2017).
He also had a career-high 19 targets from inside of the 10-yard line after his previous high was 10 back in 2016 while he also had 16 end zone targets come his way. Adams turned 11 of those 16 end zone targets into touchdowns (68.8%) after converting 35.5% of those targets over his career prior. Adams has scored double-digit touchdowns in four of the past five seasons and is an elite touchdown scorer even with regression factored in, but should be expected to come back down to his career norms even if Aaron Rodgers is back in Green Bay.
The other player here at the top is Adam Thielen. Thielen caught a career-high 14 touchdowns last season. That touchdown production did some masking overall that his 4.9 receptions and 61.7 yards per game were far from the 2017-2018 pace. Touchdowns alone accounted for 33.1% of Thielen’s fantasy production, the highest rate among the top-90 scoring wideouts in the league, while his receptions and receiving yardage per game were 28th and 29th in the league.
He got there because he led the NFL with 20 end zone targets, converting 13 (65%) of them for scores after converting 41.2% of those targets for touchdowns prior to last season. Before 2020, Thielen had 14 career touchdowns on end zone targets. All but one of Thielen’s touchdowns (92.9%) came on targets already in the end zone in 2020 after 56% of his career scores prior to last season were solely on catches already in the end zone. If Thielen loses his grip on that type of end zone volume and his conversion rate regresses, his rankings in receptions and yardage per game will be illuminated. Thielen’s teammate Justin Jefferson was just 31st in red zone expected points (with no outlier efficiency in the department), something we should expect to increase in his second season.
The Titans were the first team in the modern era to convert over 70% of the red zone trips into touchdowns in back-to-back seasons and A.J. Brown’s influence in that area of the field has helped the cause. Brown has been one of the most hyper-efficient wide receivers in nearly every department since entering the league and the red zone has been no different. Brown was eighth among all wide receivers in fantasy points scored inside of the red zone, but was 24th in expected points. Through two seasons, Brown has converted 11-of-20 targets (55%) in the red zone while league rate has been 26.6% over that span.
Inside of the 10-yard line, Brown has turned just 10 career targets into seven touchdowns while turning 13 career end zone targets into seven scores. Brown still has the potential to ramp up his overall career target opportunity, but the Titans and all of their offensive components are basically the Aaron Paul meme in terms of efficiency the past two seasons.
A player we normally do not draft for his touchdown upside but was strong in that department last season was Keenan Allen. Allen scored eight touchdowns (his most since his rookie season) and was fourth in scoring over red zone expectancy last season. Allen ranked fifth in red zone fantasy production among wide receivers but was 17th in expected output. Allen turned in a career-high 43.8% of his red zone targets (7-of-16) into scores after a 25.3% rate over his career prior but had just four targets inside of the 10-yard line which matched a career low. Allen caught a career-high six touchdowns on end zone targets and converted 54.5% of his end zone targets into scores after 35.8% over his career prior to last season.
The same thing can be said for Robert Woods, who people have long waited to find the end zone more. Woods scored a career-high eight touchdowns in 2020 and was 10th in red zone fantasy production despite ranking 30th in expected points. Woods finally ran hot despite his usage not really changing. Woods had just 10 red zone targets with an additional four carries and had just two targets and two carries inside of the 10-yard line. He also had just four end zone targets all season, but he caught all four touchdowns.
Red Zone UNDERACHIEVERS
Mike Williams was dead last in this same category last season and here he is once again. Williams has one strong red zone season under his belt in 2018 (18.7 points over expectation) but has just run cold here the past two seasons. Williams was still only just 29th in red zone expectancy above, but he closed the season 56th in actual points scored among these 60 wideouts. Williams converted just one of 10 red zone targets for scores. On end zone targets, Williams has converted just 3-of-24 for touchdowns the past two seasons after converting 7-of-12 in 2018 despite seeing an identical 12 targets in the paint in each of the past three seasons. We highlighted Williams as having undervalued target opportunity overall, but he keeps seeing a significant amount of end zone targets regardless of his overall volume to keep the lights on for a scoring spike despite his output the past two years.
Amari Cooper was third in points over expectation here in 2019 and regression came for him in 2020. An obvious contributing factor was the loss of Dak Prescott as Cooper closed the season 40th in red zone output above despite being ninth in actual expected opportunity. After setting career-highs across the board in 2019 in conversion rates in the red zone, 10-yard line, and in the end zone, Cooper converted just 3-of-14 targets in the red zone and 3-of-10 end zone targets into scores last season. Cooper is perhaps the trickiest potential regression candidate here since his 2020 season falls back in line with career output. His 2019 scoring season could continue to just be an outlier, but if his 2020 opportunity remains consistent with the return of Prescott, there is still massive upside.
We highlighted how conservative Washington was near the end zone last season and it has had an impact on Terry McLaurin’s scoring upside. Through two seasons, McLaurin had to score seven of his 11 touchdowns from outside of the red zone with just two from inside of the 10-yard line. Even when Washington did try to use McLaurin near the paint, things went poorly as McLaurin was 23rd in expected red zone scoring, yet closed the season 50th among the players above. After converting 40% (4-of-10) of his end zone targets as a rookie, McLaurin secured just 1-of-7 last season.
D.J. Moore has yet to score more than four touchdowns in a season. He has not gotten a lot of true scoring opportunities through three seasons, but he has also consistently undershot his red zone expectancy in all three seasons. Moore was just 41st in expected points above but if you are looking for a ray of hope, Moore received 10 end zone targets in 2020 after 10 combined over his previous two seasons. Moore failed to catch a single touchdown on any of those 10 targets while the league rate on end zone targets was 41.6% and was 38.7% for the wide receiver position.
Another player that was goose-egged on throws into the end zone was Jerry Jeudy, who caught none of his seven end zone targets as a rookie. Jeudy did not even have a red zone reception as a rookie. Jeudy’s 58.2% catchable target rate was the second-lowest among all wideouts with 50-plus targets on the season behind A.J. Green, so that is not overly crazy all things considered, but Jeudy was also just 56th out of these 60 wideouts in expected points in the red zone and that was without Courtland Sutton around.
Jeudy was not the only first-round wide receiver to have zero fantasy points in the red zone. The first wideout taken in last year’s draft, Henry Ruggs, also was blanked in that area of the field. Ruggs was a complete afterthought for the Raiders in that area of the field, receiving just two red zone looks all season (one inside of the 10-yard line) with just two end zone targets. Derek Carr was seventh in red zone pass attempts (78) as well. Those two rookies will be looking for extended role changes near the end zone heading into year two if they are going to break out.
With just six touchdowns, only 12.5% of the PPR points DeAndre Hopkins scored came via touchdown production. That was the lowest rate of all top-12 scoring wideouts last season. Hopkins has been a top-5 scoring wideout per game in each of the past four seasons and in five of the past six, but his touchdown output has sagged the past two seasons after scoring 13 and 11 times over the 2017-2018 seasons. After 26 and 18 end zone targets over those two seasons, Hopkins has had just nine in each of the past two seasons. After ranking 17th in expected points in the red zone in 2019, Hopkins dipped down to 19th last season while he fell well short of that expectation, closing 43rd in actual points scored.
Michael Thomas did not score a touchdown in the regular season last year in his limited sample, so it is not surprising to see him near the bottom. Thomas has yet to have a double-digit touchdown season yet through the air even with attachment to Drew Brees in large part because he is not generating longer touchdowns frequently. I will touch on that again coming up, but we have a 12 game sample of Thomas playing without Brees (or Brees missing significant time) over the course of his career and Thomas has just three touchdowns scored in those games.