As we continue to lay the foundation for the fantasy football landscape for 2022 we are following up our look at league and team performance in the red zone last season, and spilling that over into individual player analysis.
Yesterday, we laid out which running backs ran hot or cold in the red zone in 2021 in hopes of finding primary regression candidates. We went through the methodology in that post, so I won’t double down here in the intro. Go and check that one out for the lead-in.
Today, we are doing the same for wide receivers, using the top-75 wideouts in current ADP excluding rookies and players who missed all of 2021.
2021 WR Red Zone Fantasy Points Vs. Expectation
|WR||RZ FF Pts||Exp. Pts||(+/-)|
|Amon-Ra St. Brown||33.2||31.4||1.8|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||31.2||29.8||1.4|
|Michael Pittman Jr.||39.6||39.7||-0.1|
|Laviska Shenault Jr.||5||22.7||-17.7|
Two of the top players here outproducing their expectations are proven touchdown mavens in DK Metcalf and Adam Thielen. I highlighted both as options I want to target in best ball formats only due to their touchdown dependency to produce relevant games, but each has a larger sample now of winning near the paint.
Metcalf was seventh in fantasy points generated in the red zone despite ranking 14th in expected points. Of his 19 red zone targets, Metcalf converted nine (47.4%) into scores, ranking second among wideouts. Metcalf is of course losing Russell Wilson this season, who has the most end zone pass attempts over the past four years.
Thielen is literally the Aaron Paul meme when it comes to finding the end zone at an absurd rate.
Last year, Thielen turned 53.9% of his red zone targets into touchdowns, the highest rate among all players with double-digit opportunities. The league rate was 27.2% among those players. On end zone targets, Thielen caught seven of eight for scores (87.5%), leading the league in conversion rate on those targets. The league rate was 39.9% on those targets. Over the past two seasons, Thielen has converted a blistering rate of 20-of-28 end zone targets.
You knew Cooper Kupp would be near the top of the list after scoring 16 times a year ago. While Kupp did run hot over expectation, he also paced the position in expected points. While there will no doubt be natural regression here that we covered earlier this summer, if the Rams remain as pass-heavy near the end zone in 2022 as they were a year ago, then there is still a large opportunity here to be near the league leaders again.
Another interior wideout finds himself in the top five from a year ago in Hunter Renfrow. Renfrow snagged nine red zone scores on 23 targets (39.1%) after turning 4-of-16 (25%) of those targets for scores over his first two years in the league. Renfrow was seventh in expected points as well, receiving targets in the end zone (catching six) after receiving just seven end zone targets over his first two seasons.
Renfrow’s slot role allows him freedom on option routes, but it will be interesting to see how much volume he sustains with the Raiders adding an elite red zone presence in Davante Adams. Adams was third again last season in expected red zone points after leading the position in 2020.
Deebo Samuel had arguably the most unique season any player has had at the position in 2021, so Samuel out-kicking his expectations in the red zone is par for that course. Samuel checked in just 25th at the position in expected red zone points.
Samuel accrued just nine red zone targets (tied for 79th in the league), with just four of those targets coming from inside of the 10-yard line and just two coming in the end zone. Samuel did tally 14 red zone rushing attempts, but just one of those carries came from inside of the 5-yard line among the 14 team attempts from that area of the field. Samuel ended up scoring 11 of his 14 touchdowns last year from 10 yards out or further while 53.9% of all NFL touchdowns are scored from inside of 10 yards. Samuel scored eight touchdowns above expectation in 2021, trailing only Austin Ekeler (nine), but Ekeler still ranked eighth in overall projected scores based on where their touches came from while Samuel checked in 55th.
Elijah Moore closed his rookie season fifth in points over expectation, ending the year 20th in red zone fantasy production despite ranking 58th among the players above. Moore scored six times over 11 games, with all but one of those touchdowns coming from 15 yards or further out. The rookie wideout had just seven total red zone targets (four for scores) with just two coming from inside of the 10-yard line and three coming in the end zone.
No rookie lived on the big play like Ja’Marr Chase did in 2021. Chase caught eight of his 13 touchdowns from 32 yards or further from the end zone. His splash-play ability was a huge part of why the Bengals had such a low volume of red zone plays to begin with a year ago as Cincinnati scored a league-high 21 touchdowns from outside of the red zone. That was able to counter Chase ranking 31st among wideouts in expected red zone points. When the Bengals did reach the red zone and threw the ball into the end zone, Chase was still the catalyst. He led the Bengals with 14 end zone targets, 12 red zone targets, and six targets inside of the 10. Chase should be a sound bet to see his dependency on long touchdowns come down while the Bengals inversely have more scoring opportunities near the end zone.
When looking at wideouts that fell below the expectations of their opportunity, we see a lot of teammate pairings that highlight some overall negative situations.
All three primary Denver wide receivers in Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, and Jerry Jeudy are here. Two Jaguars wideouts in Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault are at the tail end of things, while both Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney were below expectations.
It is easy to correlate those performances as hindered by offensive conditions in 2021, especially since all of those names were all still subpar in expected points outside of Jones.
Then we have the trio of A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, and Rondale Moore here, giving us a real chicken or the egg dynamic with Kyler Murray and his weapons from a year ago. DeAndre Hopkins was more than fine near the top of the list, but Murray still has Moore and Green on the roster as targets he is counting on to a degree in 2022.
Green converted just 1-of-11 targets from inside of the 10-yard line for a score (league rate was 55.2%) while also converting just 1-of-11 targets in the end zone. Moore had just eight carries with an added five rushing attempts in the red zone, but his only touchdown as a rookie was a 77-yard broken play.
Marquise Brown, who Arizona just acquired, was also near the bottom of the league last season. Brown was 44th above in red zone points despite ranking 21st in expected points. The positive news is that Brown was at least above expectation in both seasons prior to last, a year in which his season fell apart after Lamar Jackson was lost for the remainder of the season. Brown turned just 2-of-16 red zone targets into scores last year after 8-of-22 his first two years in the league. He converted just 4-of-12 end zone targets after rates of 44.4% and 46.2% in his first two seasons.
One player that consistently has struggled to max out his opportunities near the paint is Mike Williams, which is odd for his archetype. But even in his breakout season a year ago, Williams was once again below his expectations in output, he just had more expected output than ever.
Williams was 10th among all wideouts in expected points in the red zone but checked in 24th in actual points. This was the third straight season that he fell below expectation in this area of the field, converting 4-of-19 red zone targets (21.1%) for scores, which was 47th in the league among players with double-digit targets. Williams also only secured 4-of-14 end zone targets (28.6%). After converting 6-of-13 red zone targets (46.2%) and 7-of-12 end zone targets (58.3%) in 2018 Williams has since converted 6-of-44 (13.6%) red zone targets and 7-of-38 (18.4%) end zone targets.
The good news is that he keeps seeing a lot of these opportunities, but if the Chargers regress from their hyper-efficient pace in reaching the red zone from a year ago, then Williams will need to be more efficient with his looks to avoid being a best ball only type of option at his current cost.
- Playing just 51% of the offensive snaps a year ago, Gabriel Davis was 15th above in expected points in the red zone.
- Mecole Hardman (20th), Van Jefferson (22nd), and Randall Cobb (24th) were all top-25 in expected points in the red zone, all are attached to strong quarterbacks, and all are very cheap to select currently on best ball rosters.
- Through 26 NFL games, Jerry Jeudy has scored just 3.2 fantasy points in the red zone, Jeudy did not even receive an end zone target in 2021.
- Only Adam Theilen (83.3%) converted a higher rate of targets for touchdowns inside of the 10-yard line than Jaylen Waddle (75%) among wideouts in 2021. Tyreek Hill (66.7%) was third.