2021 NFL Draft Guide: Red Zone Consistency
Published: Jul 24, 2021, 7:25 PM EDT
There’s a reason that the NFL Red Zone channel is the most popular one every fall. Everyone loves touchdowns. Not only are they important for your favorite team’s chances at winning the game, but they’re also vital to your fantasy team’s chances for winning the match-up. Time in the red zone might be short compared to time on the rest of the field, but it is easily the most important real estate on the field and it’s where a bunch of players make their money and so it’s important we study what teams are doing inside the 20, who’s seeing the looks, and that means for certain players for this year in fantasy terms.
First off, we have to get a grasp on just how many touchdowns are scored inside the 20 across the league. Over the last four seasons, between two-thirds and 70-percent of all touchdowns scored by all teams have come inside the 20 yard line. That percentage goes way up if we’re just talking rushing touchdowns as it’s around 90-percent of all scores on the ground come in the red zone.
All of the data used in the piece is available in the Red Zone Stats tables on Fantasy Alarm.
Starting at quarterback, it’s important to note that the preconceived notions of big play offenses and the dink and dunk offenses go out the window when talking about red zone stats. We think of teams like the Packers, Falcons, Saints, Seahawks, Chiefs, and Steelers as big play offenses who strike from anywhere on the field and get yards in chunks right? Only two of those teams saw less than 70-percent of their passing touchdowns come from inside the 20, with Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger both at about 60-percent. Last year there were 31 quarterbacks with double-digit touchdown passes on the season and 10 of those saw at least 60-percent of their touchdown total come inside the 10 yard line.
Three quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Tom Brady, topped 40 passing touchdowns last year and all of them posted 70-percent of this inside the 20 despite having a ton of long range weapons at their disposal and some of the top-10 wide receivers in the game. Those aren’t even the highest percentages among passers with double-digit touchdowns as six different guys went over 80-percent, though Baker Mayfield was the only full-time starter last year to accomplish that. While the others were either starters part-time or got injured like Joe Burrow, who posted 12 of his 13 touchdowns inside the 20 before going down for the year.
All of these different quarterbacks span different systems and different ways of moving the ball, yet all are in relatively the same range when it comes to scoring touchdowns through the air. It really doesn’t matter how well a team moves the ball down the field and racks up the yardage if they can’t convert in the red zone and that goes for league MVPs and part-timers alike as the data clearly shows. The same can be said for running backs as well.
If you thought that a lot of touchdowns are scored through the air in the red zone, you haven’t seen anything yet. Over the last four years, about 90-percent of all rushing touchdowns scored in a season are punched in from the 20-yard-line or closer. So for those of you banking on your top running back picks really racking up the points, regardless of scoring system, you need them to make hay in the red zone to really boost that point total.
Eight running backs last year posted double-digit rushing touchdowns with three posting 16 or more and all but one of those eight scored 81-percent or more of their scores inside the 20. The only standout from that group was Derrick Henry who posted 76.2-percent of his inside the red zone. Henry scored between 314 and 333 points last year depending on the scoring system, but in all of them we can’t deny the fact that 102 of those points came from touchdowns. He posted 17 trips to the endzone and 13 of them came inside the 20 which means he still managed to post 78 of his points just from scores inside the red zone or just under a quarter of his total points. If we look at the other running backs who posted 16 scores last year as well in Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara, both had a huge percentage of the touchdown totals come from the red zone with Kamara up over 90-percent, but there’s even more to it that we’re not touching on.
The Saints running back is known for putting up huge yardage totals in both rushing and receiving and last year he combined for 1,388 yards between the two but over 15-percent of that yardage total came from inside the 20. So not only did more than 90-percent of his touchdowns come from the red zone, nearly a sixth of his yards did too. Or to put it another way, in PPR formats, 122.2 points came inside the 20 between yards, scores, and catches, and that’s nearly a third of his entire point total on the season. Dalvin Cook on the other hand saw 14-percent of his 1,557 yards get racked up in the red zone and 13 of his 16 touchdowns come there as well, with 12 being inside the 10. So in PPR formats, 103.8 points came from the red zone for the Vikings’ back which comes out to just about 31-percent of his total points for the season.
Getting the picture?
Even waiver wire darlings like Mike Davis and James Robinson need the red zone work to really be the backs that they became with both of them scoring 100-percent of their touchdowns inside the 20 and in fact, all but two of their combined 13 touchdowns came inside the 10-yard-line. So while we just saw them putting up RB1 or RB2 points every week, if they hadn’t had the red zone work we’d have seen them score 36 and 42 fewer points on the season because there’d have been no trips to the endzone on their ledgers.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
We could talk about wideouts and tight ends separately but since there’s a dearth of tight ends who are fantasy relevant to begin with and the passing touchdown percentage was already broken down, let’s just dig into receiving stats as a group and see if we can’t see any differences between who’s getting the work in the red zone and who’s seeing the big plays.
Of the 43 receiving options that scored six or more touchdowns last year, 11 of them had a red zone touchdown percentage over 80-percent. However, 24 of them scored at least two-thirds of their receiving scores inside the 20 which still means that even for receivers it’s a vital part of the field.
It’s impossible not to start with the receiving target who led the league in touchdowns in Davante Adams. He had 18 trips to the endzone last year but 14 of those came inside the 20 and 13 came inside the 10. That’s right, even a guy we think of as a volume and big play receiver still needs the volume in the red zone to really make his stat line that big. Even his teammate Robert Tonyan, unsurprisingly, saw most of his 11 scores come in the red zone with seven coming in the last fifth of the field.
Among the nine targets that had double-digit touchdowns last year, the two with the lowest percentage of scores in the red zone were Tyreke Hill and D.K. Metcalf at 40- and 50-percent respectively. Hill had 15 touchdowns last year as he was a favorite of Patrick Mahomes all over the field, but only six of those scores were inside the red zone meaning that he wasn’t necessarily a guy used once the Chiefs made it to the final fifth of the field. Compare that with Travis Kelce who had 11 scores on the year and nine of them were inside the 20. Metcalf meanwhile, is a bit of an interesting case as he’s a huge, 6’5”, athletic target and you’d expect him to be a red zone threat, especially in an offense that specializes in red zone efficiency, yet he was out done inside the 20 by his smaller, quicker, teammate in Tyler Lockett. Both had 10 touchdowns but Lockett posted eight inside the 20 while Metcalf had five.
Speaking of low percentages, Brandin Cooks and Nelson Agholor had the lowest percentages overall among receivers with six or more touchdowns on the season. The two of them combined for 14 touchdowns (eight for Agholor) and only three combined inside the 20. We know they’re the speedier receivers in the systems but this leads to a bigger discussion that’s also important to touch on with regard to red zone consistency. Explosive plays.
Explosive plays are defined as passing plays of longer than 15 yards and there are eight teams from last year that had 10-percent or more of their total passing plays result in an explosive play. Each of those teams have a player or two who don’t rank that highly in red zone touchdown percentage whether it’s the Chiefs’ Tyreke Hill or the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson or the Texans’ Will Fuller. However, just because a team is high up in the rankings for explosive plays, doesn’t mean they still don’t have disciplined red zone offense as Tampa Bay proves as they used chunk plays to move the ball down the field, but then a very high percentage of their passing touchdowns came inside the red zone. So while explosive plays do matter and can for specifically certain receivers on some teams, in general we want to focus on the more possession type receivers to get the bulk of the work inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line.
So what are we saying with all of this data here? Quite simply it’s that winning your fantasy football leagues comes down to getting the guys who are doing the most in the red zone each week. Using the new stats tables on Fantasy Alarm for Red Zone Stats you can see who specifically did what inside the 20 and the 10 last year and what that means for the system they’re playing in this year. With so many touchdowns coming from inside the 20 in the passing, rushing, and receiving games and with touchdowns being such a huge part of the scoring overall for fantasy football, maximizing your exposure to the players getting the red zone work is a key part of winning. Last year, across all positions, just under 28-percent of points for each player on average came from touchdowns. That doesn’t include the yards or catches to score but just simply the points garnered from passing or running in or catching a touchdown. So if we stated above that over two-thirds of passing touchdowns and around 90-percent of rushing touchdowns come inside the 20-yard-line over the last four years, and now nearly 28-percent of all fantasy scoring comes from touchdowns, why on earth would you ignore the guys getting the work most dependably inside the red zone? Too many people focus on the receivers that get a ton of catches and yards, but they miss out on the possession types too, who are the meat and bones of not only real life football offensive schemes but also fantasy football offenses that win.