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Using 2020 Red Zone Stats To Your Advantage

Red Zone Targets

Chart courtesy of nflsavant.com

Most of these names are exactly who you would expect. This list includes the top 4 fantasy wide receivers from last year, as well as the WR8 and WR12, along with the top 2 tight ends. Basically, most of this top 10 does not teach us much.  We already knew that for an elite fantasy player, you need targets and you need touchdowns, which makes red zone targets incredibly important.  

What about the two players who round out the top 10, though?  Let’s start with Jimmy Graham.  The 34 year old tight end played a full 16 game season and finished as TE11 in 2020.  21 of his 76 targets were red zone targets, which amounts to 27.6%.  By comparison, the player with the most red zone targets in the league, Davante Adams, saw 21.5% of his targets come in the red zone.  

Graham’s notoriety in the red zone this year can be attributed to two factors: his abilities, and the abilities of his teammates.  A former college basketball player, Graham is 6’7 and 265 lbs with a 98th percentile vertical.  Those measurements add up to an ideal red zone monster.  His teammates on the other hand, with the exception of Allen Robinson, are a lot less vertically gifted.  Darnell Mooney, Damiere Byrd, Anthony Miller, and Marquise Goodwin are all shorter than 6 feet.  

As a dynasty manager, I am not advocating for you to go out and trade for a man entering his age 35 season.  What I am saying though, is that you may want to check in with the manager who rosters his replacement.  2020 2nd round pick Cole Kmet is currently sitting behind Graham, and who better to learn from if you’re a young tight end.  Kmet and Graham have similar measurables, as the sophomore checks in at 6’6 and 262 lbs with an 88th percentile vertical.  

Jimmy Graham’s contract is up after this year, and by that point a few things will be different with the Chicago Bears. Kmet will be entering his third professional year, right around when tight ends typically start to hide their stride.  QB Justin Fields will be entering his second pro season, and both players will (presumably) be much more comfortable and confident in their roles.  Also, Allen Robinson may or may not be back in the Windy City.  He is currently on a franchise tag, which makes him an unrestricted free agent once this year ends.  If Robinson is gone, Kmet would be the only big body for Fields to target in the red zone. 

Let’s circle back to the final player of last year’s top 10 red zone target list: Marvin Jones.  Jones led the Lions in targets last year, and it certainly helped that Kenny Golladay only managed 32 targets over 5 injury-riddled games.  As Jones joins a Jaguars team with a more talented receiver room, it seems unreasonable to expect a repeat of his 115 target campaign from 2020.  Kenny Golladay also left Detroit for the east coast, so what does that tell us about a Lions team that did not look for replacements until the 4th round of the draft?  It means that there are a ton of targets up for grabs.  T.J. Hockenson (101 targets) is the only returning WR/TE who saw more than 35 targets in Detroit last year.  Check out my article on how to find late value in your draft for an example of a guy who could take advantage of those vacant targets.

Bonus Takeaway

Calvin Ridley got the third most red zone targets in the league last year, but caught the lowest percentage of those targets out of anyone in the top 10 list.  Converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns has been an issue with the Falcons for years; if you have ever rostered Julio Jones in fantasy you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Despite a red zone completion percentage under 50%, there is actually reason for optimism for Ridley in that area in 2021.  

The Falcons hired former Titans OC Arthur Smith to be their new head coach this year, a move that was praised by many.  Smith is credited with helping Ryan Tannehill’s career-turnaround in Tennessee, and Atlanta’s offense is poised to be more innovative than it’s been since Kyle Shanahan was calling the shots.  Ryan Tannehill was a top 5 red zone QB last year by any measure, finishing with a 63% completion percentage and a 26/2 TD/INT ratio from inside the 20 yard line.  From inside the 10 yard line he was even better, completing 68.75% of his passes with a 19/1 TD/INT ratio.  Matt Ryan, conversely, was barely top 15 among quarterbacks in the red zone.  If Arthur Smith can apply some of the same red zone magic to Matt Ryan, while maintaining Calvin Ridley’s target volume, we could be looking at an even more elite fantasy player than he was last year.

The top 10 red zone targets list is clearly a list you want your players to be on.  While it may seem like this list is pretty straightforward, there are still a few notable takeaways that you could use to your advantage this year whether you’re playing dynasty or redraft.  

Brendan Taffe – Writer/Co-Host of The Rule of 3 Podcast

Twitter: @BCTAFFE

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