On Target: Redzone Reliance

Fantasy Football Fantasy Football Rankings

By David Mattek

Touchdowns. We search for them, we chase them on the waiver wire, we try to predict, and at the end of the day, they decide fantasy football matchups. The most predictable way to find touchdowns for our lineups is to look at redzone targets and redzone conversion percentages. Given what we know about the weight of pass catchers, there are some general ways in which we can weed out overachievers and target underperforming passcatchers. After a month of football, we’re starting to see teams plans inside the red zone and how players are performing in the most important part of the field. At this point, we know what our teams need to compete, and for your 1-3 squads, it’s time to make some moves.

This table contains every player with at least five red-zone targets through the Week 4 and their conversion ratio of targets into touchdowns. (Click the headings to sort.)

Jordy Nelson 11 4 18 30 2
Brandon Marshall 9 5 56 42 5
Larry Donnell 9 7 44 32 4
Martellus Bennett 8 6 50 50 4
Rueben Randle 8 4 13 26 1
Randall Cobb 8 6 50 25 4
Steve Smith 8 3 0 17 0
Ahmad Bradshaw 7 7 57 47 4
Antonio Brown 7 6 43 42 3
Demaryius Thomas 7 3 14 30 1
Larry Fitzgerald 7 3 0 17 0
Vincent Jackson 7 2 29 8 2
Julian Edelman 6 6 17 47 1
Mike Wallace 6 4 50 42 3
Julius Thomas 6 5 67 28 4
Andre Johnson 6 3 0 17 0
Jeremy Maclin 6 2 17 16 1
Delanie Walker 6 2 33 12 2
Jordan Matthews 5 4 40 31 2
Jimmy Graham 5 4 60 30 3
Sammy Watkins 5 4 40 29 2
Terrance Williams 5 4 60 28 3
Heath Miller 5 4 20 22 1
Calvin Johnson 5 1 20 16 1
Hakeem Nicks 5 3 40 12 2
Justin Brown 5 2 0 11 0
Michael Crabtree 5 3 40 10 2
Brian Hartline 5 3 20 9 1
Alshon Jeffery 5 1 20 8 1
Mike Williams 5 0 0 0 0

The average conversion ratio for this table is 30.7 percent, so a simple framework for evaluating these players is to see who is above and below an expected threshold. The first name that immediately jumps out to me is the stark contrast between Julius Thomas‘s 67-percent conversion rate and Demaryius’s 14 percent. In 2014, those numbers were 44 and 35 percent, respectively. Some serious regression to the mean would be expected for both of those players; positive for Demaryius and negative for Julius. However, I will say that over a pretty significant sample, we can expect that Julius will score touchdowns at an above average clip in the red zone, which makes him a strong hold in redraft leagues.

Most people probably would be shocked to learn that Steve Smith Sr. actually is 0-for-8 in the red zone this year, but it’s indicative of the player he is. He’s been much more heavily involved in the Baltimore offense than expected this year and is on a career-high pace … which indicates we can’t expect this performance to continue. I know that he’s awesome and fun and says awesome stuff, but the point remains that he is a small, 35-year-old wide receiver who has Joe Flacco throwing him passes. His 0 percent red-zone conversion rate will have some positive regression but I’m not sure if it will cancel out the negative regression given historical comps.

Two other older wide receivers are sitting at a 0 percent as well: Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. As I wrote in last week’s article, Andre appears pretty close to toast. Not “0 red-zone touchdowns” toast, but he has been overtaken but a better wide receiver. Fitzgerald is in a similar boat to Johnson. His best days are behind, has a sub-par quarterback throwing him passes and has a younger and better wide receiver with whom to split targets. Fantasy football dogma keeps us in a vicious cycle of drafting and starting players who have been good simply because they have been good even if there is little evidence to suggest that things will get better. Johnson and Fitzgerald will be fine fantasy options, but they also aren’t who we thought they were, and if someone wants to pay draft day value, I would do that deal in a minute.

Jimmy Graham, Brandon Marshall, Martellus Bennett and Mike Crabtree are studs who are above that 30-percent line, but by far the most interesting thing this table turned up is two stud rookie wideouts who have performed well. Both Sammy Watkins and Jordan Matthews have converted 40 percent of their red-zone targets into touchdowns over this small four-week sample. I wasn’t a huge fan of Watkins coming out of Clemson, but thought that he would carve out a solid WR2 career and even with the now-benched EJ Manuel as his quarterback, he’s been solid. Matthews, on the other hand, broke every single sort of objective statistical measurement one can use to view college wide receivers and is proving it in the NFL. Riley Cooper has played the lion’s share of snaps opposite Jeremy Maclin, but as the season progresses, Matthews should begin to eat into those snaps as Riley Cooper has done almost nothing with his snaps. The Eagles, despite a craptastic game against the 49ers, are still the most prolific offense in the NFL, and an actual good wide receiver getting targets in that offense would be a coup of your league’s waiver wire.

And finally, we have arrived at the curious case of Randall Cobb. He has outstanding red-zone numbers this season, and for his career he is 17-for-47 (36 percent), but in his senior season in college, he had only a 24-percent conversion rate. Players of his physical frame rarely produce red-zone touchdowns at more than 20 percent in the NFL, but most NFL players don’t have Aaron Rodgers throwing them the football. Rodgers can make almost anyone a usable fantasy options. Jarrett Boykin last season and the post-Rodgers Greg Jennings are nodding their heads vigorously, by the way. The question of whether to sell Randall Cobb isn’t one I’m particularly confident in answering, as it goes against a lot of what I’m good at as a fantasy analyst. Getting targets from Rodgers is inherently valuable, but I can’t imagine that he continues to score five touchdowns for every 250 yards he receives. If you own Cobb, you’re probably best off either trying to get a top-tier RB for him, or just running him out every week and hoping that Aaron Rodgers is good enough to keep him on this pace.


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