Touchdowns matter a bunch for real-life and fantasy football. Outside of scoring the most points, having the most drives and opportunities to score matters, too. Before you go "duh," let’s look at the numbers by team red zone drives, rushes and targets to quantify things.
Below, we have the teams with the fewest amount of red zone drives, including rushes and targets. Unsurprisingly, the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals lack opportunities, leading to a lower likelihood to score touchdowns.
It’s been frustrating for fantasy managers of Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, George Pickens and other Steelers skill players. However, the Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers lean on their passing games when in the red area, which is evident in players such as Mike Evans and Ja’Marr Chase.
On the flip side, we want pieces of the following team offenses. Below, you can see the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles round out the top five teams in red zone drives. The Cowboys remain the outlier offense. They have the fourth-most rush attempts and the most targets in the red zone.
Below, we’ll examine red zone (GTG) touches and opportunities. The context for these touches is important, so we’ll consider the potential game script that led to the usage. This information helps identify which players might be on the verge of scoring more touchdowns and fantasy points — and which players aren’t.
Given the small sample size, we sometimes find that players don’t regress quickly or that the data becomes more noisy than meaningful. The information will be broken down by red zone and GTG rushing and receiving data to find usage patterns and expected fantasy points.
Red Zone Rushing
We had three running backs have five or more red zone carries in Week 12 — Christian McCaffrey had six, while Jonathan Taylor and Isiah Pacheco tied with five. They each scored two touchdowns, though all occurred in GTG situations. McCaffrey moved into the league lead with 49 red zone carries on the season, as seen in the visual below.
Last week, I noticed that the Kansas City Chiefs hardly ran in the red zone and that Pacheco could have limited opportunities. However, Pacheco has nine red zone rushing attempts in the past two weeks, hinting at a potential shift in the Chiefs' passing and rushing rates.
It's also positive to see Pacheco garner five targets, a season-high target share of 15.6 percent. While we can't expect Pacheco to punch in two touchdowns per week, we hope he becomes more involved in the passing game, increasing his floor. The middling target share concerns remain baked into his 19th-best expected points per game (EP/G) before Week 12.
Taylor has nine red zone carries in the past two weeks, and the Indianapolis Colts lean on the run game in the red area, averaging the fifth-highest red zone rush rate at 58.2 percent. That's a positive for Taylor's value, especially considering his 19 red zone carries compared with Zack Moss's eight since Week 6.
Like Pacheco, Taylor likely won't score two touchdowns per week. However, the limited role in the passing game with a 5.2 percent target share raises red flags.
Six other running backs had four red zone rushing attempts in Week 12, and all are fantasy-viable for different reasons, as seen above: Devin Singletary, A.J. Dillon, David Montgomery, Raheem Mostert, Travis Etienne and Kyren Williams.
Montgomery and Mostert remain stable pieces of their team's rushing offense. We heard rumblings of Williams receiving his full workload after returning from his injury, and he exploded in Week 12.
The visual above shows the weekly rush and target shares for Williams. Each number on the scatter plot indicates that week’s opportunity share. Before the injury, Williams had three consecutive games accounting for 44.7 percent of the team's touches, plus an elite rush share at 74.4 percent.
Though he didn't reach that high-end rush share in Week 12 at 48.5 percent, the 19.4 percent target share made up for it. He reeled in two of his six targets for touchdowns.
Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp came into the week banged up, and the Los Angeles Rams led 21 to 8 in the first half. We also saw Tyler Higbee catch two of Matthew Stafford's touchdowns, Higbee's only two of the season.
Sometimes, we don't see players like Williams return from an extended injury and receive a high-end workload. With the Week 12 data point, value Williams as an RB1 moving forward. He has volume similar to McCaffrey, Josh Jacobs and Alvin Kamara
The Chicago Bears' defense kept Josh Dobbs and the Minnesota Vikings' offense in check after picking off the quarterback four times. It's the third game this season where the Bears' defense logged at least three interceptions, leading all teams.
That's an important context in understanding an unusual game — Justin Fields had three red zone carries for negative four yards against the Vikings.
Though only Roschon Johnson had a red zone target, Fields connected with DJ Moore for a season-high in targets (13) and receptions (11). Chicago took advantage of a mixed bag in Minnesota's pass defense, which ranks 24th in defensive pass success rate and 10th in explosive play percentage.
On weaker passing offenses, we want teams to funnel the ball toward their best player(s), and that's occurring with Moore.
Red Zone Receiving
Williams tied for the Week 12 lead of three red zone targets with Josh Downs. It's rare to find running backs besides Austin Ekeler and McCaffrey garnering tons of red zone targets.
In Week 12, Downs had an underwhelming performance against a beatable Tampa Bay pass defense. The Buccaneers' pass defense allowed the third-highest adjusted yards per attempt and the sixth-most explosive pass plays (16 or more passing yards) — but had the 11th-best pass defense success rate.
Downs tied Michael Pittman Jr. with 13 targets (a 32.5 percent target share) but only caught five of his opportunities. Sometimes, we find receivers with an inefficient game due to downfield targets, but that's not the case for Downs, who had 3.92 air yards per target, as shown in the weekly data below.
Gardner Minshew ranks 17th in off-target pass percentage at 11.8 percent between Fields (11.9 percent) and Mac Jones (11.6 percent) out of 39 qualified quarterbacks. Downs' numbers are a blip on the radar or a trend of things to come. Downs is a talented receiver who dealt with injuries in recent weeks, so he may be finally healthy.
Gabe Davis scored a red zone touchdown in Week 12, with two red zone targets against the Eagles. Since Week 8, Davis has five red zone targets (No. 21) and two touchdowns. There's no denying Davis has been inconsistent in fantasy and real life. Let's look at Davis's past four games from a target share perspective.
Week 9: 6.3 percent
Week 10: 24 percent
Week 11: 0 percent
Week 12: 24.5 percent
Though Davis's downfield role of 13.9 AY/T contributes to his inconsistencies because they're low probability completions, we hope for consistency in the target shares. The Bills have the second-most red zone drives behind the Ravens.
However, Josh Allen steals opportunities — he had 19 red zone carries for 29.2 percent of the team's 65 red zone rushes (No. 6). Davis trails Stefon Diggs in red zone targets (10 vs. 14), and the two combine for 11 receiving touchdowns (five for Davis, six for Diggs).
Buffalo ranks third in offensive total EPA per game at 5.63 (behind the 49ers and Cowboys) yet turn the ball over at the ninth-highest rate. It's fair to say the Bills have underperformed. Ideally, Davis turns into a Mike Evans-type player with WR1 upside, but it seems more reasonable to expect him to be a risky WR3/4.
Etienne led Week 12 with four GTG rush attempts but scored zero touchdowns. He has only nine this season. He had an inefficient game with 20 carries for 56 rushing yards and one of the worst rush success rates at 28.6 percent. That tied him with Devin Singletary, James Conner and Chuba Hubbard.
Etienne left Sunday's game with a chest injury and returned, so keep tabs on the injury report during the week; D'Ernest Johnson and Tank Bigbsy might be cheap waiver wire options. On the Jacksonville Jaguars' limited 16 GTG drives (No. 21), they rank eighth in GTG rush share because teams tend to run when they move closer to the goal line.
In a one-game sample, the Denver Broncos had three players with two GTG carries, as seen in the graphic above. Russell Wilson and Samaje Perine scored one touchdown on their two GTG rush attempts, yet Javonte Williams finished without a score.
The Broncos played with a positive game script for parts of the game, and Denver used its quarterback on the ground. Wilson finished behind Williams in carries (11 vs. 18), though the quarterback has 30 rush attempts in the past four games. That's notable because Wilson had 23 in the previous seven games.
Perine had been taking the third-down pass-catching role in recent weeks with 74.4 percent route share compared with Williams' at 75 percent since Week 8. However, Perine garnered seven targets, while Williams only had one.
Perine had his highest rush share (17.9 percent) since Week 5 (27.3 percent) after five straight weeks under 10 percent. Meanwhile, Williams had his lowest rush share in Week 12 (46.2 percent) since Week 6 (43.5 percent) after four weeks of 60 percent or higher. The visual below shows the weekly trends for Williams.
Some of this might be because of an odd game against the Cleveland Browns because Williams tied for the team-high six targets with Courtland Sutton. The Broncos had the second-highest rush share in Week 12 at 62.9 percent behind the Atlanta Falcons and the second-lowest pass rate at 37.1 percent. Hopefully, Williams doesn't join a three-back committee with Denver's quarterback stealing rush attempts and scoring opportunities moving forward.
The visual below shows the GTG target leaders with touchdowns in Weeks 8-12.
Njoku is the only one without a touchdown catch in GTG situations, but he plays with some of the worst quarterbacks from an off-target percentage; Cleveland quarterbacks have the highest rate of off-target passes at 16.6 percent, causing inefficiencies in the passing game.
Ridley frustrated fantasy managers based on preseason expectations. After one GTG target in the first six games, Ridley garnered four in the past four contests. He has three solid games in his past four, including three touchdowns and 210 receiving yards in the past two. For context, Ridley compiled 134 receiving yards in Weeks 6-10.
We noted Etienne earlier as the Jaguars' preferred option in scoring opportunities because they lean more on the run. Interestingly, the Jaguars rank 20th in pass rate (55.9 percent) since Week 8, not far off from the numbers in Weeks 1-7 at 55.6 percent.
That indicates the team will likely continue using a balanced approach. However, Ridley should be valued more like a backend WR2 with 12.4 EP/G (No. 28) before Week 12 after ranking fourth in EP/G in 2020 and 2021.