Data from Pro Football Reference
Touchdowns are king in fantasy football. The advent of PPR scoring has allowed receivers to make a much larger impact in fantasy circles, but you’d still be hard-pressed to find a top-flight fantasy receiver who doesn’t score a handful of touchdowns.
That said, teams don’t necessarily operate the same way around the goal line as they do between the 20s. Some teams prefer to run the ball when they get near the end zone, while others keep the ball in the hands of their quarterback. That’s why diving into red zone data is so important.
Does your receiver play for a team that is willing to give him opportunities around the goal line? That can be the difference between a mediocre season and a great one for fantasy purposes.
Fortunately, the red zone passing report at Fantasy Life has you covered. It dives into every statistic you need to know about receivers when they get into the money zone.
Inside the 20 vs. Inside the 10
The red zone report can be broken into two distinct categories: inside the 20 and inside the 10. Inside the 20 statistics are going to cover all plays that take place inside the red zone, while inside the 10 stats will focus on the plays closest to the goal line.
The stats from inside the 10-yard line are going to prove most useful for fantasy purposes since that’s where the majority of touchdowns originate. For example, Travis Kelce led the league with 10 touchdowns inside the red zone, and eight of them came from inside the 10.
We see a similar breakdown with other players. Christian Kirk, Stefon Diggs, and Jerick McKinnon were tied for second with seven red-zone receiving touchdowns apiece, and all but four of them came from inside the 10.
Ultimately, of all the players with at least five red zone receiving touchdowns last year, Mark Andrews was the only player with more scores from outside the 10-yard line than inside the 10. That makes all of the receiving metrics from inside the 10 more appealing for fantasy purposes.
The first step to earning any fantasy points in the red zone is earning a target. Targets are arguably the most valuable commodity at the receiver position, and they’re even more important near the goal line.
Looking at the target leaders inside the red zone was a who’s who of fantasy studs in 2022. Kelce, Justin Jefferson, D.K. Metcalf, Ja’Marr Chase, Diggs, Austin Ekeler, and Davante Adams round out the top seven among skill-position players. Those players include the No. 1 RB, No. 1 TE, and five elite receivers.
Emerging studs like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Garrett Wilson were also near the top 10 in red zone targets, giving them increased appeal heading into the upcoming season.
Tyreek Hill is the only true stud that is notably missing from this list, and he’s in the red zone every time he takes the field. He’s the rare player who can score from anywhere, making him a rare exception. Ultimately, you want to target players who excel in this area of the field and avoid those who don’t.
Target percentage – or target % – is similar to overall targets, with one key caveat. While targets measure raw volume, target percentage measures a pass-catchers volume relative to his team.
For example, two players can both have 20 targets inside the 20, but they can get there in far different ways. If one team has 100 pass attempts in the red zone, that player would have a 20% target share. If the other team has just 20 targets, he would have a 100% target share. Both players may have the same volume overall, but one has a much larger piece of his team’s overall pie.
Both targets and target percentage are important to know in the red zone. Typically, players with a high target percentage are going to fare well in overall targets, but they don’t directly correlate. A.J. Brown had the second-highest target rate inside the red zone last season, but he was outside the top 10 in terms of targets. The Eagles simply chose to run the ball at a higher frequency inside the red zone than most teams, resulting in fewer opportunities for Brown to make an impact.
A ton of targets in the red zone give players a very safe floor, while a higher target percentage increases your ceiling. There may be weeks where a team throws the ball more than expected in the red zone and high target percentage players are going to thrive in those scenarios.
Receptions are another metric that you can look at in the red zone, but they’re not as important as targets. Targets measure your overall volume, while receptions are more of a measure of efficiency.
Any time you’re looking at a pass-catcher, you’re hoping that they catch the majority of their targets. That’s not always the case, but chasing the target volume overall should lead to good things in the long run.
Metcalf is a good example here. His eight receptions in the red zone don’t exactly jump off the page, but his 27 targets do. He also managed to turn five of his eight catches into touchdowns, which is really all that matters to fantasy gamers. Ultimately, efficiency doesn’t really matter; touchdowns do.
Everything I said about receptions can also be applied to catch percentage. Ideally, we want our players to be catching their targets regardless of where they are on the field.
The one thing I would be looking for with this metric is players who are overperforming their catch percentage. If they’re not getting a ton of targets but are still recording catches and scores, it’s going to result in inflated value. Selling high on those players – either in the prop market or in your fantasy leagues – is probably a smart idea.
Yards are another stat that doesn’t really matter inside the red zone. We’re looking for targets and touchdowns. If you catch a pass, rack up 19 yards, and ultimately get tackled at the one, that’s a disappointment. There’s nothing that yards can tell you inside the red zone that another stat can’t tell you better.
This is really what it all boils down to. Targets and receptions in the red zone are nice, but touchdowns are the key statistic in fantasy football.
In general, the more targets you get in the red zone – particularly from inside the 10-yard line – the more touchdowns you should score. That said, it’s not always a perfect correlation. There are plenty of reasons why touchdown production can be fluky when we’re talking about such small sample sizes.
McKinnon had seven touchdowns on just 15 red zone targets last year. Part of that stems from playing for the Chiefs – I might be able to score a touchdown if Andy Reid let me suit up – but part of that is also just good luck. McKinnon finished with 4.2 receiving touchdowns above expectation per Pro Football Focus, so touchdowns don’t tell the full story.
Fading players who run hot in that department and targeting players who have underperformed as touchdown scorers can be a great strategy. Among top red zone threats, Jefferson (eight actual, 11.1 expected), Metcalf (six actual, 10.5 expected), and Drake London (four actual, 7.8 expected) were among the unluckiest in 2022. That could make them values to target in the upcoming year.