Predicting Touchdowns – Red Zone Usage

Predicting Touchdowns – Red Zone Usage

Touchdowns are a fickle beast in fantasy football; yet (much like in real football) they remain absolutely critical to attain in order to build a winning strategy. Can we find players who are more likely to score than others each week?

By looking at how team’s are deploying their players in the red zone, we can get a sense of how they may continue to do so in the future. As we head into Week 8, let’s look at the top 5 projected offenses in terms of implied points scored and how they use their players in the red zone. I will be using these lines for that approach.

I used Pro Football Reference’s Play Finder to isolate snaps inside the opponent’s 20 yard line thus far in the 2018 season, this data formed the basis of all the following analysis.

Los Angeles Rams, 33 points

The undefeated Rams have run a total of 104 offensive plays in the red zone (kicks and sacks excluded), with a 57 to 47 run/pass split on those plays. The clear leader for Los Angeles in the red area? Todd Gurley II, who owns a massive 55.77% share of the red zone opportunities for Sean McVay’s offense (45 carries, 13 targets).

Second on the Rams? Slot receiver Cooper Kupp at 12.5% (2 carries, 11 targets), but he missed Week 7 and is extremely doubtful for Week 8 with a knee injury. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods each have drawn 8 red zone targets on the year, but with Kupp projected out, Woods gets a bump up as he is expected to slide into a slot receiver role once again.

Still, we have to assume Gurley is most likely to add to his 13 touchdown total in Week 8 based on usage, with everyone behind him significantly behind.

Kansas City Chiefs, 32.5 points

Patrick Mahomes has been a joy to watch in 2018, and he really likes to spread the ball around. His 22 touchdown passes in 7 games have him on pace to throw 50 total by the end of the season. At this level of production, there’s a lot of touchdown equity to go around in the passing game.

The Chiefs have run 76 plays in the red zone, with a 31 to 45 run/pass split.

Kareem Hunt is the leader in red zone opportunity for them, with a 30.26% share (17 carries, 6 targets). All Pro TE Travis Kelce‘s 11 red zone targets are good for a 14.47% share, second most on the team. Tied for third behind them? Mahomes (8 carries) and Sammy Watkins (1 carry, 7 targets) with 10.53% of the opportunities to score.

Tyreek Hill’s skill set lends itself to a stronger role as a deep threat, and this data somewhat validates this. His 7 targets (9.53% share) in the red zone show he’s in play, but he’s far more likely to run into the end zone from further out based on his usage.

Pittsburgh Steelers, 29.75 points

Coming off a bye, the Steelers are ready to roll once more with James Conner.

The Steelers have run 58 plays in the red area, and have a 19-39 run/pass split. Conner’s 37.93% share (17 carries, 5 targets) leads the way.

In the passing game, I’d argue JuJu Smith Schuster is almost twice as likely as Antonio Brown to catch a touchdown pass. Schuster’s seen 14 red zone targets (24.14%) to just 8 for Brown (13.79%) on the year.

TE Jesse James is Roethlisberger’s preferred red zone player at the position, with 7 targets to just 2 for Vance McDonald.

Cincinnati Bengals, 29.25 points

The Bengals have run 60 plays in the red area, with a 21 to 39 run/pass split on the season.

Joe Mixon’s 28.33% share of the red zone opportunities (14 carries, 3 targets) just barely edges out A.J. Green’s 25% share (15 targets); it’s worth noting, however, that Mixon has played two less games.

Tyler Boyd’s 8 targets in the red area are good for a 13.33% share of the red zone opportunity, rounding out the group of Bengals that should be expected most likely to score.

New England Patriots, 29.25 points

Patriots players have run 72 plays in the red area, with an even 36 to 36 run/pass split.

Here’s where things get interesting. Sony Michel‘s 22 carries lead the way with a 30.56% share of the red zone opportunity for the Patriots. With Michel doubtful for Week 8 with a knee injury, journeyman tailback Kenjon Barner should be expected to slot right into Michel’s red zone role.

If you want to play it safer than Barner, James White’s 22.22% share (5 carries, 11 targets) slots him well ahead of Julian Edelman, who owns a 9.72% share with 7 targets, although remember he’s only played three games.

Conclusions

While anecdotally it probably feels true, the data confirms it: running backs are more likely to score week in and week out than their teammates. Five out of five team leaders play the position. Beyond this, pay attention to the targets. Some of these target leaders have found pay dirt often, while the others are lagging behind. Expect the laggards to find pay dirt sooner rather than later.