Predicting Touchdowns – Red Zone Usage

Predicting Touchdowns – Red Zone Usage

Touchdowns are a fickle beast in fantasy football; yet predicting touchdowns remains absolutely critical for us as NFL DFS players.

Can we find players who are more likely to score than others each week?

As we head into Week 2, we can only examine the super small one week sample of play calling data to try and figure out who will score.

Overview

Last season, I wrote weekly about how teams are distributing opportunities in the red zone. As offenses move closer to the goal line, touches become far more valuable, after all.

We need to maximize our exposure to touchdowns to have sustained success in DFS – in order to do that, we need to look at how teams are calling plays to understand how their touchdowns actually happen. Note: I am also using weighted opportunity* – a better fantasy football predictor than raw touches, per Pro Football Focus.

While touchdowns obviously happen on plays run outside the scoring area every week, they are far harder to forecast. High average depth of target (aDOT) wide receivers will always be threats for long scores all over the field, so that’s not a part of my focus for this article.

Here’s a look a the four highest implied team total offenses in Week 2:

Baltimore Ravens, 29.5 points

The MAN for the Ravens in Week 1? 2 TD scorer, TE Mark Andrews. His 3 targets led the squad in the red zone; Willie Snead saw 2 behind him, one of which went for a TD.

Lamar Jackson‘s 3 rushes led both JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram – seems like he’s a safe bet to continue his dual threat ways. The Ravens ran 13 total plays against Cleveland in the red zone – 6 passes, 7 rushes. Expect more passing plays this time around in Week 2. Why?

We saw what Houston was able to do last Thursday when they stack the box to stop the run down close – Lamar might be looking for his buddies Andrews and Snead a lot in Week 2.

Dallas Cowboys, 29 points

Dallas was able to run only 11 offensive plays in the red zone against the Rams, 5 passing, 6 rushing. Ezekiel Elliott led by far, with 4 carries and 1 target.

A surprising runner up? Dalton Schultz came on after Blake Jarwin’s injury – while he didn’t score in Week 1, a team-high 2 targets in the red zone might speak to some serious upside with Schultz in the right matchups for fantasy football.

Dallas will be one of the most popular offenses in NFL DFS in Week 2 thanks to a friendly matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 28.5 points

The NFC South squad I like even more than those Falcons in Week 2? Tom-pa Bay!

The Bucs got off to a hot start in their Week 1 game, but faded fast – they ran just 10 offensive plays in the red zone. OJ Howard‘s 2 red zone targets (compared to Rob Gronkowski’s ZERO) while surprising, may not be a sign of things to come. Mike Evans turned his 1 red zone target into a garbage time TD; Tom Brady ran one in (a rarity these days), but the most opportunities?

Ronald Jones got 3 carries. Maybe Bruce Arians was right, and he is still “their guy” in that backfield even with Fournette there.

More on Gronk – he played 77% of snaps to Howard’s 53%, although the gap in their routes run is much narrower. If Tampa Bay continues to utilize 12 personnel (2 TE sets), I expect to see Gronk crack this leaderboard. Slot WR will have the best matchup against the Panthers in Week 2, so Chris Godwin (or Scott Miller?) should be firmly on your radar.

Kansas City Chiefs, 28 points

The Chiefs ran 17 total offensive plays in the red zone in the opener – 9 rushes, 8 passes.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 9 rushes – all the team rushes – in the red zone against the Houston Texans – and was rudely met in the backfield on damn near most of them. The former LSU star tailback should dance his way into the end zone soon enough with that every-down role in that part of the field.

When passing, Patrick Mahomes looked most often to Week 1 all star Sammy Watkins – he had 3 targets. Travis Kelce had 2 of his own in this money area of the field for him, while speedster Tyreek Hill scored the rare touchdown that wasn’t a go route on his lone red zone target.

As the Chiefs prepare to face the Chargers for the first time in 2020 – CEH should be our top priority with that excellent usage referenced above.

Conclusions

We shouldn’t draw any sweeping conclusions from one week’s usage. Historically, we know RBs get more valuable opportunities as teams close in on the goal line. Here in Week 2, we’ve only just begun to learn how coaches prefer to use players in 2020.

We must work with what we have; this week, we’ll leverage the info above on these teams (and others we like in DFS) to build smarter lineups.

*Weighted Opportunity was designed specifically for RB touches. So while it’s probably not the best metric to use for WRs and TEs, specifically for goal line looks, I think it helps quantify the value of those targets against overall RB volume.