Red Zone Carries + Targets: Week 1 Preview

Erik Smith looks at week one projected carries + targets for both daily fantasy and season-long leagues.

(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

This week’s red zone projections will mainly use last year’s stats, combined with week one point spread information. There will be some familiar players and themes from the 2017 review. Since this article is published on Friday, I will be skipping the Thursday night game this week.

Thanks to Pro Football Reference for their great statistics and play index, and Graham Barfield for his excellent team-level data.


Three Elite Running Backs

Player Team Proj RZ Plays Proj RZ Pts
Todd Gurley 11.89 8.48
Alvin Kamara 11.70 7.13
Melvin Gordon 9.28 6.07

Alvin Kamara would be in the top tier even with last year’s red zone usage. The Saints project to score the most points in the NFL this week, with a nice matchup against Tampa Bay on the schedule. If Kamara gets higher red zone usage with Mark Ingram suspended, he may challenge Gurley for most week one points.

Todd Gurley II is the clear week one red zone leader based on last year’s production and this week’s matchup. The Rams are heavy favorites against the Raiders, likely leading to good game flow for Gurley.

Melvin Gordon plays for a home favorite against a likely subpar Chiefs defense. His red zone usage last year was elite, making him an obvious week one play.


Four Overvalued Running Backs

These four running backs should all be played in season-long leagues with confidence. In daily fantasy, however, they may return a slightly disappointing point total.

Player Team Proj RZ Plays Proj RZ Pts
Saquon Barkley 5.64 0.00
Ezekiel Elliott 7.93 3.09
Jordan Howard 5.60 3.46
LeSean McCoy 5.77 2.30

Saquon Barkley is only projected for zero points because we have zero NFL data on him. He will surely score a few points in the red zone. But he faces a tough test week one against a Jaguars defense that shows no signs of slowing down heading into 2018. He will probably need several big plays to hit his upside, as the Giants don’t figure to be frequent visitors to the red zone. Coupled with a minor hamstring injury, this feels like a player to avoid in cash games.

Ezekiel Elliott comes with the highest DFS price of the four potential disappointments ($8300 on FanDuel). While he can be penciled in for solid fantasy points, the Cowboys’ low point total projection against the Panthers may give Elliott a lower upside than the other elite backs.

Jordan Howard should be efficient when he gets his chances, but the number of times the Bears visit the red zone is a concern. Despite their promising offseason, the Bears are big underdogs playing on the road in Green Bay. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears fall behind early, as they begin to get a feel of the new offense. Howard could be replaced by Tarik Cohen if the Bears are passing often, leading to fewer opportunities for points. If the Bears are improved and hang in the game, he does have the potential to have a big game in week one. But bad game flow could give him a lower than usual floor for cash games.

LeSean McCoy is in the clear to play week one and should be one of the most-used players in the NFL, with the Bills starting Nathan Peterman at quarterback. However, with a league-low 17 projected points this week, the Bills face a tough test in Baltimore. McCoy might not see more than 2 or 3 red zone carries+targets, making an explosive fantasy week difficult.


Week 1 Running Back Sleepers

There are obvious undervalued runnings backs on FanDuel like Rex Burkhead ($6300) or Christian McCaffrey ($7500), but calling them sleepers doesn’t seem accurate. The following are running backs that probably won’t get the volume to have a big week, but if they do they could be a cheap option and a low owned GPP player.

Player Team Proj RZ Plays Proj RZ Pts
Mike Gillislee 11.70 3.97
Latavius Murray 10.05 3.83
James White 14.89 2.41

Mike Gillislee was only added to the Saints roster a little over a month ago and has suddenly become their clear backup running back. The Saints have released Jonathan WilliamsTerrance West, and Boston Scott during the preseason, leaving only Kamara, Gillislee, and FB Zach Line during Ingram’s four-game suspension. As mentioned earlier with Kamara, the Saints project to score the most points in the league week one against Tampa Bay. Gillislee is a cheap ($4600) option on FanDuel and could allow you to load up the rest of your lineup. If things get out of hand he may get some garbage time points as well, possibly giving him enough upside to be worth a look in GPPs. And in season-long leagues, he looks like a solid end of bench option for the next four weeks.

Latavius Murray will be rotating in with Dalvin Cook and may even be the preferred goal-line option for week one. They are big favorites against the 49ers and are projected to score 26 points. Similar to Gillislee, Murray could be in line for significant touches in a big lead, as well as if the Vikings try to ease Cook back into action. Add in his potential goalline work, and it’s not crazy to think Murray could pay off on his $5500 price on FanDuel.

James White has a chance to be a significant contributor for the Patriots in week one with Sony Michel still getting healthy and Jeremy Hill a relative newcomer. With a thin wide receiver depth chart, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Patriots feature White heavily in the passing game. While he obviously still has Burkhead to compete with, White will be playing for the team with the highest projected number of red zone plays in week one. Odds are that he sneaks in a few touches, and could realistically pay off his $5500 price in a potential shootout against Houston.


Wide Receivers with Opportunity

While red zone fantasy points are much less important for wide receivers than running backs, there is still value in looking at wide receivers that may get several opportunities at a touchdown or more.

Player Team Proj RZ Plays Proj RZ Targets
Davante Adams 8.50 1.61
Keenan Allen 9.28 1.60
Cooper Kupp 11.89 1.56

Davante Adams projects to receive the most red zone targets in week one, with the Packers a big favorite with a high point total at home against the Bears. Adams was a target monster in the red zone last year even without Aaron Rodgers and has legitimate multi-touchdown upside in week one. With a price tag of $8100 on FanDuel, Adams projects as one of the better values at wide receiver this week.

Keenan Allen got plenty of opportunities in the red zone last year but was inefficient with his chances. Projecting as the second most heavily used red zone wide receiver in week one, Allen immediately gets a chance to improve on one of his few weaknesses. In a potential shootout with the possibly below average Chiefs defense, Allen could have a big game if he takes advantage of his targets. Allen is priced $8000 on FanDuel, and while other players pay up for Antonio Brown ($9000) and DeAndre Hopkins ($8800), it might pay off to save money and go with Adams and Allen, who may have equal the upside of the top priced options.

Cooper Kupp is a surprise as the wide receiver with the third highest red zone target projection in week one. His 2017 usage combined with a favorable week one matchup with Oakland are the reasons why. At only $6300, it doesn’t take much to make him a worthwhile option. He should be played with confidence in DFS and season-long leagues. While Kupp has plenty of competition for carries and targets, the Rams should have numerous scoring opportunities to spread around.


Wide Receivers To Avoid

Player Team Proj RZ Plays Proj RZ Targets
Doug Baldwin 6.08 0.40
Odell Beckham 5.64 0.22
Jordy Nelson 5.17 0.70

Doug Baldwin is an extremely talented receiver. He was not used often in the red zone last year, however. The Seahawks are underdogs with a low point total playing a solid Broncos defense. If Baldwin’s preseason knee injury limits his snaps, he will need a solid red zone showing to make up for a potential loss of volume. At $7500 on FanDuel I will be staying away. He should still be played in season-long leagues, but lower your expectations until we see how Baldwin looks on the field. The chance of him coming up with a good week because of a red zone touchdown seems unfavorable.

Jordy Nelson seems like a safe bet to be a touchdown-dependent player at this stage of his career. In a week one matchup with a potentially stifling Rams defense, the Raiders project for a low point total and a low number of red zone plays. Although his $6000 price is very reasonable, I would rather wait on a better matchup to use Nelson in daily fantasy. And in season-long leagues, chances are you have a better week one option.

Odell Beckham Jr. is certainly a receiver that could break a long play and make this call look dumb in hindsight. And his red zone projection is skewed low because of missing most of 2017. But a week one matchup against Jacksonville isn’t the best chance to get things rolling again. The Giants are only projected for 20 points and are likely to have a low amount of red zone chances. As the eighth most expensive wide receiver at $7800, Beckham will need numerous big plays to be a value. Definitely not impossible, but Jacksonville is for real on defense and I would rather use options in better matchups. In season-long leagues, you obviously still play him.


Week 1 Wide Receiver Sleepers

Just like with running backs, I am looking for legitimate sleepers here. Chris Hogan isn’t a sleeper. These players aren’t going to hit every time, but when they do they have the potential to pay off in a GPP.

Player Team Proj RZ Plays Line Team Points
Geronimo Allison 8.50 -7.5 27.75
Ryan Grant 7.46 -3 25
Michael Crabtree 9.75 -7 23.75

(Note: -7.5 means the Packers are favorites by 7.5)

Geronimo Allison enters the season as the Packers third wide receiver, giving him intriguing upside. Rodgers has brought players like James Jones back from the dead before, so ruling out Allison seems premature. At $5000 on FanDuel, Allison is worth a shot in a large tournament.

Ryan Grant is a boring choice, but at only $4900 he has upside as the number two wide receiver on an Andrew Luck offense. He had a respectable 8% of Washington’s red zone carries+targets last year, and on a new offensive with new play callers, it isn’t impossible to imagine he gets more usage overall.

Michael Crabtree has been quiet during the preseason but has a chance to be featured in the red zone in week one. Baltimore is a big favorite and should have multiple red zone opportunities at home against the Bills. At $6600, Crabtree’s price is just high enough that I doubt he will be a popular play in DFS, giving you a low owned red zone target.


The Usual Tight End Suspects

Player Team Proj RZ Plays Proj RZ Targets
Jimmy Graham 8.50 1.82
Rob Gronkowski 14.89 1.68
Travis Kelce 7.82 1.26
Kyle Rudolph 10.05 1.10

Tight ends are fairly predictable week one. Jimmy Graham projects to be a target monster with Rodgers at quarterback, who throws frequently in the red zone. The Packers project to score around 28 points, giving Graham a shot at multiple touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski may actually be featured more than projected with the lack of targets in the passing game for Tom Brady.  The Patriots should give him multiple chances to score a touchdown against the Texans. Travis Kelce and Kyle Rudolph remain locked in red zone options as well. There is a significant drop off after these top four tight ends.


Next Friday I’ll review the red zone carries + targets from week one, looking for trends to use in week two. Good luck this weekend, and enjoy the opening kickoff of fantasy football.

2 responses to “Red Zone Carries + Targets: Week 1 Preview”

  1. Matt Nielsen says:

    Baldwin’s RZ usage has to go up with Jimmy gone, right?

    • Erik Smith says:

      For sure, although he may be the only option and see double coverage. I’m very interested to see how his week one red zone usage turns out, will probably cover it next Friday.

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