(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)
Week 14 marks the opening week of the fantasy playoffs in most leagues. For some in-depth analysis on playoff roster strategies, check out my article from earlier in the week. Due to the timing of this article, players in the Jaguars vs. Titans Thursday night game will be excluded from this analysis. Projected carries+targets should be given more weight than projected points, as we ultimately want volume players in the red zone to give us more chances to overcome bad touchdown luck. Fantasy points are based on PPR scoring.
Thanks as always to Pro Football Reference for their excellent red zone data and play index.
Please note: This is a red zone article. Projections and rankings are based on red zone usage only
Week 14 Red Zone Projections: RB Top 10 Carries+Targets
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Noteworthy Week 14 RBs
It’s been a while since I’ve written much about RB Todd Gurley. He’s the best fantasy option in the league each week and everyone knows it, so analysis is fairly pointless. But it’s worth taking stock of a second consecutive season of Gurley carrying fantasy owners on his back. Gurley leads the NFL with 77 carries+targets on the year, 12 more than 2nd place RB Alvin Kamara, and 26 more than 3rd place RB Saquon Barkley. Gurley has the amazing combination of playing for the Rams, the team with the 2nd most red zone plays this year (one less than the Saints), while also seeing a league-leading 48% of his team’s red zone carries+targets.
With Gurley seeing almost six and a half chances at scoring a touchdown every week, he unsurprisingly is dominating the league in red zone fantasy scoring. His 142.6 red zone fantasy points are almost 30 more than 2nd place Kamara, and more than doubles the red zone points of all players but the top 7 red zone points scorers. This is the first week all season that anyone has come close to topping him in my red zone projections, and it takes Gurley traveling to Chicago to play the league’s best defense, along with Kamara facing off against a Buccaneers defense allowing the 5th most points to opposing running backs and the 3rd most points to opposing wide receivers. I’ve been finding a way to fit Gurley into my DFS lineups every week and will continue to do so even in a tough matchup.
RB Peyton Barber is a depth piece that many playoff fantasy teams with a loaded running back position don’t need anymore, as he is a fairly unexciting option. But for those fantasy teams struggling at the position, Barber is a consistent source of red zone usage and is worth an add if he hits waivers this week. Barber plays a Saints team that has held opposing running backs to the 3rd fewest points in the league, but what we really care about is how many chances he will have to score a touchdown. Tampa Bay has run the 6th most red zone plays this year, and their projected points scored this week are good enough to assume Barber will have a chance to reach the end zone for what would be the 4th straight week. However, with games on the road in Baltimore and Dallas upcoming, this may be the last week of fantasy relevance for Barber.
The problem with RB Joe Mixon this week isn’t his usage, as he has seen a healthy 29% of the Bengals’ red zone carries+targets this year. But playing for a team with a league-low 16.5 projected points, on the road, as a 15 point underdog is about as bad as it gets for a running back. If the Bengals score, there’s a good chance it’s Mixon, but how many touchdowns will they score? His usage on the ground and in the air still makes him a useful fantasy starter, but his team is preventing him from reaching his upside.
Week 14 Red Zone Projections: WR Top 10 Carries+Targets
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Noteworthy Week 14 WRs
With WR Odell Beckham surprisingly missing week 14, WR Sterling Shepard looks primed for a big week. Shepard was already the WR14 in projected red zone carries+targets just based on his usage prior to this week. With Beckham’s 18% red zone usage up for grabs, Shepard will likely be the main beneficiary. Add in his track record of excelling last year without Beckham, and Shepard looks like a frequent check down option and red zone threat this week against Washington. He’s a great cheap option on daily fantasy sites and a good option in most season-long leagues.
Having a red zone role is fantasy gold in the Patriots offense, as they travel to the red zone as often as any team in the league from year to year. Unfortunately for WR Josh Gordon, he has been unable to find a way into the gameplan when the field becomes compacted in the red zone. Gordon saw a target in the red zone last week, his first in almost a month. With only 7 red zone carries+targets on the year, Gordon finds himself among players like WR Tre’Quan Smith, WR Taylor Gabriel, and WR David Moore in red zone opportunities. Gordon only has 13 fantasy points coming on plays that started inside the 20, and zero fantasy points on plays inside the 10. He remains a useful big play WR3, but his lack of red zone usage should be considered heavily when evaluating him for fantasy drafts next year.
Week 14 Red Zone Projections: TE Top 10 Carries+Targets
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Noteworthy Week 14 TEs
TE George Kittle is still an elite fantasy tight end, so put away your pitchforks. But as he has dealt with the wreckage left in the aftermath of QB Jimmy Garoppolo’s knee injury, Kittle has begun to see his red zone role dry up. With only three red zone targets in his last four games, he isn’t the same touchdown threat he would be with Garoppolo at quarterback. Kittle’s three touchdowns on the year are disappointing, and it will be interesting to see where he goes in drafts next year. A rebound in the touchdown department with a better quarterback would give him explosive potential, and I would be happy to draft him if the market undervalues him.
Red Zone GIF of the Week
With the game on the line from the one-yard line, the Chicago Bears called a handoff to the tight end-pitch to the running back (who was lined up in the slot)-pass to the rookie wide receiver to send the game into overtime. A play like this might get a coach fired a couple years ago, but in 2018 it’s a creative way to get a player open in the end zone. The game of football has changed significantly in the past few years, and sometimes it’s easy to forget just how quickly it has happened.