(Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)
With 6 weeks of the NFL season behind us, our sample size continues to grow. Due to the Cardinals and Broncos playing on Thursday night, and 4 teams on a bye (GB, PIT, OAK, SEA), there are some notable red zone options missing from this week’s article.
My week 7 leaders in red zone carries+targets are listed below. While these projections are heavily based on this year’s statistics, the league changes so quickly that there is value in favoring recent games. Projected carries+targets should be given more weight than projected points, as projected points are based on how a player has produced this year and can still see a big swing depending on the outcomes of just a couple red zone opportunities. Fantasy points are based on PPR scoring.
Thanks to Pro Football Reference for their great statistics and play index, and Graham Barfield for his excellent team-level data.
Please note: This is a red zone article. Projections and rankings are based on red zone usage only
Week 7 Red Zone Projections: RB Top 10 Carries+Targets
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Week 7 RB Preview
Ito Smith has been on the top 10 list for projected red zone usage for a few weeks now, but with Devonta Freeman‘s impending return he felt like a temporary flex option and not much more. With Freeman on IR, Smith has a huge opportunity cleared out for him for the rest of the season. Smith’s overall yardage totals leave a lot to be desired, but his red zone usage can’t be denied. Smith has seen 29% of Atlanta’s red zone carries+targets, a valuable role in a high scoring offense. Smith has scored a touchdown in the last 3 weeks, and last week received four red zone carries.
The Falcons are 5.5 point favorites this week, which could lead to some increased volume. With Tevin Coleman set to be a free agent next year, the Falcons may want to see what they have in the rookie Smith as a compliment to Freeman next year. Smith is probably just a touchdown-dependent flex option for now, but he is one of the better bets at a touchdown this week and makes a good bye week fill-in at the least. If his role grows throughout the year, he could become an every week fantasy starter.
Peyton Barber isn’t a play to get excited about, as he only has one touchdown on the year and has underwhelming yardage totals. So I was surprised to see him sneak onto the back end of the top 10 red zone running backs list. Part of the reason he makes the list is from players out on their bye weeks, but that’s also a reason some fantasy teams may need to use him.
Barber saw four carries and a target in the red zone last week and seems to have held off disappointing rookie Ronald Jones for another week. While the Browns defense is improved, it has been up and down this year. Tampa Bay is a 3 point favorite at home, which should set up a nice game script for Barber. His 27% of the Buccaneers’ red zone carries+targets this year is a solid number, and he should see a few chances at reaching the end zone in week 7. If you are hurting with bye weeks, Barber is an acceptable fill in this week.
Latavius Murray/Dalvin Cook
As the season goes on, it’s getting harder and harder to find red zone running backs that will disappoint outside of the obvious matchups (Ravens, Jags, etc). Part of the reason is if a running back has struggled in the red zone through 6 weeks, they probably aren’t having a good year and fantasy owners have likely moved on already.
Minnesota’s backfield looks like a potential red zone disappointment this week, and Dalvin Cook returning would further muddy the situation. Cook, Latavius Murray, and Roc Thomas are the Vikings running backs with red zone usage this year, and each only has 4 red zone carries+targets. Cook sitting out again would help only so much, as the Vikings have run the 5th fewest red zone plays so far this year. And when they do get to the red zone, they have 25 targets vs. only 11 carries.
Murray owners won’t be happy with this analysis, but keep in mind that this is only looking at red zone usage. His 155 rushing yards from last week made his lack of red zone usage (1 carry) irrelevant. But Kirk Cousins is slinging the ball to his talented wide receivers this year, and that playstyle is affecting Minnesota’s running backs as a result. It’s still a small enough sample that it could change as the year progresses, but for now, it limits their backfield’s upside slightly, as they have not been the defensive juggernaut that we thought they would be, and they are passing more as a result.
Week 7 Red Zone Projections: WR Top 10 Carries+Targets
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Week 7 WR Preview
The wide receiver group is thinned out a bit this week with Green Bay and Pittsburgh on a bye, but even so, Tyreek Hill making the list is a huge positive for his fantasy owners. Last year Hill only saw 6 total carries+targets in the red zone, the only blemish on his resume as a fantasy option. This year he already has 7 carries+targets, and while that only accounts for 10% of the Chief’s opportunities, his big-play ability makes that more than enough. Last week Hill turned 2 red zone targets into 2 touchdowns against the Patriots. With his ability to score from anywhere on the field, short red zone touchdowns will just be an added bonus and will elevate him up the fantasy ranks.
Odell Beckham/Sterling Shepard
While the Falcons defense has been gashed by receiving backs this year, setting up Saquon Barkley as an obvious fantasy monster this week, Atlanta has been just as giving to wide receivers in 2018. It can be scary to trust Eli Manning to get the ball to his receivers, but this sets up as a great spot for Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard. Both have received a solid 19% of the Giants’ red zone carries+targets, and as 5.5 point underdogs, they should be passing often.
Beckham only has 0.7 fantasy points in the red zone this year, which is why he’s projected for a low point total. But if he continues to get red zone opportunities he will eventually start converting, as he has been a good red zone option in the past. Evan Engram‘s return may eventually limit Shepard’s targets, but there should be plenty to go around this week. He’s a solid play in a week with 4 teams on a bye.
With only 3 red zone targets on the year, Mike Evans is only seeing 6% of Tampa Bay’s red zone carries+targets. Chris Godwin seems to be stealing his opportunities, as Godwin has 17% of the Buccaneer’s usage on the year, a number that would usually be reserved for Evans. This feels like a number that could be due for a quick regression, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see Evans have a blow-up week in the red zone at any time. But for now, this is a part of his game that is missing, and with so many different receiving options for Tampa Bay, it could be a problem all year.
Week 7 Red Zone Projections: TE Top 10 Carries+Targets
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Week 7 TE Preview
Travis Kelce has received 13% of the Chiefs red zone carries+targets in 2018, and in a week 7 matchup against a Bengals team that has allowed the 4th most fantasy points to tight ends, Kelce seems like a good bet for a touchdown, like he is most weeks. Last week the Steelers heavily targeted their tight ends against the Bengals, and with Tyreek Hill’s explosion last week I expect him to be double teamed often. Kelce saw two red zone targets last week but was unable to convert. Expect that to change this week.
Rob Gronkowski amazingly only has 1 red zone target all year, only 2% of the Patriots opportunities. The Patriots have been extremely balanced in the red zone with 33 carries and 30 targets, but those are still plenty of chances to get Gronk involved. If anyone has an idea why this is happening, feel free to comment, because I am at a loss. Its certainly possible that he is losing a step, but after seeing Jimmy Graham soak up red zone targets last year while looking slow, that can’t be the only reason. The Patriots may just have too many options and are avoiding the double team on Gronk.
Red Zone GIF of the Week
To follow up on last week, I downgraded David Njoku after having zero red zone targets through the first 5 weeks of the season. It finally happened in week 6, as Njoku received 2 red zone targets, including the 3rd down target split out wide as shown above. Red zone usage was holding Njoku back as an elite tight end option, but if this continues he looks like an excellent play every week in a weak tight end position as a whole. If Njoku and Baker Mayfield continue to improve and develop chemistry, Njoku has all of the tools to be a major red zone weapon and a top 5 fantasy tight end option.