by Justin Kirkland
As a fantasy football analyst, my goal is to help fantasy players, both new and old, take the guesswork out of building your lineup. Each fantasy season sheds more light on the vast number of variables that influence the outcome of your weekly matchups. If you’ve never played before, I’d expect your draft targets to be players you’ve seen on TV or that play on your hometown team. As you gain more experience, you begin to factor in things like matchup and expected game script. Experts may even go as far to factor in gameday weather conditions when setting their lineups. Today, we’ll take a look at how a wide receiver’s red zone activity affects their end of season positional rank and whether or not there is positive correlation between the two. While red zone data is valuable research to have in any league format, today’s article will provide statistics for PPR (Point Per Reception) scoring leagues.
Before we dive into red zone stats, let’s begin with taking a deeper look at WR quality by tier. In 2019, WR1s (WR1-WR12) averaged 17.13 fantasy points per game. WR2s (WR13-24) averaged roughly 12% less ppg than WR1s. WR3s (WR25-36) averaged roughly 15% less ppg than WR2s. Lastly, WR4s (WR37-WR50) averaged roughly 14% less ppg than WR3s. What does this tell us? There really isn’t a huge disparity in average production between the first few WR tiers. While you can find steals in the middle and end of drafts, you’ll want to try to stash some high-floor options early on. Fantasy players derive their own personal strategies based on the importance they place on each skill position. I will ALWAYS put heavy draft capital in my Running Backs group because that is the strategy that has carried me to past championships in my leagues. While draft pick positioning will force me to remain flexible with draft strategy, I’ll most likely be targeting my first couple WRs toward the bottom of tier 2 and top of tier 3 with hopes of cashing in on upside. If you’re looking to anchor your 2020 lineups with sure-handed stars on the outside, use the rest of the insights provided to guide you on your way!
The red zone is defined as the area of the field between the 20 yard line and the goal line. We’ve analyzed targets, receptions, and touchdowns from within the 20 yard line and the 10 yard line across 2019’s top 50 WRs in PPR scoring formats. We found that WR2s saw at least a 25% decrease in red zone opportunities from within the 20 yard line compared to WR1s. WR2s and WR3s saw similar opportunity levels. As expected the WR4 tier saw another large drop of at least 30% in each stat compared to the WR3 tier. Findings were even more pronounced when looking at red zone opportunities within the 10 yard line. One of the unexpected insights we found was that the WR3 tier actually received more average targets, receptions, and touchdowns than the WR2 tier within the 10 yard line.
Based on the data, our findings were mixed. WRs with elite fantasy production certainly saw a wealth of activity in the red zone last season. This doesn’t mean that a WR can’t finish as a top option while receiving few red zone looks. Amari Cooper finished as the WR10 while getting only 9 targets within the 20 yard line. For reference, Danny Amendola also received 9 targets within the 20 yard line and finished as WR49. You can also think about someone like a Chris Godwin that thrived on deep passes from Jameis Winston all season. He finished as the WR2 while only seeing a modest 12 targets within the 20 yard line. On the other hand, Tyler Locket received 23 targets within the 20 (most in the NFL) while finishing at WR13. While there are some outliers on both sides, 8 of the top 12 WRs had at least 15 targets within the 20. We can confidently state that high red zone usage is highly correlative with high end of season positional rankings, but there isn’t causation involved. I’d strongly suggest drafting players that you know will see significant numbers of opportunities, but I can’t fault anyone for taking their shot on your low volume high TD-scoring options.
This analysis is just the first look at my series #PutItAllOnRed. In future iterations, we’ll take a look at how things like target share, QB accuracy, and even coaching changes affect a player’s red zone usage and fantasy projections.
Take any player you're targeting in 2020 drafts and see where he stacked up against the competition last year.
Go to https://aws.pro-football-reference.com/players/ and search for the player. Hover over the “Fantasy” tab on the menu underneath the player’s photo. Click on “2019” and you’ll be taken to the page where red zone data can be accessed.
Happy drafting season everyone!
Special thank you for this amazing article to Justin Kirkland and his team at Sin City Fantasy Football! For more data driven research and analytics follow him on Instagram at @sin_city_fantasy_football