Red Zone Analysis: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
As many of you know, red zone statistics are an extremely underrated part of fantasy football, especially given that touchdowns can vary so much from year to year. Just ask guys like Jason Witten and DeSean Jackson. We’re going to investigate some of the wide receivers and tight ends you might not expect to be either high or low in red zone volume for 2012 and see whether that may continue for the 2013 season. A running back article will follow this one at a later point, as will a sleeper post.
Let’s start off with the most interesting stat. Take a guess who led all wide receivers in 2012 red zone targets with 25, including 11 targets inside the 10 yard line. Eric Decker, he of the “thanks, Peyton” breakout season. Decker had 18% of his team’s total targets, yet nearly 25% of his team’s total red zone targets thanks to his 6’3″ frame and solid hands. Decker caught 70.8% of his targets, which was top-10 amongst all wide receivers. So what can we expect for 2013? I won’t be surprised if it’s more of the same. Wes Welker isn’t a big red zone target — even though he had 18 last year, likely due to injuries and comfort with Brady — and Manning will have to find rapport with Welker. While that shouldn’t be tough to do, he already has rapport with Decker and should continue to build on that. It’s also worth noting Demaryius Thomas had 21 targets in the red area, which was fourth-most amongst wide receivers. This means it’s not likely that Thomas will vulture many of Decker’s targets since he already had a solid amount. While his overall numbers may take a hit, Decker should be a decent bet for another double digit score season.
Larry Fitzgerald had 20 red zone targets last year, and only had four touchdowns. Those 20 targets were a whopping 44.4% of his team’s red zone targets, displaying just how bad that offense was. Of the eight wide receivers with 20+ red zone targets, all had at least seven touchdowns on the year, with five snagging 10+ TDs. With Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians in tow, I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t get back to at least eight touchdowns, if not double digits. Remember, Fitz was still seventh in the league in overall targets. With even a 60% catch rate instead of his 48% mark in 2012, you’re looking at a 90-catch season instead of a 70-catch season. He’s still got skills, and with Michael Floyd developing to hopefully take some pressure off him, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take a gamble on the stud if he falls to you in the third round or later.
In what may be the shortest paragraph in history, Calvin Johnson had a mere four total touchdowns despite 17 red zone targets. In case you needed another reason to take him as the first WR off the board.
I’d like to briefly touch on Andre Johnson. In 2008, he had 28 red zone targets. In 2009, he had 25. In 13 games in 2010, he had 16. In 16 games in 2012, he had…seven. If he stays healthy, you want to bet against this guy’s red zone targets spiking back up again? He should double those red zone target numbers, and if he does, those four touchdowns should become something like seven or eight. I’m seeing Andre going in the fourth or even fifth round in some mocks, which flabbergasts me. Yes he’s getting older, yes he has an injury history, but when he’s on the field, he’s an absolute boss. Unless I’m missing something about a guy who just caught 112 balls for roughly 1,600 yards.
Finally, let’s discuss some guys who may not have the same red zone target totals they did last year. The obvious one is Wes Welker, who enters a team in which Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are simply better red zone targets than he is thanks to their height, catch radius and likely route tree. Those 18 red zone targets from 2012 may be halved or worse. Second, like Welker, Andrew Hawkins is an interesting case. He had 14 red zone targets in 2012, yet many were on slips, screens, etc. If I’m the Bengals, I’m hoping Tyler Eifert or Marvin Jones step up this year, because Andrew Hawkins is a speedy slot/gadget specialist, not Calvin Johnson. I doubt he’s being drafted in many leagues, but in case you’re in a deep PPR and looking at him, the four touchdowns many reduce even further this year.
There was only one tight end in the NFL who had more than 30% of his team’s red zone targets, and that was Dennis Pitta. Despite only 13 red zone targets, Pitta had 30.2% of his team’s targets in the red area. With Anquan Boldin and his 9 red zone targets gone, don’t be surprised if Pitta in fact sees a few more this year. Pitta is definitely on the TE1 radar, and if he absorbs some of Boldin’s numbers, a 70/800/9 campaign is entirely achievable.
One player that several people are high on as a back-end TE1 is Martellus Bennett. Bennett was thrown at 16 times in the red zone, yet only managed five touchdowns. With Jay Cutler and a new coaching regime in Chicago, it’s conceivable that Bennett could match these red zone targets again, as he’s now the second third 3rd receiving option on the team depending on how Alshon Jeffery performs in his sophomore season. While Bennett probably shouldn’t be depended on for a high volume of catches, his 6’6″ frame makes him worth targeting in case he does approach double digit touchdowns.
A guy I mentioned early on in the article is Jason Witten. He’s always been a fascinating player to follow over the years. His touchdown totals since 2007: 7, 4,2, 9, 5, 3. His red zone targets those same years: 17, 6, 7, 16, 13, 14. You’ll notice that his 2012 sticks out like a sore thumb, as he had the red zone target volume, yet only managed three touchdowns. What does this mean? For one, if you’re counting on a healthy Miles Austin for 16 games, I have a pet unicorn I’d like to sell you. Witten is clearly Romo’s trusted targets, and while I think Dez Bryant will be a full-on stud this year, even with a slight downtick in red zone targets, Witten’s touchdown numbers should go up. While 100 catches may not happen again, this is a guy who’s durable, who’s a near lock for 80+ catches, and should see more than 3 touchdowns this year. A solid value pick regardless of formats, considering you can likely snag him in the 7th or 8th round. What other player has such a good chance at 90/900/6 that late?