There are two primary ways to score fantasy points: via yardage and through scoring touchdowns. While yardage can be attained on virtually any offensive play, the likelihood of scoring a touchdown is directly related to the distance from the goal line at the beginning of each play. With that in mind, here are some statistics on general red zone opportunities. An opportunity is defined as either a rush attempt or a pass target for the player listed.
Most 2014 Red Zone Opportunities, Running Backs
Most 2014 Red Zone Opportunities, Wide Receivers
Most 2014 Red Zone Opportunities, Tight Ends
NFL teams have really figured out how to utilize their tight ends in the red zone. Of the 10 tight ends with at least eight red zone opportunities, only Charles Clay has a touchdown success rate of less than one-third.
When looking at red zone play calling below, you'll find that the Dallas Cowboys pass on almost 60 percent of their plays. That seems counterintuitive based on how great DeMarco Murray has been this year, but Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams have both scored on at least 50 percent of their red zone opportunities.
Last season, LeSean McCoy scored on 15 percent of his red zone opportunities. This season, that success rate has plummeted to 4 percent. Had he maintained his production rate of last season, McCoy would have three more touchdowns. Those "missing" fantasy points would raise him from his current rank of 19th among fantasy running backs all the way up to 12th.
Receiving yardage is the most variable form of yardage, which makes sense because so much of it is dependent on where the quarterback elects to throw the ball. Because of this, variations in the number of times a player is targeted by his quarterback can greatly change a player's value. So while your receiver may have scored 10 fantasy points in a given week, you need to know if it's reasonable to expect that he can repeat that type of performance on a routine basis. If he had one target that he turned into a 40-yard touchdown, you need to realize that he was one quarterback decision away from posting a goose egg. Conversely, if your wideout had 12 targets and finished with 108 receiving yards, his prospects for consistent fantasy production are significantly greater. In the chart below, you'll see all the players averaging six or more targets, the number of routes they average per game and their average depth of target.
Note: Targets are not an official NFL statistic. Based on the methodology that stat services use, the number of targets listed may be different than target values listed elsewhere. The philosophy of ESPN Stats & Information is to count a target when the analyst thinks the pass was actually intended for the player. Therefore, if a quarterback is obviously throwing a ball away, the analyst will not record a target for that pass. This gives a truer representation of what a target is -- i.e., a pass thrown to a particular player with the intent for that player to catch the ball -- and therefore should be more helpful to the fantasy community.
Targets Report, Past 4 Weeks
Fantasy insights based on Week 9
• Odell Beckham is owned in less than 60 percent of ESPN.com leagues, but he is quickly becoming Eli Manning's top receiving option. Remember, Beckham was injured early in training camp and didn't get to develop as most rookie wide receivers typically do. His speed is elite, and he was generally praised as being one of the best route runners available in the draft. Look for Beckham to be a solid WR2 going forward.
• Many will look at Allen Hurns' two scores on nine targets as an indication that Allen Robinson's light is starting to fade, but don't be among that group. Robinson was still targeted eight times Sunday and hasn't had fewer than six targets in any game since the first week of the season.
• Since Kyle Orton took over as the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback in Week 5, Sammy Watkins is averaging 98 receiving yards per game. During that time frame, the only wide receivers with higher per-game receiving yardage totals are Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton, Golden Tate, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Brown and Jeremy Maclin. It's very likely that most aren't viewing Watkins as a low-end WR1, so there may be an opportunity to buy lower than you should be able to.
• The 13 targets Percy Harvin received Sunday represented his largest total since Week 6 of the 2012 season. His 34 routes run represented his fifth-largest total in his career. When you consider that it's highly unlikely that he has complete mastery of the New York Jets' playbook, you can see the Jets are making a concerted effort to identify if Harvin can be the difference-maker they so desperately need.
Big plays and up-close
In Week 9, five players totaled three rushes that gained 10 or more yards each: Jeremy Hill (5), Chris Johnson (4), Ryan Tannehill (3), Jonathan Stewart (3) and Andre Ellington (3). That is two fewer than the number of players (7) with at least three rushes of 10 or more yards in Week 8.
Meanwhile, nine players had at least two carries from the opponent's 5-yard line or closer: Mark Ingram (5), Matt Asiata (4), Jamaal Charles (3), Terrance West (2), Marshawn Lynch (2), Marion Grice (2), Lamar Miller (2), Jeremy Hill (2) and Ben Tate (2). From that group, only the two Cleveland Browns running backs failed to score at least once from that range.
• Here's a testament to the strength of the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line: On the three carries that Andre Ellington had that went at least 10 yards, he gained a total of 48 yards. The entirety of that yardage came before he was contacted by the defense.
• There have been a total of three games in Matt Asiata's career in which he scored a rushing touchdown. In each of those games, he scored three rushing touchdowns. You may think his performance has been a fluke, but consider this: Of the 34 players since the beginning of last season with at least 10 carries from the opponent's 5-yard line or closer, Asiata ranks second, behind only Eddie Lacy, among active runners in touchdown success rate on those carries.
• Ben Tate and Terrance West each blew two opportunities to score touchdowns from in close, thereby lowering their individual touchdown success rate for the season to 25 percent from that range. Meanwhile, Isaiah Crowell has converted both of his carries in this area of the field into touchdowns, but he has barely seen the field the past couple of weeks.
Red zone play selection
Below is a list of all teams sorted by the number of offensive snaps they have had in the red zone. For the purposes of this analysis, pass plays are defined as all snaps that resulted in a pass attempt or sack, with all other snaps being classified as rushes.
Red Zone Breakdown, This Season
• After running 24 red zone plays this week against the San Diego Chargers, the Miami Dolphins now lead the league in most snaps in the opponent's red zone. Their total of 108 is just seven fewer snaps than the combined totals of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders.
• After finishing last season as a top-10 fantasy quarterback, Andy Dalton is currently 18th. Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals passed on 55 percent of their red zone opportunities. This season, they are only passing on 36 percent. That's a major change, which is likely driven from the change of offensive coordinators during the offseason and is a big reason for Dalton's fantasy drop.
• Two-thirds of the New York Jets' red zone snaps have come with the team trailing by seven or more points. When trailing by less than a touchdown, the Jets have rushed on 54 percent of their red zone snaps, which shows that their overall propensity to pass in this area is driven more by score differential than how they would prefer to run their offense.
Until next week, thanks for reading.