You shouldn’t just draft a player because he’s targeted in the red zone, but finding the type of red zone players who quarterbacks always rely on can give your team an edge.
When I reviewed the data from 2017, I was surprised to see how late so many wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs are being drafted this year after they were heavily relied on in the red zone in 2016.
Now, one of these players is a first-round pick. But because of his consistency and use in the red zone, he’s one of the safest running backs you can draft in 2017.
Listed below are wide receivers and tight ends who were their quarterbacks favorite targets when they got the ball between the 20-yard line and the goal line, as well as running backs who recorded a significant amount of carries in the red zone last year.
Red Zone Players Who See All the Action
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings
Last season, Rudolph finished with the second-most targets in the red zone (30), and that was with Sam Bradford being rushed into the starting quarterback role in Minnesota.
Now with a year under his belt, Bradford and Rudolph should have an even better rapport.
He was Bradford’s favorite red-zone target, and he was also his favorite player to target anytime he was on the field. Rudolph led the Vikings in targets last season (132), and he finished second in receptions (83).
He was also targeted the most on first downs, so the 27-year old tight end should once again be the focal point of the receiving core.
And even having said all that, you can still draft him in Round 9, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. I love the depth at the tight end position this year, and you can pair Rudolph with tight ends with a lot of upside later in the draft like Eric Ebron or Jack Doyle.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle Seahawks
Graham finished in the Top 15 in red-zone targets last season, and that’s amazing considering his road to recovery from his torn patellar tendon in 2015. That was the same injury that stole so much time away from Victor Cruz.
On top of all the red-zone targets, he also posted a 65-923-6 stat line as a receiver.
The 30-year old tight end also reportedly played at 280 pounds last year, but now he’s down to 260.
If he was heavier and still recovered from an injury and was still able to finish as a top-tier tight end, imagine what he can do in 2017 when fully healthy.
Graham is being drafted in Round 6, which means you can back him up with players like Delanie Walker or Rudolph if you’re worried about his health.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
A lot of people look at the quarterback situation in Denver and want to avoid Thomas. They think he had a down year in 2016, as he posted a 90-1,083-5 stat line.
It’s true his numbers went down from the previous season (105-1,304-6), but it’s also true Thomas was the eighth-most targeted player in the red zone in the NFL last year.
That stat line from 2016 was also good enough for Thomas to finish in the Top 15 at the wide receiver position in PPR leagues.
Will he ever return to his 14-touchdown season of 2013? Probably not, but his numbers are too good for him to fall into Round 4. Thomas dealt with a hip issue last season and it was Trevor Siemian’s first year as the full-time starter for Denver, so imagine how good Thomas could be this year if he’s healthy and Siemian has more experience.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have found the perfect balance in getting Freeman and Tevin Coleman playing time. Fortunately for Freeman owners, it barely impacted his Fantasy production. He only scored 32.3 fewer points in 2016 than in 2015, which equals 2.01 Fantasy points per game in a 16-game season.
What I really like about Coleman handling more carries is it makes sure Freeman isn’t overworked. He went from 265 carries in 2015 to 227 in 2016, but he still recorded more rushing yards last year (1,079) than in 2015 (1,056). That’s because he improved his YPC average to 4.8 from 4.0.
He recorded the most red-zone carries in the league in 2015, and he finished in third in 2016. So even if Coleman touches the ball more, Freeman is clearly the guy the Falcons are relying on when they get near the goal line.
Terrance West, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Danny Woodhead could have a great year for his Fantasy owners because of his dual-threat abilities. In his last 16-game season, he posted a 81-756-6 stat line as a receiver.
However, his age and injuries that kept him to playing just three games in 2014 and two games in 2016 scare me. According to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, you can draft him and Terrance West in Round 7.
In my drafts, though, I’ve mostly seen Woodhead being picked between Rounds 5-6 and West going as late as Round 10.
If you can draft Woodhead in Round 7, go for it. But if he’s drafted earlier than that, I would add West to your team. Last year, the 26-year old back had a quiet, but a productive season. Between rushing the ball and catching the ball, he finished with more than 1,000 yards. He also recorded six total touchdowns.
But what I was most surprised to learn was he finished just outside the Top 20 in red-zone carries. In fact, LeVeon Bell only had one more red-zone carry than West.
If Woodhead doesn’t work out or is injured again, West will have a huge workload in 2017. If he doesn’t, he’s still good to add to your bench for depth and works as a bye-week filler.
Bonus Pick: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Yes, he’s a rookie running back, so he doesn’t have any red-zone rushing attempts yet. However, Matt Asiata is leaving behind a lot of work for the 22-year old back. Last season, Asiata finished in the Top 15 in red-zone carries, and he scored six rushing touchdowns.
In 2014, he scored a total of 10 touchdowns.
Cook owners may have to worry about Latavius Murray stealing work at times, but the rookie is slated to be the starter. And if he can receive a similar workload as Asiata in the red zone, Cook could have a very successful first year.
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