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Although volume and yardage are incredibly important for an NFL player's fantasy production, touchdowns and red zone efficiency are often the difference between winning and losing on any given week. Every fantasy team should have a game-breaker with touchdown upside on their roster and Rotoballer is here to help you find him! In this article, I will be taking a look at eight potential sleepers in 2018 fantasy drafts with massive red zone upside.

All numbers are taken from sharpfootballstats.com. Here are a couple of notes before we dive in:

  • NFL averages are calculated across all relevant fantasy positions. For example, the NFL average for total red zone targets from 2017 comes from red zone targets for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends
  • Red zone targets are simply the overall number of times a player was targeted as a receiver within the opposing team's 20-yard line; the eligible players for total red zone targets required a minimum of 10 red zone receiving targets in 2017
  • Red zone catch rate is calculated by taking the number of catches within the opposing team's 20-yard line and dividing that number by the player's total targets within the opposing team's 20-yard line; the eligible players for red zone catch rate required a minimum of 50 receiving targets in 2017
  • Red zone touchdown rate is calculated by taking the number of receptions within the opposing team's 20-yard line that resulted in touchdowns and dividing it by the total number of receptions within the opposing team's 20-yard line; the eligible players for red zone touchdown rate required a minimum of 10 red zone receiving targets in 2017

 

Running Backs

Fantasy owners don't typically target running backs with an eye for their red zone receiving efficiency, but it can be especially beneficial to look at the dual-threat abilities of a rusher to see where extra touchdown upside lies. New England Patriots rusher Dion Lewis is the gold standard for such a player, as his 13 red zone targets were the fifth-most among running backs and his red zone catch rate was staggeringly high compared to the NFL average thanks brilliant offensive scheming and plenty of dump-off pass volume from quarterback Tom Brady.

As the only exception on this list to the minimum of 10 red zone targets rule, Cleveland Browns rusher Duke Johnson was noticeably limited by poor quarterback play and questionable red zone play-calling. If Cleveland can find itself a new signal-caller this offseason, especially one like Kirk Cousins who contributed to the fantasy breakout for spell back Chris Thompson, Johnson could become the beneficiary of increased passing volume with his 81-percent red zone catch rate and above average touchdown rate.

 

Wide Receivers

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rookie despite being the team's third-string wide receiver. He was clearly a favorite of quarterback Jared Goff, as he received the fourth-most red zone targets in the NFL last season and was one of the sneakiest waiver wire pickups of the year. Heading to North Carolina, Panther's wide receiver Devin Funchess became a much more heavily utilized red zone weapon with the departure of Kelvin Benjamin. His 56-percent red zone catch rate may seem low on the surface, but that number skyrockets to 87-percent inside the 10-yard line. Although he will have to compete with tight end Greg Olsen for targets, Funchess should be heavily sought after for the upcoming fantasy season given his incredible 36-percent red zone touchdown rate.

It would seemingly be common sense that big-bodied, tall wide receivers make for the best red zone threats. However, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor and New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola both finished in the top-15 for red zone targets in 2017 despite being shorter than 6'1. Both wide receivers can benefit from players departing from their teams in the offseason, with the Eagles expected to move on from Torrey Smith and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski mulling retirement. Keep an eye out for these two in later rounds of 2018 fantasy drafts.

 

Tight Ends

Red zone upside might be most important for the tight end position, as they have a greater share of their fantasy production attributable to touchdowns than both running backs and wide receivers. Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle didn't get much red zone work due to the Colts offense being largely ineffective at moving the ball, but he still managed to boast an elite-level red zone catch rate at 75-percent and convert 40-percent of those receptions into touchdowns. Even if quarterback Jacoby Brissett is under center next season, fantasy owners should trust in the consistent value that the man dubbed "Tim Duncan" by Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton can return.

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is a more volatile option, but it is indisputable how successful he is when healthy. His seventeen red zone targets last season ranked fifth among tight ends and his overall red zone efficiency was well above the NFL average. The big question with Rudolph will always be health, but owners will get top-shelf production from him when he is on the field.

 

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