Originally published: August 18, 2016
Whether you’re in a TD-only league or not, finding the endzone is obviously a key to success in fantasy football, fickle as TDs can be. So while we started putting out this preseason article to appease the TD-only dinosaurs out there (how you guys doing, by the way?), the fact is it’s a worthwhile exercise to examine which players have a little more going for them than most in the scoring department.
For the most part, we’re not going to take up our time and your time by writing about the league’s obvious choices in terms of scoring TDs. You already know who those guys are.
- Any reference to “red zone” in this article refers to plays inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, while any reference to “goal line” refers to plays inside the opponent’s 5-yard line.
- When a percentage is referenced for QBs and RBs – as in “Andrew Luckwas involved on 62% of the Colts’ red-zone plays” – the percentage measures the times the player threw a pass, ran the ball, or was targeted on a team’s red-zone or goal-line plays.
- For WRs and TEs, a percentage references to the percentage of the team’s red-zone or goal-line targets that particular player saw, unless specified otherwise.
Note: For QBs, we’re focusing on rushing TDs.
Cam Newton (Car) – Perhaps eventually, the Panthers will stop using Cam at the goal line, but we’re talking about a guy who has turned 29 of 46 career rushes inside the five into TDs (an absurd 63.0%). In fact, you can make the argument that Newton is the best goal-line runner in football, including all RBs. Newton’s 10 rushing TDs in his 2015 MVP season were his most since he ran for 14 as a rookie in 2011, and he has 43 rushing TDs overall in his career (8.6 per year). In other words, until Carolina actively takes Cam’s goal-line rushes away from him, we’re assuming he’ll be majorly productive in TD-heavy leagues as a rusher – Newton was involved in 29% of the Panthers’ goal-line plays (as either a runner or thrower), highest among any QB.
Andy Dalton (Cin) – It remains to be seen if Dalton will still run as much without Hue Jackson as OC, but the Bengals have been fond of utilizing read-option elements with Dalton in the red zone since he came into the league (Dalton ran a lot of read option at TCU). He’s had multiple TD rushes in four consecutive seasons, and has 14 overall in his career. Dalton’s averaged just 2.9 YPC in his career, but he’s effective inside the 5, where he’s converted 9 of 15 career rushes into TDs (60%). We’d expect new OC Ken Zampese (who has been Dalton’s QB coach for years) will continue to utilize deception in the red zone.
Marcus Mariota (Ten) – One of the biggest shocks of the 2015 season – which overall went reasonably well for Mariota – was how little Mariota was used as a runner. In 12 games, the former Oregon QB ran just 34 times, the same number as Tom Brady, and fewer times than Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler. That included just 1 rush inside the five, on which Mariota did not score. That being said, the Titans are expected to go with a run-heavy attack in 2016 under Mike Mularkey, and while the club may want to protect Mariota from too many hits, he’s too talented a runner to score just 2 TDs again – one of his 2 TDs in 2015 was an 87-yarder, which accounted for more than a third of his 252 yards on the year. At the start of training camp, Mularkey suggested that the Titans will have designed runs for Mariota in the game plan. Updated 8/9
Andrew Luck (Ind) – Luck didn’t score a rushing TD in 2015, but he played in only seven games due to injuries. Perhaps that’s a good enough argument as to why he may not get back to his early-career pace, during which he had 12 rushing TDs in his first three seasons with the Colts. A big body who is a very athletic mover, Luck is dangerous with his legs, but will the Colts want him opening himself up to too many hits after what happened to him last year? An upgraded OL should help him, though, in all areas.
Tyrod Taylor (Buf) – Taylor scored 4 TDs on 104 rush attempts in his first year as the Bills’ starting QB, all this despite just a single rush attempt inside the five (which he didn’t convert into a TD). While that may seem a little fluky, keep in mind we don’t expect the Bills’ offense to change much in 2016, as the club didn’t add a ton to its receiving corps, instead choosing to strengthen the backfield with the drafting of Arkansas RB Jonathan Williams (who was recently charged with driving under the influence). Especially given the issues with both Jonathan and Karlos Williams, Taylor will remain a big part of Buffalo’s run game as he looks for a contract extension from the club. The Bills gave Taylor a six-year contract, but they didn’t make a significant commitment to him other than giving him a big raise for 2016 – if he doesn’t give them more reason to be confident in him, he’ll be cut after 2016. Updated 8/18
Jameis Winston (TB) – Winston wasn’t known for his mobility at Florida State, but the Buccaneers used his size and strength to their advantage in 2016 – he ran for 6 TDs, including 5-of-7 attempts inside the five. Winston averaged only 3.9 YPC as a rookie, so no one will mistake him for Cam Newton anytime soon, but at 230 lbs., he’s more than capable of breaking some tackles en route to the end zone (Winston was involved in 23% of the Bucs’ plays at the goal line as either a runner or passer, 7th-most among QBs). Keep in mind Doug Martin has scored only 9 rushing TDs in his last 33 games and Charles Sims has only 1 rushing TD in his 24 career games.
These players could easily be TD vultures in 2016, but we’d like to see how things shake out in training camps before listing them as locks.
Carson Wentz (Phi) – He doesn’t have a starting job, at least yet, but Wentz is a big kid who ran for 13 TDs in college at North Dakota State, including 6 in just seven games as a senior. New Eagle coach Doug Pederson has experience with calling read-option elements with Alex Smith and the Chiefs, as well. He did fracture his ribs in the first preseason game, which will likely keep him out until the preseason finale, but he did extend some plays with his legs on multiple occasions. Updated 8/18
Paxton Lynch (Den) – Huge and athletic, Lynch ran for 17 TDs in college, including a whopping 13 as a sophomore, which was his “healthiest” year at Memphis. His 6’7” frame could contribute to a lot of goal-line stretches if he takes over as the Broncos’ starter at some point during the 2016 season. He will likely have to beat out two other QBs if he’s to play, as second-year man Trevor Siemian is clearly ahead of Lynch heading into camp.
Obvious TD Hounds:
- Todd Gurley
- Adrian Peterson
- Le’Veon Bell
- Devonta Freeman
Jeremy Hill (Cin) – Hill had an overall disappointing 2015 season, but he was great in short yardage – his 16 goal-line carries were fourth in the NFL, and he turned 9 of them into TDs, the best ratio of any RB with 10 or more goal-line carries. Hill was also involved in 44% of the Bengals’ red-zone plays, 6th-among all RBs, and 16% of the Bengals’ goal-line plays, 4th among all RBs in 2015. All in all, he scored 12 TDs total, finishing third among all RBs. TD-heavy players can get the good with Hill without having to worry as much about the bad, which was pretty much everything else. But even though Gio Bernard was significantly better in 2015 and is capable of converting on top of the goal, he scored only two rushing TDs. Hill’s only 23 years with 21 TDs on his resume, and even if he doesn’t return to his 2014 form, he should be useful in TD-heavy formats.
David Johnson (Ari) – DJ had 12 offensive TDs in 2015 as a rookie, tied for 2nd among all RBs, and he had 13 total TDs counting his special-teams work. Heck, through Week Twelve, before he truly blew up, DJ had 8 TDs (including a kickoff return), despite registering just 54 offensive touches to that point. But while his TD efficiency slipped when he took over as the Cardinals’ lead back (as it had to), DJ showed both power in short yardage and the ability to make explosive plays as both a runner and receiver. We expect veteran Chris Johnson to get carries each week, but Johnson is the unquestioned bell cow running back for the Cardinals this year. Updated 8/18
Ezekiel Elliott (Dal) – It’s easy to say the Cowboys want their offense to resemble the DeMarco Murray led 2014 attack, which was an ideal scenario, but they clearly drafted Elliott to do just that. In 2014, Murray led the NFL with 58 runs inside the 20 and was second with 17 carries inside the five. It’s highly unlikely the Cowboys burden Elliott with as much work as Murray got in 2014, or even 75% of that workload. But the point is he was drafted to be the top back, and he’s likely to be their top back in every situation, including around the goal line. Based on his college film and production, he’ll excel in that role. However, we should note that Murray scored “only” 13 TDs on a whopping 450 touches back in 2014, as Dallas threw for 37 TDs that year. So Elliott’s ceiling in TD-only leagues may not be quite as high as some think. Elliott hasn’t had the smoothest start to his rookie camp with a domestic violence allegation and a hamstring issue, two major issues we’ll have to keep an eye on. He did return to practice on Aug. 16 after missing two weeks with the injury. Updated 8/18
Eddie Lacy (GB) – Lacy had a terrible 2015 season, in which he scored only 3 rushing TDs (all on goal-line rush attempts, of which he received 8). But it’s also important to remember that Lacy had a total of 20 rushing TDs in his first two NFL seasons, and over those two seasons he turned in 12 TDs on 26 goal-line attempts. While FB John Kuhn hadn’t been much of a “TD vulture” in recent years, his absence is still good news for Lacy’s TD potential. Lacy has also reportedly slimmed down to 240 pounds, but he should still be bigger than most players at his position, capable of moving the pile in short yardage. Lacy also said he feels more explosive this season, playing at a lighter weight. Updated 8/18
Lamar Miller (Hou) – Not that this isn’t an “end-all, be-all” statistic, but Miller has actually been one of the NFL’s more successful goal-line backs over the last two years, converting 11 of 21 rushes inside the five into TDs (52.4%). His problem in 2015 was pure lack of opportunity – he had just 7 chances in those situations, as the Dolphins stubbornly stuck to throwing the ball. It doesn’t appear the Texans will be ignoring Miller as much as Miami did; Houston paid big money for his services, and basically every report suggests the Texans view him as a true three-down threat. We’d absolutely love to see a commitment to one of the most intriguing backs in the NFL, and considering how the Texans fed the pedestrian Alfred Blue the ball once Arian Foster was lost in 2015, we’re sure we’re going to see it. Miller looked explosive on his first carry as a Texan, taking a carry off the right edge and bursting for 14 yards. Updated 8/18
Chris Ivory (Jac) – Ivory is best-used as part of a rotation, which was evident in 2015 as he was productive for most of the year, but his effectiveness really slipped when he was less than 100%. A violent, determined runner, the Jags seem set on giving Ivory a large part of their early-down work, and considering how they flat-out ignored T.J. Yeldon in short-yardage situations last year, we figure that will be Ivory’s role, as well. Keep in mind that Ivory has a whopping 32 goal-line rushes over the last two seasons, but has only 10 TDs to show for it, not exactly a fantastic percentage. Nonetheless, we feel he’ll be the top option inside the 5 for a potent Jacksonville attack, and he did score a 1-yard TD in the preseason opener. Updated 8/18
Carlos Hyde (SF) – While the sample size is small, as Hyde has missed 11 of a possible 32 games in the NFL thus far, he’s had some success in the TD department, turning 7 of his 198 career carries into scores (that’s an 11-TD pace over 300 carries). That being said, he’s just 3-for-10 on goal-line rushes. The hope is the high-volume Chip Kelly attack leads to more work for Hyde. Kelly’s RBs have scored at least 14 rushing TDs in each of Kelly’s three seasons in the NFL, though it must be noted that Kelly hasn’t actually had a single back hit the 10-rushing-TD department yet. Hyde lost a fumble in the preseason opener, which is a bit of a concern going forward. Updated 8/18
Frank Gore (Ind) – Gore scored 7 total TDs for the Colts last year, which makes him a curious addition to this list, but keep in mind that the Colt offense as a whole was ineffective, in large part because of Andrew Luck’s injury issues. Indianapolis still hasn’t added a back to their attack who provides a serious threat to Gore, especially in critical red-zone situations (Gore was involved in 39% of the Colts’ red-zone plays, 8th among all RBs). Remember Gore also lost a couple TDs last year to fluky fumbles as he was heading into the end zone. There’s a legitimate chance he provides 10 TDs this year for a generally cheap value. HC Rob Chudzinski also said early in training camp that Gore won’t be on a “pitch count” like he was in 2015. Updated 8/9
These players could easily be TD vultures in 2016, but we’d like to see how things shake out in training camps before listing them as locks.
Isaiah Crowell (Cle) – Crowell’s had two mostly ineffective seasons in the NFL, but he has had some success in short yardage. He’s also playing for a coach in Hue Jackson who has successfully employed a two-back attack (power and speed) in recent years with the Bengals. Crowell ostensibly is the best option on the Browns’ roster to handle the short-yardage work, but he’s recently found himself in hot water because of questionable social media posts, and he’s going to have to earn his keep in camp.
LeGarrette Blount (NE) – Blount would be on the standard RB list, but it’s hard to guarantee that he’ll make this Patriots’ roster – you can never be sure with New England. That being said, he is the Pats’ best “power” option currently with the team, and he’s parlayed that into four games with multiple TD runs over his last three years with the team (counting a partial 2014 season, which he began with the Steelers). The problem with Blount is he’s a gameplan-specific back, and it’s often hard to discern when that particular gameplan will be in the cards.
Spencer Ware (KC) – The bruising Ware was extremely effective in short yardage last year, turning 5-of-7 goal-line rush attempts into touchdowns. That said, all but one of the attempts and all of the TDs came after Jamaal Charles was injured. If Charles, who has had short-yardage success himself, is healthy, will Ware have a role? Its possible Ware is little more than a pure TD vulture.
Derrick Henry (Ten) – A second-round pick of the Titans, Henry is expected to open the 2016 season as the #2 back behind DeMarco Murray. However, we don’t exactly trust Murray given his struggles last year, and in theory Henry’s monstrous frame should make him appealing in short-yardage situations. Henry followed up Murray in the preseason opener with 10/74/1 rushing, doing most of his damage between the tackles, including on his 6-yard TD run. Pro Football Focus had Henry breaking four tackles on his 10 carries in his first NFL action. Updated 8/18
Tim Hightower (NO) – Last year, the Saints gave Khiry Robinson 5 goal-line carries in eight games, 3 of which resulted in touchdowns. Then, Hightower saw 8 of them over the final four weeks of the season, 4 of which resulted in TDs. While Mark Ingram is also an effective goal-line back, he’s often injured, and Hightower’s effectiveness in short yardage could mean he steals a few TDs from the Saints’ top back.
Khiry Robinson (NYJ) – In his time with the Saints, Robinson was a fantasy thorn more than a truly productive player, scoring 4 TDs in eight games in 2015 on just 56 carries before breaking his tibia, ending his season. And that’s where his value will lie with the Jets, presumably. Over his three NFL seasons, Robinson is 6-for-10 in converting goal-line rushes into TDs (60%). Over the same span, Matt Forte is 12/38 (31.7%), and Bilal Powell just 2/9 (22.2%). While the Jets value the all-around games of Forte and Powell, clearly they wanted someone to get the tough yards if need be. But will Robinson have a role other than annoying TD vulture? The Jets activated Robinson off the active/PUP list, as he’s finally healthy off his broken right tibia from last season.
Zach Zenner (Det) – Zenner played on the second series of the first preseason game after Theo Riddick, clearly ahead of Stevan Ridley, who didn’t see action until the second half and didn’t see a touch until Zenner was done for the day. Zenner also ran well, finishing with 7/24 rushing and 3/32 receiving, and HC Jim Caldwell also praised his special teams work after the game. Zenner appears to be the #3 RB and the #2 runner in this offense right now behind Ameer Abdullah, who has yet to take part in contact drills in camp as he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery. Zenner’s special teams work also gives him a leg up for making the team, and he could be a factor down by the goal line.
Obvious TD Hounds:
- Antonio Brown
- Odell Beckham
- Dez Bryant
- Allen Robinson
- DeAndre Hopkins
- J. Green
- Brandon Marshall
- Julio Jones
- Alshon Jeffery
Jordy Nelson (GB) – You may have forgotten after he missed the entire 2015 season, but Nelson is still one of the best receivers in the game. He’s been one of the best big-play receivers, and he’s also excellent in the red zone with his size at 6’3” and chemistry with his QB. Nelson averaged 10.8 TDs per season from 2011-14, including 13 TDs in his last season in 2014. He also finished third among WRs with 28 red-zone targets and tied for fifth with 8 goal-line targets in 2014. Nelson saw 28% of his team’s red-zone targets that season. If Nelson is anywhere close to 100% this season, he should pick where he left off in the TD department, especially with James Jones out of the equation this season. The Packers activated Nelson off the active/PUP list on Aug. 17 after battling some tendinitis in his non-surgically repaired knee to start camp. It looks like Nelson will be ready to go for Week 1, but Packers will ease Nelson back into the lineup over the next couple weeks. Updated 8/18
Eric Decker (NYJ) – Decker is a big target at 6’3”, 214 pounds, and he uses it to advantage down near the end zone, with OC Chan Gailey using him out of the slot against smaller defenders. Decker was an absolute force out of the slot down in the red zone last year, and he tied for the league lead in WR RZ targets (29) with DeAndre Hopkins. He also saw the highest percentage of his team’s red-zone targets with 39%. Decker was incredibly consistent in 2015, reaching 11.7+ FP in every game thanks to scoring a TD in 12 games. Decker has hit 11+ TDs in three of his last four seasons, and we’d expect him to come close again with Ryan Fitzpatrick officially back in the fold after signing a one-year deal. Updated 8/9
Mike Evans (TB) – Evans is a dangerous weapon in the red zone because of his size (6’5”), incredibly strong hands, and his body control along the sideline. His unique skillset made his disappearing act in the end zone last season even more dumbfounding. His TDs plummeted from 12 in his rookie year to 3 in his second season, even with an upgrade at QB with rookie Jameis Winston (who did surprisingly run in 6 TDs last year). Evans even saw more two red-zone targets (17) and three more goal-line targets (4) in 2015, while seeing a healthy 24% of his team’s red-zone targets in the games he played. Evans had a rash of drops last season, and Vincent Jackson’s injuries didn’t help much as defenses focused on Evans. Bottom line, we’re expecting Evans’ TD total to rebound this year, and he should be back around double-digits in TDs this season on a team that doesn’t score a lot of RB rushing TDs in general.
Kelvin Benjamin (Car) – Benjamin is a truly imposing cover for any defensive back at 6’5”, 245 pounds, as he’s basically built like a TE but moves like a WR. He’s willing to catch with his hands and pluck the ball out of the air, which makes him even more dangerous in the end zone. Benjamin of course missed the entire 2015 season with a torn ACL, but he found the end zone 9 times in 2014 and he saw 17 red-zone and 4 goal-line targets. We do have to worry about Cam Newton vulturing TDs and WR Devin Funchess is yet another huge target in the end zone, but Benjamin should get his opportunities to score. We don’t love him at his current ADP, and it doesn’t help that HC Ron Rivera said he’s struggling with conditioning in camp, but he should be a factor in the end zone.
Allen Hurns (Jac) – The Jaguars (Hurns and Allen Robinson) and Jets (Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall) were the only teams with two WRs to record double-digit TDs. Hurns now has 16 TDs in his first two seasons, not too bad for a former UDFA out of Miami in 2014 – it earned him a four-year, $40 million extension this off-season. He scored 10 TDs on only 64 catches last season, so he scored on a ridiculous 15.6% of his catches, which is going to be extremely difficult to duplicate. He actually only saw 15 targets and saw just 19% of the team’s red-zone targets. We have a hard time believing he can hit double-digit TDs again if he doesn’t see an increase in his catches, but he’s clearly proven to be a reliable option in the end zone for Blake Bortles.
Sammy Watkins (Buf) – Watkins scored more TDs (9) than red-zone targets (7) seen in just 13 games in 2015, which obviously shows that he did most of his damage as a deep threat with the big-armed Tyrod Taylor. Watkins now has 15 TDs in his first two seasons despite seeing just 19 red-zone and 5 goal-line targets. He saw just 7 red-zone targets last season, which accounted for a 26% of the team’s red-zone targets in the games he played. The hope is that Taylor becomes more confident as a passer in the middle of the field, which would help Watkins’ chances for more TDs in the red zone. He hasn’t been prolific down by the end zone in his first two seasons, but he’s still found ways to score thanks to his big-play ability.Watkins will be returning to the practice field in training camp after undergoing a foot surgery to repair stress fractures back in April. Updated 8/9
Doug Baldwin (Sea) – Baldwin scored just 15 TDs on 196 catches in his first four seasons from 2011-14, meaning 7.7% of his catches went for TDs. Out of nowhere, he turned into a fantasy juggernaut in 2015, and his production was propelled by a ridiculous 14 TDs on 78 catches, meaning 17.9% of his catches went for TDs. He did see a healthy 17 red-zone targets for a whopping 29% of the team’s red-zone targets, but he’s not exactly a physical presence down by the goal line at 5’10”, 189 pounds. We’re expecting Baldwin’s TD production to come back to earth this year and be around the 10% mark, but the Seahawks do believe in him by giving him a four-year, $46 million extension in June.
These players could easily be TD vultures in 2016, but we’d like to see how things shake out in training camps before listing them as locks.
Kevin White (Chi) – White is a real wild card for the Bear offense this season. They took him #7 overall in 2015, so he’s obviously loaded with talent, but he was seen as bit of a raw prospect even before missing his entire rookie campaign. White has blazing speed to go along with his great size (6’3”, 215 pounds) and strength, and he consistently won in contested situations when we last saw him in 2014 at West Virginia. The Bears already have an excellent end-zone target in Alshon Jeffery, who saw 16 red-zone targets in just 9 games, but there should be some opportunities to go around to White. He’s reportedly had an up-and-down first training camp, which isn’t too unexpected. Updated 8/9
Marvin Jones (Det) – Megatron’s 9 TDs, 18 red-zone targets, and 4 goal-line looks will need to be replaced in 2016, and free-agent signee Jones might have the best chance to replace most of that production. Jones was prolific at finding the end zone in 2013 with 10 scores on 51 catches – a TD on 19.6% of his catches. But he came back to earth in 2015 with just 4 scores on 65 catches thanks to the presence of Tyler Eifert. Jones has some ability to be a red-zone threat because of his decent size (6’2”, 198 pounds) and body control, and it’s not like the Lions currently have a dominant red-zone presence in their passing or running game right now. They did add Anquan Boldin just before training camp, but he hasn’t been a prolific red-zone threat in recent years. Jones has been a favorite of Stafford during training camp, according to Mlive.com’s Kyle Meinke. Updated 8/18
Mohamed Sanu (Atl) – Sanu is in a great place to succeed as the #2 WR across from the dominant Julio Jones, as they hand-picked him in free agency to replace Roddy White. Sanu is a solid threat between the numbers as a receiver who finds the soft spots in defenses and can be a reliable short-range target for QB Matt Ryan. Sanu could also develop into solid red-zone option because of his size out of the slot, creating some mismatches against smaller defenders down near the end zone. Julio actually hasn’t been a dominant force by the end zone, hitting double digits just once in five seasons, so Sanu has the chance to vulture some TDs this season.
Sammie Coates (Pit) – Martavis Bryant averaged 2 TDs for every 3 games he played the last two seasons (14 TDs in 21 games), which is quite a bit of production the Steelers will need to replace. Coates projects as the best replacement for Bryant because they have similar, freakish skillsets, but he’ll need to earn the trust of the coaching staff and Ben Roethlisberger before he becomes a regular contributor. Coates isn’t quite as a big as Martavis at 6’2”, 212 pounds – Bryant is listed at 6’4”, 211 pounds – but he plays much bigger than his listed size and has some big-play ability to be a threat to score at any time. Coates has been the talk of Steelers camp in the early going, but he had an extremely shaky performance in the preseason opener against the Lions. He finished with 3/18 receiving on 4 targets, he added a rush for no yards, and he fumbled twice, losing one of them. Updated 8/18
Devin Funchess (Car) – Cam Newton sure has some big targets to throw to in the end zone between Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen, and Funchess is yet another huge target at 6’4”, 225 pounds. He played on just 44.7% of the snaps last year as a rookie, but he still scored an impressive 5 TDs on just 31 catches, so 16.1% of his catches went for scores. Funchess should see a spike in playing time in his second season, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see Cam utilize Funchess’ huge catching radius a little more this season down by the end zone. Funchess who has been drawing rave reviews during training camp. While he didn’t get as many snaps with the first team as you’d like to see, he caught a 10-yard TD pass from Derek Anderson in the Panthers’ preseason opener. Updated 8/18
Laquon Treadwell (Min) – Treadwell is well built (6’2”, 221 pounds) and has similar athletic ability and ball skills to Alshon Jeffery, which makes him a nightmare for smaller CBs. Treadwell has the potential to develop into a stud possession receiver, and he looks to be a great fit with the conservative Teddy Bridgewater, who’d much rather throw it in the intermediate and underneath areas of the field. Obviously, Adrian Peterson is the Vikings’ top choice down near the end zone, but Treadwell could easily develop into their #2 option because of his large catching radius and his strength to shield defenders away on contested passes. The Vikings are slowly phasing Treadwell into the offense during training camp, playing Charles Johnson ahead of him in the preseason, so his impact early in the year might be limited. Updated 8/18
Michael Thomas (NO) – Thomas is a big presence at 6’3”, 212 pounds, and he uses his big body to his advantage. He can easily shield off defenders to get open, and he has huge hands (10-½”) and makes some difficult catches away from his body. The Saints cut ties with Marques Colston in the off-season, and they immediately went looking for his replacement in the draft. Thomas has the chance to develop into a dangerous red-zone threat for QB Drew Brees, who loved throwing it to big receivers like Colston and Jimmy Graham in the end zone. The rookie WR has been the talk of Saints camp in the first two weeks, and he didn’t disappoint in his preseason with 4/67 receiving on 6 targets. He did his damage outside the numbers with a couple impressive catches down the sideline and not in the slot – Thomas has been tabbed early as the Colston replacement as the big slot guy. Updated 8/18
Obvious TD Hounds:
- Rob Gronkowski
- Tyler Eifert
- Jordan Reed
- Antonio Gates
- Julius Thomas
Coby Fleener (NO) – Fleener landed in an ideal spot to maximize his talent as a receiver. He couldn’t be playing with a better QB than Drew Brees, who’s helped Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham reach stardom at the position. HC Sean Payton sounds ready to use Fleener like he once used Graham, lining him up as an X-iso receiver. Fleener will be a moveable chess piece for Payton, and he’ll also be a huge factor in the red zone, especially with Marques Colston out of the mix. Fleener, who stands 6’6”, can get it done in the red zone, as 11 of his 18 career TDs have come inside the 20, and the Saints threw 11 TD passes to TEs in 2015. Fleener won’t have any excuses remaining if he underwhelms this season with the Saints.
Eric Ebron (Det) – As we detailed earlier in the Marvin Jones’ blurb, this season the Lions will need to replace Calvin Johnson’s 9 TDs, 18 red-zone targets, and 4 goal-line looks from 2015. Ebron has yet to live up to his top-10 draft status from 2014, but he at least made some strides in his second season, especially late in the year once he got comfortable in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Ebron scored 5 TDs on 47 catches, scoring on a solid 10.6% of his catches, and he might need to be an even bigger presence in the red zone with Megatron gone. Ebron saw just 8 red-zone targets last season, which was just 12% of the team’s red-zone targets. The Lions don’t really have a dominant red-zone option in their passing or running game right now, and Ebron certainly has the potential to develop into a weapon down by the goal line. Ebron escaped an injury scare with just a “pretty decent ankle sprain,” according to ESPN’s Adam Caplan. Ebron could miss a few weeks with the injury, but he should be ready for Week 1. Updated 8/9
Dwayne Allen (Ind) – Allen and Coby Fleener have finally been separated for the first time in four seasons. Allen will get the chance to be a three-down TE this season, and the Colts could use fewer 2-TE sets this season, so he should be more active in 2016. Allen scored just 1 TD last season in 13 games, but he was barely involved in the passing game with just 16 catches. The season before with a healthy Andrew Luck, he scored on 27.6% of his catches, finding the end zone on 8 of his 29 catches. Allen has been incredibly productive in the red zone at times, and he could be TD-dependent in an offense with a myriad of offensive weapons.
Jimmy Graham (Sea) – Graham has certainly been an impact player in the red zone in the past, scoring a whopping 46 TDs in four seasons from 2011-14 with the Saints (11.5 TD per season). Well, he didn’t have much of an impact as a scorer in his first season with the Seahawks, finding the end zone just twice before tearing his patellar tendon 11 games into the season. He did however see 9 red-zone targets, which accounted for 26% of his team’s red-zone targets in the games he played in. Graham is hopeful he’ll be ready to go for Week 1, but we need to see how he’s doing late in training camp, which is why he’s on the “watch list.” Expectations have to be kept in check for Graham considering the injury he’s coming back from, but he should be a much bigger factor in the red zone this season, especially with Marshawn Lynch retiring. He’s off the active/PUP list, but he’s yet to participate in team drills, so he’s doesn’t have a set timetable just yet. Updated 8/18
Zach Miller (Chi) – Miller didn’t play in an NFL game since four appearances in 2011 with the Jags, but he stayed healthy for most of 2015, and now he’s the #1 TE in Chicago. He showed more big-play ability than Martellus Bennett did last season, and he clearly has chemistry with Jay Cutler. Bennett never really showed much of a nose for the end zone playing with Cutler, scoring just 14 TDs in three seasons (4.7 TDs per season). However, Miller scored 5 TDs while playing just 56.2% of the snaps last season, so there’s a chance he turns into a better red-zone option than Bennett ever was in Chicago. His 2016 campaign got off to an inauspicious start, as the Bears placed him in concussion protocol early in training camp. His health needs to be monitored considering his extensive past struggles to stay on the field, but at least he returned to practice on Aug. 13. Updated 8/18
Clive Walford (Oak) – The Raiders used Walford in a rotation at TE as a rookie, but he should have a chance to see his role in the passing game grow in his second season. We’ve been told the organization has plans for Walford this season, and we’d expect him to become the #3 receiving option for budding star Derek Carr. Walford is a former standout basketball player at 6’4”, 250 pounds, and he uses his big frame and huge hands to help his QBs out. Walford did see 7 red-zone targets on just 49 looks overall last season, and 3 of his 28 catches went for TDs. He played just 41.5% of the snaps last season, and we think his playing time should at least double in 2016, so he’ll be a bigger factor in all aspects of the Raider offense. Walford started the first preseason game along with blocking specialist Lee Smith, as the Raiders opened in 12 personnel. Clive caught one of two targets for a 19-yard TD from backup QB Matt McGloin. The Raiders have listed Smith ahead of Walford on their initial depth chart, but Walford is the far superior receiving option. Updated 8/18
Martellus Bennett (NE) – Bennett has never been much of a red-zone threat in his first eight seasons, scoring just 23 TDs in that time. So why is Bennett a player to watch as a TD vulture this season? Simply put: Tom Brady. Bennett has never topped 6 TDs in a season, and he averaged just 4.7 TDs per season with the Bears from 2013-15, but his fortune could change this season as Brady will better use him in the red zone this year. Brady loves throwing to his TEs near the goal line, throwing 36 TDs to the position the last two years, including 13 scores that didn’t go to Rob Gronkowski. Bennett is clearly a better target than Tim Wright (6 TDs in 2014), Scott Chandler (4 TDs in 2015), and Michael Hoomanawanui (3 TDs in 2015), who combined for 13 TDs the last two seasons. Bennett has been pretty active with both Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo during training camp practices, according to the Boston Herald. Updated 8/18
Vance McDonald (SF) – McDonald needs to win the starting job in San Francisco, but we think he should edge out a host of other 49er TEs to see the majority of playing time this season. McDonald actually showed some fantasy juice with Blaine Gabbert down the stretch of 2015 once Vernon Davis got shipped away. McDonald made some big plays and showed some life as a red-zone threat, scoring 3 TDs in his final 6 games with Davis out of the picture. The 49ers don’t have much firepower at receiver outside of deep threat Torrey Smith, so McDonald could be counted on, especially down in the red zone. He scored on a 43-yard pass from Gabbert in the preseason opener. Updated 8/18
Tyler Kroft (Cin) – We anticipated Kroft’s role growing anyway this season with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu leaving in free agency. Now, Tyler Eifert isn’t guaranteed to be ready for Week 1 after having off-season ankle surgery, so Kroft could be the starter early in the year. Eifert became Andy Dalton’s favorite target in the red zone last season, so Kroft could see some of those targets early in the season if Eifert is out. However, Kroft suffered a sprained knee to start camp, which is expected to keep him out 4-6 weeks and puts him in jeopardy of missing Week 1.Kroft is definitely a player to keep an eye on early in the year as a streaming option if Eifert is going to miss a couple games. Updated 8/9
Source: Fantasy Guru
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