A Look at the NFL’s Most Efficient Red Zone Wide Receivers
To hammer home this idea, I charted the height and weight of the top 15 most efficient red zone receivers since 2000. First, the height…
The white dotted line represents the average height for an NFL wide receiver. That means every single one of the 15 most dominant red zone receivers has been taller than average, and most significantly so. Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith are the only receivers who are near the league average, and only Smith doesn’t have a ton of bulk for his size (he’s about average).
Most of the names on the list aren’t surprising—Dez Bryant, Calvin Johnson, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald—but there are also some players who weren’t necessarily dominant overall but could still score consistently, such as Chris Henry, Ernest Wilford and Kenny Britt.
Let’s look at weight.
Only one wide receiver—Chris Henry—weighed less than the league average of 203 pounds. Torrey Smith checks in just above that mark, but the rest of the pass-catchers are all significantly heavier. Of the top 15 red zone wide receivers since 2000, 12 have weighed over 215 pounds and seven over 220.
We also see two players in Calvin Johnson and Vincent Jackson approaching tight end territory in terms of size.
How have NFL teams used wide receivers in the red zone?
As usual, we see some inefficiencies in the way NFL teams utilize their players. Overall, they target short, light pass-catchers in the red zone way, way too much. That’s represented in the top 15 wide receivers in red zone targets since 2000.
Remember, no wide receiver who ranked in the top 15 in red zone efficiency was below the league average height, and only two were within an inch of it. Meanwhile, of the top 15 wide receivers in red zone targets, four check in below the league average receiver height, and five more are just above it. That’s nine of 15 wide receivers below or near the average height, compared to two in the red zone-dominant group. Quite a difference.
We see a similar effect regarding weight.
Six of the 15 most-targeted receivers check in well below the league-average weight. When you see a player like Santana Moss ranked in the top 15 in red zone targets, you know there’s a problem. I don’t care how many seasons he’s played; a player of Moss’s stature really shouldn’t even be on the field as his offense approaches the goal line.
Fantasy Implications of WR Red Zone Efficiency
Wide receiver red zone efficiency is very consistent from year to year; for the most part, we see the same types of players atop the list each season. Thus, we can use red zone play to help us target wide receivers with elite upside.
Preferably, we’d like our receivers to be at least 6’2”. If they’re very frail for that height, it might change. If possible, it’s suitable to have wide receivers in the 6’2” range also be bulky, such as Dez Bryant (222 pounds).
Height is good, but weight is even more important. As fantasy owners, we should be targeting wide receivers who can consistently get the ball into the end zone, and heavy receivers are far more likely to do that than light ones. Ideally, you want to target receivers who weigh more than 210 pounds, and preferably closer to 220 (or more).
The numbers should have profound implications on how you draft rookies and other young receivers. Because receivers drafted in the first round of the NFL draft typically cost so much more in dynasty and even redraft fantasy leagues than do second and third-rounders, it can make sense to let other owners overpay for Tavon Austin-type players while you snatch up the Keenan Allen-esque receivers—those with elite size and red zone ability who dropped too far in the NFL draft.
Red zone stats can also help you know when to buy low or sell high on certain receivers. When Percy Harvin had eight total touchdowns in his rookie season, we should have known that, due to his 5’11”, 184-pound frame, that number was probably close to his peak. Harvin had nine total touchdowns in 2011 (only six through the air), but he’s never been able to consistently score. Even in PPR leagues, Harvin has a rather low ceiling because he doesn’t have Dez Bryant/Calvin Johnson/Demaryius Thomas-esque red zone ability. He usually needs to score in unusual ways or do it from far out, both of which are volatile; we might see a 10-touchdown season from Harvin, but we might also see a three-touchdown year from him, even when healthy.