The red zone is the highest-value area of the field, both in the NFL and in fantasy, and gleaning trends from team tendencies within will help win leagues in 2020. The image below contains a comprehensive list of every active offensive coordinator's (OC) playcalling history in the red zone, dating back to 2002 and organized by position group. Shoutout footballguys.com for the raw data.
Jonnu Smith has major touchdown upside.
In his first year as coordinator, Arthur Smith leaned on tight ends 17% of the time in the red zone, good for 3rd highest rate among all 2020 coordinators. The problem with this for fantasy managers in 2019? Those targets were distributed between four tight ends (Smith 6/Delanie Walker 5/Anthony Firsker 4/Mycole Pruitt 2). Walker's departure opens up five red zone targets from 2019, and considering Smith was the leader in red zone targets in 2019, I expect him to maintain that status in 2020. Smith has made small steps forward in each of his three seasons thus far, and if that continues in year 4, Arthur Smith's red zone tendencies could allow Smith to really break out into fantasy relevance. My expectations for Smith? 45 reception for 600 yards and 7 touchdowns, which would have put him right around Dallas Goedert at TE10. With an ADP of TE16, per DynastyLeagueFootball.com, that's a great value for the TE. On the other hand, Arthur Smith's wide receiver red zone usage was below league average by 7%. With only one year of data, I’m not reading too heavily into this distribution, but it's a small yellow flag for A.J. Brown's touchdown upside in 2020.
Stock up: Jonnu Smith
Stock down: A.J. Brown
Chan Gailey fades tight ends in the red zone.
Mike Gesicki had a mini breakout last season, finishing the year as the TE12. Now entering his third year in the league and age 25 season, some are billing him as a darkhorse to finish in the top 5 at tight end in 2020. However, looking at Gailey's history as a playcaller should worry these people about Gesicki’s touchdown upside. Gailey has the third-lowest rate of tight end usage in the red zone among active coordinators. In other words, Gailey is worst case scenario for tight end red zone usage. In 2019, O'Shea gave 10% of red zone looks to tight ends, so Gailey's 8% career average will be a steep drop-off for Gesicki. On the other side of the coin, Gailey utilizes wide receivers in the red zone at the fifth-highest rate among active coordinators. O'Shea actually gave 41% of red zone looks to receivers last season, so expect more of the same in 2020. Although Gailey is in the middle of the pack in terms of running back red zone opportunity share, his career average is 56% compared to O'Shea's 48% in 2019. This suggests one of Jordan Howard or Matt Breida have a higher touchdown upside than anyone on the Dolphins last year, both because of coordinator change and them being better players than 2019’s running back room. Neither has been particularly efficient/effective in the red zone in the past, but Howard certainly has the edge in experience.
Stock up: Jordan Howard/Matt Breida
Stock down: Mike Gesicki
Gary Kubiak leans on his running backs.
In four seasons of playcalling, Kubiak has afforded his running backs a 66% opportunity share in the red zone, highest among all active coordinators. On average his backfield sees 101 opportunities per season in the red zone. That's a ton of touchdown upside for both Cook and Mattison, who may ultimately each score enough to make both fantasy relevant on a week-to-week basis in 2020 regardless of injury or hold out. With running back so heavily used, the other position groups take a hit. Tight end is 3% below league average usage rate, which is a negative indicator for an Irv Smith Jr breakout, and wide receiver is a whopping 6% below league average. For reference, MIN had a 101/21/21 breakdown between RB/WR/TE last season - already, ridiculously skewed towards running back, so expect more of the same with Kubiak elevated to sole coordinator duties.
Stock up: Dalvin Cook/Alex Mattison
Stock down: Adam Thielen/Irv Smith Jr.