Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Touchdowns are the great equalizer for fantasy players who don't put up huge yardage totals. Not everyone can be Drew Brees, Arian Foster or Calvin Johnson.
Because you usually can't put together an entire fantasy team made up of Pro Bowlers, its important to be able to figure out which players are most likely to be targeted in the red zone and therefore score with consistency.
In most leagues, a TD is worth about 60 rushing or receiving yards and up to 150 passing yards so even a mediocre receiver or running back can be a consistent double-digit weekly scorer if he can find the end zone.
Let's look at who were the top red zone targets in 2011.
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta - White led the NFL in targets (175) and in red zone targets with 29 plays. The Falcons receiver scored eight times and seven were from inside the 20-yard line despite the fact that his tight end Tony Gonzalez was targeted 16 times and scored seven red zone TDs and talented rookie Julio Jones scored twice from in close. While White's total looks may drop due to the improvement of Jones, as long as his red zone targets stays high he'll post top-five fantasy points.
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans - It's not surprising that a 6-foot-7 tight end with great athletic ability is a favorite red zone target. Drew Brees looked Graham's way a total of 149 times in 2011-12 and 26 times in the red zone which resulted in eight red zone scores. It's no wonder Graham is going in the second round of this year's fantasy drafts (fantasyfootballcalculator.com ADP 16.7)
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England - Gronkowski's 2011-12 season was the greatest ever by a tight end. Ninety catches for a record 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gronk was targeted 124 times, 24 times in the red zone and scored 12 times from inside the 20, including once on a running play. It's interesting that despite scoring more fantasy points last season, Gronkowski is being selected after Graham. Perhaps fantasy owners think newly acquired Brandon Lloyd will steal some of Gronkowski's thunder.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit - The Matthew Stafford-to-Johnson combination was lethal in 2011-12 with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. Stafford looked towards his big receiver a team-leading 24 times and came away with nine touchdowns in the red zone. It's interesting to note that Stafford looked to his tight end almost as often, but came away with a much lower percentage of scores.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England - You likely wouldn't have thought of Hernandez as a leading red zone target at the beginning of last season, but he saw the ball 22 times in the red zone and scored six of those times. It remains to be seen if Hernandez can duplicate his season and fantasy owners are showing doubts by picking him sixth among tight ends behind Graham, Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, Jermichael Finley and Vernon Davis.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit - Pettigrew saw 126 total targets and 22 looks inside the red zone, scoring on five of them, Defenses will continue to roll towards Johnson making it likely that Pettigrew can continue to produce at his current pace or better. As a 10th-round selection (ADP 95.7) we think Pettigrew is a huge bargain.
Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans - Interesting that a 5-foot-6 running back weighing all of 181 lbs is a big-time red zone target, but Brees threw him the ball 21 times last season to go along with 13 rushes. Sproles is the only running back on the receiving list. He scored a total of seven times from inside the 20-yard line. A healthy Mark Ingram may reduce his rushing attempts, but Brees will still find his elusive runner in the flat and Sproles should have another solid season, though we predict down about 13-percent from last year.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago - Marshall was targeted 21 times by Dolphins quarterbacks last season, scoring four times from inside the 20. Now reunited with his former Denver quarterback, Jay Cutler, the Cutler-to-Marshall combination should yield better results which explains Marshall's third round selection (ADP 26.4).
Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets - He was targeted a total of 20 red zone times and all five of Keller's touchdowns came from in close. With Santonio Holmes getting double covered on one side and a rookie receiver (Stephen Hill) likely starting opposite him, Keller could get a higher percentage of the team's red zone passes this season, but still not improve his numbers if backup quarterback Tim Tebow runs the red zone offense.
Wes Welker, WR, New England - Welker was the third Patriots receiver with 20 or more targets inside the red zone last season. He's never been a huge touchdown guy (he's never scored double-digit touchdowns in a season) despite catching 554 balls over the past five years. He's a PPR stud, but if he scored touchdowns too, he'd be a first-round guy. Welker won't likely score a lot of touchdowns in 2012 as Lloyd steals some deep work and the team's two tight ends continue to mature.
With the most red zone targets in the NFL, these 10 receivers should be able to continue to help your fantasy lineup in 2012.
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