It's tough to win NFL games without scoring points, and there are few better places to score from than the red zone. Below, Nick Shook uses Next Gen Stats to identify the top 10 red-zone weapons in the NFL in 2020.
NOTE: All stats and rankings are current heading into Week 7.
Red-zone production: 6 rec. TDs, 8 catches on 8 targets, 72 rec. yards.
In his first season as a starter without Stefon Diggs as his running mate, Adam Thielen has fully grown into a No. 1 receiver -- and the seventh-year pro is making his money in the red zone, with a perfect eight receptions on eight targets for 72 yards and a league-best six receiving touchdowns. Speaking of money, the Kirk Cousins-Thielen connection is straight cash, homie. Thielen has helped Cousins produce a success rate of 66.7 on all red-zone targets, good for the best rate in the NFL, along with a total red-zone line of 15-of-21 for 134 yards and eight TD passes. Thielen has thrived by being unpredictable and also versatile, catching one or more red-zone touchdowns on five different route types (out, corner, cross, go and post), tying with Bucs receiver Mike Evans for the most routes with one or more red-zone TDs. Thielen is a perfect six for six on red-zone targets when aligned out wide, turning five of those targets into touchdowns.
Thielen's overall production might be tough to predict, with the receiver logging 51 receiving yards or less in three games and 80 or more in three. But he's a lock to make a difference inside the 20.
Red-zone production: 2 rec. TDs, 7 catches on 8 targets, 54 rec. yards; 4 rushing TDs, 51 rushing yards, 3.4 yards per carry, 73.3% success rate.
Many might first think of Alvin Kamara as the running back aligned to the side of Drew Brees in the shotgun, but New Orleans goes traditional with Kamara inside the red zone -- to great success. No. 41 has four rushing touchdowns in the red zone with the quarterback under center, tied for the most in the NFL. He's gained 51 rushing yards on red-zone carries from all formations, as well, logging a success rate of 73.3 percent on such attempts. Even when Saints coach Sean Payton dials up the pass, Kamara does his red-zone damage from the customary positioning of a running back, catching his two red-zone touchdowns when aligned in the backfield. There's no need to split Kamara out when he's this productive, making defensive planning that much more difficult for the opposition.
Red-zone production: 3 rec. TDs, 4 catches on 5 targets, 22 rec. yards; 3 rushing TDs, 68 rushing yards, 3.8 yards per carry, 61.1% success rate.
As the numbers above show, Kareem Hunt has been an equal force on the ground and through the air inside the red zone, where he's rushed for three TDs and caught an additional three TD passes. That versatility creates havoc for opposing defenses, as demonstrated by Hunt's one red-zone receiving touchdown when aligned wide -- he's the only running back in the NFL to record such a score through six weeks. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski has all options available for him, and they're all producing points when they involve Hunt.
Red-zone production: 6 rushing TDs, 88 rushing yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 88.2% success rate.
Dalvin Cook is known as a hammer of a running back, and he delivers such punishment in traditional sets that line him up in the backfield with Kirk Cousins under center. But surprisingly, he's found his greatest success when bouncing things outside. Credit the wide zone if you prefer, as Cook has scored five of his six red-zone rushing touchdowns on runs outside the tackle box, notching the most such red-zone TDs in the NFL among running backs despite missing Week 6 and half of Week 5 with a groin injury. Four of his red-zone scores have come with Cousins under center, making things difficult for defenses, which must both plug interior gaps and maintain outside contain if they hope to stop Cook inside the 20. So far, they're having a tough time doing so, as evidenced by his 88.2 percent success rate on red-zone rushes.
Red-zone production: 5 rushing TDs, 97 rushing yards, 2.9 yards per carry, 57.6% success rate.
We all know exactly what type of runner Derrick Henry is. Tennessee is daring opponents to step on the tracks in front of the Henry Express -- and anyone who does so must be prepared to end up on their back, watching Henry celebrate another score. He barrels through defenders with ease, having notched four red-zone TDs on carries inside the tackles and four on handoffs from quarterbacks starting the play under center through five games. His lone rushing score that didn't come in such a scenario occurred in Week 6, when Henry took a direct snap -- removing the middle man, to the delight of those obsessed with efficiency -- and ran over a defender across the goal line for the game-winning plunge in the Titans' overtime victory over the Texans.
Red-zone production: 5 rec. TDs, 7 catches on 10 targets, 53 rec. yards.
Travis Kelce has resumed his role of touchdown-scorer in 2020 with the help of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who frequently either shifts or motions Kelce before the snap, producing four receiving touchdowns and five receptions on six targets in such red-zone scenarios. Those four scores are the most red-zone scores of any player in the NFL when shifted or in motion -- but that's not all. Kelce is dominating the back corner of the end zone, scoring the most red-zone receiving touchdowns (two) on corner routes and making it a perfect 2 for 2 on such targets for a total of 22 red-zone receiving yards. It comes as no surprise, considering the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Kelce's size advantage over most defensive backs. Those defenders unfortunate enough to find themselves in a three's company situation with Kelce and the pylon aren't coming off the field smiling in 2020.
Red-zone production: 5 rec. TDs, 5 catches on 6 targets, 29 rec. yards.
Jonnu Smith's scores are coming from rather close to the end zone in 2020, but he's proven to be a productive target in such situations. You math wizards at home plugging the above numbers into your TI-84 will see Smith is averaging less than 6 yards per red-zone reception yet has scored on all five of those red-zone catches -- meaning when the Titans get inside the 10, it's Jonnu Time. Tennessee has succeeded in creating confusion; Ryan Tannehill has hooked up with Smith twice for 11 yards and two scores on red-zone crossing routes, which is tied for the most such TDs in the NFL. Smith's presence has helped Tannehill post a red-zone mark of 22-of-26 passing for 169 yards and 12 touchdowns in the red zone, and a 66.7 success rate on such attempts, which is tied for the best rate in the NFL.
Red-zone production: 5 rec. TDs, 5 catches on 6 targets, 12 rec. yards.
Anyone who has watched a Buccaneers game in 2020 knows where Tom Brady likes to go with the ball inside the red zone: to No. 13. Four of Mike Evans' red-zone TD catches have come on plays in which he aligned wide; with such little room to operate inside the 20, this suggests the 6-5, 231-pound Evans is drawing one-on-one matchups and using his size to win. Evans is a perfect four for four on such plays, gaining 10 yards, producing 24 total points with his hands and finishing second only to Thielen in red-zone touchdowns scored when lined up wide.
Those who dare to press Evans usually taste defeat, with Evans scoring an NFL-high four red-zone TDs against press coverage. He's only gained 6 yards on those plays, meaning these are goal-line matchups in which defenders have done nothing but fail -- Evans is again a perfect four for four in the red zone against the press. He's also scored his five total red-zone touchdowns on five different route types (corner, go, in, screen and slant). In short, if you want to stop Evans from scoring in the red zone, it's best not to press him -- and bring help if possible.
Red-zone production: 5 rushing TDs, 44 rushing yards, 2.9 yards per carry, 66.7% success rate.
Though a quarterback, Cam Newton is doing his red-zone damage with his massive 6-5, 245-pound frame and quick feet. And he's done so by overcoming the odds, scoring all five of his red-zone rushing TDs while working with a blocking disadvantage. He's also completed eight of 17 red-zone passing attempts for 61 yards, two TDs and a 95.5 passer rating. Pick your poison and stack the box, but be ready to watch a Newton Superman celebration by the time the whistle has blown.
Red-zone production: 4 rushing TDs, 66 rushing yards, 6.0 yards per carry, 81.8% success rate.
Kyler Murray has wheels, and he brings an incredibly effective arm in the red zone, too. Murray has completed 18 of 22 red-zone attempts for 109 yards and eight touchdowns, going interception-free and posting the fourth-highest red-zone passer rating in the entire NFL at 126.9. When a defense aims to stop his air attack, Murray gets busy with his feet -- those keeping score with an abacus have slid over enough beans to tell us he's accounted for 12 red-zone touchdowns on his own (eight passing, four rushing), which only further bolsters his 81.8 percent success rate on the ground there. Though checking in at just 5-10 and 207 pounds, Murray has proven he can't be stopped by a stacked box, matching bell-cow-type backs like Cook and Josh Jacobs with a pair of red-zone scores against eight or more defenders in the area. Catch Murray if you can -- most defenders have proven they can't when it matters most in 2020.