NFL

Fantasy football draft strategy: NFL red zone tendencies rush vs. pass

during the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.

during the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.

To assist owners with their 2016 fantasy football draft strategy, I recently published two red zone reports on running back and wide receiver production highlighting specific fantasy performances in the features.

Because most of my attention was on 2015 individual feats, I felt it necessary to tie a bow on the two-part red zone series with a third. Below are NFL team tendencies in the red zone from 2015. It should come as no surprise that the majority of teams elected pass over rush inside the 20 throughout the course of 2015.

It's should also come at no surprise that several teams embraced new head coaches and offensive coordinators since the end of last season. So, their red zone play-calling tendencies should impact their new offenses provided they have the talent to succeed.

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Tier 1 - Highly Likely To Pass (2015)
Team Rush Pass Sacked Total RushPct PassPct
Packers 43 91 6 140 30.7 69.3
Cowboys 39 72 3 114 34.2 65.8
Chargers 38 72 1 111 34.2 65.8
Giants 47 83 7 137 34.3 65.7
Jaguars 52 90 6 148 35.1 64.9
Browns 54 87 8 149 36.2 63.8
Lions 43 72 3 118 36.4 63.6
Dolphins 43 68 5 116 37.1 62.9
Ravens 48 76 3 127 37.8 62.2
49ers 46 65 6 117 39.3 60.7

Fantasy football owners need to know which head coaches are scheduled to call their own plays in 2016. In some cases, these teams also employ an offensive coordinator. Those who remain with their 2015 team are in BOLD:

Bruce Arians, Cardinals
Adam Gase, Dolphins
Hue Jackson, Browns (no OC)
Andy Reid, Chiefs
Bob McAdoo, Giants
Mike McCarthy, Packers
Doug Pederson, Eagles
Chip Kelly, 49ers
Sean Payton, Saints
Bill O'Brien, Texans
Dirk Koetter, Buccaneers
Jay Gruden, Redskins
Gary Kubiak, Broncos

This ESPN report contributed to this research

The Packers' Mike McCarthy allowed assistant coach Tom Clements to call the plays for most of the 2015 season, but after taking back the role last December, McCarthy's holding a tight grip on play-calling in 2016. The Packers led the league in red zone pass play percentage last season at just over 69 percent of the time. Aaron Rodgers completed 45 percent of his passes in the RZ last year with 23 touchdowns and four interceptions. If those stats concern you, the return of veteran Jordy Nelson should help improve Rodgers' accuracy when compared to the young, developing receivers he had to target in 2015. Additionally, do not be surprised to see Eddie Lacy, if in playing shape, used to cut into that 69 percent as the Packers work to run the ball again inside the 10 yard line.

Love it or hate it as a fan, fantasy owners despised Chip Kelly's offensive philosophy as a whole 2015, but the 50-50 red zone rush-to-pass ratio does roll over to the West Coast. The 49ers passed on 60 percent of red zone plays last season, but with the return of an assumed "100 percent healthy" Carlos Hyde and limited options in the passing game, I expect a balanced red zone attack out of Kelly's offense depending how many points San Francisco trails by in the second half. Oh, and if Colin Kaepernick ever regains control behind center, I'd double-down on this thought. Then again, he could (and probably will) still be traded.

Tier 2 - Likely To Pass in RZ (2015)
Team Rush Pass Sacked Total RushPct PassPct
Cardinals 61 82 6 149 40.9 59.1
Broncos 51 69 3 123 41.5 58.5
Titans 43 56 4 103 41.7 58.3
Colts 60 78 4 142 42.3 57.7
Texans 55 72 2 129 42.6 57.4
Patriots 65 83 4 152 42.8 57.2
Redskins 61 79 1 141 43.3 56.7
Bears 59 73 4 136 43.4 56.6
Jets 61 76 1 138 44.2 55.8
Raiders 47 56 1 104 45.2 54.8
Steelers 69 79 2 150 46.0 54
Chiefs 53 59 3 115 46.1 53.9
Buccaneers 65 72 3 140 46.4 53.6
Saints 72 71 5 148 48.6 51.4
Eagles 56 53 4 113 49.6 50.4

Without hesitation, I believe the Colts 57 percent red zone pass-to-rush ratio could compete with the Packers for the top spot in 2016. Fresh off a fat, new contract, Andrew Luck enters 2016 presumably healthy and for my previously stated prediction to come to fruition, he needs to remain healthy. His offensive line MUST give him time to throw. With the Andre Johnson experiment a thing of the past and Coby Fleener now with the Saints, Luck can concentrate on T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Dwayne Allen in the red zone.

Also, if Ryan Fitzpatrick resigns with the Jets, New York's ratio will receive a bump, too. Not only are Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker must-have red zone targets, but the addition of Matt Forte and subtraction of red zone workhorse Chris Ivory make for a pass-friendly environment when the Jets are driving to score.

Tier 3 (More Likely to Run in RZ (2015)
Team Rush Pass Sacked Total RushPct PassPct
Falcons 76 73 2 151 50.3 49.7
Seahawks 67 53 6 126 53.2 46.8
Rams 41 35 1 77 53.2 46.8
Bengals 83 66 2 151 55.0 45
Panthers 105 70 5 180 58.3 41.7
Vikings 71 42 7 120 59.2 40.8
Bills 64 39 3 106 60.4 39.6

For the Bengals to wind up a rush-first offense inside the red zone was slightly surprising as A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert were top-scoring targets. Then again, Hue Jackson was calling the plays and Bengals do play in the AFC North.

Speaking of Eifert, he's recovering from May ankle surgery that could force him to miss the start of the season. When you subtract Eifert, that will free up defenses to wallpaper Green and places more pressure on Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to finish off drives. Also worth noting, when Eifert and Green are on the field, new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese had been the Bengals' quarterback coach for as long as Andy Dalton has been behind center - advantage Dalton. So, I do believe the pass vs. run ratio will rise in 2016.