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Startup Dynasty ADP Series: The Tight Ends

We are in the midst of startup draft season. This is a glorious time for dynasty owners as we get a chance for a fresh start. A chance to make up for the mistakes of the past and a chance to try and repeat our past successes. Owners in my leagues have a variety of ways to prepare for a startup draft. Perhaps the simplest and most effective tool to use is startup average draft position data. While every league is different and it only takes one owner “reaching” for a favorite player to throw off the ADP data, this information can be an invaluable tool. Not only will it help as you prepare for a startup dynasty draft, but also in analyzing potential trade ideas or just staying on top of the current market value of each player.

Since January, I have been following startup dynasty drafts featuring PPR scoring and starting only one quarterback. I have compiled data for over thirty drafts to help you dominate your league. If you missed the quarterbacks, just click here.

In this series, I will take a look at the average draft position of starting level players. This will include an in-depth look at the top twelve quarterbacks and tight ends and the top twenty-four running backs and wide receivers. For the purpose of this series, I will refer to these players as fantasy starters, although I do realize many of these players are being drafted based on their upside and potential and may not be counted on as starters early on.

Some notes about the data collected

* Rookies were only included in 14 of the drafts.

* Players had to be selected in at least 25% of drafts to be included.

* Ages are as of September 2012.

Here’s a look at the top twelve dynasty tight ends, based on current ADP.

*  Much like the elite quarterbacks this season, tight ends are being drafted higher than ever before. There are two who stand out to everyone – Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots and Jimmy Graham of the Saints. But, are these two players worth their early second round average draft position?

Gronkowski is dealing with a mysterious ankle injury and is now rumored to be a candidate for the training camp PUP list. While this is not the same PUP list that would keep him out the first six games of the season, it is a concern.

Graham has fewer questions, but he and his team are dealing with uncertainty with the two most important people in their organization – head coach Sean Payton is suspended for the entire 2012 season and starting quarterback Drew Brees is in the midst of a contract dispute with the team. This offense could look slightly different this year.

My advice is that these two players, while elite, are not wise choices early in your startup draft. Although we have never seen tight ends drafted this early, we have seen them overdrafted. I’ll come back to that idea soon.

*  The gap from the top two tight ends to the next tier of three is very noticeable. After the top two players are chosen in the first or second round, on average, it will be another two rounds before the next set of Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley are chosen. This is where you can begin to find value in your draft. My personal favorite is Hernandez due to his age and great offense in New England. Davis is also a great option in the middle of the fifth round.

*  Jermichael Finley is a surprising case. Looking at his career statistics, he is being way overdrafted, even as TE5 in the fifth round. Finley has played 48 career games for the Packers, yet he has only scored in double digit points (PPR scoring) ten times. In only one of those games did he eclipse 20 fantasy points. For comparison, other tight ends being drafted as top five options include Gronkowski (16 double digit games/32 games played), Graham (15/31), Hernandez (11/28), and Vernon Davis (26/88). This gives Finley a much lower percentage of double digit scoring games compared to the other top five options. Let another owner take Finley in the fifth round.

*  In the third tier of TE1s, we see a mixture of once elite options in Jason Witten and Antonio Gates, along with some younger tight ends now viewed as adequate starters in Fred Davis, Brandon Pettigrew and Jermaine Gresham. Gresham not only carries the latest average draft position, but he is also the youngest of these three options. Pettigrew is older than many might think – he’ll be 27 years old when the season starts in September. Gresham is over three years younger and part of an similarly explosive young offense.

*  That leaves veterans Witten and Gates as choices in this tier. With Gates’ injury concerns, Witten is the safer choice, but he also comes with a higher price tag going off the board a full round ahead of Gates. Witten will continue to be a top option for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, but he is also battling Miles Austin and Dez Bryant for targets. The best option if choosing from this tier is to take the last player in the tier, Jermaine Gresham, and pair him with a veteran option from the next tier.

*  The final two tight ends being drafted as TE1s are Coby Fleener and Jared Cook. While both have great upside, they are second or third options in average offenses. It seems that Cook has been due for his big breakout season for years and he continues to be a below average starting fantasy tight end. We are still unsure what we are getting with Fleener and he will likely not be ready to start for your fantasy team in 2012, but he is a great option to draft in the ninth round and pair with a veteran later in the draft.

*  Tight ends in the top twelve who are rising according to recent draft data include Hernandez and Fleener.

*  Players with a falling average draft position are Witten and Finley. Both could be had slightly lower than the data provided.

While the next set of tight ends are not being drafted as TE1s, there is still some great value to be found. Here’s a look at the remaining tight ends and where they are being drafted in startup dynasty leagues.

Kyle Rudolph begins the next set of tight ends and with his average draft position so close to that of Cook and Fleener, he is included in the tier with them as a lower end TE1. He also is a player I am not sure I’d be comfortable starting in 2012. Like Fleener, Rudolph is another young player I would take and pair with a veteran later in the draft.

*  Eagles tight end Brent Celek kicks off the next tier in which there is little separation from player to player. As I mentioned in the quarterback article, if there is one of these players that you really like, throw out the average draft position and grab him while you can. This is the general rule after the tenth round.

Celek is a player who could be a reliable starter if you chose a younger tight end earlier in the draft or if you have chosen to wait at the tight end position to focus on running backs or wide receivers. Our own Steve Wyremski believes Celek could have top five upside. If you agree with Steve, this makes him a must draft player in the 11th round.

*  A player who has been quickly rising in dynasty value and startup draft position is Jacob Tamme. This burst in value is, of course, attributed to his signing with the Broncos, reuniting him with quarterback Peyton Manning. The pre-free agency data is affecting Tamme’s average draft position more than any other tight end. He will most likely be chosen much earlier than his 162 average. If you want Tamme, be prepared to select him somewhere between the 10th and 13th round. In 2010, Colts starting tight end Dallas Clark suffered a season ending injury and Tamme was inserted into the starting lineup beginning week eight. From week eight through week 17, Tamme put up huge numbers with Manning as his quarterback, finishing as TE2 during that period and piling up 67 receptions, 631 yards and four touchdowns. Tamme is a fine option as a starting tight end for your dynasty team.

*  Earlier, I mentioned pairing a young tight end with a veteran that could serve as a short term starter. The most obvious player that fits this plan is Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Many treat Gonzalez like he is kryptonite to their Super dynasty team due to his age – he will be 36 when the 2012 season kicks off. Gonzalez continues to put up huge fantasy numbers. He has nine career top three finishes among tight ends. Even in 2011, he finished as TE4, behind only Gronkowski, Graham and Hernandez. Obviously, we will begin to see a decline at some point, but with the above average Atlanta passing offense and the defense focusing on explosive wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, Gonzalez will continue to earn his targets. While other owners are letting him fall, don’t be afraid to scoop him up and insert him into your starting lineup.

*  There are also some players I would avoid at their current average draft position. Dustin Keller offers little upside for your team, even though he has finished as a low end TE1 the past two seasons. Many owners still think of him as a younger tight end, but he is older than other options like Celek and Tamme. He is also part of the often criticized Jets offense led by quarterback Mark Sanchez. There are also many reports that the Jets plan to return to a run heavy offense, obviously affecting the statistics of all their pass catchers.

*  Another player to avoid is Kellen Winslow. This is an easy call. Winslow has injury and attitude concerns and one of the first moves new Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano made for the Bucs was to ship Winslow out of town to Seattle. Now, to go along with the other questions about Winslow, he is learning a new offense and battling fellow veteran Zach Miller for tight end snaps and targets.

*  In a post-NFL draft startup, we can always expect rookies to be drafted ahead of their average draft position. This will likely be true for the three rookies in this tier; Dwayne Allen, Ladarius Green and Michael Egnew. I would take any of these three as my TE3 in a startup dynasty draft. Allen will likely be paired with fellow rookie Coby Fleener in the Colts two tight end sets. In fact, Allen has been handling the first team snaps ahead of Fleener so far this offseason. Green is a year away from meaningful playing time as he will be behind Gates in the Chargers offense. Even if Gates were to miss playing time, it is likely that the team would rely on a veteran as they make a playoff push. The Dolphins are in desperate need of pass catchers and playmakers and Egnew may get a chance to prove himself sooner than we think. In fact, there are recent reports that the team plans to reduce starting tight end Anthony Fasano’s role in the offense.

*  There are many tight ends who were not chosen in enough startup drafts to provide accurate data, but can still provide value to your team. Many of these are young players that could be compared to the rookie tight ends due to their lack of playing time in past seasons. This list includes Tampa Bay’s Luke Stocker, Rob Housler of the Cardinals, Jordan Cameron of the Browns and Taylor Thompson of the Titans.

*  I generally like to carry three tight ends, depending on the roster size and starting lineup requirements. A best case draft at the tight end position would be selecting Gresham in the 8th round, Gonzalez in the 12th or 13th round and my favorite young tight end in the final rounds. If you trust your eye and/or the advice you are receiving, that final young tight end will be a steal and ready to take over as your TE2 when Gonzalez is calling it a career.

*  Players in the tier who are rising and may be more costly than the average draft position shown here include the already mentioned Tamme as well as Rudolph, Lance Kendricks, and Celek.

*  Players who are seeing their recent draft position fall to later rounds than our data shows are Keller, Winslow, and Ed Dickson.

Stay tuned to DLF as we continue our breakdowns. Make sure to follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanMc23 as well.

Ryan McDowell
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Sensei John Kreese
10 years ago

Over the next 4 years, (max contract length in our league), would you rather have Witten or Fred Davis?

I’d like as many opinions as possible, guys. Draft is tomorrow! Thanks in advance. 🙂

Brian Shelton
Reply to  Sensei John Kreese
10 years ago

I think the answer to your question is how much do you believe in RG3. If you do, grab Davis.

Ashley Moser
10 years ago

Fred…cheaper contract and I dont think Witten will be much of a factor in two more seasons

robert huber
10 years ago

love the article!
I am in a 12 team keeper league and we use an auction draft, we start 1 TE, non-PPR
I need a productive value TE (don’t we all!) that i can holdover for the next 3 years while i focus on my QB/RB/WR acquisitions and not have to worry too much about my TE

Who are the 2-3 “value” players you think I could start every week and still get decent production

thanks

robert huber
Reply to  Ryan McDowell
10 years ago

thanks, i appreciate your input!

Cyrus Miller
10 years ago

I traded for Jimmy Graham as part of a big trade this offseason, so I have him for the next 7 years for cheap (2 years left on rookie contract, then we can apply a 5 year extension). I also have Vernon Davis, who I had traded for last season. So far, nobody is offering fair value or even close to fair value for Davis, so I am going into the season enjoying my surplus.

While I would love to trade him, I think Davis will be a stud, and I kind of feel that I am removing one of the three TE’s I consider consistent fantasy producers (Hernandez, Gates and Finley will be the other 3 who will be good this year. Fred Davis and Witten, while I like them, will lag behind I think.)

I am not sure what the competitive advantage of that is, but hopefully it means that Graham is an even bigger advantage for me.

d.w. Ruud
10 years ago

Great read, Ryan.

I just finished a Premium TE(1.5PPR) start up and snagged Witten @ #72 and Rudolph @ #97.

I felt great about it!

Eddy Rohrmeier
10 years ago

I didn’t see any comments about Olsen. What are your thoughts on him?

Jordan Andrews
10 years ago

Surprised Rob Housler isn’t getting more love by now. I would take him over the second tier of rookies this year (Allen/Green/Egnew) and I actually think his upside is higher than a bunch of guys in that second group from #13-#28.

Mike Burke
10 years ago

no Kellen Davis even on the list?

Admin
Reply to  Mike Burke
10 years ago

Yeah, kind of odd he didn’t make the top four or five on any of the lists. We did have a feature on him in our premium content lately, though. I’d invite everyone to check that out to learn our thoughts on Davis.

Mike Burke
10 years ago

I was saying I was surprised because of the feature you had done on him. I’ve read a few pieces about a bigger role and he is a beast size/speed wise. Seemed like a better option than some of those late names in here. Just figured I’d ask what the reason was he was left out, I have him as a 3rd option in dynasty and liking the potential!

Drew Elsberry
10 years ago

This is the first I’m hearing that Allen is getting first team reps over Fleener. Is this something Fleener owners (like myself) should be concerned about? Or does this have more to do with Fleener being held back by Stanford’s graduation rules?

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