We’re back, with the final instalment of this year’s consistent greatness series. Earlier this off-season, we focused on weekly scoring for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers to determine those players who are putting up great weekly stats but may be undervalued based on yearly finishes.
This series is a reflection of what I’ve been attempting to preach since the day I started playing fantasy football – look past the the yearly finishes of players and starting diving into weekly performances. It was first put into words in 2014, and I’ve been renewing the data and analysis every season since.
This year, as usual, we’ve established some veteran quarterbacks to target versus some youngsters producing the same numbers who may be worth moving, running backs who continue to destroy opponents every time they see the field, and some receivers who are getting “old” so the value will drop – but the production should stay the same.
Today, we focus on the tight ends. Is Travis Kelce really ‘Baby Gronk’? How real is Hunter Henry? Which veterans should continue to produce at a high level?
There’s much more information in part one, but essentially the plan was to work out what it takes to be a top 12 (TE1) or top 24 (TE2) finisher in any given week. After going back through the last three seasons of data to set baselines, I then tallied how many times each player hit those numbers in any game that they played to create a percentage.
This year’s tight end baselines were:
TE1 – 11.0
TE2 – 6.0
Tight ends are a mysterious breed. In most scoring systems, they simply don’t score enough to make that big of an impact unless you have one of the few ‘elite’ options (and there are very few). It only takes six points to be in the top 24! For me, that’s simply not a great achievement. TE1 numbers can definitely be more impactful, but the true separators are those who can come up with game-changing ‘superstar’ weeks (more on that later).
- GP – Games played
- TE1/2 – Weeks the player scored 6.0 points or more
- TE1 – Weeks the player scored 11.0 points or more
- TE2 – Weeks the player scored between 6.0 and 10.9 points
- % – Percentage of weeks the player placed in each category versus games played
- I used PPR scoring from the FFToday stats page
- Playoff games are not included
- This marks the third straight year that Kelce has ended up as the number one.
- Delanie Walker actually had the second-best season of his career last year – but it felt like a disappointment after a special 2015. I believe he still has a couple of seasons with solid production left, and he is all the way down at TE16 in July ADP.
- Before Jordan Reed’s injury at the end of the season, he had racked up 24 straight games with top 24 scoring.
- Oh, Dwayne Allen – a perennial let down. He scored 29.2 of his 111.6 points last season in one game (26%). Andrew Luck is just as good of a fantasy quarterback than Tom Brady, so we shouldn’t go crazy, and thankfully we haven’t – he’s down at TE28. So maybe we should take some shots?
- The other former Colt, Coby Fleener, was simply awful last season. The problem is, he was a bad scorer on a per-week basis before his move to New Orleans, so why did the community go crazy for him? It’s okay to get excited about someone moving to a new team, but there’s no need to outfight everyone for them – he was a top 80 dynasty pick this time last off-season, but was moving from Luck to Drew Brees worth a 100-plus ADP rise? Definitely not.
- This is much better. Rob Gronkowski hitting over 11 points 74 per cent of the time is impressive, and considering there are only 11 receivers who hit 15 points per game (the WR2 baseline) more than 50 per cent of the time, this is where the best tight ends make a difference.
- I don’t believe there’s a player who I’ve acquired more than Jimmy Graham this season. I’m all in.
- You’ll draft almost three rounds of tight ends before Antonio Gates is taken, but he’s still going to be out there in 2017.
- Our top 24 star Kelce is all the way down in eighth. I treat tight ends similarly to quarterbacks – there are the elites, then there’s everyone else. Unfortunately for Kelce, Gronkowski’s numbers (and others who have been at the top in the past) are simply better – I won’t be paying the price for Kelce this off-season.
- Eric Ebron, while showing improvement, reminds me a little of Dwayne Allen and Ladarius Green – in that we just seem to be waiting. He’s gotten better each year, but hasn’t had an spells of being outstanding or a difference-maker. However, PFF’s Pat Thorman is a man on a mission trying to turn people around, and he can fill your timeline with Ebron Propaganda
Since 1980 only 5 TEs had more catches than Eric Ebron through their age-23 season. (Witten, Gronk, AHern, Gonzo, Heap), & 7 had more yards.
— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) June 23, 2017
- Coby Fleener. Again, real bad.
- Dennis Pitta’s hip injury and subsequent release just sucks – he led tight ends in receptions last season.
- Kelce has a higher TE1 percentage than everyone on this list, but that’s a lot of mediocre scoring.
- Charles Clay is someone who could be your yearly streamer. He’ll get 5-10 points two thirds of the time, with a touchdown or two sprinkled in.
- In my recent appearance on the Dynasty Blueprint Podcast, Ryan McDowell asked if Gronkowski’s low TE2 percentage was a cause for concern. Short answer: no. Long answer: He’s played 38 games in the last three years, and spent 28 of those as a TE1 (74%). Even if the remaining ten were all outside the top 24, he’d still be the best player to own purely because of the weekly ceiling, which is unmatched.
- Cameron Brate worries me, since he had his fair share of ‘Brate games’ (three with over 20 points), but with more competition for targets, will he have many of those again? O.J. Howard is a far superior talent.
Now we’ve seen how low these top 12 and top 24 baselines are with tight ends, it’s especially important to filter out the best from the rest. We don’t just want 11 points per game regularly from our TEs, we want more – ‘superstar weeks’ are a way to examine that.
In order to set a baseline for a superstar week, I took the score required to be the top overall tight end each week for the last three seasons (27.5), the TE1 baseline (11.0) and split them in half to get 19.3. Here are the player who hit that number the most.
- Again, Gronkowski clearly stands out. The percentage gap between him and the next group is huge compared to at other positions.
- We believed in Reed’s talent while he was hurt, and those who put their faith in him reaped the rewards. I believe the same is to come for Tyler Eifert supporters.
- Four of Julius Thomas’ superstar weeks came in Denver. Can he make a return to those days?
- Here’s maybe why we got caught up in the Fleener hype. He had a few huge games in Indy, dotted in between dozens of poor performances. But if you compare the rest of his numbers to the players on this list, he’s miles behind.
It’s a reminder. A reminder to consider more than just yearly finishes, and more than just last last year. Players have ups and downs, and there’s more value in learning when to buy and sell than to have one unwavering viewpoint on a player.
For example, if Travis Kelce was our TE5/6 and going in the fifth/sixth rounds of startups, I’d be more likely to focus on that constant floor of scoring. However, he’s the TE2 and 33rd overall in our latest dynasty ADP, going ahead of players such as Jarvis Landry, Stefon Diggs, Demaryius Thomas, LeSean McCoy and Andrew Luck – this is insane to me. I put my money where my mouth is earlier this off-season, trading Kelce and a second round pick for Ameer Abdullah and Kenneth Dixon (which unfortunately doesn’t look at all fair now the Raven is hurt).
Hunter Henry is another whose price exceeds my expectations. Yes, he did have a very impressive season for a rookie – but it wasn’t exactly fruitful from a fantasy perspective. He could even join the group of ‘good’ players who do consistently well, but if you’re a top 75 startup pick as a tight end – heck, you need to be quite special. It’s just a bit too rich (but at least it’s fallen since a couple of months ago).
On the other hand, our veterans capable of great things continue to fall down in startup price and value. Snap up Jimmy Graham, one of perhaps only two players capable of putting up regular ‘WR numbers’. He’s the TE8 and one of favorite buys this off-season. Buy our TE1, Martellus Bennett, who just missed out on the top lists here but is capable of big performances. Keep rolling with Delanie Walker (TE16), who our Peter Howard also still loves, and take one last shot on Julius Thomas at TE22. We’re not buying any at their peak, and they could easily outperform their prices.
Finally, what do we do with these rookies? The mindset has always been “don’t draft tight ends when they are rookies”, but I am firmly against it, especially this season. Invest in this class, and invest heavily. If there’s a chance they can produce top numbers over the mediocrity of many of the current TE1s, I want to take that shot. Unlike in previous years, I only expect the price of this group to go up.
I hope you enjoyed this year’s series, and please do get in touch with any comments, queries or suggestions. The full data set for tight ends is below.
- 2022 Rookie Class: An Early Look at Kenny Pickett, QB Pittsburgh - January 31, 2022
- Dynasty Fantasy Football Rookie Update: Quez Watkins, WR PHI - July 15, 2020
- Dynasty Fantasy Football Rookie Update: John Hightower, WR PHI - July 7, 2020