Last year the top eight tight ends scored fewer points than any other year in the last five. I expect the points to increase in 2017, but that might hurt the “throw a dart” tactics a lot of us had to resort to last year. Streamers will have to keep up with more productive players, so I’m paying closer attention to those with the potential to be the two-four players who break into the top five every year.
Based on Streaming the Stream, I’ve assigned tight ends a range of positional finishes for 2017. Searching for value using a projected range of finishes has been helpful when switching between dynasty and seasonal leagues – I think it leaves room for easy adjustment based on new information and how your opinion might differ from mine as well.
To be clear, these ranges are my opinion on the data and situation. They are the best values, many with the potential for a top five finish, as I see it. I wouldn’t necessarily “overpay” for them, but will snap up the value if they are available.
- By “Value” I mean how likely a player is to meet or outperform his positional ADP.
- Dynasty ADP is from DLF. Seasonal ADP is from myfantasyleague.com data in PPR public leagues drafted since June 1st.
- Raw statistics were pulled from pro-football-reference.com.
- In the tables: Green= Top-5, Tan= Top-12, Red=Top-24 finish.
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Jimmy Graham, TE SEA
Dynasty ADP – 87 – 8.03 – TE8
Seasonal ADP: 71 – 6.11 – TE5
Likely positional Range: TE5-TE1
Jimmy Graham is a better value than Rob Gronkowski at their respective ADPs. While Graham’s red zone usage was abominable in 2016 (a career low 7%), his efficiency didn’t skip a beat. He managed a 6.3% touchdown reception rate and a 68% catch rate. Coupled with a 17% target share and a career-high 14.2 yards per reception he managed another top-five finish. That’s a good recovery from a career ending injury.
I think we can see a difference between elite talents and positive situations in target share. Indianapolis offers a good comparison to New Orleans. Both had turnover in their tight end position recently. But while Andrew Luck has consistently made a tight end relevant none of them have been elite. (Dwayne Allen/Coby Fleener and now Jack Doyle.) The market share for the position hasn’t shifted much as the players have changed either.
On the other hand when Graham left New Orleans for Seattle the tight end target share dropped while Seattle’s increased. There’s a lot that goes on during an NFL game and I’m not a scout (or coach.) Correlation does not equal causation. But it seems clear that Graham is the common variable. Seattle might not have figured out the best role, but Jimmy Graham will get one and make it work.
The only player (not named Tony Gonzalez, or a young Antonio Gates and Jason Witten) to be as consistently in the top five as Graham is Gronkowski. He’s also the only one who comes close to his history of fantasy point totals. He is also the only other player to have scored more then 300 PPR points in the last ten years at the position.
Graham’s price is below his value and inside of where pick value levels off compared to the average number of points scored by round. So the price is fair, the upside is free and he’s been a top five tight end every time he’s been healthy… cool.
Kyle Rudolph, TE MIN
Dynasty ADP: pick 126 – 11.06 – TE14
Seasonal ADP: pick 92 – 8.08 – TE7
Likely positional Range: TE10-TE3
Tight ends with top-12 seasons by the age of 22 are a rare breed. But they aren’t exclusive. In a ten year sample, only nine players managed it. Some elite producers don’t make the list. Neither Jimmy Graham nor Antonio Gates were in the league until they were 23 and both were only in the top-24 in their rookie year. Greg Olsen was in the league at 22 but was also only in the top-24.
Zach Miller and Jermichael Finley also show us that being in the top-12 at 22 is not a guarantee of elite production later. A fact I’m sure most were feeling in the three-year interim of Rudolph managing the feat and finding his way into the top-five in 2016. But, having made it into the top-five, Rudolph enters a rare group that is more exclusive.
Minnesota’s favorite reindeer is looking good for 2017. Yes, the same could have been said after his 2012 finish, but this time I mean it! Also that fear has crushed his dynasty ADP to such a value I think he’s a steal. He’s 27 years old, and at the peak of his career. Just remember, it did happen… eventually.
Martellus Bennett, TE GB
Dynasty ADP – 114 – 10.06 – TE13
Seasonal ADP: 103 – 9.07 – TE11
Likely positional Range: TE15-TE4
Martellus Bennett was a top-five tight end in 2014. Combined with two top-12 finishes before the age of 26 he makes for an exciting prospect to suddenly find in Green Bay.
Aaron Rodgers finished ninth in red zone completion inside the ten and 21st inside the 20-yard line in 2016. Meanwhile, Bennett finished above every Green Bay receiver in Red Zone reception percentage inside the 20 and only below Randall Cobb inside the ten.
My inclination after diving into the position over the last ten years is to bet on the player over the situation. For example, none of the players who have finished in the top five and since left the league has been replaced by the teams who lost them. So the fact Green Bay’s most productive tight end in recent memory was Richard Rogers’ TE11 finish in 2015 doesn’t indicate a ceiling. Nor is the fact Jermichael Finley never did better than the top-12.
Having a top five season on his career resume makes Bennett a different kind of prospect to me. One and done does happen, and there are some comparisons to Bennett that seem familiar.
But Bennett is a very likely top-12 finisher even with these comparisons. I think he’s begin drafted closer to his floor for 2017 then his ceiling.
Delanie Walker, TE TEN
Dynasty ADP – 133 – 12.01 – TE15
Seasonal ADP: 94 – 8.10 – TE8
Likely positional Range: TE10-TE5
Delanie Walker’s breakout into the top five at age 31 isn’t as surprising as his complete lack of production until he was 28. I’m comparing Walker to Olsen and Gary Barnidge, but I wouldn’t argue it very long in either direction. Sometimes a tight end either isn’t utilized or is unrecognized or just takes a while to figure it out.
The move from San Francisco to Tennessee was career changing. He spent some time playing full-back in San Francisco which might account for a lack of receiving production.
I have similar concerns for him as some do for Olsen. I don’t think his role is going to evaporate in 2017 but I’m more worried about it going forward.
As the TE15 in dynasty, I think he’s a good value for 2017. As TE8 in seasonal leagues, he has some value and some room to pay you back for taking the chance.
Zach Ertz, TE PHI
Dynasty ADP – 99 – 9.03 – TE11
Seasonal ADP: 102 – 9.07 – TE10
Likely positional Range: TE12-TE4
Honestly? I have been out on Zach Ertz until recently. Trey Burton ate up some of the work last year and I liked a lot of his profile. Ertz seemed capped by in past seasons and despite great athleticism and other profile metrics, I thought we might see the same thing happen again in 2017. But his career arc makes me think there’s a chance that’s wrong.
There are quite a few tight ends with two top-12 finishes before 25, and you wouldn’t want to start any of them (Owen Daniels and Heath Miller spring to mind.) But he has been more productive than Travis Kelce to this point in his career. He is 26 years old this season and it’s an important one for understanding what kind of career path he may follow.
The overall average age of top-five tight ends is dragged up to 27.6 because players also tend to do it again, and again as they get older. (Plus there are a few, like Delanie Walker and Olsen, who first turn up at a later age.) But 32%, of tight ends in the top-five since 2007 are 25 and 26 years old. Of all tight ends with at least one top-five season the most common age for their first appearance is 25 – and 26 is second by only one. Ertz is in the golden age range for tight end breakouts.
Does that mean Ertz will be in the top five? No, but I think it means he will be drafted a lot higher next year if he does. We want too much from our young and rookie tight ends, and their ADP can slip before it becomes even possible. He should be a top-12 tight end this year, but the possible upside is exciting. Drafted as the TE10 in seasonal leagues and the TE11 in dynasty, Ertz is being taken at his 2017 floor and below his potential ceiling.
Eric Ebron, TE DET
Dynasty ADP – 110 – 10.02 – TE12
Seasonal ADP: 109 – 10.01 – TE12
Likely positional Range: TE12-TE5
Eric Ebron’s ADP is almost identical in both dynasty and seasonal leagues, and he’s the TE12 in both. This is a very good value in both dynasty and seasonal leagues. But at the same time I think he’s ceiling is less likely.
I think the word is out about Ebron’s slow climb in game and season stats since entering the league. While some feel burned by his past two years, positional finish data shows that those who expected more were betting against heavy odds. We just expect too much from our rookie and young tight ends.
Up to now, we shouldn’t have expected more. Ebron has been good as the TE13 and TE14 in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Meanwhile, he is set to begin 2017 at 24 years old. If he finishes in the top-12 his career positional finishes will look very much like Zach Ertz’, only slightly better. He would also be on par with Kelce’s career of production (as is Ertz, right now).
I think he’s very much a value in all formats given his situation and improving production. Right now he is being drafted at his floor for 2017, below it in dynasty and I think he should out produce both this season.
I’ve been asked about who I’m aiming at if I miss on the players above, so I thought I’d point out some players who look like values for streaming as well.
Jason Witten, TE DAL
Dynasty ADP – 208 – TE27
Seasonal ADP: 151 –TE18
Likely positional Range: TE15-TE10
We want too much out of our young tight ends, and tend to give up on them too soon. We also give up on our old one’s too soon. Witten might be past the time in his career where he regularly finishes in the top five, but he has finished in the top-12 every year of his career.
While the position is more “streamable” outside the top five or six, his ADP and positional rank is an immense value.
Draft Witten, and stream all you want. But don’t give up on solid production just…because? In best ball I’d be surprised if he isn’t a starter for multiple weeks and – for basically free – he is an easy call to be a value.
Dallas knows how rare a producer he is and values him to the tune of a brand new four year contract. I think we can stomach drafting him in the late rounds.
Other Streamers/Franken-TE’s to target
These are players with positive value that I want to mention but don’t have enough space in one article to explore why. I think they will offer enough “startable” weeks to stream them and have potential upside beyond that.
- Antonio Gates, (Dynasty ADP: 233 – TE35 – Seasonal ADP: 193 – TE 26)
- Cameron Brate (Dynasty ADP: 199 – TE 24 – Seasonal ADP: 166 – TE21)
- C.J. Fiedorowicz (Dynasty ADP: 173 – TE 22 – Seasonal ADP: 157 – TE20)
- Charles Clay (Dynasty ADP: 228 – TE 33 – Seasonal ADP: 200 – TE27)