Drafting for success- Tight Ends

I’m back with the fourth installment of Drafting for success. This time we’ll discuss Tight Ends and try to figure out what to do when you miss out on Jimmy and the Gronk.

You can read my previous articles on running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers on this blog.

Typically tight ends are seen as a secondary position within fantasy football, ranking below QBs, but in front of DST and Kickers. In my opinion there are three factors that feed this perception. The first factor is the restriction of only one starter per team. We typically only see between 15 and 25 selected in a 12 team fantasy draft each season (the EFFL drafted 21 TEs in 2014).

The second factor is the skills and physical ability required to play tight end mean that there are very few human beings on the planet capable of dominating from the position. Most players tend to fit specific roles and see their playing time and use restricted.

The third factor is the changeability in the position. We tend to see a very unstable top tier of players dependent on offense scheme. A great example is Zach Miller (Raiders/Seahawks) who fell from a consistent No.10-15 fantasy TE in 2008-2010 with the Raiders to a complete non-entity with a change of offense.

If we look at the number of times individual players have appeared in the top ten TE scorers over the last 5 years it’s quite stark how many 1 year wonders we have. There are a number of consistent performers, but over the last 5 years only Gates (2010), Gronkowski (2011) and Graham (2013) have produced seasons that would classify them as true 1st or 2nd round picks.

Top 10 Tight Ends- 2010-2014

NAME Number of Times in Top 10 Best PPG AVG
Jason Witten 5 9.6
Antonio Gates 4 13.8
Rob Gronkowski 4 15.1
Tony Gonzalez 4 8.8
Jimmy Graham 4 13.6
Vernon Davis 3 10.9
Greg Olsen 3 8.6
Dustin Keller 2 7
Julius Thomas 2 10.8
Martellus Bennett 2 8
Marcedes Lewis 1 8.1
Kellen Winslow 1 6.4
Chris Cooley 1 6.4
Zach Miller 1 6.6
Aaron Hernandez 1 9.8
Jermichael Finley 1 7.8
Brent Celek 1 6.9
Heath Miller 1 8.6
Dennis Pitta 1 6.8
Owen Daniels 1 7.2
Brandon Myers 1 6.5
Jermaine Gresham 1 6.5
Jordan Cameron 1 8.9
Charles Clay 1 7.5
Coby Fleener 1 7.8
Travis Kelce 1 7.3
Delanie Walker 1 7.5

What this list hints at is a changeable position group where value can be had outwith the draft. This is unlike any other position where team and talent levels predicate value. Last year was a particularly poor year for fantasy TE scoring where only the top 10 averaged over 6 points a game.This was reflected in our drafting success as the first 15 tight-ends drafted by the EFFL only 7 appeared in the top 20 TE scorers.

However, as I’ve repeated on here before, winning at fantasy isn’t just about raw totals it’s also about picking out match-ups plays and finding consistency. The chart below shows us the consistency of each TE over weeks 1-13. Games where the player scored more than 1 full standard deviation above the top 20 TE average are shown in blue, a 1/2 sd above average is shown in dark green and a 1/4 sd above average is shown in light green. An average game is shown yellow, a 1/4 sd below average is pink and a less than 1/2 sd below average is shown red. What the diagram shows is that despite the awful year for TE scoring there were a number of above average games to be had for canny coaches who could spot the match-up plays for players out-with the “big 2”.

TEconsistency

What this means is that when we’re drafting TE’s we have to be very careful ensuring we’re getting an adequate value from our draft position. Although grabbing a TE early means we can (almost) guarantee a strong positional advantage the differential from more valuable positions (such as RB or WR) at the same draft spot could leave us at an overall disadvantage. More so than any other position draft value is key to picking a TE.

The point is – if you don’t grab one of the top four tight ends this draft season, don’t fret, and don’t reach for one of the next few players. You’ll have an opportunity to grab a decent tight end off of waivers in the first couple weeks.

Drafting for success- Quarterbacks

After a short break I’m back with our third Drafting for success article. Unlike running backs quarterbacks are ten a penny in fantasy football, or are they?

This article will concentrate on the most contentious position for drafting strategies in fantasy football and we’ll look at whether drafting high is a successful strategy. You can read my previous articles on running backs and wide receivers on this blog.

In the last 6 years quarterbacks have dominated the top 25 scorers in standard scoring leagues. There are a number of factors that have helped this sudden rise and none more so than the number of 4000 yard passing seasons.

In fact more than 50% of NFL 4000 yard passing seasons have occurred since 2007 – just look at the exponential increase.

In addition to the huge increase in the quality and quantity of passing virtually every passing record has also been shattered in that time period. It’s really no surprise that QBs are now considered as safe 1st round picks.

But given the graduation of QBs into the “stud” tier of fantasy football players the question we’re going to look at is that rise warranted? Secondly I’ll discuss is it worth taking a QB in the first two rounds and finally can we find success by selecting a QB in the later rounds?

The first thing we need to look at is the top 15 scoring QBs in fantasy football last year. This assumes a starter for each team and 3 backups to cover for injuries. I’m also assuming any draft strategy in our 12 team league would be based on points value,positional value and available population. Surely it would be suicidal (or just plain ballsy) for a GM to allow the top 12 ranked QBs to come off the board before selecting? So in addition to looking at the Top 15 QBs we’ll also look at how the Top 15 pre-season ranked QBs performed and see if a ballsy decision is one worth making.

Top 15 pre-season rankings (various)

Player Team Preseason Rank Final Rank (wk13)
Peyton Manning Denver 1 3
Aaron Rodgers Green Bay 2 2
Drew Brees New Orleans 3 4
Matthew Stafford Detroit 4 19
Andrew Luck Indianapolis 5 1
Nick Foles Philadelphia 6 NR
Matt Ryan Atlanta 7 11
Cam Newton Carolina 8 27
Tom Brady New England 9 7
Robert Griffin III Washington 10 NR
Tony Romo Dallas 11 22
Russell Wilson Seattle 12 5
Colin Kaepernick San Francisco 13 21
Jay Cutler Chicago 14 12
Philip Rivers San Diego 15 8

The top 15 preseason rankings had their usual mixture of passing studs (Manning, Brees, Rodgers and Luck) mixed with high volume passers (Stafford, Brady, Ryan, Romo and Rivers) with a sprinkle of dual threats (Wilson, Newton and Kaepernick) and a couple of hopeful projections (Cutler, Griffin and Foles).

So can we breathe a little easier when we’re selecting QB’s? Pick a couple out of the Top 20 and we should be able to manufacture a couple of hundred points right? The end of season top 15 (for us Week13) looked a little different, but without too many shocks. The studs occupied the top 4 places as expected and it wasn’t a surprise to see our high volume guys (Stafford, Brady, Ryan, Romo (16th) and Rivers) also staying resident. The real misses from pre-season are our riskier prospects (Foles and Griffin). The important thing to notice at this stage is each of these players final rankings, the top 8 fantasy players were all QBs and 14 of the top 20 scorers were QBs.

Well that is a consideration, but there was also a considerable difference between the Luck, Rodgers and Manning tier from the rest of the pack. Andrew Luck scored a whopping 9 points more per game than Joe Flacco who on totals alone should have been our 12th starting QB on the season.

Top 15- Final Scoring Ranks

RANK NAME TEAM POINTS
1 Andrew Luck IND 296.74
2 Aaron Rodgers GB 279
3 Peyton Manning DEN 272.08
4 Drew Brees NO 243.32
5 Russell Wilson SEA 242.24
6 Ben Roethlisberger PIT 230.7
7 Tom Brady NE 225.02
8 Philip Rivers SD 215.82
10 Ryan Tannehill MIA 206.66
11 Matt Ryan ATL 205.28
12 Jay Cutler CHI 199.2
17 Joe Flacco BAL 193.56
18 Eli Manning NYG 188.6
19 Matthew Stafford DET 187.12
21 Colin Kaepernick SF 180.94

Of course there is more to a fantasy season than just plugging in a player and leaving him for the entire season (unless of course he’s Luck, Manning or DeMarco Murray). There is an important issue of consistency as every Colin Kaepernick owner can attest.

The table below depicts the Top 32 QB scorers on the season.

Game Consistency (Dark Green- Excellent output Green- above average output, Yellow- average output, Pink- below average output Red- Terrible output (includes games missed)).qbWhat the above table clearly depicts is the presence of 3 QBs who are in that elite category we began discussing at the beginning of the article. Not only did they produce the highest number of points during the season, but they were also extremely consistent doing so.

In fact of the 39 games Manning, Luck and Rodgers played they produced 18 game winning points totals, 7 above positional average games and 9 average games with just 2 games between them that could be considered disappointing. This is a clear indicator of elite level performance.

But this alone does not make them worthy of a pick in the first two rounds especially if comparable value can be found in later rounds. Certainly their points totals can be rivaled (Wilson, Brees and Roethlisberger averaged around 3 points per game less than the top 3), but its the level of consistency that pushes them into the first and second round consideration.

But are they worth the pick?

That question can only be answered by looking at what you gain and what you lose by picking a QB in the first 2 rounds. To absolutely fair we’ll compare like with like value i.e. who do we lose out on or gain by following the QB first strategy. We’ll use our draft pattern as a template.

If we look at at mid-order pick (pick 6) and examine the difference between taking a QB first or waiting until the 5th or later rounds. Here’s what we pick up (based on worst to first best available)

Strategy Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Total +/-
Q-R-R-W-W 296.74 143.8 116.5 128.4 108.9 794.34 0
R-R-W-W-Q 172.7 132.9 138.1 128.4 243.32 815.42 +21.08
W-R-W-R-Q 193.9 143.8 145 95.4 243.32 821.42 +27.08

What this demonstrates is that picking a QB in the first 2 rounds isn’t a recipe for success despite the guarantee of points. The dearth of consistent scoring at other positions mean that the shortfall you experience in picking up lower ranking RBs and WRs isn’t offset with your elite QB. Conversely picking up high ranking RBs and WRs enables a GM to settle for lower ranking QBs without suffering.

However, we shouldn’t simply slip into a drafting strategy just because the numbers say something else. Circumstances and available talent also have a considerable effect on draft selections. Whilst I’m not advocating drafting one of the top 3 QBs in the first two rounds I’d certainly be reluctant to pass on a Luck, Manning, Rodgers or Brees in the middle of the third or start of the fourth round. The ability to add a consistent and high scoring player in your team is very important especially if you feel you are a good match-up player.

I’ll see you next time when I pose the question- “Are there any Tight Ends worth picking after Gronk and Jimmy?