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.

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