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By The Numbers: Tight End Edition

by Eric Moody | @EricNMoody | Featured Writer
Aug 30, 2016

Antonio Gates

If he can remain healthy, Antonio Gates should be able to return nice value this season

Eric Moody provides an overview of tight ends by the numbers as you prepare for 2016 fantasy football drafts.

Fantasy football is a game of numbers. The goal is to outscore your opponent every week. The game film tells one story, but innovative statistics and analytics tell another.

Delanie Walker led all tight ends in targets with 133. He and Jordan Reed were the only tight ends with 80 or more receptions. Rob Gronkowski (1,176), Greg Olsen (1,104), Gary Barnidge (1,043), and Walker (1,088) were the only tight ends with 1,000 or more receiving yards. Tyler Eifert (13), Gronkowski (11), and Reed (11) were the only tight ends with 10 or more touchdowns. Gronkowski, Barnidge, Reed, Olsen, and Walker were the only tight ends with 150 or more fantasy points. I am sure you are noticing a trend in these statistical areas. If you can find a difference-maker at this position it gives your fantasy team a significant weekly advantage.

The fantasy football draft season continues to be a rollercoaster filled with numerous twists and turns. The goal of this article is to share stats, provide clarity, and to help you understand the productivity of the top 14 tight ends according to FantasyPros ADP (average draft position) consensus rankings.

With that in mind, it’s time to dive into the statistical analysis of these tight ends.

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1. Rob Gronkowski had a target share of only 18.1 percent.

This was interesting because Olsen (28.2 percent) and Barnidge’s (34.8 percent) target shares were higher. Gronkowski was very efficient producing 2.55 fantasy points per reception. He also had 22 receptions of 20 yards or more that led all tight ends in 2015. Gronkowski continues to be an elite TE1. I prefer to draft him late in the first round at the turn. Gronkowski has averaged 78 receiving yards per game and has scored 29 touchdowns over his last 35 games.

2. Jordan Reed had the highest fantasy Points Per Opportunity (0.41) among tight ends that played 14 games or more according to Pro Football Focus. 

Reed, like Gronkowski, had a low target share (18.4) in 2015 when compared to other tight ends. His efficiency is what differentiated him from the pack. Points-Per-Opportunity is calculated by taking a player’s total fantasy points scored, and dividing it by his carries plus his pass routes run. Reed outscored Gronkowski in total fantasy points in PPR (points per reception) formats. He is a high risk (81 percent) according to Sports Injury Predictor heading into 2016. What kind of risk are you comfortable taking at his fourth to fifth-round ADP (average draft position)?

3. Greg Olsen generated 14.3 yards per reception.

Olsen also had a high aDOT (10.8 yards) according to Pro Football Focus. This metric was created by Mike Clay and provides a measure of how far a player’s target travels. Olsen owned a target share of 30.6 in the red zone, but only scored seven touchdowns. How will the return of Kelvin Benjamin and the potential breakout of second-year wide receiver Devin Funchess impact Olsen’s fantasy outlook in 2016?

4. Travis Kelce only saw double-digit targets in one game. 

Kelce averaged 6.44 targets per game last season. He had an aDOT of only 5.8 yards. Kelce’s upside continues to be constrained by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and the offensive scheme. We do not know how high his ceiling can be. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where Kelce exceeds 95 targets, 70 receptions, 850 receiving, and six touchdowns. This is the type of eerily similar production he has had over the last two seasons. Kelce is a not a tight end I would reach for in fantasy drafts.

5. Delanie Walker played 689 offensive snaps, but was targeted on 19 percent of them. 

Walker ranked 28th in offensive snaps played at the tight end position in 2015. Gronkowski (950), Barnidge (1,027), Olsen (1,060), and Kelce (1,002) all played a higher number of snaps last season. The Titans passing game revolved around Walker in 2015 and that scenario is likely to repeat itself in 2016. I like drafting him at his current ADP, especially in the scenario where you want to select a tight end early in the draft, but miss out on Gronkowski, Reed, or Olsen.

6. Coby Fleener joins a Saints’ offense that targeted the tight end position 143 times. 

The Saints’ offense has always leveraged the tight end in head coach Sean Payton’s offensive scheme. Fleener signed a sizable contract this past offseason in free agency. Can he deliver on the hype? Here is a visual of the target share that former Saints tight end Jimmy Graham owned in previous seasons.

Player Name Teams Age Season Target Share TD Rate
Jimmy Graham Saints 28 2014 0.20 0.08
Jimmy Graham Saints 27 2013 0.22 0.11
Jimmy Graham Saints 26 2012 0.21 0.07
Jimmy Graham Saints 25 2011 0.23 0.07

The Saints’ defense will continue to be an abomination in 2016 after giving up the most points per drive (2.58) last season. This unit was so inept that once opposing offenses made it into the red zone it resulted in a touchdown  74 percent of the time. Quarterback Drew Brees and the passing attack will be heavily leaned in this season. Fleener and fantasy owners will be in a position to benefit. He is a tight end I am on board with drafting at his current ADP.

7. Tyler Eifert converted 48.1 percent of his red zone targets into touchdowns. 

Eifert continues to recovery from an ankle injury he suffered during the Pro Bowl. He is a weekly top five tight end whenever healthy. Eifert’s touchdown efficiency will be difficult to replicate in 2016. He also caught 79 percent of his 66 targets. Eifert was a difference maker for fantasy owners last season, but it is difficult for me to recommend drafting him at his current ADP. I would prefer to draft Eifert three to four rounds outside of his ADP, then pair him with another tight end late in the fantasy draft. Many fantasy owners are blinded by his 13 touchdowns in 2015.

8. Gary Barnidge had a target share of 46.2 percent in the red zone. 

Barnidge emerged as a TE1 last season for those brave enough to select him late in drafts or pick him up via the waiver wire. He had the second-most targets (125) among tight ends in 2015 behind Walker. The biggest change for Barnidge in 2016 is having Robert Griffin III under center. The narrative surrounding Griffin is that he has not historically targeted the tight end. Barnidge is one of the most talented pass catchers the Browns have. If Griffin is truly embracing new Browns head coach Hue Jackson’s philosophy then Barnidge should continue to receive a decent target share in this offense.

9. Julius Thomas had a DYAR or -57 according to Football Outsiders. 

This ranked 49th among all tight ends. DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, is a metric to determine how much more total value a player has to another. Thomas was dreadful last season. He missed the first four games of 2015 due to a hand injury. Thomas never appeared to be on the same page as Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. He only played 541 offensive snaps, but was targeted on 15 percent of them. Thomas is undervalued heading into 2016 and could be a factor in the red zone. The Jaguars led the NFL in red zone targets inside the 10-yard line. I have found myself drafting Thomas at his ADP and then pairing him with another late-round tight end to implement a streaming strategy.

10. Zach Ertz was only targeted nine times inside the 20-yard line. 

Ertz’s lack of touchdown scoring negatively impacted his overall fantasy points. He could have finished as a top-six fantasy tight end if he scored five more touchdowns. Ertz should continue to see a high number of targets in the Eagles’ offense. He is one of the most reliable pass catchers the team has outside of Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles. Ertz is one of my favoite tight ends to draft late in the single digit rounds of a fantasy draft.

11. Antonio Gates produced 1.66 fantasy points per receptions. 

Gates only played 510 offensive snaps, but was targeted on 17 percent of them. The future Hall of Famer will continue to be leveraged on passing downs and will continue to be a factor in the red zone for the Chargers. The season-ending injury to Stevie Johnson only strengthens Gates’ fantasy value this season. He is a tremendous value at his ADP for fantasy owners looking to wait on addressing the tight end position.

12. Jimmy Graham only averaged 6.73 targets per game last season. 

I was surprised to see Graham ranked this high in the FantasyPros ADP consensus rankings. He was not heavily used in the Seahawks’ offense last season. Graham is also recovering from one of the most challenging injuries a professional athlete can suffer in a torn patellar tendon. I cannot endorse drafting a player at this ADP that carries so much risk. Graham falls into what I would call the “Hope is a not a strategy” tier.

13. Martellus Bennett is joining a Patriots’ offense that had a backup tight end on the field 74 percent of the time.

Bennett has watched game film of every catch Aaron Hernandez has made in the Patriots offense. He has also been working with quarterback Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski after practice on red zone packages. According to Pro Football Focus, a tight end has forced 20 or more missed tackles in a season only three times: Bennett owns two and Hernandez owns one. I anticipate Bennett will have a huge role in this offense and could easily score eight to 10 touchdowns. The Patriots’ offense had the second highest number of targets (87) inside the 20-yard line last season. Bennett is a tight end I would prioritize and draft a round or two before his ADP. Bennett will have value sharing the spotlight with Gronkowski and can be a season changer if Gronk were to miss time due to injury.

14. Jason Witten has averaged 101.6 targets over the last three seasons.

The Cowboys injury woes last season negatively impacted Witten’s production. He has consistently finished as a top-eight fantasy tight end for a high percentage of his career. Witten’s upside is limited at this point of his career and he has only produced greater than 70 yards receiving twice in the last two seasons. I view him as a low-upside TE2 in 2016, but Witten has value as part of a tight end by committee in deeper PPR formats.

Conclusion

This draft season is shaping up to favor the middle round tight ends. My favorite tight ends out of this grouping are as follows: Walker, Ertz, Barnidge, Thomas, Gates, and Bennett. If Gronkowski, Reed, or Olsen falls in your fantasy draft prioritize them immediately.

I will provide insight into the quarterback position in the next part of this series. If you missed my previous articles evaluating the wide receiver or running back positions check them out. By The Numbers will be a weekly column at FantasyPros starting in Week 1 of the regular season.

What statistics stood out to you? Please leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter. You can find me @EricNMoody and I am always open to answering questions or discussing football. Until next time!

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