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Best Offenses for Tight Ends (Fantasy Football)

Best Offenses for Tight Ends (Fantasy Football)

Tight end is fantasy’s ultimate quagmire. There just isn’t a great way to approach the position.

The elite tight ends too often fail to justify an early-round investment. The mid-round tight ends are low-volume, touchdown-dependent players. The later rounds produce an occasional breakout, but otherwise leave you streaming the position week to week…a frustrating guessing game.

I hate when fantasy strategy amounts to just “draft the right players,” but with tight end, that’s kind of what it boils down to. It’s all very depressing, but drafts are right around the corner, and we all have to fill the position somehow. So rather than head to the seaside cliffs for some Jon Snow-style brooding, in this article, I’m going to look at which offenses have been the friendliest to tight ends and how we can use that information for 2017.

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The Data

To get a sense of which offenses have been best for tight ends, let’s start with the teams who have scored the most total tight end points over the last two seasons:

Team Fantasy Points Scored by TEs (2015-16, PPR)
New England 643.5
Tennessee 602.3
Washington 579.4
Philadelphia 568.3
San Diego 563.9
Carolina 531.2
Kansas City 520.0
Indianapolis 472.5
New Orleans 457.5
Seattle 457.1

Since year-long numbers can lie, I also looked at per game opportunity. The top 12 tight ends have averaged just under seven targets per game over the past two seasons. Here are the teams that have most frequently given tight ends at least seven targets:

Team Games with TE ≥7 Targets (2015-16)
Carolina 22
Philadelphia 22
Kansas City 21
Tennessee 21
New England 17
San Diego 17
Washington 17
Cleveland 16
Dallas 16
Minnesota 16

Using these two metrics as guidelines, with some red zone data sprinkled in, I’ve broken down the best offenses for tight ends as follows.

The Crème of the Crop

New England: The Patriots have scored by far the most TE points over the last two seasons. Rob Gronkowski is obviously a large part of that, but he’s also missed nine games and was limited in several others over that span.

The Patriots are at the top because they’ve continued to utilize the position even without Gronk, with Martellus Bennett and Scott Chandler accounting for nearly a quarter of New England’s seven-plus target games in 2015-16. The Patriots were also the only team with two tight ends to finish top 12 in points per game last season.

All of this bodes well for Dwayne Allen. At a minimum, he’s a good red zone threat (at least six touchdowns in two of the last three seasons) on a top offense with a quarterback who’s always looked for his tight ends in the end zone. There’s room for growth, either alongside Gronkowski in a mini-Bennett role or as Gronkowski’s replacement if he gets hurt yet again.

Washington: Much like New England, Washington has been a haven for tight end production both because of and in the absence of its superstar, Jordan Reed. The key is volume. Volume is precious for tight ends, who in general get far fewer targets than receivers.

Washington was one of just five teams to give multiple tight ends over 50 targets last season. Heading into 2017, Washington is one of the few offenses where the tight end is likely to lead the team in targets, as Reed did in 2015.

Beyond Reed, Vernon Davis looked old and slow last year, but the 33-year-old somehow remained both efficient (13.4 yards per reception, third among tight ends) and reliable (catching 74.6% of his targets, also third among tight ends). You should also keep an eye on Niles Paul, a former receiver who looked like an ascending player in 2014 before injuries derailed his career. With Reed already dealing with a mysterious foot injury, Davis or Paul could emerge as the heir to his valuable role.

Philadelphia: After overseeing Travis Kelce’s breakout in Kansas City, Doug Pederson brought his TE love to the City of Brotherly Love and Overrated Cheesesteaks. Zach Ertz had eight games with at least seven targets last season, while backup Trey Burton had three of his own. Touchdowns have been a problem for Eagles tight ends, Ertz especially, and I wouldn’t automatically assume positive regression for a guy who’s never scored more than six touchdowns in a season dating back to college.

Still, in hunting touchdowns opportunity is king, and the 6’5″ Ertz had 15 red zone targets last year (11th most among tight ends). Even if the touchdowns don’t come, they aren’t needed-Ertz has finished ninth and sixth among tight ends the last two seasons, so his ECR (TE10) already prices in the scoring woes.

The other reason I expect the Eagles to remain tight end-friendly is the Jordan Matthews trade, which removes a target hog from the middle of the field and replaces him with Nelson Agholor (2016’s worst wide receiver, per Pro Football Focus’s Andy Fleischer). With Matthews gone and Alshon Jeffery already hurt, I’m not convinced Philadelphia’s “revamped” wide receiving corps will be any better than last season. That should mean another year with plenty of opportunity for Ertz, and possibly the underrated, super athletic Burton as well.

San Diego: The Chargers have been feeding Antonio Gates for over a decade, but have also used Ladarius Green and Hunter Henry quite a bit when Gates has missed time. Most importantly for the most touchdown-dependent position in fantasy, the Chargers rely on their tight ends up close. Gates and Henry finished second and seventh, respectively, in red zone targets among tight ends last season, a large reason they were both able to finish top 15 among tight ends in points per game. Gates finished ninth the season before (in just 11 games). That should continue in 2017-the Chargers have finished fifth and fourth in passing touchdowns the last two years Ken Whisenhunt has led the offense.

New Orleans: The Saints’ tight ends have scored the ninth most fantasy points since 2015, the post-Jimmy Graham era. Two years ago it was Ben Watson, who at age 35(!) racked up 74 catches for 825 yards and a TE7 finish. Coby Fleener was a notorious flop last season, but it wasn’t for lack of opportunity. Fleener started out with 35 targets in his first five games, but after catching just 54.3% of them for a paltry 6.77 yards/reception, the Saints had no choice but to turn away.

Even so, Fleener finished as TE15 purely through volume, and there’s reason for optimism heading into 2017. Over the last two years, the top 12 fantasy tight ends have averaged 17 red zone targets. New Orleans is the only team whose tight end hit that mark in both years.

Moreover, the Saints are always one of the leaders in passing, and targets from Drew Brees might be the most valuable commodity in fantasy. I’ve talked about Fleener’s shaky job security, but as the TE14 by ECR, he’s a decent bounceback candidate.

The Star Driven

Carolina, Kansas City, Seattle, and Tennessee: I’m lumping these four teams together because I don’t think their tight end usage is as much about favorable scheme as it is smart allocation of resources. All four teams have featured their tight ends because they had good to great talent at the position and a lack of talent at receiver.

They’re all worth mentioning in an article about favorable tight end situations; I’m just not sure how much it helps for fantasy. I wouldn’t expect the tight end-friendly usage to continue if any of the starters were to go down with an injury.

Also Receiving Votes

Indianapolis: The Colts’ reputation as a tight end-friendly team is both true and a bit overstated. They’re eighth in total points over the last two seasons, but Dwayne Allen’s TE19 finish (points per game) last year has been the high water mark. The problem is the Colts have been spreading the ball around too much for any one player to thrive, partly due to injuries and partly due to personnel.

If they condense more of that production into one player, look out. Otherwise, the Colts provide more of a safe floor than a ceiling.

Minnesota: There’s a lot of buzz for Stefon Diggs as a WR1 and Adam Thielen as a breakout candidate, but it was Kyle Rudolph who led this passing attack last season. Rudolph especially flourished once Pat Shurmur took over as offensive coordinator, finishing with 8.67 targets and 14.5 points per game over the final nine games.

His 132 targets and 25 red zone targets were both the most among tight ends, but I’m a little worried this offense won’t be as tight-end friendly as it seemed last year. Everything the Vikings did this offseason points to relying more on the running game and last year’s seven touchdowns may be the ceiling with Sam Bradford at quarterback (whose career 3.4% TD rate is 50th among active quarterbacks).

Pittsburgh: Have I mentioned tight end is a touchdown-dependent position? Well, it’s a very touchdown-dependent position.

Over the last two years, only one tight end (Zach Ertz) has finished as a top 12 tight end without at least 12 red zone targets. Pittsburgh is one of the few teams to have a tight end exceed 12 red zone targets each of the last two seasons.

That brings me to Jesse James. He’s a 6’7″, 260 lb. athletic stud. He’s just 23 years old, entering his third year in the league. He’s got little competition at tight end. He’s got a good quarterback. He’s got an awesome name. He’s just TE29 by ECR. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages…James is a great late-round flier.

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Scott Cedar is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Scott, check out his archive and follow him @scedar015

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