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Fantasy Football: Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between (Tight Ends)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 16, 2017

Travis Kelce was last year’s breakout star at the tight end position, but may not have reached his fantasy ceiling.

How many times have you clicked on a fantasy football article, started to read it, only to drift off into a daydream after about 200 words? Your intentions were good, but with how short our attention spans are nowadays, it’s hard to follow the entire process. For example, did you know the average song on the radio right now is just three minutes and 30 seconds long?

With that being the case, I wanted to put together an article that we could not only look at for hours, but one we could come back to at any time. One that took out process and anything that would lead to a difference in opinion because it was based on pure, untarnished numbers, and one that everyone could relate to. Whether you’re the type of person who just reads a few articles in August before your draft or if you’re the type who’s been plotting your fantasy championship since back in April, you’ll be able to put this research to use.

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How many times have you come across an article that stated “Player X had four WR1 performances?” What that particular writer did was go through the fantasy leaders from each week and looked up if that player was in the top-12 at their position. If they were in the top-12, they check off the box as a WR1 performance. But is that fair? My answer would be an emphatic “no.”

The average top-12 performance for wide receivers in 2016 was 19.1 fantasy points in PPR formats. Let’s pretend that Larry Fitzgerald scored 21.2 PPR points in Week 3, but there were 14 other wide receivers who scored more than him. Should Fitzgerald not be awarded a WR1 performance? What if that had been a top-12 performance in any other week? The player’s performance should not be graded on a curve, because we have no control on predicting what that curve is for any particular week. Our goal as analysts is to predict who will have a WR1 performance in any given week, and that performance stood at 19.1 points for wide receivers in 2016.

The numbers vary from year-to-year, but that’s where research comes in. Because while the top-12 number was 19.1 in 2016, it was 20.3 points for wide receivers in 2015. Every position is different, which meant there was a lot of work to do. I went through the tedious process of dissecting each player’s game logs, charting top-12, top-24, and top-36 performances. Not just that, but I also added boom and bust categories, as it represents their ceilings as well as their floors. It’s also important that I note this was done for PPR formats. While some may say that it’s “free points,” it’s also the format that showcases the most consistency, and what is arguably the most predictable.

The number to achieve boom or bust status varies per position, as some have it harder than others. With quarterback, the number to “boom” wound up on 26.0 because it would have amounted to roughly 350 passing yards and three touchdowns. That number can obviously be accomplished in a variety of different ways, but again, we just want them to reach that number. A “bust” on the other hand amounted to 13.9 fantasy points or less, which would mean they failed to throw for 250 yards and a touchdown, or somewhere in that region. Below, you can find the chart with the parameters for each position.

Position Boom Bust
QB 26.0 13.9
RB 25.0 6.9
WR 25.0 7.9
TE 20.0 6.9

 

Just to give you an idea as to one of the things that was found – Carson Palmer has had just two games over 26 fantasy points (boom) in the last six years. Tyrod Taylor has hit that number five times in the last two seasons. They are going almost right next to each other in early drafts.

So, ladies and gentleman, I present to you “Boom, Bust, and Everything in Between.”

We are going to go through the tight ends right here, but you’ll be able to find the links to all other positions below.

Quarterbacks
Wide Receivers
Running Backs

Tight Ends

Top-5

Tgts/gm TOP 5 % TE1 % BOOM % BUST %
Rob Gronkowski 4.8 37.5% 50.0% 25.0% 37.5%
Travis Kelce 7.3 37.5% 56.3% 25.0% 18.8%
Jordan Reed 7.4 25.0% 66.7% 25.0% 25.0%
Greg Olsen 8.1 18.8% 62.5% 18.8% 18.8%
Jimmy Graham 5.9 25.0% 43.8% 12.5% 25.0%

 
It’s quite amazing that Gronkowski performed the way he did, percentage-wise, considering he played minimal snaps in four of eight games (you can tell by his targets per game). Looking over Gronkowski’s numbers throughout his career, it’s quite ridiculous how dominant he’s been. When you see that Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, and Travis Kelce outperformed him in top-12 performances, you need to know that this was Gronkowski’s lowest total since his rookie year. Outside of his rookie year and 2016, Gronkowski’s lowest top-12 percentage is 71.4 percent.

Summing up this chart is simple – if you want upside, grab Gronkowski, Kelce, or Reed. If you’re looking for safety with somewhat limited upside, grab Olsen. It feels like Jimmy Graham doesn’t belong among this group, considering he was healthy and finished as a top-12 tight end in less than half of his games. So, when setting up your draft board, it’s a clear tier after Gronkowski, Kelce, Reed, and Olsen.

Top-12

Player Tgts/gm TOP 5 % TE1 % BOOM % BUST %
Delanie Walker 6.8 26.7% 60.0% 20.0% 20.0%
Kyle Rudolph 8.3 31.3% 56.3% 12.5% 12.5%
Tyler Eifert 5.9 37.5% 50.0% 25.0% 25.0%
Martellus Bennett 4.6 25.0% 37.5% 12.5% 43.8%
Zach Ertz 7.6 28.6% 57.1% 21.4% 42.9%
Hunter Henry 3.5 15.4% 38.5% 7.7% 30.8%
O.J. Howard 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

 
It can be said that Delanie Walker and Tyler Eifert belong in the top-five group more than Graham does, as they both posted top-12 numbers at least half the time. With Walker, it’s understandable why he’s been sliding down draft boards, as he’s getting older and the Titans have added three pass-catchers to the offense. As for Eifert, he’s got plenty of injury concern after missing 24 games over the last three seasons. His percentages in 2016 were nearly identical to his numbers in 2015, making him a potential league-winner if he can stay on the field.

It was surprising to see Zach Ertz finish with the fourth-highest percentage of top-12 finishes last year, but he also “busted” more than players like Vance McDonald, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Jason Witten. The additions to their offense (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) will eat into his production, lowering his floor a bit more. Martellus Bennett was someone else who finished with a rather high bust rate, but he’s obviously in a different situation now. It should also come as no surprise that I’ve been saying Kyle Rudolph is undervalued after looking at this chart, as his numbers are worthy of being in the top-five. While he’s not guaranteed to sustain that type of production, he clearly has some sort of connection with Sam Bradford.

The Hunter Henry love is warranted, especially considering how few of targets he actually saw last year. The question comes down to whether or not he can see a large jump in targets in order to move up this list next year. I mean, Jesse James averaged more targets per game than him in 2016. Also, stop drafting O.J. Howard as a top 12 tight end, please.

Top-30 (The Rest)

Player Tgts/gm TOP 5 % TE1 % BOOM % BUST %
Eric Ebron 6.5 7.7% 53.8% 0.0% 7.7%
Jack Doyle 4.7 12.5% 31.3% 6.3% 37.5%
Jason Witten 5.9 6.3% 37.5% 6.3% 31.3%
Coby Fleener 5.1 12.5% 18.8% 12.5% 56.3%
Evan Engram 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Austin Hooper 1.9 0.0% 27.3% 0.0% 54.5%
Julius Thomas 5.7 11.1% 44.4% 0.0% 44.4%
Jared Cook 5.1 10.0% 20.0% 10.0% 60.0%
David Njoku 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Dwayne Allen 3.7 21.4% 28.6% 7.1% 64.3%
Antonio Gates 6.6 23.1% 46.2% 7.7% 23.1%
Jesse James 3.8 0.0% 12.5% 0.0% 62.5%
C.J. Fiedorowicz 5.9 6.7% 26.7% 6.7% 33.3%
Cameron Brate 5.4 26.7% 46.7% 20.0% 33.3%
Austin Seferian-Jenkins 2.2 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 88.9%
Charles Clay 5.8 13.3% 26.7% 13.3% 46.7%
Gerald Everett 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Zach Miller 6.4 10.0% 50.0% 10.0% 20.0%

 
I’ve said for a long time that targets are key among tight ends, which why you see a bunch of tight ends who see less than six targets per game in this range. Eric Ebron stands out as someone who busted just 7.7 percent of the time, which was the lowest among all tight ends. And when you find out that the only game he busted in was one that he saw just one target, he should peak your interest. Just the slightest progression in touchdowns and Ebron can be looked at as a top-five tight end at this time next year.

Antonio Gates continues to defy logic, but it seems that Henry is good enough to take targets away from him. Still, I’d argue that he’s a value as the 23rd tight end off the board. Looking all the way towards the bottom, it was shocking to see Zach Miller and Charles Clay have as many targets as they did. If Miller stays with the Bears (there have been rumors about him being a potential cut candidate), he could be a screaming value as a tight end to stream. Clay turned it on towards the end of the season and his 5.8 targets per game were somewhat of a lot considering the Bills threw the ball less than anyone else in the league.

If there are any other tight ends you’re wondering about who didn’t pop up on this list, feel free to reach out on Twitter @MikeTagliereNFL, and I’ll gladly share. We are also working on getting all of the data from each player’s career up on their player page.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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