Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between Tight Ends (2018 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 9, 2018

While you may be high on other tight ends, Rob Gronkowski should be the first one off the board

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since the original Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between has been published, but here we are, just about a month from the start of the regular season. When I started this series, it was intended to put completely untarnished numbers out there that every fantasy football enthusiast could understand and put to use.

You might be someone who has taken the summer months off to spend time with friends and family, or you might be the type of diehard who craves information all year-round. Whatever your cup of tea is, I promise that this will be of great use to you during your fantasy drafts.

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When I hear someone say, “Player X recorded five WR1 performances last year,” it kind of drives me nuts. Why? It’s almost as bad as drawing year-end totals as a reason to rank a player as high as you do. That doesn’t give you the actual picture of a player’s performance because things change from week-to-week and we cannot control that variance.

To put this on display, the average top-12 running back performance in 2017 was 11.5 PPR points. For example, Wayne Gallman scored 13.0 PPR points in Week 4, but was not awarded an RB2 performance because it just happened to be a higher-scoring week among fantasy running backs. Should Gallman not be awarded an RB2 performance? 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 RB2 performances in any given week, which stood at 11.5 PPR points in 2017. Meanwhile, there are situations like that of Kareem Hunt, who finished with just 10.1 PPR points in Week 9, but was awarded an RB2 performance by most standards. That should not happen.

The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While the RB2 number was 11.5 PPR points in 2017, it was just 11.3 PPR points back in 2015. Every position is different, but know that I’ve gone through each year, each position, and each player, charting how many top-12, top-24, top-36 performances they’ve had according to that year’s stats. Not just that, though, as I’ve added boom and bust categories, which showcases their ceiling and floor on a week-to-week basis. This research is done on PPR leagues because it’s the format that presents the most consistently, which makes it 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 or less
RB 25.0 6.9 or less
WR 25.0 7.9 or less
TE 20.0 6.9 or less

 
Just to give you an idea as to some of the things you’ll find inside, here’s an example: Christian McCaffrey finished as an RB2 or better in 56.3 percent of his games and is being drafted as the No. 11 running back, while Duke Johnson finished as an RB2 or better in 62.5 percent of his games, but is being drafted as the No. 35 running back. Things change, sure, but did they change enough to make up for this gap? I’ll leave that up to you.

So, for the second time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. We’ll be doing tight ends today, wrapping up the series. If you missed any of the others, you can find the links to them below.

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Quarterbacks

Tight Ends

Top-5

ADP Player Games Tar/gm Top-5 % Top-12 % BOOM % BUST %
1 Rob Gronkowski 14 7.5 57.1% 71.4% 42.9% 21.4%
2 Travis Kelce 15 8.1 46.7% 73.3% 33.3% 13.3%
3 Zach Ertz 14 7.9 57.1% 78.6% 7.1% 21.4%
4 Jimmy Graham 16 5.9 18.8% 56.3% 12.5% 25.0%
5 Greg Olsen 7 5.4 14.3% 14.3% 14.3% 85.7%

 
Approaching tight ends the same way we do quarterbacks makes sense, because again, it’s a replaceable position when we’re only starting one of them each week. However, tight end is also the most volatile position, while quarterback is a bit more predictable. So, it begs the question – should you invest in one of the top-three tight ends?

Looking at the separation between the top-three and the No. 4 and No. 5 options, you can say that it makes a huge difference. If one thing is clear, it’s that Greg Olsen wasn’t himself even when he was on the field last year, as he posted just one top-12 performance. Prior to 2017, Olsen had finished with top-12 performances in at least 62.5 percent of his games over each of the previous four years. Was it Olsen declining as a player or does Christian McCaffrey kill his production? Adding D.J. Moore won’t make things any easier for him. As for Jimmy Graham, he scored 10 touchdowns, so seeing him finish top-five just 18.8 percent of the time is a real problem. In fact, Graham’s top-five numbers haven’t been over 25 percent since back in 2014. Going to Aaron Rodgers is great, but playing with Russell Wilson should have produced much better results.

If you’re investing in a top-three tight end, it should come down to Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce. Why not Zach Ertz? Well, he scored eight touchdowns in 14 games, while Carson Wentz finished with a historic touchdown rate, yet he still hit the “boom” number just once, while Gronkowski and Kelce crush that number seemingly every year. It’s not that Ertz is a bad pick, it’s just that he doesn’t belong in the tier with the two big dogs. I really wanted to show off just how dominant Gronkowski has been over his entire career, something that doesn’t really happen at the tight end position:

Player YEAR Top-5 % Top-12 % Boom % Bust %
Rob Gronkowski 2017 57.1% 71.4% 42.9% 21.4%
2016 37.5% 50.0% 25.0% 37.5%
2015 46.7% 73.3% 40.0% 13.3%
2014 33.3% 93.3% 26.7% 0.0%
2013 57.1% 71.4% 42.9% 28.6%
2012 54.5% 81.8% 27.3% 9.1%
2011 56.3% 81.3% 56.3% 6.3%
2010 18.8% 37.5% 18.8% 50.0%
Career Averages 44.1% 70.6% 35.3% 19.6%

 
It’s pretty simple. If Gronkowski stays healthy, you have a leg-up on your competition for the remainder of the season if you get him in the late-second, early-third round. Gronkowski’s 70.6 percent top-12 percentage over his career trumps Kelce’s 57.1 percent by a wide margin, though that gap has shrunk over the last two years.

6-12 Range

ADP Player Games Tar/gm Top-5 % Top-12 % BOOM % BUST %
6 Evan Engram 15 7.7 33.3% 53.3% 6.7% 26.7%
7 Delanie Walker 16 6.9 18.8% 56.3% 0.0% 25.0%
8 Kyle Rudolph 16 5.1 12.5% 43.8% 6.3% 25.0%
9 Jordan Reed 6 5.8 16.7% 33.3% 16.7% 33.3%
10 Trey Burton 12 2.6 8.3% 16.7% 8.3% 58.3%
11 Jack Doyle 15 7.2 26.7% 53.3% 6.7% 26.7%
12 George Kittle 15 4.2 6.7% 20.0% 6.7% 60.0%

 
If you miss out on one of the top-three tight ends, this is the area you’ll want to draft one. Evan Engram stands out in the top-five performances, but he also does in the target column, as the injuries around him led to a lot of opportunity. The fact that Delanie Walker was targeted less combined with Marcus Mariota having a bad year, it says something about the top-12 percentage that Walker posted, which was better than Engram’s. There’s really not an argument to draft Engram over Walker, at least in my mind.

The two outcasts on this list are Trey Burton and George Kittle, who both saw less than five targets per game in 2017. While Burton is going to a new team and received a contract to be “the guy” in Matt Nagy’s offense, it’s a leap of faith to think that Kittle sees a large jump in targets, especially when you consider Pierre Garcon returning from injury, Jerick McKinnon being added via free agency, and Dante Pettis being drafted. Kittle shouldn’t be considered in the group of the top-10 guys, while Burton has legitimate top-five upside with how much his offense utilizes the tight end position.

One last note from this section is that Jack Doyle continues to be underappreciated in fantasy football. Yes, Eric Ebron is there now, but Doyle was able to post top-12 numbers over half the time with Jacoby Brissett under center. Now, there is a new head coach with a new offensive scheme, which may change things quite a bit, but if they say that Doyle is the starter, he’s someone I’d draft over Kittle.

13-30 Range (The Rest)

ADP Player Games Tar/gm Top-5 % Top-12 % BOOM % BUST %
13 David Njoku 16 3.8 6.3% 18.8% 0.0% 62.5%
14 Tyler Eifert 2 2.5 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 50.0%
15 O.J. Howard 13 3.0 7.7% 30.8% 7.7% 53.8%
16 Austin Seferian-Jenkins 13 5.7 7.7% 30.8% 0.0% 46.2%
17 Cameron Brate 16 4.8 25.0% 43.8% 0.0% 43.8%
18 Charles Clay 13 5.7 15.4% 38.5% 0.0% 46.2%
19 Hayden Hurst DNP
20 Jared Cook 16 5.4 18.8% 31.3% 6.3% 56.3%
21 Mike Gesicki DNP
22 Eric Ebron 16 5.4 12.5% 31.3% 0.0% 43.8%
23 Ben Watson 16 4.9 12.5% 31.3% 0.0% 31.3%
24 Ricky Seals-Jones 8 3.5 25.0% 25.0% 12.5% 75.0%
25 Vance McDonald 9 2.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 66.7%
26 Austin Hooper 16 4.1 12.5% 25.0% 6.3% 68.8%
27 Jaylen Samuels DNP
28 Jake Butt DNP
29 Mark Andrews DNP
30 Vernon Davis 16 4.3 6.3% 43.8% 0.0% 43.8%

 
Let’s be real, you don’t want to start any of these guys every week. This is essentially the group of tight ends for those of you who want to stream the position in 2018. One name who pops up at the very bottom of the list is Vernon Davis, who tied for the best top-12 rate of the group, as well as the second-lowest bust rate. Yes, Jordan Reed missed the majority of the season, but is that anything new? I’d argue that you can draft both Reed and Davis, and walk away from your draft extremely happy. Don’t forget that Davis has played with his new quarterback Alex Smith before, and finished as a top-five option multiple times.

Another guy in this tier who is relatively safe is Charles Clay, who saw 5.7 targets per game last year and finished as a top-12 guy almost 40 percent of the time. With the lack of receiving options on the team, he’s not going to lose targets. Jared Cook saw similar targets, but was extremely inconsistent, scoring less than 6.9 PPR points in more than half his games.

Among those who present upside but also plenty of risk include Cameron Brate and Ricky Seals-Jones, as they both posted top-five numbers in 25 percent of their games, though their target numbers are unimpressive. While Brate continues to deal with O.J. Howard, Seals-Jones now has the starting gig thanks to a torn Achilles to Jermaine Gresham in Week 17 of last season. It’s easy to see why some like him as a breakout candidate. Oh, and don’t write-off Ben Watson, who saw less targets than Eric Ebron last year, but finished with better results. Going back to play with Drew Brees is never a bad thing.

TAKEAWAYS

You’re going to want to land a top-10 tight end in this year’s draft, plain and simple. Once you get outside that territory, there are major question marks about every single player. There will be some who set themselves apart and finish top-10 without a doubt, but the odds of you predicting it are very slim, especially when it comes to finding one who’ll produce top-12 numbers more than half the time.

My advice would be to take Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce in the late-second/early-third round, or wait until you get back to the Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Reed, Trey Burton tier, as those guys have upside to finish top-five without the price. And if you do land Reed, pair him with Vernon Davis on the end of your bench.


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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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