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Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between – Tight Ends (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 6, 2020

Despite seeing plenty of targets in 2019, Mike Gesicki was not someone to rely on in fantasy football

Boom, bust, and everything in between. What does that mean, exactly? If this is your first time reading this piece, you might be wondering that.

When someone mentions that “Player X recorded five TE1 performances last year,” it irks me a bit. It’s like saying something to the effect of “Jason Witten was the TE11 last year, so he was a TE1.” Ask anyone who owned him in fantasy last year if he was a TE1. He scored less than 10.0 PPR points in 10-of-16 games. Stating where someone finished for a particular week doesn’t do us any good, either, because variance is a real thing.

To better help you understand what I’m talking about, the average top-12 tight end performance in 2019 was 10.6 PPR points. What you don’t know is that Austin Hooper scored 11.7 PPR points in Week 10 but wasn’t awarded a TE1 performance because it just happened to be a high-scoring week for tight ends. On the flip side, Darren Waller scored 7.1 PPR points in Week 12 and was awarded with a TE1 performance because it was a low-scoring week for running backs.

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 TE1 performances in any given week, which stood at 10.6 PPR points in 2019.

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The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While the TE1 number was 11.1 PPR points in 2017, it went down to 10.2 PPR points in 2018, then back to 10.6 PPR points in 2019. 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 consistency, 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 tight ends, the number to “boom” wound up on 20.0 PPR points because it would have amounted to six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. 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 less than 7.0 PPR points. 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

 

To give you an idea as to something you may find below, here’s an example: Zach Ertz performed as an TE1 or better in 53.3 percent of his games in 2019 and is going as the TE4 in drafts, while Jared Cook hit that mark in 64.3 percent of his games, but is going over 40 picks later.

For the fourth time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. Here are the tight ends, while the other positions will be released throughout the rest of the week. You’ll be able to find the links below once they go live.

Quarterbacks
Wide Receivers
Running Backs

Tight Ends

Top-6

So, you want to pay up for a tight end, eh? This tier is reserved for those who are okay with drafting a tight end in the first handful of rounds. Even if I don’t believe in the early-round tight end approach, I want to give you the details of who you should be choosing if you have your mind set on that.

ADP Player Tgts/gm Top-5 % TE1 % BOOM % BUST %
1 Travis Kelce 8.5 37.5% 81.3% 31.3% 6.3%
2 George Kittle 7.6 50.0% 78.6% 21.4% 14.3%
3 Mark Andrews 6.5 33.3% 60.0% 26.7% 33.3%
4 Zach Ertz 9.0 46.7% 53.3% 20.0% 26.7%
5 Darren Waller 7.3 31.3% 62.5% 18.8% 0.0%
6 Hunter Henry 6.3 8.3% 58.3% 8.3% 16.7%

 

You’re going to find out very soon… follow the targets at tight end. Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and Zach Ertz are essentially bust-proof as long as they’re getting 7.5-plus targets per game. Many like Kittle as a true breakout star this year, and while I do believe that’s already happened, he can become the top tight end in 2020. With Deebo Samuel slated to miss some games, he’s going to get a higher target share, and he’ll also be healthy (something he wasn’t last year).

I’m not a huge Hunter Henry supporter in 2020, as his numbers weren’t great in 2019, and he’s now moving to a lesser quarterback on a team that’ll throw the ball a lot less. Mark Andrews lacks the elite targets of Kelce, Kittle, and Ertz, but you can see his 26.7 percent “boom” rate was actually ahead of Kittle and Ertz. Still, when paying for a top-tier tight end, you need him to be consistent. The exit of Hayden Hurst can actually make that happen, as it frees up just a few targets a game that can easily be distributed to Andrews. He comes with more risk than someone like Ertz, but his career trajectory is on the way up, while Ertz’s will start to move in the wrong direction soon.

As odd as it sounds, Darren Waller was the only tight end who had no “bust” performances last year. He also posted TE1-type numbers 62.5 percent of the time, highlighting a very stable presence in your lineup. The Raiders did add a lot of pass-catching talent to the roster this offseason, but Waller should remain a big part of their gameplan. Still, he’s likely to dip down to the 2019 Mark Andrews/Hunter Henry target area.

7-12 Range

So, you don’t want to spend a pick in the top five rounds to snag one of the top-six tight ends, but you also don’t want to take one at the end of the draft. Well, this is your sweet spot.

ADP Player Tgts/gm Top-5 % TE1 % BOOM % BUST %
7 Evan Engram 8.5 25.0% 75.0% 25.0% 12.5%
8 Tyler Higbee 5.9 35.7% 42.9% 21.4% 35.7%
9 Jared Cook 4.6 21.4% 64.3% 21.4% 28.6%
10 Austin Hooper 7.5 38.5% 76.9% 23.1% 15.4%
11 Rob Gronkowski DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
12 Noah Fant 4.1 12.5% 18.8% 12.5% 56.3%

 

When looking at this tier, you’d swear that Evan Engram belongs in the top-tier of tight ends. He hit TE1-type numbers in 75 percent of his games, which ranked fourth among all tight ends. Does he see 8.5 targets per game with everyone in the Giants offense healthy? Probably not, but even if you knock a full 1.5 targets off, he’s in elite territory.

Seeing Jared Cook‘s targets should scare you off investing in him, despite his solid percentages. He caught a touchdown every 4.8 receptions, a number that’s surely going to regress. Noah Fant was essentially Cook without the touchdowns. Knowing the Broncos added a lot of pass-catchers this offseason, it’s hard to see his targets rise significantly, if at all.

Austin Hooper is no longer on the Falcons, so his percentages aren’t worth looking into, but you can see just how consistent he was in that offense. Tyler Higbee is the wildcard from this group, as he had a five-game stretch towards the end of the season that propped his numbers up, but there were many variables that went into him producing. Still, can they take him off the field with the way he produced?

13-18 Range

This is where the “stream tight end” crowd starts looking at the position. There are others who may grab two from this range, expecting one of them to breakout and become an every-week option. Austin Hooper, Darren Waller, and Mark Andrews were all selected outside the top-10 tight ends last year.

ADP Player Tgts/gm Top-5 % TE1 % BOOM % BUST %
13 Hayden Hurst 2.4 0.0% 6.3% 0.0% 75.0%
14 Mike Gesicki 5.6 12.5% 31.3% 6.3% 50.0%
15 T.J. Hockenson 4.9 8.3% 16.7% 8.3% 58.3%
16 Dallas Goedert 5.8 6.7% 33.3% 6.7% 20.0%
17 Jonnu Smith 2.8 15.4% 30.8% 0.0% 53.8%
18 Will Dissly 4.5 50.0% 66.7% 16.7% 33.3%

 

The only players who saw over five targets per game in this range were Mike Gesicki and Dallas Goedert, though neither of them reached TE1-type numbers in more than 33 percent of their games. Gesicki actually “busted” 50 percent of the time despite his decent target numbers. Jason Witten hit TE1 numbers as much as he did. On exactly half the targets, Jonnu Smith was just as usable as Gesicki.

Will Dissly is someone who stands out on this list. If you combined his 2018 and 2019 seasons, he’s posted TE1-type numbers in 6-of-10 games, which is the same rate (60 percent) that George Kittle has done. Look, I’m not saying he’s among the game’s elite, but if he’s on the field, he’s worth owning in fantasy football. He is reportedly a candidate for the PUP list, which would certainly leave him undrafted. Just make sure he’s on your radar once he’s ready to play.

Hayden Hurst clearly doesn’t fit in with this group and wouldn’t be drafted here if he were still on the Ravens. He’s taking Austin Hooper‘s place on the Falcons, and you mustn’t forget they also didn’t replace Mohamed Sanu this offseason. Hurst may not get the full 7.5 targets per game that Hooper did, but he should get close.

19-30 Range

For those of you who like to live dangerously, here’s the tier of tight ends for the “I’m waiting until my last pick to select one” crowd.

ADP Player Tgts/gm Top-5 % TE1 % BOOM % BUST %
19 Eric Ebron 4.7 9.1% 36.4% 0.0% 45.5%
20 Jack Doyle 4.5 6.7% 26.7% 0.0% 60.0%
21 Blake Jarwin 2.6 0.0% 20.0% 0.0% 66.7%
22 Kyle Rudolph 3.0 20.0% 33.3% 0.0% 60.0%
23 Greg Olsen 5.9 21.4% 28.6% 7.1% 42.9%
24 O.J. Howard 3.8 0.0% 25.0% 0.0% 50.0%
25 Jason Witten 5.2 6.3% 31.3% 0.0% 31.3%
26 Chris Herndon DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
27 Ian Thomas 1.9 11.1% 11.1% 0.0% 88.9%
28 Irv Smith Jr. 2.9 0.0% 14.3% 0.0% 57.1%
29 Jace Sternberger 1.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%
30 Dawson Knox 3.3 0.0% 13.3% 0.0% 73.3%

 

Did you know that Blake Jarwin and Jason Witten combined for 7.8 targets per game last year? If Jarwin essentially takes Witten’s role, he’s being undervalued in fantasy. Even at 37 years old, Witten was able to post TE1-type numbers in 31.3 percent of his games.

Greg Olsen didn’t do much with the 5.9 targets per game that he received, and as a matter of fact, he finished with 20.5 fantasy points fewer than he was expected to, which was the worst mark among tight ends. With Eric Ebron leaving the Colts, do we see Jack Doyle get a bigger role? We could easily see his targets move into the 5-6 range, as Trey Burton was Ebron’s replacement.

What We Learned

There aren’t many tight ends who produce TE1 numbers more than half the time. Seriously, there were just 10 of them last year, then one tight end (Tyler Higbee) at 42.9 percent, with the remaining tight ends finishing at/less than 36.4 percent. Streaming tight ends isn’t as easy as streaming quarterbacks, as their target totals are so low, which makes touchdowns so important. If you want to select Kelce or Kittle in the second round, no one should fault you for that. We know that if they’re on the field, they’re producing.

Chase targets with tight ends. Seriously, they mean everything to their consistency. It’s why I’m all in on Hayden Hurst this year when you factor in his cost, as I’m projecting him for at least 6.5 targets per game. If you find a tight end that’s slated to see 85-plus targets, there’s about an 80 percent chance that he’s going to finish as a top-12 tight end, regardless of age (Since 2009, there have been 132 tight ends who’ve seen 85-plus targets, and 106 of them finished top-12).

If you’d like to check out the sortable charts for Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between, our amazing developers have put together the data for you based on any scoring setting (STD, Half PPR, Full PPR). You can check that out right here.


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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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