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What We Get Wrong About Tight Ends (Fantasy Football)

What We Get Wrong About Tight Ends (Fantasy Football)

The tight end position has evolved into one of the most integral positions within the modern NFL offense. As a result, fantasy football rosters rely heavily on tight end consistency and upside. The problem is that there are only a handful of tight ends who earn enough volume on a weekly basis to return value based on their average draft position (ADP) during fantasy football drafts.

NFL rosters change drastically from year-to-year, so it’s important to monitor the rosters for all 32 teams, including coaching changes. Travis Kelce has been the most dominant tight end in fantasy football for several years now, although he endured several lulls throughout the 2023 fantasy football season. Due to this lull, Detroit Lions’ rookie tight end, Sam LaPorta, wound up tied with Kelce for the overall TE1 in points per game (11.5) last season, debunking the narrative surrounding a popular strategy to fade rookie tight ends.

In this article, using half-PPR scoring, fantasy football analyst Matt MacKay focuses on a few things that the general consensus of fantasy football managers tend to get wrong about tight ends.

What We Get Wrong About Tight Ends

Punting Tight Ends

The term, “punting” in fantasy football refers to waiting to select a positional player until later in fantasy drafts. This tends to be extremely common for tight ends and quarterbacks. Reaching on a tight end within the first four rounds is certainly a high-risk, high-reward strategy, but rostering a tight end who has minimal competition for targets in a pass-centric or top-heavy offense gives fantasy managers a big edge in redraft and dynasty leagues.

Currently, Sam LaPorta and Travis Kelce, the top-two points per game performers at the tight end position in 2023, are going 2.11 and 3.4 in fantasy drafts. This is pretty early and there are a lot of talented wide receivers and running backs in this area of drafts, but getting a target hog that can rack up yards after the catch is very enticing.

Don’t be afraid to take a stand and draft a tight end inside of the first five rounds, as the odds of getting a massive return on investment on this position later in drafts is very slim. After all, only seven tight ends finished with at least 10 fantasy points per game in 2023, with the cheapest commodities being Evan Engram (TE6) and David Njoku (TE7).

Fading Tight Ends Due To Rookie Status

The strategy of fading rookie tight ends due to lack of experience may be eroding before our eyes. Sam LaPorta played a huge role in debunking this narrative in 2023, finishing with 86 receptions on 120 targets for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns during his rookie campaign.

Tight ends are coming out of college more NFL-ready than we’ve seen in previous years. Chalk it up to the play-calling in the NFL mirroring college schemes or the tendency to insert tight ends like 2024 rookie Brock Bowers into the slot receiver role. Two rookies with a lot of promising upside due to similar situations based on lack of depth and need of pass-catchers include Bowers in Las Vegas and Ben Sinnott in Washington with Jayden Daniels.

Bowers is currently being drafted as the TE9 at 7.6 in fantasy football drafts, while Sinnott is significantly cheaper as the TE19, being taken as late as 14.7. Not every rookie will be as productive as LaPorta, but these two rookie tight ends are next in line to return value at cost due to similar situations and also benefitting from being more prepared due to the similar schemes and plays called amongst college and NFL coordinators.

Ceiling vs. Consistency

It’s tough to determine whether rostering a tight end with a big ceiling or consistency is more valuable. We tend to lean into big ceiling prospects, who can churn out 20-point games to win a week singlehandedly. However, taking a tight end with lesser-known talent who benefits from their personnel and play-calling can be even more valuable later in drafts.

A perfect player comparison for this example is George Kittle and Jake Ferguson. Kittle finished as TE5 in fantasy points per game (10.7) and Ferguson wound up TE9 with 8.3 fantasy points per game. However, Kittle’s volatility hurt fantasy managers in certain weeks, starting 2023 with four of his first six games with fewer than five fantasy points. At the end of the fantasy season, Kittle also finished with 8.8 or fewer fantasy points in four of his final six games, costing fantasy managers playoff wins.

Ferguson never had a 26-point fantasy game like Kittle recorded in 2023, but he did record 10.6 or more fantasy points in five of the first nine weeks in 2023. He was also producing at least 5.3 fantasy points from Week 13-Week 18, while Kittle fluctuated between 15 and 16 fantasy points during the fantasy football playoffs, down to 6.4 and 4.4 during Championship week.

This reinforces how important it can be to prioritize consistency over ceiling, as regression weeks for tight ends can occur at the worst possible times.

Correlation and Stacking

Drafting a tight end and stacking him with his quarterback is another popular strategy amongst fantasy football managers. Double-dipping with points from a quarterback and a tight end on a single play can prove to be the difference-maker in winning a closely contested matchup.

Of course, there are drawbacks to this strategy as well. Passing on a good tight end after taking a different team’s quarterback, or vise versa, can leave fantasy managers with less than ideal results when it comes to production.

Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews, as well as Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, are two popular QB-TE stacks we’ve seen drafted in recent years. It’s great when the offenses are firing on all cylinders, but a lot of this is predicated on game script and the weaknesses of an opposing defense. There will undoubtedly be weeks where these stacks bust and we see an uptick in running plays or more distribution within a wide receiving corps. When this happens, fantasy managers who opted to heavily correlate their quarterback and tight ends will feel the consequences, with two of their starters underperforming.

Stacking can be beneficial but it’s also inherently risky. Don’t seek out stacks and let the draft board fall to you to build a roster with consistency and upside.

dynasty trade value chart

 

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Matthew MacKay is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Matthew, check out his archive and follow him @Matt_MacKay_.

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