In determining the feasibility of a strict streaming strategy for fantasy football tight ends in 2013, a fail proof formula isn’t likely to drop like fake football manna from the heavens. Still, I think there’s merit in evaluating how we can use tight ends like we’ve used fantasy defenses: based entirely on week-to-week matchups.
We’ve established that beyond the NFL’s five elite tight end options, the consensus sixth ranked tight end in 2013 was often just as likely to post a decent fantasy line as the 16th ranked tight end. Last season was a maddeningly schizophrenic exercise in tight end whack-a-mole for anyone without the Elite Five.
I created a table showing 47 tight ends posted top-12 fantasy numbers in at least one week last season. Even guys thought to be just outside of the Elite Five had lengthy steaks outside the TE range. Greg Olsen, for example, cracked the top-12 just six times in 2012. Jermichael Finley achieved TE1 status thrice.
I’d like to take a gander at the other side of streaming: not the tight ends themselves, but rather the defensive units that were most generous to those pass catchers in 2012. Exploiting a team’s weaknesses is perhaps the most important part of a strict streaming strategy, as any defensive streamer who targeted the Kansas City Chiefs last season knows perfectly well.
Here are the 10 defenses that gave up the most fantasy points to tight ends in 2012. Venturing outside of these 10 defenses proved a dicey proposition for owners who committed to streaming tight ends last year.
Tight End Points Against
Washington Redskins – 9.6 fantasy points per game to TEs
Denver Broncos – 9.4 PPG
Tennessee Titans – 9.4 PPG
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 8.3 PPG
New England Patriots – 8.2 PPG
Houston Texans – 8.1 PPG
Oakland Raiders – 7.9 PPG
Carolina Panthers – 7.6 PPG
New Orleans Saints – 7.4 PPG
Detroit Lions – 7.2 PPG
My next step was to look at the range of fantasy points per game among the best 12 tight ends of 2012 – in the vaunted TE1 category, where it seemed every tight end was pegged for at least a couple of weeks last year. Jimmy Graham, the top-scoring tight end, averaged 10 fantasy points per contest. Antonio Gates, who sneaked into the top-12 thanks to a decent finish to the year, averaged 6.3 points per game.
Playing Gates every week, no matter the matchup, proved – at best – nonsensical.
Those committed to Gates as an every-week fantasy starter – hoping against hope that his ship would right – suffered through anemic stretches, including an early season lull that saw Gates score less than six fantasy points in six of seven games. He posted a big, fat donut once and scored a single fantasy point in four games. Between Weeks 8-12, he reeled in a grand whopping total of 13 receptions.
Pledging loyalty to Gates (or anyone in his TE12 range) as your unquestioned starter cost you games. Even Dennis Pitta, last year’s seventh highest scoring tight end, posted between 0-3 fantasy points eight times.
Unwillingness to stream tight ends proved disastrous more times than not.
Now let’s take another peak at those 10 defenses so generous to tight ends. Next to each team are two numbers: The first indicates the number of games in which the defense allowed at least six fantasy points (Gates’ average) to tight ends. The second number shows how many times the defense allowed 10 points (Graham’s average) or more to tight ends.
Washington Redskins – 6, 8
Denver Broncos – 9, 8
Tennessee Titans – 10, 8
Tampa Bay Bucs – 10, 6
New England Patriots – 10, 6
Houston Texans – 10, 8
Oakland Raiders – 10, 6
Carolina Panthers – 8, 5
New Orleans Saints – 10, 4
Detroit Lions – 8, 7
Take a second look at those first numbers – the frequency of these 10 defenses giving up at least six fantasy points to tight ends. That means that in 53 percent of these team’s 2012 regular season games, they allowed at least the points-per-game average of the 12th highest scoring tight end in fantasy. I think that’s more than a little encouraging for fantasy owners willing to at least consider streaming tight ends in 2013.
These same defensive units gave up Graham’s average per-game fantasy production in 36 percent of their collective contests, thanks at least in part to brutal stretches that (should have) made them the target of anyone who didn’t have the luxury of owning a Gronkowski or Gonzalez or Graham.
We’ll always make lineup decisions based on incomplete information, no matter your level of commitment or passion to understand this stupid little game. A closer look at the predictability of defenses that were regularly exploited by tight ends should offer hope to fantasy owners hoping to approach the position much like we do with defenses.
These trends will take time to develop. No one will be able to accurately identify tight end-friendly defenses in the first couple weeks of the season. By Week 4, however, I think we’ll have a firm grasp of which teams seem unable — or uninterested — in shutting down tight ends. We play this same waiting game in our defensive streaming.
Just as the Cardinals, Jets, Chiefs, and Jaguars gave up bushels of fantasy points to opposing defenses, we can reliably pinpoint defenses that struggle to defend tight ends, and I think the above numbers lend credence to that argument. Streaming tight ends will be a slightly less gut wrenching process once these exploitable defenses emerge in the first few weeks of 2013.