Fantasy Equity Scores: Gronk, Graham and The Elites
August 3, 2015 | Chet
Fantasy equity scores for tight ends — gauging their median and high prospects — can be a borderline maddening process because the position is so reliant on touchdown production. Touchdowns, as you may have heard, are less than easy to project — much more difficult than targets, catches and yardage.
That’s why the below equity scores might give you whiplash.
Last year’s tight end equity score analysis pointed to guys like Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, Coby Fleener and Martellus Bennett as tight ends who could emerge from modest average draft positions into the realm of top-end tight ends.
2014 equity score misses included Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, and Kyle Rudolph. Rudy and Reed, of course, missed major time with injuries. Alas.
Equity score analysis starts with the Rotoviz similarity score app — a useful tool that uses past performances by similar players to project the upcoming season. I use this only as a baseline for median and high projections, as the app doesn’t know that a tight end may be entering a new offensive system, for instance.
Major red flags include players drafted in the top-10 at their position whose high equity score doesn’t exceed their current ADP. Median equity scores that are well below a guy’s ADP should also serve as big, neon warnings for fantasy owners. These glaring warnings aren’t nearly as common with tight ends as they are with receivers.
|Player||ADP||Median equity score||High equity score|
|Rob Gronkowski||TE1||0 (TE1)||0 (TE1)|
|Jimmy Graham||TE2||-2 (TE4)||0 (TE2)|
|Travis Kelce||TE3||-2 (TE5)||2 (TE1)|
|Greg Olsen||TE4||-4 (TE8)||1 (TE3)|
|Martellus Bennett||TE5||0 (TE5)||2 (TE3)|
|Julius Thomas||TE6||-3 (TE9)||-1 (TE7)|
|Zach Ertz||TE7||-3 (TE10)||2 (TE5)|
|Owen Daniels||TE8||-4 (TE12)||0 (TE8)|
|Jordan Cameron||TE9||2 (TE7)||5 (TE4)|
|Jason Witten||TE10||2 (TE8)||5 (TE5)|
|Josh Hill||TE11||2 (TE9)||4 (TE7)|
|Delanie Walker||TE12||4 (TE8)||8 (TE4)|
* My Living The Stream co-host, JJ Zachariason, summed it up best a couple months ago when he wrote that it’s not Jimmy Graham‘s fantasy floor we should worry about. It’s his best-case scenario that should concern those ready and willing to go in on Graham in 2015. The Seahawks are, in many ways, the direct opposite of the Saints during Graham’s run with Drew Brees. New Orleans threw an average of 266 more passes per season than Seattle over the past three years (the Russell Wilson era), with Graham seeing about 19 percent of those passes come his way. Even if Graham were to see a whopping 25 percent market share of Seattle’s 2015 pass attempts, as Zachariason points out, his opportunity would plummet. Then there’s this: only the Broncos have passed the ball more in the red zone than New Orleans in recent seasons, and no one throws fewer red zone passes than the Seahawks. Graham might be a red zone nightmare matchup for opposing defenses, but with the mobile Wilson and Marshawn Lynch in a run-heavy system, that might not matter a whole lot in 2015. I know the Seahawks didn’t acquire Graham to have him run block and sit on the pine, but to ignore the opportunity drop off facing the tight end in 2015 could be a big mistake for fantasy owners drafting Graham in the late second or early third round. I’m surprised his median equity score isn’t a little lower.
* Travis Kelce‘s high equity score is not a typo. It’s not a hot take (taek) either, because I think there’s valid reasoning behind why the Gronkian tight end could top the tight end charts in 2015. Chiefs coaches have said Kelce — recovering from a horrifying knee injury — was intentionally limited (in snaps and pass routes) until the final stretch of the 2014 season, when he was let off the proverbial chain. Kelce, in six 2014 games in which Alex Smith targeted his tight end at least six times, averaged 16.15 fantasy points per contest. That Kelce saw so few targets in so many games is a crime against fantasy football (and against the Kansas City offense). He proved wildly efficient throughout 2014, nabbing 66 of 71 catchable balls, per Pro Football Focus. And lest we forget that Alex Smith has a solid history with big, uber athletic tight ends. Vernon Davis was an elite fantasy producer for two seasons with Smith at the helm in San Francisco, soaking up an enormous share of Smith’s targets. Efficiency, opportunity, and matchups against too-slow linebackers and too-small safeties is the reason behind Kelce’s high equity score. I have Kelce outscoring Gronkowski by a mere two fantasy points in that scenario. Kelce, a fifth rounder right now, isn’t exactly free, but I see him as a much more sensible pick than Graham two and a half rounds earlier. Kelce was 2014’s sixth highest scoring tight end despite being something close to a part-time players for most of the first half of the year.
* Jason Witten is the king of dad runners and old and probably not that good anymore, but in the 10th round in an offense bound to throw it a lot as a safety blanket for Tony Romo, I think he has some appeal. Antonio Gates’ 2009 campaign, a top-3 showing, is among Witten’s favorable comps. It’s easy to forget — or dismiss — that the dad runner deluxe was fantasy’s No. 4 tight end two short years ago. He’s always made his fantasy hay without an absurd number of touchdowns, which gives me a lot of hope that with a glut of targets, he won’t be a touchdown-reliant producer. I much prefer Witten to Owen Daniels, who’s going two rounds earlier.
* Jordan Cameron has never not been good when given a full complement of pass routes and a decent number of opportunities. His injury risk rightfully seems terrifying, but perhaps some of that injury-related terror is built into his ADP of 9.01. That’s four full rounds later than he was taken in 2014, in a much worse offense with a much worse quarterback throwing him footballs. Ryan Tannehill peppered Charles Clay two seasons ago — in a different offense of course. Clay finished that season as TE6, ahead of Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen. Miami coaches have talked about their new tight end as a seam-busting big play threat in an offense that really clicked in the last couple months of the 2014 season. A top-4 ceiling might be under-selling Cameron’s prospects in a 16-game season with Tannehill.
* If you’re into Marcus Mariota as a high-upside late-round play — and I very much am — then you have to believe one or two of his pass catcher will reap the benefits of the rookie’s fantasy potential. That’s what we have here with Delanie Walker, whose high equity score jumped off the page. Before you dismiss that high score as a computer error (or a user error), remember that Walker managed 63 grabs, 890 yards and four touchdowns in the flaming garbage heap that was the Tennessee offense in 2014. He notched 11.1 fantasy points per contest with a host of horrendous signal callers under center. Available in the 12th round, I like Walker as an arbitrage play on Zach Ertz and Josh Hill, neither of whom are likely to see the volume that Walker could get in 2015. He saw 21.8 percent of the Titans’ targets in 2014.