Fantasy Equity Scores: Sifting Through The Tight End Trash
July 22, 2016 | C.D. Carter
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, which is why I own a Miami Dolphins helmet signed by the team’s greatest post-Marino quarterback, Jay Fiedler.
But now to tight ends. I wrote this week about recent success stories in fantasy gamers chasing horrendous game scripts that generated plentiful pass routes and targets for tight ends who were a mere afterthought in 2015 fantasy drafts. You should be unabashedly interested in any tight end with a starting gig on a team projected by Vegas to be bad with little or no chance of establishing the vaunted Balanced Attack that coaches obsess about.
The below chart includes many tight ends who surely won’t be drafted in re-draft leagues this August. They’ll slide on and off the waiver wire come mid-season as people grapple with injuries and grow impatient with the tight end they drafted in the eighth round who has yet to crack five fantasy points in a game. Remember: decent tight end production can be pieced together if we focus on matchups and changing opportunities, as we discuss weekly during the NFL season on Living The Stream.
A glance at 2015’s final tight end average draft positions shows that some of the most useful guys were taken in the waning rounds. Antonio Gates, who averaged more fantasy points per game than all but six tight ends, was taken in the 13th round. Zach Ertz, last season’s TE9, was taken in the 11th.
And the crowning jewel of Team Late Round Tight End Or Die, Jordan Reed, was taken in the early 14th round last summer — also known as after the ghost of the legend of Josh Hill.
Rob Gronkowski, once upon a time, was a late 10th round selection. That worked out, per reports.
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A quick note on Bennett’s somewhat modest equity scores: It seem people are drafting the goliath with the assumption that he’ll take on the team’s No. 3 pass catching role. I worked through the possibility with the Rotoviz projection machine, giving him a hearty 12 percent of the team’s total targets — by far the most for a non-Gronk tight end since the departure of Aaron Hernandez — along with Bennett’s career yards per target (6.9) and touchdown rate (6.6 percent). He came out with TE17 numbers. The high-end equity score, putting him just inside the top-12 tight ends, was done assuming he’s the team’s No. 2 target, edging out Julian Edelman in target share. Bennett’s untold upside comes in the form of a Gronkowski injury. Perhaps that’s what folks are thinking when they take Bennett as the 13th tight end off the draft board.
Zach Miller could quickly become one of our aforementioned beneficiaries of large deficits faced by his god awful team. Vegas has Chicago projected as one of the NFL’s worst in 2016 — the only hope we have of a John Fox-coached team straying beyond the limits of his run-first, run-always approach. Miller saw a healthy 16.4 percent of the Bears’ team targets from Week 9-17 (5.6 targets per week), when he was deployed as a consistent part of the team’s offense. Miller was third best among tight ends in fantasy points over expectation per target — a measurement of efficiency — over that span. I fidgeted with the Rotoviz projection machine, giving Miller that same target share along with his 2015 yards per target and catch rate, and the machine pumped out TE13 numbers. His high equity score would be courtesy of Miller peeling off a slightly larger target share, the Bears being slightly more prone to pass, and his yards per target bumping up just a bit. Remember that guys in the TE10-15 range are hardly every-week fantasy starters, so I’m not projecting Miller as a tight end who could become an unquestioned starter in 2016. I believe he’ll be very useful to those who stream the position, especially if Chicago is as bad as Vegas expects them to be.
I’m a Jared Cook fan boy. You know that. I know that. My grandmother knows that. So does her senile cat. I derived Cook’s median equity score assuming the big, athletic tight end would split time with Richard Rodgers, Green Bay’s incumbent tight end. A few signs points to Rodgers being quite bad and Cook being less horrible than you might think: the two tight ends posted similar efficiency numbers last season, with Rodgers catching passes from the game’s best quarterback and Cook seeing targets from Nick Foles and Case Keenum. Remember that Cook’s quarterbacks have included Vince Young, Jake Locker, Austin Davis, Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill, Keenum, Foles, and the great Rusty Smith. I’d say it’s borderline ridiculous to think that Rodgers will remain the starter in Green Bay. Packers beat writers have written extensively about why the team signed Cook this spring: to stretch the field, something they simply were unable to do with Jordy Nelson on the shelf, Randall Cobb running intermediate routes, and Rodgers plodding down the middle of the field. But Cook stinks, you say. He drops the ball too often. He’s not a crisp route runner. He played 16 games last year and failed to finish inside the top-24 tight ends. I don’t care. I want pass catchers attached to the NFL’s best passers, and when I can get them (almost) for free, I do it.
Jason Witten, Dear Leader of Dad Runners everywhere, has averaged 12.86 fantasy points (on 7.4 targets) in games with Tony Romo under center. That production, quite naturally, has slipped in recent years. Witten has notched 10.6 fantasy points per game (on 5.7 targets) with Romo since the start of the 2014 season. That latter pace would have been good for TE10 numbers in 2015, when — hark! — Witten finished as fantasy’s 10th highest scoring tight end. While he’s uninspiring and has a severely limited ceiling (Dez Bryant’s red zone domination doesn’t help), Witten could make for an ideal draft target in leagues that start two tight ends or use tight end premium scoring. One thing you can say about Witten that you can’t say about almost all of the tight ends in this tier: there’s almost no scenario in which he’ll be useless for fantasy purposes. (Side note in parentheses: I adjusted the projection machine to make the Cowboys as pass happy as they were in 2013, when they dropped back to pass 631 times, gave Witten his 2015 target share of 20 percent, and the old guy came out with 220.6 fantasy points. That would have been top-6 territory in 2015. This is just in case the Cowboys stop playing football like it’s 1988.)
Antonio Gates’ equity scores, like everyone else’s, assume a full 16-game season. Injury risk is firmly built into his ADP, despite the elderly one playing in 58 of a possible 64 games over the past four seasons. You can grab Gates as handcuff running backs and WR3s are coming off the board. If you believe Philip Rivers can approach his top-end prospects, you’re taking Gates as the 14th tight end off the board. Gates, since 2012, has drawn 18.6 percent of the Chargers’ team targets. There’s no indication that’ll change in 2016.