Fantasy Football: Mining For Tight End Sleepers

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Marcedes Lewis

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Measuring fantasy production on a per-route basis is never more helpful than in understanding just how effective a player can be given the opportunity.

Fantasy points per route run (FPPRR) helped us identify a handful of useful tight end streamers in 2013, including Delanie Walker, Coby Fleener, Tim Wright, and the indomitable Jordan Reed.

This off-season, FPPRR breakdowns have shown us the most efficient and the least efficient tight ends, with both analyses offering valuable insight into which guys we should target (or fade) in 2014.

Here’s a crash course on FPPRR and its usefulness in fantasy football.

I asked on Twitter last week about which tight ends you’d like to see run through the FPPRR Machine, and a surprising number of respondents asked for a breakdown of the Jaguars’ Marcedes Lewis and Oakland’s Mychal Rivera — two players who had nice streaming value through parts of the second half of 2013.

Remember that FPPRR — which uses route-running data compiled by Pro Football Focus — takes some subjective adjustments because, like any other metric applied to fantasy football, a human element is required to make sense of numbers that often have no context.

Marcedes Lewis

The lumbering skyscraper of a tight end, quite surprisingly, was fantasy’s 10th highest scoring tight end from Week 9-17 last season after being a non-factor in September and October.

Lewis’ route running saw an uptick starting in Week 11, as he averaged a respectable 25.1 pass routes per game for the season’s final seven games. Lewis’ FPPRR was .38 during that stretch — a reasonable average, but nothing close to noteworthy. That FPPRR would’ve been just ahead of the terribly inefficient Jared Cook on the season.

Below is an overview of Lewis’ career FPPRR numbers with the Jacksonville Jaguars. This, of course, is an important part of any FPPRR analysis because it identifies long-term trends and outliers in per-route production.

Player Season FPPRR
Marcedes Lewis 2010 .58
Marcedes Lewis 2011 .25
Marcedes Lewis 2012 .33
Marcedes Lewis 2013 .38

 

Lewis’ FPPRR numbers are all over the place, with an alarming drop from 2010 to 2011. That fall from FPPRR grace is explainable though: 10 of Lewis’ 58 receptions in 2010 were touchdowns. He also didn’t run all that many routes as the Jaguars wisely used him as a red zone beast, much like the Lions used Joseph Fauria in 2013.

Lewis is 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, after all.

There’s not much here to suggest Lewis is the kind of guy who is ever going to post solid FPPRR numbers without an unsustainable touchdown rate. We should remember that Lewis is known as a superb blocker — he finished as a top-5 pass protector in 2013 — so his route running could take a hit at any time.

Using his career FPPRR of .39, Lewis would project to post 154.6 fantasy points in 2014, good for borderline top-12 tight end numbers. That might seem hopeful for a guy who will go un-drafted in all but the deepest fantasy leagues, but remember that last year’s borderline top-12 tight ends included guys like Martellus Bennett and Cook, both of whom had long stretches of fake football dormancy.

Perhaps Lewis’ prospects will look up if the Jaguars draft Johnny Manziel, who Lewis believes is “dope.”

 

Mychal Rivera

Rivera, for about 10 minutes last season, seemed to be transforming into the 2013 version of Brandon Myers, who made his fantasy living on garbage time production in 2012. His usage from Weeks 9-17 is what we’ll focus on here, and even a cursory look at that half-season run shows that Rivera won’t likely rise above streamer status in 2014.

Securing 26 catches on a mere 36 targets from Weeks 9-17, Rivera posted a decent .38 FPPRR in an Oakland Raiders’ offense that found itself digging out of big deficits early and often.

The central problem with Rivera’s route running was its lack of consistency. In Week 12, for example, he ran a hefty 35 routes. That week was bracketed by two 19-route weeks — a red flag in any FPPRR breakdown. Rivera averaged 21.6 pass routes during his most productive span, about four routes below where we’d like to see our fantasy tight ends.

Rivera, using his 2013 route running averages, would score 132.4 points this season. That would’ve been good for top-15 tight end numbers — firmly in streaming territory.

The rotoViz similarity score app, using Rivera’s Week 9-17 run, gives us a high per-game projection of 10.3 fantasy points per game. That would push him closer to top-12 tight end status, but like Lewis, he’ll be best deployed as a spot starter. Rivera’s FPPRR doesn’t offer a ton of hope.

C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.