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Fantasy Football: Updated Tight End Equity Scores

C.D. Carter considers every tight end’s 2014 fantasy football prospects based on their high-end and low-end projections.

Tyler Eifert
Tyler Eifert

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Fantasy football’s tight end market is decidedly less complicated than the markets for running backs and wide receivers.

To put it in class war terms: The tight end market is composed of the ultra wealthy, a small middle class, and a huge swath of lower-class options that might — just might — have a handful of elite options lying in wait.

The role of tight ends in real and fake football has changed rather dramatically over the past decade, even beyond fantasy’s top-end tight end producers. This has made tight end a position primed for streaming, though we’d do well to recognize the impact of exploitation stagnation and how it could affect the exploitation of favorable matchups.

Tight ends in 2002 caught a grand total of 137 touchdowns, a number that jumped to 187 in 2007 and 202 in the 2012 season. The frequency of big plays from tight ends has also seen a marked upswing: There were 95 tight end receptions of more than 25 yards in 2002, and 186 such plays in 2012.

Every piece of evidence shows that there are more stats to enjoy as we evaluate tight end options headed into the 2014 season.

I’ve assigned two equity scores to each player (according to Fantasy Football Calculator average draft positions): the median score, indicating a very conservative projection, and the high score, reflecting a guy’s top-end prospects. Any tight end outside the top-10 with a high score around zero should be avoided.

I used the RotoViz similarity score app as a baseline for every median and high projection, with tweaks where needed.

I hope this helps as another tool that could help zero in on the best draft day values while avoiding players with little to no equity.

Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
Jimmy Graham TE1 0 (TE1) 0 (TE1)
Rob Gronkowski TE2 1 (TE1) 1 (TE1) Yes
Julius Thomas TE3 0 (TE3) 1 (TE2)
Jordan Cameron TE4 -2 (TE6) 2 (TE2)
Vernon Davis TE5 -6 (TE11) 0 (TE5)
Jason Witten TE6 -4 (TE10) 0 (TE6)
Jordan Reed TE7 -2 (TE9) 2 (TE5) Yes
Greg Olsen TE8 1 (TE7) 2 (TE6) Yes
Dennis Pitta TE9 2 (TE7) 5 (TE4) Yes
Kyle Rudolph TE10 -1 (TE11) 3 (TE7)

 

  • Considering price and potential output, I’m targeting Gronk every time at or around his current early-to-mid-third-round average draft position. Gronkowski since 2011 has averaged an amazing .59 fantasy points per pass route (FPPRR), meaning he’d have to run just 400 routes to finish as a top-3 tight end. I say that because injury always lurks with Gronk, and thankfully for us, some of that risk is priced into this ADP.
  • I think the yawning gap between Davis’ median and high equity scores reflect his fantasy prospects with and without Michael Crabtree in the lineup. His splits with Crabtree are rather hideous. I wouldn’t think of drafting Davis unless he fell to the ninth or tenth round. He’s going in the middle of the fifth today.
  • Remember that new Ravens offensive boss Gary Kubiak is the tight end whisperer, and that Pitta was one of the first players he mentioned upon being hired by Baltimore. Owen Daniels, the team’s No. 2 tight end, reportedly looks old and slow in training camp, perhaps easing worries that the veteran of Kubiak’s system would vulture Pitta’s production in 2014. Pitta’s use in the Ravens’ first preseason tilt was encouraging. I see Pitta as a very safe play with top-4 upside.

 

Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
Zach Ertz TE11 1 (TE10) 5 (TE6) Yes
Martellus Bennett TE12 2 (TE10) 7 (TE5) Yes
Ladarius Green TE13 0 (TE13) 7 (TE6) Yes
Eric Ebron TE14 -7 (TE21) -2 (TE16)
Charles Clay TE15 3 (TE12) 6 (TE9) Yes
Tyler Eifert TE16 2 (TE14) 9 (TE7) Yes
Heath Miller TE17 3 (TE14) 6 (TE11)
Antonio Gates TE18 -1 (TE19) 6 (TE12)
Delanie Walker TE19 2 (TE17) 6 (TE13)
Dwayne Allen TE20 -1 (TE21) 6 (TE14)

 

  • Ertz, one of fantasy’s most efficient players in 2013, is expected to be Philadelphia’s primary red zone target in 2014. I think that’s what we see in his high score that would put him at TE6. Philadelphia beat writers fully expect Ertz to be utilized as a giant slot receiver in 2014. Ertz caught 20 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns from the slot in 2013, and in a recent interview, he trumpeted the advantages he’ll have as the slot guy in Kelly’s offense. He can still be had at the start of the 10th round.
  • I should clarify why I’ve listed Eifert as a target here: The size-speed freak is going in the 13th round of drafts. None of his upside has been baked into his ADP, and I love that. Some in the Bengals organization were surprised Eifert didn’t pull down 60 receptions as a rookie. Eifert, so far in training camp, has been destroying Cincy’s first-team defense, taking full advantage of his opportunity while Jermaine Gresham is sidelined with various ailments. From Cincy Jungle: “At 6’6″, 251 pounds with a 4.68 40-yard dash, Eifert has the potential to be a terror running down the seam, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing in Bengals camp thus far. He’s repeatedly burned defenders for huge gains just by simply running straight down the field and using his 76 7/8-inch wingspan to haul in passes.” If Eifert flames out or falls into a hideous timeshare with Gresham, you can bail with no damage done.

 

Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
Jared Cook TE24 9 (TE15) 16 (TE8) Yes
Garrett Graham TE25 11 (TE14) 15 (TE10) Yes
Coby Fleener TE23 1 (TE22) 7 (TE16)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE22 -3 (TE25) 3 (TE19)

 

Travis Kelce
TE26 11 (TE15) 17 (TE9)  Yes
  • I’ve listed some other tight ends here who are being drafted in particularly deep leagues. Recall that Fleener, despite being a very useful streamer in 2013, thrived on volume. With Dwayne Allen back in the lineup, that volume simply won’t be there. Fleener’s median prospects tell me everything I need to know.
  • Cook in 2013, on a per-target basis, was just as efficient as Jordan Reed, Charles Clay, and Tony Gonzalez. With 100 targets, I believe Cook can achieve that high equity score. The best part? He’s free.
  • Bill O’Brien has a solid history with tight ends, and though Graham isn’t the metrics freak that No. 2 tight end Ryan Griffin is, Graham has the first crack as Houston’s No. 1 tight end. Delanie Walker saw 6.6 targets per game last year with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center in Tennessee. That’s a 100-target pace that Graham won’t likely achieve in the Texans’ moribund offense, but it’s good to know Fitzmagic has a history of peppering his tight ends with targets.
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