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Tight Ends, Athletic Freaks and Late Round Picks

Tyler Eifert, Travis Kelce, and Brandon Williams each look a lot like Top 3 tight ends and offer the highest upside at the lowest price in fantasy drafts.

Travis Kelce

A wise man once said about his 2014 draft strategy, “I want to be one of the first guys to draft a tight end or the very last guy to grab one.”

That wise man was none other than Matthew Berry, the most recognizable, most quotable fantasy football expert in the industry. Matthew Berry and I have a lot in common. Just like the fantasy analyst formerly known at Matt Berry has been encouraging his fans/readers/followers to start calling him “Matthew,” I am now encouraging those that know me as Matthew Kelley to call me “Matt.”

Well, I guess the similarities end there. Let’s head back over to Matthew Berry’s 2014 Draft Day Manifesto. Admittedly, I was hesitant to read it, because I had drafted Michael Vick first overall after reading Berry’s 2011 Draft Day Manifesto. I decided I had to let the grudge go and read this year’s manifesto with clear eyes and an open heart. As I read his eloquent and insightful remarks on tight end draft strategy, I fell in love with Matt[hew] Berry all over again.

Why are Matthew Berry and I following Ricky Bobby’s rationale: “if you ain’t first, you’re last?” XN Sports’ C.D. Carter illustrated the argument for drafting Jimmy Graham with an early round pick in his Fantasy Football: Jimmy Graham, Production Gaps, And Opportunity Cost piece. In it, Carter stated, “Jimmy Graham as a first round pick is no longer a question in fantasy football circles.” He went on explain that Graham is a relatively safe first round pick based on the otherworldly 43.8% fantasy production gap between Graham and fantasy’s 12th best tight end in 2013. That gap was rivaled only by Calvin Johnson at the peak of his powers in 2011 and 2012.

It is safe to assume that, if Jimmy Graham is available for C.D. Carter, Matthew Berry, and I in the early second round, we will snatch him up. But if we don’t draft Graham, could there be a cheaper, unproven version available many rounds later?

Yes.

To be clear, precious few players can reasonably claim to be the next Jimmy Graham. Take a brief look at Graham’s Workout Metrics on playerprofiler.com, and it is easy to see why. His 4.56 40-yard dash time is in the 90th percentile amongst NFL tight ends, and his other metrics such as Agility Score (sum of 3-Cone Drill and 20-Yard Shuttle times) and Burst Score (equally weighted sum of Vertical Jump and Broad Jump distances) are in the 79th percentile or higher. Vernon Davis is the only starting NFL tight end with better overall workout metrics.

If not better, who is at least comparable? Tyler Eifert. To get a better sense of how they compare physically, let’s review their respective workout metrics.

Jimmy Graham
40-time: 4.56 (90th percentile)
Burst: 127.4 (87th percentile)
Agility: 11.35 (79th percentile)

Tyler Eifert
40-time: 4.68 (70th percentile)
Burst: 121.6 (67th percentile)
Agility: 11.24 (87th percentile)

Both players achieved the rare feat of hitting above the 65th percentile mark across the board. Graham is more vertically impressive, while Eifert possesses superior short area quickness – both metrics are predictive of of future tight end performance. The two also have strikingly similar physical statures checking in at 6-foot-6, ~250 pounds upon entering the league.

Beyond physical tools, as an NFL Draft prospect, Jimmy Graham was not a first round draft pick (selected 3.31 in 2010) after accounting for only 15.9% of Miami (FL)’s receiving productivity (also known as his College Dominator Rating) during his final college season. Tyler Eifert, on the other hand, was drafted 21st overall after accounting for 26.9% of Notre Dame’s pass receiving productivity in 2012, an extraordinary number for a tight end from a major conference university.

Neither Graham nor Eifert were immediately dominant upon arriving in the NFL. Graham posted 31 receptions for 356 yards and 5 touchdowns (96 PPR fantasy points) his rookie year while splitting snaps with Jeremy Shockey. As a rookie in 2013, Eifert registered 39 receptions for 445 yards and 2 touchdowns (95 PPR fantasy points) while rotating snaps with Jermaine Gresham.

Only Vernon Davis, who is three inches shorter and three years older than Graham, has an overall player profile as impressive as Jimmy Graham and Tyler Eiftert. Wait, but Eifert didn’t play college basketball! After all, we cannot mention Jimmy Graham comparables with evoking a “played college basketball” narrative. Here we go… While Tyler did not exactly play college basketball, his father, Greg Eifert, played college basketball at Purdue University in the 80s. Tyler Eifert has college basketball in his blood. Check the box. Moving on.

In summary, Tyler Eifert exists in the juicy nexus of advanced metrics love, positive anecdotal indicators, and a depressed average draft position. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, a slower, more agile version of Jimmy Graham is available at the end of the 13th round.

While Tyler Eifert is an undervalued Jimmy Graham doppelgänger, he is not a slam dunk 2014 re-draft target. The Cincinnati Bengals have reportedly installed a run-heavy scheme and will continue to give in-line specialist Jermaine Gresham a heavy snap share. Depth chart realists argue that Eifert is at least one year away from having the opportunity to become an elite tight end. If Eifert is your defacto TE1 option, then it would be wise to select a second tight end in the back half of the draft, ideally with maximum upside. If you already have Jimmy Graham lite, why not look for Gronk lite? How about Orange Julius lite (50% less sugar)? Let’s head back to PlayerProfiler and have some fun with analogies.

Jimmy Graham is to Tyler Eifert what Rob Gronkowski is to…

Travis Michael Kelce. Like Eifert, Kelce is well-above average in all key workout metrics.

Rob Gronkowski Workout Metrics
40-time: 4.73 (57th percentile)
Burst: 118.1 (51st percentile)
Agility: 11.65 (36th percentile)

Travis Kelce Workout Metrics
40-Yard Dash: 4.66 (73rd percentile)
Burst: 123.3 (74th percentile)
Agility: 11.51 (60th percentile)

Workout metrics, however, can be a red herring, particularly when evaluating tight ends. For every Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis athletic freak, you will uncover an equally fast and explosive Virgil Green and Fendi Onobun. Therefore, its critical to review a player’s physical attributes alongside their on-field productivity. Like Rob Gronkowski, we know that Travis Kelce is more than a physical specimen. He also happens to be really good at real football, indicated by his 27.6% (83rd percentile) College Dominator Rating.

At 6-foot-5,  260 pounds, Kelce is Gronkowski’s physical clone with the athleticism and on-field efficiency to match. Furthermore, the anecdotal reports from Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp indicate that Kelce is excelling as both a run blocker and pass receiver, setting the stage for the Chiefs to install him as a true two-way tight end.

According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Travis Kelce and Tyler Eifert have similar 13-14th round ADPs. Snatching Eifert-Kelce back-to-back in the middle of a fantasy draft is the upper cut-left cross of late round tight end tactics, delivering two low-to-medium probability opportunities at hitting on an ascending player with Graham/Gronk-ish upside at a fraction of the cost.

But as Mike Tyson is fond of saying, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” That sums up most pre-draft scripts. Assume for a moment that another avid XN Fantasy Sports reader snipes one of these tight ends just ahead of you in the 11th round. Then what?

If Eifert is Jimmy, and Kelce is Gronk, then the next course of action would be drafting a Julius Thomas look-alike. Firstly, is Orange Julius in the Graham-Gronk class? His PlayerProfiler Production Premium of +35.9 was No. 2 amongst NFL tight ends in 2013 and his 2.35 fantasy points per target were No. 3 amounts NFL tight ends last season. Who could possibly compare?

Brandon Darrnell Williams. A 6′ 4″ 250 lb former basketball player, Williams has nearly identical physical profile to Julius Thomas.

Julius Thomas Workout Metrics
40-Yard Dash: 4.68 (70th percentile)
Burst: 117.6 (49th percentile)
Agility: 11.27 (84th percentile)

Brandon Williams
40-Yard Dash: 4.61(80th percentile)
Burst: 127.0 (86th percentile)
Agility: 11.78 (24th percentile)

Both players are in the upper third of tight ends in straight line speed. What Julius Thomas lacks in explosiveness, he makes up for with agility. Per PlayerProfiler, Brandon Williams has a slight Athleticism Score advantage due to his superior speed and burst (102.0 for Williams vs. 100.1 for Thomas), while Julius Thomas‘ lateral agility and height give him a slight Catch Radius advantage (10.17 for Thomas vs. 10.02 for Williams).

Without Peyton Manning, without Julius Thomas‘ elite agility, and with Greg Olsen‘s presence looming, comparing Brandon Williams to Thomas is a stretch. He will not ascend into the top 3 fantasy tight ends in 2014.

That said, Williams’ ascent has begun. Anecdotal reports coming from Carolina Panthers’ training camp indicate that the team is confident that Williams, who has been on the Julius Thomas developmental long term plan, now possesses the physical tools and mental makeup to contribute in both the running and passing game. Panthers beat writers have reported that the team envisions Williams playing heavy inline snaps, allowing Greg Olsen to slide over into the slot. Given the Panthers wide receiver corps is thin on both experience and playmaking ability, devising schemes to get both Olsen and Williams into pass routes seems logical. Brandon Williams‘ ability to high point the football will be particularly helpful for a team with rookie Kelvin Benjamin as its sole red zone threat. Inside the 20, look for Williams to leverage his verticality on jump balls in the back of the end zone. Based on his preseason usage, you can reasonably project 25-30 receptions and 4-8 touchdowns. Imagine Joseph Fauria 2.0 with a higher Target Share.

Brandon Williams should be rostered in most dynasty leagues and is the perfect high upside flyer to take at the end of a redraft league. Eifert, Kelce, and Williams each look a lot like one Top 3 tight end or another and offer the highest upside at the lowest price in 2014 fantasy football drafts.

Matt Kelley (@fantasy_mansion) is an XN Sports contributor and founder of RotoUnderworld (@rotounderworld) and PlayerProfiler.com, which distills a wide range of advanced metrics into a single player snapshot.

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