We continue our five-part series with the fourth installment that analyzes a tight end position that leveled out after a horrendous 2017 season. As many in redraft and dynasty leagues can attest, finding a reliable tight end was quite the endeavor in 2018 after the position was already a dumpster fire the year before. In fact, 2015 saw 15 tight ends maintain an average of double-digit fantasy points in PPR scoring but that number has dropped to only 13 of them in 2016 to just eight and nine in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
While overall tight end targets and touchdowns have decreased each season since 2015, overall tight end receptions and yards saw a slight bump in 2018 after experiencing the same decreases as the aforementioned targets and touchdowns. There were 209 tight end touchdowns in 2015 and since that season, that number hasn’t eclipsed 200.
As we discussed in part two of this series, the running back has been integrated more and more into the passing game over the last few years. Receiving touchdowns from the running back have increased from 94 in 2016 to 108 and 120 in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Circa back to 2016 when total running back and tight end receptions were nearly identical with 2,516 of them at running back and 2,484 at tight end. Since that season, running back receptions are up an average of 242 per year while tight end receptions are down an average of 169.
This helps explain some of the reasoning why tight end fantasy production has been on the decline. The running backs are syphoning work from their tight end teammates, especially when some of them are the best offensive asset on their respective teams and deserve additional work. It also validates taking a top-tier tight end in fantasy drafts as early as the second round when Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, and George Kittle all led their offenses in receptions and targets. The drop off after those three is pretty significant and one can only hope Eric Ebron continues what was an unexpected 2018 season and O.J. Howard rebounds from his season-ending foot and ankle injuries.
This first tight end trend should come as no surprise after reading the intro to this article. While you were able to find bargains that did pay off, there was safety in paying up for the top options that delivered more than they disappointed.
12 OF THE 22 PERFECT TIGHT ENDS REPRESENTED THE TOP FIVE IN SCORING AT THE POSITION IN 2018 IN FULL POINT PPR FORMATS
The struggle at this frustrating position could also be felt in the DFS community. For the first half of 2018, rostering Zach Ertz or Travis Kelce yielded excellent returns as they represented the perfect tight end in five of the eight weeks when both were available on the main slate. These two continued to dominate in the second half but an injury to Jack Doyle opened the door for the usually unreliable Eric Ebron to post his best season at the NFL level which generated two spots on the list. Kittle had a December to remember as the top tight end in the final month and one that helped make money for those that rostered him in Weeks 14 and 17.
Ertz, Kelce, Kittle, and Ebron combined to make up half of the perfect tight ends with soon-to-be free agent Jared Cook sneaking into the list in Week 4 to complete the 12 occurrences from the top 5 at the position in 2018. Pending the Week 1 schedule, the former three should represent the priciest options on the first main slate of 2019.
15 OF THE 22 TIGHT ENDS WERE PRICED UNDER $6000
Even the better tight end options had some pricing errors that made them so enticing, they couldn’t be passed up. Travis Kelce was inexplicably priced under $6000 in Week 2 as he went off for 32.9 DK points. Eric Ebron wasn’t correctly priced until week 13 as the DFS community took advantage of this low cost with Jack Doyle lost for the year. George Kittle was slightly discounted at $5500 when he destroyed the Broncos to the tune of 210 yards and a touchdown.
As maddening as the position could be, 15 of the 17 weeks in 2018 featured at least one tight end not named Ertz or Kelce that scored 20+ fantasy points; Weeks 8 and 15 had no one eclipse that mark. Like the wide receiver, this shows there were some perfect options that didn’t require breaking the bank in order to get to the coveted bell cow backs. Austin Hooper took advantage of a Buccaneers defense that was extremely inept against the position prior to defensive coordinator Mike Smith being fired at the low cost of $3500. Kyle Rudolph had dominated at Ford Field to the tune of 17.56 FPPG in his last three at that venue prior to the 2018 matchup that saw him continue that trend with a 36.2 DK point performance. $3400 was the cost to roster his best performance of the year.
THE AVERAGE NUMBER OF RECEPTIONS PER GAME FOR THE TIGHT ENDS WAS 7.73
This figure is nearly identical to the average number of catches for the perfect receivers. The ceiling was 16 catches by Zach Ertz who slaughtered the Texans while Eric Ebron needed three touchdowns off as few as four touches to cement his spot in perfection. There’s no secret here, paying up means obtaining a solid floor of volume while rolling the dice on a cheaper option can pay off but is certainly a riskier proposition; ask those that rostered Matt LaCosse and Anthony Firkser who both posted goose eggs in favorable matchups in Week 13 and 15 respectively.
HOUSTON, CLEVELAND, OAKLAND, DENVER, AND MIAMI EACH ALLOWED TWO TIGHT ENDS IN THE PERFECT LINEUP
All five of these teams have been repeat offenders in the top 10 in FPA to tight ends since 2017. Cleveland’s spot on this list should come as no surprise as they’ve been inside the top 10 in FPA in each of the last three years. The Browns looked to have remedied their issues in the first eight games but allowed 17.81 FPPG in the second half to the position. Pending where Jared Cook lands in the offseason and Gronk’s decision to continue to suit up or retire, the Browns tight end schedule eases up in 2019 as they would only face two tight ends inside the top 10 in FPPG in 2018 in George Kittle and Vance McDonald.
Oakland and Denver fall victim to facing Travis Kelce twice a year which explains part of their heartache. Still, the Broncos allowed a tight end playing his first game in the NFL in Will Dissly and an aged Antonio Gates to have their best performances of the season while the Raiders let a cornucopia of Ravens and Colts tight ends destroy them. The Dolphins will benefit from a retired Gronk if that indeed happens but still deal with Zach Ertz and an Indianapolis offense that almost doubled up every team in touchdowns thrown to the position last season. The Texans have dates with that same Colts offense and Travis Kelce who the Texans have failed to contain in three of four career matchups.
When August comes around and you get to the second round of redraft leagues, you will be faced with the decision of taking one of the big three tight ends or playing the crapshoot at the position. That’s the same scenario DFS players will face weekly in 2019.
Playing the defensive matchups can work to your advantage as the last trend indicates where paying down is viable. However, that’s the headache in what can be an unreliable position. Will you pay up for the consistent Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz, or let it ride on a cheaper option in a favorable matchup? Hopefully our struggle is alleviated with the emergence of more reliable tight end options as the 2019 season unfolds.