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What Makes a TE1?

Heath looks at average fantasy football TE1 production over the last two seasons.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Yours truly is double-dipping right now. I’m enjoying MLB season but I’ve also begun drafting best ball teams on DRAFT, which means it’s time to start doing more NFL research.

I found the average production for TE1s over the last two years, and then I put those numbers together for a two-year average. I only included receiving numbers in my charts, choosing to exclude rushing statistics, two-point conversions, and fumbles. All of those numbers were so minimal (and they took up valuable column space). That production IS included in the overall fantasy points column. But if you really care about looking at Coby Fleener’s lone rushing touchdown from 2016, you are just up the proverbial creek, hombre.

What I really wanted to do was get a sense of the typical starting tight end’s stat line and draw some basic conclusions from the data. I’m not one to rely on my own projection system, but this year I may turn over a new leaf. Since I’m the “tight end guy” for preseason and in-season football content here at Fake Teams, I figured it was time to try to be slightly more into numbers. On a related note, does anyone else love fantasy sports but hate numbers? If so, float me a message in the comments so we can start our own support group.

Let’s do this!

2016 TE1s

RANK NAME GP FP TGT REC CATCH % YDS Y/R RZ TGTS TD
RANK NAME GP FP TGT REC CATCH % YDS Y/R RZ TGTS TD
1 Travis Kelce 16 138 117 85 72.65 1125 13.24 19 4
2 Greg Olsen 16 127.3 129 80 62.02 1073 13.41 18 3
3 Kyle Rudolph 16 126 132 83 62.9 840 10.12 30 7
4 Jimmy Graham 16 124.3 95 65 68.42 923 14.2 20 6
5 Delanie Walker 15 123.1 102 65 63.73 800 12.31 17 7
6 Cameron Brate 15 114 81 57 70.37 660 11.58 19 8
7 Zach Ertz 14 105.6 106 78 73.58 816 10.46 16 4
8 Jordan Reed 12 102.6 89 66 74.16 686 10.39 15 6
9 Antonio Gates 14 94.8 93 53 56.99 548 10.34 24 7
10 Hunter Henry 15 93.8 53 36 67.92 478 13.28 17 8
11 Coby Fleener 16 87.3 82 50 60.98 631 12.62 18 3
12 Jack Doyle 16 86.4 75 59 78.67 584 9.9 14 5
13 AVERAGE 15.08 110.27 96.17 64.75 67.7 763.67 11.82 18.92 5.67

2016 was the year of the Kyle Rudolph explosion, as Rudolph’s 132 targets and 30 red zone targets were monstrous. Greg Olsen was healthy, but Rob Gronkowski was not. Hopefully 2017 brings health for both of those guys. Also, how about Jimmy Graham topping all of the starting tight ends in Y/R? That was a surprise.

This was also the year of the Chargers chasing the touchdown record for Antonio Gates, which is a darn travesty when you look at Gates’ final numbers compared to then rookie tight end Hunter Henry. Add in this year’s season-ending ACL injury that Henry suffered on the first day of OTAs and it’s just salt being rubbed in the proverbial wound. Henry’s vacated targets will likely go the way of wide receivers and running backs, but incumbent starter Virgil Green is now an interesting dart as a TE3 option.

Cameron Brate is a name to remember. He shows up on both of these charts and the Buccaneers just gave him a six-year deal worth 40.8 million big ones. Only Jimmy Graham has more touchdowns than Brate over the last two years, and for those of you that like to “follow the money” you should do so with Brate as a TE2 option in 2018. You’ll be able to draft him that way and have some upside for a TE1 finish. I’d probably shy away in PPR formats given the presence of second-year man O.J. Howard, but in standard leagues I think Brate is being overlooked.

2017 TE1s

RANK NAME GP FP TGT REC CATCH % YDS Y/R RZ TGTS TD
RANK NAME GP FP TGT REC CATCH % YDS Y/R RZ TGTS TD
1 Rob Gronkowski 14 158.4 105 69 65.7 1084 15.71 23 8
2 Travis Kelce 15 150.5 122 83 68 1038 12.51 21 8
3 Zach Ertz 14 128.4 110 74 67.3 824 11.13 17 8
4 Jimmy Graham 16 114 96 57 59.4 520 9.12 29 10
5 Evan Engram 15 109.6 115 64 55.7 722 11.28 10 6
6 Kyle Rudolph 16 101.2 81 57 70.1 532 9.33 16 8
7 Delanie Walker 16 100.5 111 74 66.7 807 10.91 13 3
8 Cameron Brate 16 95.1 77 48 62.3 591 12.31 14 6
9 Jack Doyle 15 89 108 80 74.1 690 8.61 9 4
10 Jason Witten 16 84 87 63 72.4 560 8.89 14 5
11 Tyler Kroft 16 82.4 62 42 67.7 404 9.62 12 7
12 Hunter Henry 14 81.9 62 45 72.6 579 12.87 14 4
13 AVERAGE 15.25 107.92 94.67 63 66.83 695.92 11.02 16 6.42

Right off the bat I see that Gronkowski missed a pair of games and still finished as the No. 1 overall tight end. As he had an eight point lead over Kelce, it’s possible he could have missed a third game and still finished with top honors. So even if you bake in a couple of missed games, it’s not crazy to think he’d still be the top option. He was far and away the best in points per game at 11.31, with the second place Kelce coming in at 10.03 PPG. Now think about how often you lose your fantasy matchup by less than a point, and realize that you can have this “Gronk advantage” in Round 3 of your fantasy drafts this year...

Since we are talking points per game, the top three were Gronk (11.31), Kelce (10.03), and Ertz (9.17). It’s possible you can snag Ertz late in Round 3 or in Round 4 right now, and he represents the last of that elite grouping—at least according to points per game. Evan Engram (7.3) and Jimmy Graham (7.13) were fourth and fifth, respectively. So yeah, I’m buying an early tight end in Round 3 or Round 4 if I can in 2018.

Evan Engram’s 55.7% catch rate sticks out like a sore thumb, as he and Jimmy Graham (59.4%) were the only TE1s to have catch rates below 60%. Whereas Graham made his living by leading all tight ends with 29 red zone targets, Engram survived by logging more targets than any TE1 not named Travis Kelce. With a healthy receiving group in New York and the arrival of Saquon Barkley, it’s possible that life-giving volume takes a big hit in 2018. I’m currently avoiding Engram at his mid-round ADP and aiming for Kyle Rudolph or Delanie Walker a little later.

There’s Cameron Brate again, just sayin’.

Jack Doyle is a guy that I’ll rank in that middle veteran tier alongside Walker and Rudolph. As we get more reports about a healthy Andrew Luck, I’ll continue to feel better about that ranking. For now I’m comfortable drafting him after Walker and Rudolph come off the board—generally somewhere near Round 10 in all my tilts on DRAFT so far.

Kroft is one of my favorite TE3 darts in the last round. You can’t beat that sort of opportunity if you subscribe to the belief that Tyler Eifert will not remain healthy (I do).

So here’s the average production for a TE1 over the last two years, in case you’d like a baseline in your brain:

15 games played, 109 fantasy points, 95 targets, 64 receptions, 730 yards, 6 touchdowns

The average catch rate was 67.27% and the average Y/R was 11.42. Starting tight ends also averaged 17.46 red zone looks, which comes out to 1.15 red zone looks per game. So if your big guy logs two red zone looks in a given game you should be feeling pretty good.

If I had to rank my 2018 TE1s right now (and I guess I should) here’s my list:

Gronk, Kelce, Ertz, Olsen, Graham, Delanie, Rudolph, Doyle, Kittle, Engram, and Burton.

Kittle was tied for fifth among all tight ends with 16 red zone looks last year, and now he has an elite quarterback. I’m digging his current draft cost.

Jordan Reed, Tyler Eifert, and Cameron Brate/O.J. Howard are my notable omissions, but I can’t get behind chasing those injury-prone guys and I expect Brate and Howard to cannibalize each other to a certain degree in 2018. I still expect both to flirt with TE1 production, though.

If you want to argue cases for David Njoku, Charles Clay, and Eric Ebron you can be my guest in the comments. But I prefer all of those guys as TE2 options.

Argue away with me in the comments! Who are your starting guys for 2018?