I’m employing a bit of a different slant this week, as we are six weeks through the season—or two weeks from halfway, if you play your championships in Week 16 like any sane person should. I think it’s an okay time for what I call “simple math.” No, I’m not watching tons of film (full disclosure). I’m watching as much as I can, so props to NFL Game Pass. But I do think having a baseline of data in my brain can be useful, especially when deciding between players who have similar talent levels and situations. So I spent some time looking at team defenses and how they’ve defended tight ends. I’m including the line allowed by the defense said tight end is playing—you’ll see this line in parentheses. Now for a simple breakdown...
Receptions allowed to tight ends
The range of receptions allowed to enemy tight ends by NFL defenses is 13 (Buffalo) to 46 (Arizona). There have been 869 receptions allowed to tight ends so far in 2019, meaning the average number allowed so far is 27 receptions. 13 NFL teams have allowed 28 or more receptions to tight ends so far, but the Colts (32) and Bears (31) stick out, as they’ve only played five games each so far. Put differently, these are above average matchups for tight ends with regard to counting stats, despite So we can’t forget about the Houston tight ends (Fells and Akins) if searching for value this week. Likewise, perhaps we can trust Jared Cook for the third week in a row, even in what reads like a tough road matchup against Chicago. On paper, that matchup isn’t super-daunting.
Touchdowns allowed to tight ends
The range of touchdowns allowed is zero (five teams) to seven (Arizona). There have been 61 touchdowns allowed to tight ends in 2019, so an average of 1.90 scores allowed per team (let’s just say two). 10 NFL teams have allowed three or more scores so far, but the Colts (3) and Raiders (3) stick out, as each team has only played in five games so far. The Colts have now appeared twice during our “simple math” exercise. Hmmmm. And I just want to note that scoring probably isn’t very sticky at this juncture. Looking at red zone targets to tight ends allowed by team would be a better start. But six weeks isn’t huge—I’m just aiming for an overview here.
Yardage allowed to tight ends
The range of yardage allowed is 121 (SF) to 599 (Arizona). The total amount of yardage allowed to tight ends so far is 9,634. That’s an average of 301 yards allowed, or 50 yards per game (assuming a team has played all six weeks). There are 15 NFL teams with more than 301 yards allowed to tight ends so far. Of those 15 teams, the Dolphins (338), Colts (334), Raiders (309), and Bears (306) have already had a bye—and are therefore above average with respect to yards allowed despite only having played in five games so far.
In summation, the Colts allow more receptions, touchdowns, and yardage to enemy tight ends than the average for NFL defenses. Jordan Akins and Darren Fells are tied for third on the Texans in target share, each at 10.05%. DeAndre Hopkins (28.23%) and Will Fuller (23.92%) are the alphas, but behind them it is possible that one (or both!) of these tight ends pops off in Week 7.
On bye this week are the Panthers (Greg Olsen), Browns (who cares), Steelers (Vance McDonald), and Buccaneers (O.J. Howard). I’m personally grateful to not have to start Howard in my 15-team home league. Never-mind that I’m reduced to Luke Willson in my second tight end spot...
1 George Kittle @ WAS (31-337-2)
Target share: 25.0%, aDOT: 6.9
Kittle is on a roll, and if I could only start one tight end this week it would be him. Hopefully you aren’t crazy enough to have drafted Kittle and Kelce in a league where you only start one tight end, but that’s a talk for another day. Anyway, Kittle’s target share and matchup give him the edge for me this week.
2 Travis Kelce @ DEN (28-282-1)
Target share: 21.0%, aDOT: 10.5
The Broncos are right at average in receptions allowed, and a little bit better than average with regard to yardage and scores given to enemy tight ends. However, from Weeks 2 through 5, the Broncos faced teams who barely utilized the tight end (CHI, GB, JAX, LAC). Darren Waller (7-70) had a quality game against them, and Delanie Walker (3-43) showed up moderately but did have six targets. Kelce is a different sort of guy than they’ve seen. I’m not bumping him from the elite.
3 Mark Andrews @ SEA (34-405-3)
Target share: 23.0%, aDOT: 9.3
Andrews hasn’t seen fewer than 7 targets in any contest, and has a pair of 100+ yard games to his credit (as well as a 99-yard game). He was the clear top option last week with Marquise Brown shelved, and I like him in this spot again if Brown misses another week. If Brown is a “go,” I’d flip Andrews with the next guy...
4 Evan Engram vs. ARI (46-599-7)
Target share: 24.0%, aDOT: 5.9
One matchup to rule them all, one matchup to find them, one matchup to bring them all, and in the darkness...bind them! Let’s be real: Evan Engram is getting started in every league where he is owned, no matter what...so my analysis means nothing. But here you go, anyway. The Cards have allowed the most scores (7) to tight ends, three more than the 2nd highest teams (PIT, TEN, CLE all tied at 4). Arizona has allowed the most yardage, a whopping 102 yards more than the 2nd highest team (Tampa Bay at 497). Lastly, the Cardinals’ 46 receptions allowed to enemy tight ends is the most in the league, tied with the Chiefs. Evan Engram is a target-monster, with a 24% share. He also leads all tight ends with 10 red zone looks, despite missing time. The only thing not to love is that he’s coming off of an injury—which is partly why I may be slightly bearish on him compared to most pundits this week. But the overall TE4 is still a high ranking, so stop crying.
5 Zach Ertz @ DAL (35-351-2)
Target share: 25.0%, aDOT: 8.5
Ertz thrashes the Cowboys historically, and Dallas has allowed 35 catches so far—the 5th most allowed to tight ends. They’ve also allowed the 6th most yardage (351) and a couple of scores already. That affinity for allowing receptions and yardage seems dangerous against a target-hog like Ertz, who is pacing all tight ends with 54 targets.
6 Austin Hooper vs. LAR (28-348-2)
Target share: 19.0%, aDOT: 7.3
The Rams are right at average in receptions (28) but allow the 7th most yardage (348) to tight ends. The two scores allowed is tied for 11th most. On paper, there’s no reason not to trust Hooper this week. Not even the recent trade of Jalen Ramsey, if Ramsey starts this weekend. To me, Ramsey locking down Julio Jones means more love for Hooper and Calvin Ridley.
7 Hunter Henry @ TEN (26-275-4)
Target share: 6.15%
Quite the coming out party for Hunter Henry last week, and Titans have allowed 4 scores to tight ends already—tied for the 2nd highest mark in the NFL. Tennessee is right at average in receptions allowed, but the four touchdowns is promising. If you were worried about Henry being eased in last week, you were wrong. The big guy topped the Chargers in targets with 10—so ignore that 6.15% target share, which is a season-long number and unfair to a guy who has missed so much time.
8 Darren Waller @ GB (27-210-1)
Target share: 26.0%, aDOT: 5.3
The aDOT is low, but the YAC ability for this receiver-turned-tight-end is off the charts. Waller’s 203 YAC trails only Evan Engram (219) among tight ends. In fact, Engram and Waller are eerily similar, except that Waller has a better catch rate.
9 T.J. Hockenson vs. MIN (44-395)
Target share: 15.88%
The Vikings have low-key been a good matchup for the big guys, and Hockenson is the No. 3 option in this passing game. It’s also encouraging that the Vikes have a solid pass rush. We like that when it comes to our tight ends. Get that ball out quickly instead of looking for the big shot down the field.
10 Gerald Everett @ ATL (27-282-3)
Target share: 11.72%
Everett’s target share isn’t impressive, but the matchup is enticing and aside from the wide receivers he’s the best bet in the passing game. There’s also hope for a shootout here, which makes him a legitimate low-end TE1. That’s the weak tight end landscape in which we live.
11 Jared Cook @ CHI (31-306-1)
Target share: 14.36%
Cook is third behind Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara in target share for the Saints, but with Kamara battling ankle and knee injuries, perhaps we’ll see more love for Cook this week. That is, if Cook’s own ankle injury doesn’t hinder him. This will be a situation to monitor. If Kamara’s 20% target share is on the shelf (or hindered), all of a sudden Jared Cook becomes the No. 2 target against a Bears defense that has been worse than average at allowing receptions and yardage to tight ends so far.
12 Darren Fells @ IND
Target share: 10.05%
Fells (and the next guy) are basically quality dart throws in good matchups. The Colts popped up repeatedly in my “simple math” exercise as a plus matchup, and that fits what we know they try to do—give up the stuff underneath and limit the big play. Fells has looked the part in limited duty thus far, and has more targets (10 to 6) than fellow tight end Jordan Akins over the last two weeks. Take a shot on this one.
13 Noah Fant vs. KC (46-429-1)
Target share: 9.38%
This is more of a gut feeling than anything else. Fant hasn’t topped more than four targets in any game so far, so you have to know the floor is scary low. However, there isn’t a ton of upside left at tight end, and I’d like to take a shot on youth, especially in this matchup. The Chiefs have allowed the most receptions to enemy tight ends so far, and the 3rd most yardage. The Broncos are sure to be chasing, too...right?!?
14 Delanie Walker vs. LAC (21-236-3)
Target share: 18.50%
This is more of a nod to Walker’s halfway decent volume, at least compared to other tight ends. That, and the infusion of Ryan Tannehill at quarterback could easily be spun as a positive. I mean, it can’t be worse...right?
15 Dawson Knox vs. MIA
Target share: 12.75%
Knox is in a plus matchup against the Dolphins, and it helps a little that John Brown popped up on the injury report mid-week. That’s a situation to monitor. If Brown is out or obviously limited, I’m moving Knox up this board a couple of spots, definitely ahead of Fant.
After this you can consider veterans like Jimmy Graham and Jason Witten, but we are approaching the bottom of the barrel, folks. And you can easily justify Graham in the place of Walker, but I’ve been anti-Graham for quite a while. At least I can talk myself into a Walker resurgence given the tangible change of Tannehill at quarterback.
Other than those two, it’s names like Eric Ebron, Dallas Goedert, Chris Herndon IV (if he plays), Jack Doyle, Geoff Swaim, Jordan Akins, Tyler Higbee, Trey Burton, Hayden Hurst, etc. Not exactly inspiring. Herndon would be the best name here, if we knew he would play. I suppose if you have him, you’ll just have to continue waiting. At such a desolate position, he’s worth it to hold, in my opinion.
Who did I miss, or who was I way off on?