Below is a table providing a snapshot of the tight end position in 2015.
Key columns to note…
FP: Fantasy Points (PPR)
PPG: Points Per Game
Playoffs: Total FP in Weeks 14-16
RV: Relative Value (difference between that player’s points and the positional baseline, or TE12)
ADP: Approximate round in which the player was drafted
Positional ADP Rank: Rank at his position on draft day (e.g. Tyler Eifert was the 11th TE off the board, on average)
2015 Actual Relative Value (PPR): Tight Ends
|#||Player||Team||G||FP (PPR)||PPG||Playoffs||RV||ADP||Pos ADP Rank||ADP Diff|
Only six players – Antonio Brown (169), Julio Jones (160), Devonta Freeman (154), Brandon Marshall (130), DeAndre Hopkins (120) and Odell Beckham (110) – had a higher RV than Rob Gronkowski, so he certainly returned value given his early 2nd round ADP. However, five of the top seven tight ends were drafted in the 10th round or later (or went completely undrafted, like Gary Barnidge). So in retrospect, the right play was to draft Jordan Reed or Delanie Walker in the later rounds, or pick up Barnidge off the waiver wire and use that Gronk pick on another position.
Walker’s fine season was predictable – I had him ranked 6th at his position in the preseason – while Reed was seemingly playing behind Niles Paul, whom Jay Gruden named the starter in the preseason. Paul was injured in mid-August, so Reed’s ADP had three weeks to recover, but it really didn’t. (He was going in the 14th round in post-August 25 drafts at MyFantasyLeague.) His reputation for being injury-prone certainly lowered his expectations in 2015. Reed turned out to be a league-winner given his 9-120-1, 7-84-2 and 9-129-2 lines in the final three weeks of the fantasy season.
Tyler Eifert was a fantastic pick in the 10th round, but a late-season injury left his owners in a tough spot. Owners had to pivot to Zach Ertz, Zachary Miller or Will Tye to get good production in the fantasy playoffs.
Speaking of Ertz, he finished as the #10 TE in standard scoring, but was #6 after his Week 8 bye, averaging 6.4 catches for 73 yards and 0.25 TD (on 8.8 targets per game) in his final eight games. He’s going in the 10th round in [way too] early drafts and is a great value if his ADP stays in that range. (It probably won’t. It just doesn’t make sense that he’s going that late.) His new HC, Doug Pederson, is used having an elite TE after working with Travis Kelce in Kansas City. If Ertz has a capable quarterback, he should have a career year in 2016.
Eric Ebron is another player to monitor this offseason. He finished #13 in total scoring, but averaged 11.3 FP in the 10 games in which he saw at least five targets. (Those are top 10 numbers.) I would expect this target threshold to be broken early and often if the rumors about Calvin Johnson’s retirement prove to be true.
If I continue to target tight ends later on the draft, it makes sense to complement an upside pick in the 10th/11th with another upside play later on, and hope that at least one pans out. In that strategy, Clive Walford’s 14th-round ADP looks appealing. He averaged 5.2 targets per game over the final five games and looked good catching the ball from the up-and-coming Derek Carr.
Benjamin Watson is another player to monitor. If he returns to the Saints, he should be a solid value in the later rounds. If he moves on, then Josh Hill should finally get an opportunity to play starter’s snaps. I liked Hill quite a bit last summer until we learned that Watson was going to start.
In addition to Watson, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, Vernon Davis, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Zachary Miller are free agents heading into the offseason.
The Bottom Line
Gronkowski will remain a rock-solid pick in the early rounds, but due to its status as a “onesie” position (i.e. fantasy teams only need to start one TE each week), demand for tight ends is lower and value can be found in the later rounds or even on the waiver wire. Owners are generally better off focusing on the receiver or running back positions early in the draft.
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