Original Post: June 1, 2016
We’ll have a ton of articles and our massive player previews (released in mid-to-late June) to help you pick the right players, but this article is about understanding when to pick your players.
ADP data can shift considerably, especially in June, July, and early August. This year, we’re going to have a unique feed of the ADPs in the NFFC, which is the largest national season-long fantasy contest out there. Their data is extremely up-to-date and as accurate as there is since it’s for high stakes, so this year our users will be able to monitor the ADP movement in real-time.
For now, though, this article serves as an introduction to the 2016 landscape.
Note: We’re never going to include every single player at each position in this article. We focus on the more intriguing options and those who are tough to get a handle on in terms of when they will be drafted. Also, note that we use a 12-team PPR league as our default setting for this analysis.
- As usual, only one TE is off the board in the first round, and it’s Rob Gronkowski. His ADP is actually up a few spots from 2015, despite the addition of Martellus Bennett.
- After Gronk, no TE is drafted in the second round, so the question is: do you take Jordan Reed late in the third or in the fourth? Based on his injury history, it’s probably wise to only consider Reed in the fourth.
- There’s something of a sweet spot for TEs in fifth and sixth rounds, with guys like Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert, and Delanie Walker off the board. There’s nothing wrong with those guys at that spot, but there’s not exactly a lot of value.
- Essentially, other than Gronk, the top TEs are spread out and are going off the board from rounds 4-9.
Current ADP Analysis:
These are the players whose Average Draft Positions intrigue us most in 2016.
Rob Gronkowski (NE, 1st TE drafted) – Gronk wasn’t a bad 1st round pick in 2015, but was he a great one? That probably depends on how well his owners drafted the other positions. He had another strong season, but he was only 21st in PPR leagues in terms of RB/WR/TE production, and he was out-scored on a per-game basis by Jordan Reed, who could have been had 150 picks after Gronk. He’s actually up a few spots from 2015, but now they have Martellus Bennett in the mix, so I’d prefer to pass on Gronk in the first.
Jordan Reed (Was, 2nd TE drafted) – The question with Reed is how high exactly can we be on a fantasy stud with a major history of injuries? While it’s early, I’d say his 35 ADP is about right. His numbers last year were seriously impressive, including a 76.3% catch rate and 17.7 FPG, which ranked him #1 among all TEs. At 2.18 FP/target, Reed was also first among TEs with 100 or more targets, and #2 among TEs with 50 or more targets in 2015. It’s pretty obvious after Reed’s breakout 2015 campaign that the only thing that can hold him back is his own body, and injuries were a problem again last year, as he did miss two games. But his ADP means you’ll have a chance tosnag him early in the 4th, which is very palatable to me, especially if there aren’t any RBs/WRs who stand out as good picks at that point.
Greg Olsen (Car, 3rd TE drafted) – Olsen had yet another great year in 2015, posting 77/1104/7 receiving on 123 targets (62.6%, 14.3 YPR). He averaged 14.3 FPG to rank #6 among all TEs. The best thing about Olsen was his constant availability, as he played in all 16 games for the eighth consecutive season while taking a ridiculous 95.9% of the Panthers’ snaps. His high level of consistency just isn’t common from TEs, but his TD potential is suppressed by Cam Newton, who vultures so many TDs around the goal (Olsen had only 5 targets inside the five, turning just 1 into a TD). And 3 of his 7 TDs came from outside the red zone, which will likely be hard to duplicate with more support than ever in the passing game with Kelvin Benjamin back. He’s a terrific player, but with several intriguing values at the position this year and more competition for targets on the Panthers than ever, I’m going to pass on Olsen if he costs a 4th or even a 5TH round pick, which is what his ADP reflects.
Tyler Eifert (Cin, 4th TE drafted) – Eifert (ankle) underwent surgery on his ankle on May 25, and he could miss the first couple of games of the regular season, according to multiple sources. Our data likely reflects this to an extent, since he’s “only” the fourth TE off the board, but we should get a more reliable gauge of his ADP by early August. He’s currently being drafted early in the 5th round, but he’ll likely drop into the 6th or even 7th round by the time fantasy drafts really start heating up.
Travis Kelce (KC, 5th TE drafted) – I loved Kelce last year as a breakout guy, and while I almost hit his projections on the head, he still underwhelmed. His numbers were fine, including a strong 69.9% catch rate and 1.84 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs), but Kelce finished with fewer than 10 FP eight times, which is too frequent (in his other eight games he hit 13+ FP) and a function of a conservative offense and a QB who doesn’t pull the trigger enough on riskier throws. We’re basically in it-is-what-it-is mode with the talented Kelce, but his talent and upside remains and his ADP is at least down a round from last year, meaning he’s a decent bet to make it to the 6th round of a 12-team league. At that point, I’m certainly willing to draft him if he stands out as being the best “impact player” left on the board outside of the QBs.
Delanie Walker (Ten, 6th TE drafted) – I remember interviewing Walker a couple of years ago and he lamented the fact that he wasn’t exactly getting the credit he deserved from fans and fantasy owners, and that trend continued in 2015, as his ADP was only about 115 overall. But Walker’s getting the love now, as his ADP is up over 50 spots from last year. Walker led all TEs with 133 targets in 2015, which is great, but it might not be repeatable on a team that wants to play ball control in the running game, and a team that should be better off than last year at WR. I hate to show any disrespect to such a productive player, but Walker’s 32 years old coming off a 94-catch season after posting 60 and 63 grabs his first two seasons in Tennessee. In short, he’s going to have to fall further than the 6th round for me to be interested in drafting him.
Gary Barnidge (Cle, 7th TE drafted) – Barnidge came into 2015 with just 44 career catches in seven years, and he turned into the #4 fantasy TE for the season. I’d normally be loving this fact if he was a younger player, but Barnidge is going to be 31 in September, and he’s certainly a candidate to regress this season with a QB situation in flux. But no question, he was great last year. He averaged 1.91 FP per target (league average was 1.65 FP/target for TEs) while playing 85.2% of the snaps this year. Barnidge finished with 10+ FP in 12 games, and he was the #1 fantasy TE in Weeks 3-8 with 35/512/6 for 20.5 FPG. He was the only stable force in the passing game all year, and while he could be again in 2016, his targets should be going down with a revamped and intriguing WR group. Most importantly, I just don’t love Barnidge in the 7th round of a 12-team league with several comparable options going off the board later, namely Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, Julius Thomas, and even Jimmy Graham.
Coby Fleener (NO, 8th TE drafted) – Fleener can be inconsistent catching the ball and underwhelming overall, but he landed in an ideal spot with the Saints. Regarding his drops, the fact is that his drop rate compares favorably to other high-end guys (only 3 drops in 2015, for example). His blocking has actually improved lately, but Fleener will unquestionably focus on receiving in New Orleans, and he couldn’t be playing with a better QB than Drew Brees, who’s helped Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham reach stardom at the position. Fleener will be a moveable chess piece for Sean Payton (who is also an upgrade at play-caller for Fleener), but he’ll also be a huge factor in the red zone, especially with Marques Colston out of the mix. He can get it done inside the 20, as 11 of the 6’6” Fleener’s 18 career TDs have come in the red zone, and the Saints threw 11 TD passes to the TE in 2015. I’ve loved the fit since he became a reality in March, and now that I’ve seen his ADP (85-90 overall), I’m more than okay with it. At that ADP, he can be an absolute steal, yet it won’t be a killer if he continues to underwhelm. However, if things are going well in the preseason, the hype train will leave the station and his ADP will rise.
Zach Ertz (Phi, 9th TE drafted) – Ertz always appears on the verge of breakout, and he’s gotten closer and closer each of the last two years. His numbers are fine, including a 67.6% catch rate last year, but he needs to produce more consistently. For the second straight year, he ended the season on a tear, as Ertz’s four highest FP totals came from Weeks Fourteen through Seventeen, as did his four largest yardage totals of the year (ranging from 78 to 152 yards). He also needs to score more TDs. He’s gone from 4 to 3 to 2 in his three NFL seasons, despite his catch total rising every year. Ertz also had just 9 of his 111 targets come in the red zone, a miniscule 8.1%. A nice athlete who at times seemed misused under Chip Kelly, things look better for him under Doug Pederson, who should use him more consistently. Ertz isn’t a great value in the 8th round, but it’s fair to pay that level of price for a still-ascending player who probably hasn’t yet reached his ceiling.
Julius Thomas (Jac, 10th TE drafted) – Thomas didn’t have the smoothest first season with the Jags, fracturing his hand in the preseason opener and getting off to a slow start once he returned to the lineup in Week Five. It took him about a month to get up to speed and he eventually started to show some chemistry with up-and-coming QB Blake Bortles in the second half of the year, so there’s some optimism heading into the off-season (despite a poor 56.3% catch rate and 9.9 YPC). He did finish the year with a thud with consecutive 2/12 games, ending a five-game streak from Weeks 11-15 when he was the #3 fantasy TE with 27/292/4, but the biggest concern is durability, since he’s missed nine games combined the last three seasons. But he’s clearly one of the most talented TEs in the league and could easily get back to being a TE1 next year if gets a little more involved in the red-zone (he had just 9 RZ targets in 2015). He’s not incredibly cheap with an ADP around 100 overall, but that’s a fair price to pay for a high-end talent who’s in a good offense.
Jimmy Graham (Sea, 11th TE drafted) – Graham continued to rehab from the torn patellar tendon suffered last year, but according to head coach Pete Carroll in late-May, he “might” be ready to play in Week 1, which is another way of saying he’s no lock for the opener. That’s a potential issue, so the question is how far does he have to slip in drafts to be worth a pick, since he might not help you much in the first half of the season? I think we’re about there right now, with his ADP of around 100 overall. The question, then, is how high does he climb if things start looking positive in August? I could see him move up about 25 spots, but anything more and the risk may outweigh the reward for a guy who didn’t exactly dominate in his first season in Seattle last year.
Ladarius Green (Pit, 12th TE drafted) – We’ve been enamored with Green’s upside potential for over three years, and we’re about to find out exactly what that is on the Steelers. We did get a glimpse in 2015, and the results were excellent. Green got a big opportunity to be a starter to begin 2015 with Antonio Gates suspended the first four games, and Green did well with 14/174/2 in the three games he appeared in. From Weeks 1-7 (six games), he was actually a top-10 producer, with 26/304/4. However, the question must be asked: if Green was so good, why did the Chargers groom him for three seasons and then let him walk away only to draft a TE in the 2nd round? Despite the good situation, Green is still a small leap of faith this year because he’s never caught more than 37 passes in a season, and the Steelers do still like youngster Jesse James. Green’s a matchup nightmare for LBs and safeties with plenty of other Steeler weapons to worry about, and he should be a terrific upside-oriented TE2 this year. But he’s being drafted as a starter in a 12-team league, which feels a little rich to me.
Eric Ebron (Det, 15th TE drafted) – He’s underwhelmed up until this point, but we can’t ignore that he made a positive leap in 2015. Playing in 14 games, Ebron posted 47/537/5 receiving on 68 targets (69.1%, 11.4 YPR). Ebron’s snaps took a hit soon after Jim Bob Cooter was promoted to OC after Week Seven, but he got more ingrained into Cooter’s offense, and his production started to rise by the end of the season. Ebron’s only two double-digit fantasy games under Cooter came in Weeks Fifteen and Seventeen, and he caught at least 4 passes in each of the final three games of the year. Ebron isn’t exactly easy to back completely, due mainly to some problems with injuries and drops, but the talent is there for him to make a major impact, and he did flash on tape early in 2015. He’ll also have to play a bigger role in the offense now that Calvin Johnson has retired, so he does stand out as an upside-oriented pick in around the 12th or 13th rounds this year. If he delivers, you’ll be in great shape, but if he doesn’t it won’t likely derail your season, so his upside out-weighs his downside.
Antonio Gates (SD, 16th TE drafted) – Gates will be 36 in June, so he’s a fossil by NFL standards, but he’s the man for at least one more season in San Diego, and if he’s healthy he’ll likely produce with his boy Phil Rivers. Last year he finished with 10+ FP in 8 of his 11 games, despite scoring TDs in just three games. He posted 1.77 FP per target, so he beat the league average of 1.65 FP/target for TEs, and of course Ladarius Green is gone and replaced by a rookie who won’t likely have much on his plate this year. Gates isn’t going to run away from a lot of defenders at this point, but he still has an uncanny knack for getting open still and Rivers will continue to feed him until Gates can’t move any longer. With an ADP of almost 140, Gates is almost a free pick, so there’s much more upside than downside.
Dwayne Allen (Ind, 17th TE drafted) – Allen, who is poised to take over the TE pass-catching duties for the first time in Indy, has missed 21 games in the last three seasons, so durability thy name is not Allen. But the Colts committed a lot of money to him, and under TE-friendly OC Rob Chudzinski he should be used differently and guaranteed a bigger role in the offense. And as our guy Mike Horn has explored this past fall when the Colts fired OC Pep Hamilton and promoted Chud, TE has the most upside of the fantasy positions under Chudzinski. Allen’s not tall for a TE at 6’3”, but that low center of gravity helps his blocking, and he’s still been incredibly productive in the red zone at times. For example, in 2014, he scored 8 TDs on only 29 receptions and scored in seven of their first eight games. Allen won’t be a sexy fantasy pick this year, and he could be TD-dependent on a team with myriad offensive weapons, but he’s definitely a very worthy TE2 with legit starter potential, and with an ADP around 140, he’s not going to command a particularly expensive draft pick.
Jason Witten (Dal, 18th TE drafted) – I liked Witten as a cheap PPR option heading into 2015 and guaranteed 80 catches, something only four TEs achieved the year before. And as ugly as it was without Tony Romo for three months, Witten came only three catches shy with 77 grabs. He looks like he’s running in mud on the field at this point, but he’s never been a great mover, as his game is more about precision, reliability, and just being a terrific football player. Dallas would love to play this year like they did in 2014 – when Witten had only 64 catches in a run-heavy offense – but if you’re looking for cheap catches, Witten hasn’t been this cheap (150 ADP) in over a decade.
Zach Miller (Chi, 19th TE drafted) – Quickly forming a productive relationship with QB Jay Cutler, Miller, in the last three games he played – all with Martellus Bennett injured – posted 18/211/1 receiving on 20 targets, averaging 15.0 FPG. That ranked him 5th over that span among all TEs. On the season, Miller posted 34/439/5 receiving on 46 targets (an excellent 73.9% catch rate, 12.9 YPR), and he showed more big-play ability than Bennett, who they traded in the off-season. Of course, injuries have been a huge issue, and that’s why his ADP is only around 160. But Miller sure looks ready to be a #1 TE, and the Bears are banking on him to be one, so if he’s on the field he’s a lock to seriously out-produce his ADP. Of course, that ADP should be on the rise this summer if Miller’s fine health-wise, so we’ll revisit him in August.
Clive Walford (Oak, 20th TE drafted) – Walford’s career got off to a slow start, like we’ve seen with many rookie TEs in recent years, but he one of the few first-year TEs to make some regular contributions in 2015. The Raiders used a 3rd-round pick on Walford and used him mostly as a situational player, essentially rotating snaps with Mychal Rivera and Lee Smith. However, Walford’s role increased as the year went along, seeing at least 4+ targets in each of his final five games, and we’ve heard from several sources close to the team how much they like him (a lot). Walford should take over the majority of the snaps at TE in his second season, and he could be an intriguing late-round pick in fantasy drafts next summer because he has the potential develop into their #3 receiver with regular playing time. Walford did suffer a knee injury earlier this offseason in an all-terrain vehicle accident, but he’s expected to be cleared well before the beginning of training camp. With an ADP of 170, he’s a free pick if you’re looking for an upside-oriented TE2 in the latter stages of a draft.
Kyle Rudolph (Min, 22nd TE drafted) – Rudolph played in all 16 games in 2015, and he set a career high in receiving yards! However, Rudolph has now played five NFL seasons, and not once has totaled 500 or more passing yards in the league. Rudolph posted a nice catch rate of 71.0%, and he was on the field a lot, playing 82.9% of their snaps. Rudolph was efficient, averaging 1.86 FP/target, well above the league average of 1.63, but his role in this offense was just ancillary. He did start clicking with Teddy Bridgewater on downfield plays toward the end of the season, so the question is whether he’s teasing us once again or if he’s just setting us up yet again for disappointment? It really is a moot point because fantasy owners have buried him on the ADP list with an average draft position around 180. That late, he might even be palatable to those he’s burned more than once in the past on the chance that he actually delivers on his potential. The OL upgrades this year for the Vikings can only help his chances.
Best TE Values:
These are the players whose Average Draft Positions intrigue us most in 2016.
- Coby Fleener (NO, 88)
- Julius Thomas (Jac, 96)
- Zach Ertz (Phi, 90)
- Travis Kelce (KC, 63)
- Jimmy Graham (Sea, 98)
Super Value Alert:
These players aren’t in our ADP top-120, but they have a chance to surprise.
- Antonio Gates (SD, 138)
- Eric Ebron (Det, 138)
- Dwayne Allen (Ind, 142)
- Zach Miller (Chi, 161)
- Jordan Cameron (Mia, 185)
Source: Fantasy Guru
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