Going Deep: Tight End Values Through Week 4

Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

A few weeks ago I examined tight end usage after week 1 to try and determine future potential.  Given how thin the position has become with injuries to Tyler Eifert, Jack Doyle, and Will Dissly, I think it is worth revisiting to see if we can identify potential value.

Modeling Tight End Usage with aDOT and %Target Share 

To get a sense of how each TE is being used, we can take a look at average depth of target (aDOT) and percentage of target shares (% target shares).  For a more in depth explanation of this model, take a look back at the original article

Briefly,

If we graph %targets by aDOT we can get a sense of how each player is used.  We can also look at how this usage compares to league average and break each player into four categories…..

  • High %target and high aDOT: elite usage; highest consistent fantasy potential
  • High %target and low aDOT: short yardage/checkdown safety net; high fantasy floor (especially in PPR leagues)
  • Low %target and high aDOT: selective big play threat; high ceiling but not targeted consistently (boom or bust candidate)
  • Low %target and low aDOT: no consistent usage; least likely to meaningfully contribute

In graph form it would look like this…..

2018 TE Usage Through Week Four

Now that we have our model established, we can take a look at usage through the first four weeks of the season.  The graph below shows all healthy TEs with at least 13 targets while the table lists all players in a given category (numbers do not convey value, just reference between graph and table).  I should mention that four weeks is still a relatively small sample size.  It is also important to remember that this model only speaks to a players general usage (big plays, short yardage, etc.) and is only one component of overall fantasy value.

ELITE HIGH UPSIDE HIGH FLOOR POOR
Travis Kelce (1) O.J. Howard (8) Zach Ertz (14) Kyle Rudolph (18)
Rob Gronkowski (2) Benjamin Watson (9) Jared Cook (15) Austin Hooper (19)
Eric Ebron (3) Trey Burton (10) Jordan Reed (16) Nick Vannett (20)
George Kittle (4) Mark Andrews (11) Geoff Swaim (17) Austin Seferian-Jenkins (21)
Jimmy Graham (5) Charles Clay (12) Vance McDonald (22)
David Njoku (6) Antonio Gates (13) Jake Butt (23)
Ricky Seals-Jones (7) Jeff Heuerman (24)
Nick Boyle (25)

Looking at the results, some things are not surprising….Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski lead all TEs in elite usage.  George Kittle not only falls in the elite usage category, but does so by a fairly wide margin.  Time will tell if the QB change in San Francisco will alter his value.  Eric Ebron, Jimmy Graham, David Njoku, and Ricky Seals-Jones all fall in the elite usage category, though they are clearly more borderline.  Seals-Jones is perhaps the most suprising of this group, and may provide value if Josh Rosen and the Arizona offense can improve.  Though he did not fall into the elite category, I would also consider Trey Burton in this same cluster of players.  Interestingly, Zach Ertz does not fall into the Elite category.  His numbers are actually fairly in line with 2017, which likely speaks more to the way the Eagles use him and less to his overall value.  It is important to note that he leads all TEs in %target share, so although his aDOT is lower, he is clearly a huge part of the overall offense in Philadelphia.   Another suprising finding that is consistent with 2017 is the usage of Kyle Rudolph, who actually falls in the poor category.  That does not mean he isn’t a relevant fantasy tight end, but it does indicate that he is more heavily reliant on touchdown’s and thus red zone usage to have weekly value.

Usage in the Red Zone can make up for other flaws

It should come as no surprise that increased usage in the red zone correlates with increased touchdowns and thus a significant boost to overall value.  As I discussed above, Kyle Rudolph’s 2017 overall usage was actually poor.  However, he accounted for 25.8% of his team’s red zone targets which translated into 6 red zone touchdowns and significantly increased overall value.  Below is the percentage of red zone targets for tight ends so far this year….

Jeff Heuerman 33.3 Jake Butt 16.7 Benjamin Watson 9.3
Eric Ebron 30 Austin Hooper 16 Mark Andrews 9.1
Zach Ertz 29.2 Jimmy Graham 15.8 Nick Vannett 9.1
Jared Cook 26.7 Geoff Swaim 14.3 Vance McDonald 4.2
Charles Clay 25 Kyle Rudolph 13.3 O.J. Howard 4
Travis Kelce 24 Trey Burton 13 Rob Gronkowski 4
George Kittle 22.7 Ricky Seals-Jones 12.5 David Njoku 0
Jordan Reed 20 Antonio Gates 11.5
Nick Boyle 18.2 Austin Seferian-Jenkins 10

A few things jump out right away.  Jeff Heuerman, Eric Ebron, and Charles Clay are all seeing a large percentage of red zone targets which greatly improves their chance to contribute value.  Alternatively, Kyle Rudolph and Jimmy Graham have seen a major decrease in red zone target share.  It is still early, but I would be concerned as a Rudolph owner as his overall usage won’t make up for a significant drop in touchdowns.  Similarly, O.J. Howard, Gronkowski, and Njoku are seeing extremely low to no red zone usage.  Gronkowski’s low usage is likely due to teams double teaming him.  That should improve with the addition of Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman.  Njoku’s usage may improve with Baker Mayfield at QB, but I would be concerned as an owner.

The above usage analysis does not address all situations or account for opponent difficulty.  It also does not address which players are making the most of their opportunities (reception percentage, yards after the catch, etc).  That being said, usage does give us an indication of future potential. With the TE position once again being thin, hopefully this analysis can identify players to target/fade in the coming weeks.

Mike Oropallo

Scientist by day, sports fanatic by night. My goal is to use advanced analytics to better understand the sport and get an edge in fantasy.

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