Earlier this week, Tyler Eifert announced he went under the knife for a Pro Bowl injury and that his availability for weeks one and two of the season were in doubt. While there are serious real-life ramifications for the tight end who saw 2015 as a massive breakout, this article instead focuses on the fantasy implications. There was much hand-wringing and dropping down of Tyler Eifert on fantasy draft boards.[Jeff]
My reaction? Indifference, and figuring out how many extra targets the backfield and A.J. Green get and how this will change the early season outlook for Andy Dalton. You see, Tyler Eifert won’t be on any of my fantasy teams this year, and neither will Gronk, Jordan Reed, Olsen, Kelce, Delanie Walker, or any of the other top-ten Tight Ends. Why? By and large, they aren’t worth the draft capital you must expend to get them onto your roster.
Tight End is an extremely fungible position, as it is extremely touchdown dependent, and touchdowns are not dependable on a week-to-week basis (unless you’re Gronk, but without Brady for four games, even he becomes a question mark). Spending one of your first ten picks on a tight end is fallacious, and you are burning up a roster spot that would better be used on a wide receiver or running back.
In 2015, of the top five tight ends in fantasy points per game (Gronk, Reed, Eifert, Walker, Barnidge), only Gronk was drafted among the top eight. Eifert had an ADP of TE9, Walker TE10 and Reed & Barnidge were virtually undrafted. Taking that one step further, only four of the top twelve TEs in fantasy points per game were drafted among the top seven tight ends, and five did not have an ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator. This is not a fluke, either. On average since 2011, only 4.6 of the top twelve tight ends were drafted in the top seven, and 3.8 of the top twelve were not drafted frequently enough to garner an ADP. If you take the last four years, the numbers are equal, with an average of 4.5 top-seven draftees in the TE1 ranks, and 4.5 completely undrafted tight ends among the TEs.
Tight Ends have become questionable draft propositions, and it makes sense. If you draft Lamar Miller expecting RB7, but he ends up RB15, he is still a weekly starter that you do not question his usage. If that happened with a tight end, there is much lamentation and gnashing of teeth (and rushing to the waiver wire). Case in point: Travis Kelce. Kelce was the fourth TE off the board last year, and ended up as TE9 on a point per game basis when the dust settled. If you asked Kelce owners, however, he was a bust and not worth his draft slot. That’s true, he wasn’t. But no tight end not named Gronkowski is worth his draft stock. Instead, turn away from the position and towards flier wide receiver and running backs, who return much greater value. The difference between a weekly starter and waiver wire fodder is razor thin, and people do not recognize that it is not worth the effort to snag one in single-digit rounds in your draft.
Instead, here are tight ends currently going outside the top-twelve on fantasyfootballcalculator.com that have the best chance at returning top-twelve seasons, and will do so with minimal cost spent.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The forgotten man last season, ASJ played in only seven games and started only three of them. In his seven games, he received nine red zone targets, at a higher rate than Mike Evans (one red zone target per game), who is getting ink as a breakout candidate thanks to his high number of red zone targets. ASJ burst out onto the scene for 110 yards and two touchdowns week one, but a shoulder injury in week two kept him out for over half the season. By that point, he was just working back into game shape. Still, the opportunity exists and his ADP is round twelve (TE #15). Essentially free. With Jameis Winston taking a step forward and defenses focusing on Mike Evans and Doug Martin, there’s plenty of opportunity for ASJ in 2016.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions
Year three for the former top-ten pick is the year he puts it all together and sheds his draft bust status. He is currently the eighteenth tight end off the board, in round thirteen (likely just before someone snags their kicker and defense). Ebron already had eight red zone targets in 2015 (which resulted in five red zone scores), and Johnson’s sixteen red zone targets last year have to go somewhere. With Ebron towering over the rest of the receiving corps, expect a good number of those to go Ebron’s way. He is one of the last tight ends drafted, and he isn’t even drafted in every draft. He could be had week one or two off the wire and return top-ten TE numbers.
Will Tye, New York Giants
Will Tye is a total deep dive, but Tye is literally undrafted right now, as in he does not exist on fantasydraftcalculator’s ADP data for twelve team leagues. He started off slow last season, but saw a significant uptick in targets starting in week nine against the Bucs. If you prorate the final eight games of the season, Tye ends up with 768 yards, six touchdowns and 68 receptions on 100 targets. This gives him just about 7.2 fantasy points per week, which would have made him TE11, just about a tenth of a point per game behind #10 Ben Watson (another mid-season pickup wonder).
Don’t fret over tight ends, they aren’t worth the trouble. Instead, focus your energies on finding waiver wire fodder with significant upside. Since 2012, you have the same chance of that person ending up as a top-twelve tight end as anyone drafted in the top seven. Treat TE like you do kicker and defense: go snag one at the end.