One of the most difficult - and sometimes impossible - tasks for
any fantasy owner during the offseason is figuring out what players
have league-winning upside. Certainly, the Christian
McCaffrey's and Saquon
Barkley's of the world come immediately to mind, but we need
some pretty good luck in a traditional snake draft to land either
one of those players.
To answer this "league-winner" question better, I decided
to break down what one looks like - physically and statistically
- by taking a closer look at each player that reached a particular
fantasy-point benchmark that could be considered great or elite
over the last three seasons. By using the best of the best in
each position group over a three-year period as the basis for
what is great versus elite, we should be able to create realistic
parameters for what it takes to be a true fantasy difference-maker.
The goal of this analysis is to give readers a general idea of
what characteristics - be it physical or statistical - they need
to keep in mind on draft day. There will invariably be repeat
entries (as in certain players appearing two or three times on
the list). It's also OK to view this series of articles as something
of a correlational study, but it's more than that. My top priority
is trying to establish what benchmarks fantasy owners need to
shoot for at each position, especially considering the different
styles of players that exist in the game.
At the bottom of the sortable table, there is another mini-table
summarizing the group averages, minimums and maximums of each
category, hits and hit rate. The "hits" are how many players at
that position exceeded the average of the players in the first
table, while the hit rate is the percentage of "hits" in that
group (a "greater than x" situation). In rare circumstances such
as quarterback age, I opted for a "less than X" approach. The
text will be red in those atypical
situations. My advice to maximize the value of the table below:
sort each column and then read the analysis that accompanies that
Because we are discussing an average of the best of the best
over the last three seasons, the "hit rate" percentages will probably
be lower than some would expect Thus, anything over about 60 percent
is notable because it suggests the group is bottom-heavy. Likewise,
anything below about 40 percent suggests the group is top-heavy.
This "rule" will apply to all positions.
Fantasy point threshold - 120-plus fantasy points.
A total of 43 tight ends reached this mark over the last three
Age - It is well known that tight ends tend to
develop slowly but can often rival quarterbacks in terms of longevity.
To that end, 12 of the 43 entries (27.9 percent) are 30 or older.
Much like the other skill positions, however, the majority of the
truly elite performances will be found in the mid-to-late 20s. Eight
of the tip 10 performances above fall into that range, and it is
a safe bet that will be the case just about every year.
Height (inches) - Much as it was with receivers,
there are just too many repeat entries above to draw sound conclusions
about physical characteristics. (Kittle, Ertz and Kelce are responsible
for eight of the top 12 fantasy performances.) The majority of tight
ends who find themselves in the position to become difference-making
options at the position are typically going to be 6-4 or taller
though. Evan Engram (6-3) is a rare exception, but he was considered
something of an oversized receiver that just happened to play tight
end going back to his college days. Still, I won't give much thought
to height in fantasy drafts.
Weight - A 250-pound tight end (give or take
a few pounds) is pretty much standard anymore, and it's good for
them to be that at least that heavy if only to serve as some extra
padding for the abuse they dish out and absorb on a regular basis.
Again, the high number of repeats - 12 players account for 58.1
percent (27 of the 43) entries - make any determinations about
using weight as a deciding factor in tight end success almost
Games - Tight end is a physical position, so
missing a game or two tends to come with the territory. It's also
a position lacking in elite options consistently enough that missing
a game or two isn't detrimental to his ability to have a special
year in fantasy. Nineteen of the 43 entries sat out at least one
contest (44.2 percent) and five of the top 11 efforts (45.5) on
this list are by players who missed at least one game.
Targets - Howard somehow managed to make the
list on only 43 targets - big-play ability had a lot to do with
it - but 72.1 percent (31 of 43) of the entries above managed
to attract at least 81 looks. Only Jared Cook (65 targets last
season) came in lower than 80 and managed a top-20 finish. Most
of the top 20 entries needed at least 96 targets, while every
one of the top 10 had at least 105. So unless a fantasy owner
expects a repeat of Cook's 2019 TD rate (roughly one score every
seven targets and five catches), tight ends will likely need around
100 targets to enjoy a special season.
Target share - For whatever reason, the industry
doesn't seem to discuss target share at tight end nearly as much
as receiver. At wideout, we discussed how 22 percent was the sweet
spot. At tight end, 72.1 percent (31 of 43) of the entries finished
with a catch rate of 19.1 or lower and 53.5 percent (23 of 43)
came in under 16 percent. However, if a tight end managed a target
share of 16 percent, the odds are pretty strong he's going to
be one of the better fantasy options in the league in that particular
year. Only three of 20 players above who met that criteria in
the last three seasons failed to finish inside the top 20.
Receptions - Most everything that applies to
targets applies here as well. Fantasy owners should be able to
expect about a 70 percent catch rate (or at least high 60s) from
tight ends, so the players with the most targets will almost certainly
bring home the most bacon. Each of the top 16 fantasy finishes
by tight ends over the last three years has come from players
with at least 64 receptions, so owners are typically in good shape
if they can count on just over four catches per game.
Receiving yards - Receivers and tight ends tend
to accumulate fantasy points via receiving yards more than anywhere
else, so it only makes sense the 15 highest fantasy point totals
above belong to the entries who lead the group in receiving yards.
Waller scored only three times last season and is ninth on this
list in fantasy scoring. Kittle only scored five times in each
of the last two years, but his 2018 campaign is the third-best
fantasy-point total above and last year's effort is the seventh-best
Receiving TDs - As was discussed in the previous
paragraph, receiving touchdowns aren't as critical to a good fantasy
season for a tight end as some might believe. However, it is nearly
impossible for a tight end to have an elite season without at
least five or six. Rudolph's 22nd place finish in 2017 is the
lowest by a tight end over the last three years who scored at
least eight TDs, and the only reason he ranked that low was because
he mustered only 532 receiving yards. If a tight end manages at
least 60 catches and eight TDs, the odds are very good that player
will be a key component in a fantasy championship run.
Catch rate - The importance of aDOR (or any
other analytic that measures roughly how deep a pass-catcher runs
routes) to catch rate was discussed in the receiver piece. A tight
end can get away with a lower catch rate and still be good for
fantasy purposes so long as he provides so bang for the buck downfield
and/or is a primary option in the red zone. With that said, a
high catch rate is going to lead to more fantasy consistency.
As a search of the catch rate column reveals, most of the back-end
performances above are from tight ends with a catch rate in the
high 50s or low 60s. While one can't exactly predict catch rate
with any consistency per se from one year to the next, players
rarely drop 10 percent in one direction or the other. The accuracy
of the quarterback he plays with is a huge deal, so if fantasy
owners can confidently check that box and his drop numbers have
consistently remained low, the odds are strong he'll be in the
mid-to-high 60s in catch rate.
aDOR (Average Depth of Reception) - Howard's
odd 2018 season has already been referenced, but it highlights
just how important it can be finding a tight end capable of getting
downfield. Davis and Howard both made the list despite a ridiculously
low number of targets, while six (54.5 percent) of the highest
aDOR entries above finished among the top 11 fantasy performances
in this group. It helps that Kelce is responsible for three of
them, but that doesn't change the fact that a player like Davis
or Howard will typically have a chance to be more valuable than
a player like Witten in fantasy for the same reason deep threats
at wideout have more upside than mid-range short-area options.
Approximate baselines for receivers to approach potential
Short-area tight ends (aDOR of less than 7.5):
70 receptions, 720 receiving yards and five receiving TDs
Intermediate tight ends (aDOR of 7.5 to 9.5):
60 receptions, 680 total yards and six total TDs
Deep tight ends (aDOR of 9.5 or higher): 55
receptions, 700 total yards, seven total TDs
Doug Orth has written for FF Today
since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football
Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long,
pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13
and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio
shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.