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Seth DeValve Rising: The Cheap Alternative to David Njoku?

As fantasy players, we spend the offseason under a constant barrage of news. Under assault from stories, anecdotes, rumors, soundbites, coachspeak, and hot takes, it’s difficult for even the most diligent analyst to sort out the useful information from the meaningless noise for every player. In this series, I’ll take a look at some recent news items and try to determine if they’re meaningful, or just more noise that needs to be filtered out.

Seth DeValve to Have a Significant Role

SethDeValveBlurb

Seth DeValve has been the forgotten man in the Cleveland tight end room this offseason. Writers here at the ‘Viz have had a crush on DeValve ever since the Browns drafted him last year and have already pointed out that he might be getting overlooked going into the 2017 season.

DeValve suffered an injury early last year and was worked into the offense slowly behind veteran Gary Barnidge, so we haven’t seen a lot of what he can do at the professional level. As a prospect though, DeValve was athletic and reasonably productive,1 despite missing time in his final two college seasons.

I’m as excited as anyone about David Njoku, but history tells us that rookie TEs rarely produce fantasy success in their first season. Njoku isn’t just an average rookie either, he’s one of the youngest rookie TEs in the past couple decades. Using the Rotoviz Screener to filter for TEs who played at age 21,2 we see there’s not much precedent for fantasy success:

PLAYERSEASDRAFTreTRGSreRECSreYDSPPR
Aaron Hernandez20101136445563142
Rob Gronkowski2010425942546156.6
Jason Witten200369543534775.7
Maxx Williams201555483226864.8
Eric Ebron201410472524855.8
Martellus Bennett200861272028372.3
Todd Heap200131231620642.6
Jermichael Finley2008911267419.4
Jesse James20151601185619.6
Kellen Winslow200461155010
Orson Charles201211610810118.1
Brandon Manumaleuna20011291117.1

My Verdict: News

The Browns averaged 121 targets to TEs over the past two seasons, and the departed Barnidge accounted for the vast majority of those. Even if Njoku manages to accumulate 50 to 60 targets – the high end of what his fellow 21-year-olds were able to achieve – there will be plenty left over for DeValve. If Njoku is eased into action, then DeValve might optimistically get closer to 70 targets.

Njoku is superior to Maxx Williams as a prospect, but this situation reminds me a lot of the 2015 Ravens. Dennis Pitta was out for the year, Williams was the hot rookie draft pick, and Crockett Gillmore was the boring sophomore.  In the games where both played, the target distribution was heavily in Gillmore’s favor:

Maxx Williams Crockett Gillmore
Week Tgt Rec Yds TD Tgt Rec Yds TD
1 2 1 15 0 4 2 23 0
2 1 1 8 0 6 5 88 2
3 7 3 44 0 3 3 40 0
6 4 4 24 0 6 3 30 0
8 0 0 0 0 4 2 8 1
9 4 4 40 1 4 4 42 1
10 4 3 20 0 8 5 101 0
11 0 0 0 0 4 3 20 0
Total 22 16 151 1 39 27 352 4

Actionability

It’s difficult to project DeValve for anything more than TE2 upside so he’s not a target in redraft leagues, but he makes for a solid arbitrage play on Njoku in best-ball formats, with a legitimate chance to outproduce the rookie:

DevalvevsNjokuADP

Deshone Kizer a Better Bet Than Cody Kessler to Start

Whether it will be Cody Kessler or DeShone Kizer throwing the ball to DeValve is still an open question. This blurb is credited to Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal who goes on to state that,

Kizer has the prototypical size and arm strength Jackson wants his starter to possess, not Kessler, who went 0-8 as a starter last season and failed to satisfy Jackson’s desire for a consistent deep-ball threat.

Mary Kay Cabot, another Browns beat reporter, echoed many of the same sentiments about Kizer’s progress later that same day, though she stopped short of predicting him as the starter.

Kizer is a solid prospect who fared well in RotoDoc’s QB success model, especially considering he was drafted outside of the first round. He’s being treated in camp as if he has a legitimate shot to start and receiving a fair share of reps with the first team. However, there are reasons to be skeptical that he will be able to immediately translate his college success into NFL success.

Kessler also performed well in the QB success model,3 and in fact already achieved the model’s success criteria.4 RotoViz has been high on Kessler as an undervalued asset since he entered the league, and he quietly had an extremely efficient rookie year. Kessler begins camp as the starter and it appears to be his job to lose.

My Verdict: Noise

This situation has all the makings of a legitimate quarterback competition. Looking good in practice is one thing, but it remains to be seen how Kizer will perform in actual games. We already know Kessler can hold his own against NFL defenses, albeit in a small sample.

It’s entirely possible that the Browns want Kizer to step up and definitively claim the number one job, but would they just hand it to him if he’s outplayed by Kessler in the preseason? A recent example of this is the 2016 Denver Broncos, where Paxton Lynch, a prospect with higher draft capital than Kizer, was unable to beat out Trevor Siemian, a QB who did not play as well as Kessler.

It’s fair to have a strong opinion about whether Kizer or Kessler will win the job this year, but we’ll likely need to wait to see how they perform in preseason games to get any real clarity. Ignore the rumors unless something more definitive comes out.

Actionability

Neither player should be drafted in standard leagues. In best-ball, superflex, and 2QB leagues though, one or both of these guys will be owned. Oddly, Kessler is on average more expensive than Kizer when he’s drafted, but he’s also not being drafted as often as Kizer overall.

KizervsKesslerADP

I personally prefer Kessler since he’s already succeeded at the NFL level, and he’s cheaper when we take into account all the times he isn’t even being drafted. However, this is a close one, and I think either player makes sense as a late dart-throw. The correct play is probably to take whichever one is cheaper in your particular draft and hope that he is able to win the job.

  1. 18 percent market share of yards as a 20-year-old.  (back)
  2. Since the year 2000.  (back)
  3. 46.3 percent to Kizer’s 39.2 percent.  (back)
  4. Success is defined as a season with eight or more games played with an AYA greater than 7.0.  (back)

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