Let’s get this post kicked off the right way, and when I say right way, I mean I’m going to piss in your Cheerios. I have to do it because you (and when I say you, I really mean we) get too caught up in every rookie class and you lose all historical perspective. This can be illustrated fairly easily by looking at new Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert and comparing him to a mystery tight end. This is my favorite gimmick right now if you haven’t guessed. Anyway, let’s compare these two tight ends on some simple measurables when they were just prospects.
|Weight||40 Time||Overall Draft Spot||Receiving Yards/G Final College Season||TDs/G Final Season|
|Mystery Man A||261||4.66||21.00||67.86||1.00|
Call me crazy but Tyler Eifer actually looks like an inferior prospect compared to Mystery Man A, or MMA as I like to call him. There are two stats that are statistically significant in predicting tight end fantasy scoring (which is highly correlated to real football value in my opinion) and they are 40 time and receiving yards per game in college. The two prospects are basically tied on one measure and Eifert is behind by 10 yards/game on the other. I’m sure you’ve guess by now (because I’m extremely predictable) that Jermaine Gresham is MMA. They went off at the same overall pick in their respective drafts, Gresham is bigger, just as fast and averaged more yards/game receiving in college. Also, Gresham eats Eifert’s lunch in terms of ability to produce touchdowns (in college).
The interesting thing is that Eifert’s lack of touchdowns isn’t due to lack of opportunity. He was targeted a total of 49 times during his college career from inside the opponent’s 25 yard line. He turned 7 of those targets into touchdowns. On average Eifert picked up about half of the yards to go in those situations. By contrast, Gresham was targeted just 39 times during his college career in similar situations. He turned 20 of those targets into touchdowns. He also gained more than the yards required for either a first down or a score. So whereas Eifert usually picked up half of the yards to go, Gresham picked up more than the yards required for a first down or a score (on average).
None of this is to say that Eifert couldn’t be a better pro than Gresham has been, although from a probability standpoint I would argue the odds are slightly against it. This is simply to say that as prospects, Gresham was probably the superior prospect. The NFL talent evaluators saw them as being of similar relative value in their respective draft classes, and a simple regression would give the nod to Gresham. To be fair to Eifert, Gresham also had Sam Bradford throwing to him when Bradford was lighting up Big12 defenses at a record pace. In fact, the QB difference shows up if we look at Market Share production. Eifert’s 4 touchdowns actually tied for the lead among ND pass catchers this year and were 33% of the passing TD total for ND. However, Eifert’s TD rate inside the opponent’s 25 yard line is still below average even among ND pass catchers during the time that he played in South Bend.
It’s true that Gresham’s performance to date impacts his odds when compared to Eifert, but the problem is that Gresham has only been disappointing relative to the high expectations for him. He hasn’t actually been bad. So the argument that goes something like “It doesn’t matter if their outlook as prospects was similar, we already know that Gresham isn’t the guy.” doesn’t actually hold water. To give you a sense as to how not-bad Gresham has been, he averaged a full 2 yards/target more than Aaron Hernardez did last year. Gresham was also above average on my fantasy scoring efficiency metric FPOP, while AHern was below average on that measure.
My point is not that Jermaine Gresham is good or Eifert is bad (remember I think they’re probably pretty similar prospects). My only point here is to look at Eifert with some sense as to the historical expectation of a prospect of his caliber. I think the most likely scenario is that CIN took Eifert with an eye towards either playing both guys, or as a hedge on Gresham. With that in mind, the optimal outcome for Eifert dynasty owners is that he ends up outplaying Gresham and the Bengals decide at the same time to bail on Gresham. But optimal and most likely aren’t the same thing. The highest probability outcome I think is that both guys end up killing the other’s fantasy value. I would probably maintain that outlook until at least 2015 when Gresham becomes an unrestricted free agent.