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Four Reasons to Temper Your Enthusiasm for Richard Rodgers

 

In last week’s Rundown, I referred to Richard Rodgers as an “under the radar premium prospect.” My thinking at the time had been influenced by not one, but two fine articles by Matthew Freedman. But after digging in a bit more, I’m having some doubts.

I should say first that Freedman’s articles are compelling work, and you should read them for a persuasive take on the value of Rodgers.1 OK, now for the doubts.

Composite Rankings

During draft season, Team RotoViz did composite rankings for the main fantasy positions, including tight end. Rodgers was our 12th ranked rookie TE, trailing the likes of Crockett Gillmore, Joe Don Duncan, and Arthur Lynch. Collectively, we liked Colt Lyerla better as a pure prospect, ranking him seventh. Prior to the draft, evaluated as just prospects, we considered Rodgers essentially undraftable for fantasy formats.

Predictive Metrics

Over the offseason, Jon Moore unveiled two powerful metrics. The first was the Phenom Index. Based on this measure, Rodgers scores  a 0.99 on a scale where “1” represents average. So, he’s average. To be fair, that’s much better than presumptive starter Andrew Quarless (no numbers available for Lyerla or Bostick), but it’s still just an average score. Players with similar scores: Jeron Mastrud, Anthony Fasano, Nick Kasa, Dustin Keller.

The second new metric Moore created is specifically for TEs: weight adjusted agility. On this metric, Rodgers also scores a 0.99, where “1” represents average. Players with similar scores? Arthur Lynch, Michael Hoomanawanui, Ben Patrick, and Dion Sims. The point here is that Rodgers doesn’t profile as exceptional.

Green Bay Offense

From the first two sections of this article we can conclude that there isn’t really a player-specific reason to like Rodgers. He’s an average TE prospect. But the fact that Green Bay selected him with a relatively premium draft pick certainly counts for something. Ultimately I think that’s the single biggest argument in Rodgers’ favor. But is the Green Bay offense a great situation for a rookie TE?

I wrote earlier about just how seldom usable fantasy seasons are produced by rookie TEs. In that same article I noted Green Bay’s middle-of-the-pack usage of the TE position. For this article, I dug a little deeper.

For reference, know that Jermichael Finley scores a 1.7 on the Phenom Index, significantly higher than Rodgers. Finley has been the main TE in Green Bay for several years (when healthy), and it’s his role that is up for grabs. From 2009 to 2013, here’s how the Packers as a team, and Finley specifically, ranked in the NFL in terms of TE usage.2

Player Rec Rank Yds Rank TD Rank Fantasy Points Rank (Std)
Packers 22 19 15 18
Finley 28 24 25 22

Alrighty then. Nothing special. This doesn’t appear to be a premium, high value position in the Packers’ offense. But to adjust a bit for Finley’s various injuries, let’s look at things on a per-snap basis. These figures are for the past two seasons only, and show where the Packers as a team and Finley specifically ranked in terms of TE utilization.3

Player Snap  % Rank Tgt % Rank Rec % Rank Point % Rank
Packers 32 24 21 18
Finley 38 11 5 7

At first glance, this looks more hopeful, at least in the case of the specific TE being replaced. On a per-snap basis since 2012, Finley ranks fifth among TEs in reception percentage,4 and seventh in point percentage. But Finley ranked 38th among TEs in percentage of team snaps played. That’s just in games he appeared in, so the penalty for missed games is greatly reduced. As a team, the Packers were last in percentage of plays using a TE. It seems like a stretch to expect Rodgers, an inferior prospect, to outproduce Finley’s numbers.

It could be argued that the addition of a “great” TE would lead the Packers to utilize the position more, but that presupposes Rodgers (or Lyerla) is a “great” prospect, which he isn’t. That argument also ignores the fact that in order to tip the Packers’ offense toward the TE position, the TE would need to represent a better target than any given wide receiver. Since the Packers have the elite Jordy Nelson,5 the better-than-you-think-he-is Randall Cobb, and a trio of young sexy rookie wideouts, that seems unlikely.

Streaming, Late Round TE, and Positional Cost

This concept should be familiar enough that I don’t need to include a lot of links and explanation. Basically, TE production outside of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski is eminently replaceable. Thus the popularity of “streaming” TEs, drafting TEs late in drafts, etc. Even in dynasty start ups, you can get plenty of TEs that are veteran starters or high upside young players well after round 10.

Conclusion

Rodgers is an average prospect on a team that doesn’t feature the position, at a position that is easily replaceable and historically produces very little in year one. If you have a really deep bench and want to take a waiver wire flyer on him I think that’s fine. But I wouldn’t spend very much on him right now.

  1. For the record, the last time I took the opposite stance as The Oracle, I said Philip Rivers was toast, he said he’d have a solid year.  (back)
  2. Data from Fantasy Data.  (back)
  3. Data from Fantasy Data.  (back)
  4. e.g. percent of snaps where player recorded a reception  (back)
  5. With whom they’re supposedly working on an extension.  (back)

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