You’re Fired: Annual Tight End Consistency and Turnover
TE Projections

In real life, I sometimes have to hire – or fire – people. It’s not personal, it’s business. To keep track of the comings and goings, our corporate HR department tracks annual employee turnover using a simple formula:

Separations / Total Positions = Turnover Rate

I thought I’d apply the same formula to dynasty fantasy football to see which positions are the most stable. Up next: Tight Ends. See the first installment in this series for more background.

Tight End Turnover1

TE1 N of new TEs  Turnover Rate Repeat Pct
2010-2011 5 41.7% 58.3%
2011-2012 8 66.7% 33.3%
2012-2013 7 58.3% 41.7%
2013-2014 5 41.7% 58.3%
Average 6.25 52.1% 47.9%

The top 12 tight ends aren’t much more consistent than running backs or wide receivers. But a lot of consistency can be found concentrated at the top. Twelve of the fifteen top-three finishes over the past five seasons come from just five players: Jimmy Graham (4), Antonio Gates (2), Jason Witten (2), Rob Gronkowski (2), and Vernon Davis (2).

Conversely, 31 different players comprise the remaining 45 top-12 finishes. Even there however, there are pockets of consistency: Greg Olsen, Tony Gonzalez, and Martellus Bennett each have three top-12 finishes.

The Most Consistent2

Player N of Top 12 Seasons Pct Top 12 Seasons Startup ADP
Jason Witten 5 100% 19
Tony Gonzalez 4 100% 51
Rob Gronkowski 4 80% 1
Jimmy Graham 4 80% 2
Antonio Gates 4 80% 20
Greg Olsen 3 60% 5
Martellus Bennett 3 60% 7
Vernon Davis 3 60% 27
Travis Kelce 1 50% 3
Julius Thomas 2 50% 4
Larry Donnell 1 50% 23
Kellen Winslow 2 50% 51
Marcedes Lewis 1 50% 51
Delanie Walker 2 40% 18
Heath Miller 2 40% 32
Brandon Pettigrew 2 40% 51
Coby Fleener 1 33% 16
Aaron Hernandez 1 33% 51
Chris Cooley 1 33% 51
Jordan Cameron 1 25% 9
Kyle Rudolph 1 25% 15
Charles Clay 1 25% 24
Dustin Keller 1 25% 51
Jermichael Finley 1 25% 51
Owen Daniels 1 20% 25
Jared Cook 1 20% 30
Dennis Pitta 1 20% 41
Jacob Tamme 1 20% 44
Jermaine Gresham 1 20% 48
Ben Watson 1 20% 51
Brandon Myers 1 20% 51
Brent Celek 1 20% 51
Zach Miller 1 20% 51
Zach Ertz 0 0% 6
Austin Seferian-Jenkins 0 0% 8
Eric Ebron 0 0% 10
Tyler Eifert 0 0% 11
Maxx Williams 0 0% 12
Josh Hill 0 0% 13
Dwayne Allen 0 0% 14
Ladarius Green 0 0% 17
Jace Amaro 0 0% 21
Jordan Reed 0 0% 22

I included several TEs who don’t even have a top-12 finish. For some reason, TE seems to be the position where we make investments based on hope for the future rather than current production. Probably this relates to the dearth of top end performers and the natural (but perhaps expoitable) dynasty bias for younger players.

Consider Zach Ertz. Entering his third season, he’s the number six TE drafted in dynasty start ups. But so far he’s been a lot of “potential” but not a lot of “production.” Consider:3

Player From To G GS Tgt Rec Yds ▾ Y/R TD Y/G FP FPG
Brandon Pettigrew 2009 2010 27 27 165 101 1068 10.57 6 39.6 243.8 9.0
Zach Ertz 2013 2014 32 8 146 94 1171 12.46 7 36.6 253.1 7.9

Despite playing in more games and being in CHIP KELLY’S OFFENSE, Ertz is not quite on the same fantasy pace as Brandon Pettigrew was to start his career. Hmm.

I’m not trying to pick on Ertz; Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Eric Ebron are close behind him in positional ADP and have likewise not done much. But given that roughly half the top-12 TEs turnover each year, how valuable is it to chase potential?

Here’s another fun one.

Player G GS Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD R/G Y/G FP FPG
Tyler Eifert 16 16 63 42 482 11.5 2 2.6 30.1 102.2 6.4
Jordan Reed 20 6 124 95 964 10.1 3 4.8 48.2 209.4 10.5

Jordan Reed’s injury issues are well known…but so are Tyler Eifert’s. Should Eifert really be taken 11 spots ahead of Reed in positional ADP?

What seems exploitable to me are three things.

  • First, how old is old? I mean, Greg Olsen, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates are old, but prior to Gates’ suspension, were there any red flags other than age? One or two more years of top-12 performance would be in line with expectations for the position as a whole – but with the benefit of having been there, done that. More than a year or two of tier one production would be a bonus.
  • Second, the aforementioned injury discount. Yes, Reed has many red flags. Yes, he’s also super cheap, and has demonstrated more upside than many TEs going ahead of him.
  • Third, late bloomers and unsexy names. Delanie Walker? Come on down. Who cares that he didn’t break out until he went to Tennessee. He did, and now probably gets a better QB than he had the past two seasons. Ditto Larry Donnell. Then there’s Coby Fleener and Dwayne Alen. Allen had a better than expected rookie season, while Fleener had what was perceived to be a poor showing. But consider their career numbers:
Player G GS Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD R/G Y/G FP FPG
Allen 30 30 118 75 936 12.5 12 2.5 31.2 240.6 8.0
Fleener 44 34 227 129 1663 12.9 14 2.9 37.8 379.3 8.6

Allen’s been a better touchdown scorer, but Fleener has been able to stay healthier, slightly more productive, and is cheaper.

In general, TE ADPs are lower than those for QB and WR, and most RBs. Unless you have Gronk or Graham (although Graham probably helps Seattle more than Seattle helps him), very few TEs will be consistent week-winners. So I think it makes sense to think of TEs almost in a redraft sense; to be willing to “stream” them from season to season, without getting too hung up on narratives like “aging” and “promise.” In a similar manner, I like to acquire TEs as pieces in other trades; often you can get serviceable production from players other owners are willing to discard.

Find me on G+

  1. Not a porno.  (back)
  2. “51” denotes players without a current startup ADP.  (back)
  3. From Pro Football Reference.  (back)
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