This is part of a series that identifies key traits of the best/worst picks of 2015, and finds three candidates to be this year’s version of those players.
What was Jordan Reed last season?
But what was he a year ago, before we knew that? What were the key descriptors one would have used to describe Reed last June?
- Accomplished receiver
- On a competent passing offense with limited receiving options
- On a team consistently expected to be in negative game scripts
- Late average draft position (15.01 or 169th overall for all 2015 MFL10s)
Which tight ends with depressed, late round average draft positions closely fit that description this year?
Tight end is the position that seems to have the greatest disconnect between fantasy relevancy and being good at the position in a real-life football sense. We see this as evidenced by Jason Witten and Heath Miller being TE10 and TE16 last year in final fantasy standings, despite both being in the top four league-wide for the percentage of offensive team snaps played by a tight end.
Compare that to running back, where eight of the top ten leaders in percentage of team offensive snaps all finished in the top fourteen overall fantasy scorers for the position. The only exceptions were LeSean McCoy (RB19) and T.J. Yeldon (RB27), who each only played in twelve games. For wide receivers, seven of the top ten in team offensive snaps finished in the top twelve fantasy scorers at the position. The only exceptions were Randall Cobb (WR25), James Jones (WR30), and Rueben Randle (WR32). Additionally, the top four wide receivers in snap percentage all finished within the top six in fantasy points.
For this reason, it’s important to identify tight ends that are used in the passing game, as the position entails quite a bit more than receiving.
While the Vikings were dead last in passing attempts last season, Kyle Rudolph had a team target market share of 16.1 percent, startlingly higher than the league median 12.2 percent for primary tight ends. If we compare Rudolph entering this season to Reed entering last season, we see someone who has done more per target, and has far more experience both in targets, and games played:
|Player||Age Week 1||Career FPS/Target||Career Targets||Career Games||Career Tgt/Gm|
The low number of team attempts is worrisome, and likely limits Rudolph’s ceiling, however, the fact he was 11th league-wide for tight ends in market share is quite a bit more promising than his being 22nd overall in tight end targets.
COMPETENT PASSING OFFENSE WITH RECEIVER DEARTH
What the Vikings lacked in passing volume they seemed to compensate for in offensive efficiency, as they finished with the 16th most points scored, running fewer plays than any team in the top fifteen, except for Kansas City. They were one of only five teams to have 18 or more rushing touchdowns, despite having only fourteen passing touchdowns. The other four teams with that many rushing touchdowns all had at least 20 passing touchdowns, and their 27.25 passing touchdown average nearly doubled the Vikings. Rudolph also has the second most career targets of anyone from Teddy Bridgewater, only six shy of leader Jarius Wright.
With one of the only four players to receive at least 40 targets on Minnesota last year, Mike Wallace, departing to Baltimore, it doesn’t seem likely that Rudolph’s target share will decline, even with the presence of rookie Laquon Treadwell. Minnesota’s passing volume, and touchdown distribution, is unlikely to stay so drastically anomalous, implying greater output and volume for Rudolph.
While there are reports out there confirming that Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson are in fact still alive (who knew?), this team’s wide receiver depth chart is beyond underwhelming. Treadwell certainly has the draft pedigree to start right away, but his extremely young age suggests he won’t be a major factor in his rookie season. Rudolph, meanwhile, is at the beginning of the age range where tight ends can be expected to peak:
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner is also not known for having offenses with such low pass volume or output, and Adrian Peterson‘s stranglehold on the play calling should begin to ease in his age-31 season:
|Year||Team||League Rank Rush Attempts||League Rank Pass Attempts|
EXPECTED NEGATIVE GAME SCRIPTS
This one actually doesn’t apply to Rudolph, as Mike Zimmer’s Vikings are dominant on the defensive side of the ball. After allowing the fifth fewest points in the league last season, Minnesota is one of only ten teams with a Vegas Win Total of at least nine games. One thing that could lead to a need to pass more this season, other than Father Time’s ever closer meeting with Peterson, is the Vikings’ schedule.
Having won the division last year, the first time anyone other than Green Bay has done so since 2010, Minnesota will now have to face the other division winners from their conference, Carolina, Arizona, and Washington. The Panthers and Cardinals won’t likely offer game flows where the Vikings can comfortably go run-heavy. This is supported by Bridgewater throwing 36 attempts against the Cardinals last year, one of only three games where he threw at least 35 times. The other two times he threw that many attempts were against division rivals Green Bay and Detroit.
Detroit, along with Washington, is on the other end of the spectrum, with their other division rival Chicago, and their 2016 cross-conference opponents in the AFC South. The Redskins, Bears, Lions, Jaguars, Colts, and Titans were all in the bottom thirteen for points allowed last season, and make up half of the Vikings’ schedule.
16.02 or 182nd overall, TE27
Jared Cook has moved onto Green Bay in free agency, and the only tight ends the Rams drafted were scumbag Tyler Higbee, and something named Temarrick Hemingway, which sounds like a white collar villain in a Jason Statham movie. Miraculously we have actually written a few sentences about him on this website, which you can find in Ben Gretch’s draft recap of the NFC West.
That leaves the 47th overall pick in the 2011 Draft, the second tight end off the board that year after Rudolph at pick 43. Lance Kendricks actually outperformed Cook across the board last year in, what we’ll generously call the Rams offense:
|Player||Jared Cook||Lance Kendricks|
|PPR Fantasy Points||87.1||61.5|
COMPETENT PASSING OFFENSE WITH RECEIVER DEARTH
This… might be difficult. The Rams were third-worst in both pass attempts and net yards per attempt last season, while coming in dead last in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. Trading a bounty to move up to the number one overall pick for quarterback Jared Goff probably won’t dramatically change that, at least this year. However, there is reason to believe that they at least have the potential to be more competent.
Todd Gurley should be able to cement the run game more comfortably in his second season, opening up the ability to throw, and do so more efficiently. With six of seven leaders in team targets back this season, the team should be able to make up some of the 700 yards and ten passing touchdowns they were shy of Fisher’s three year averages in St. Louis, prior to last season.
While the addition of rookies Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas may be seen as a threat to absorb targets, it’s unlikely to be significant this season. Additionally, along with Cook’s departure, Stedman Bailey and Wes Welker have vacated another 47 targets, and the 22 that went to Bradley Marquez probably aren’t too hotly contested, either.
It’s not that hard to envision Kendricks taking on a larger role, as he played 570 offensive snaps last season compared to Cook’s 673. The Rams tight ends actually played the highest percentage of team offensive snaps for any two teammates, finishing 13th and 23rd overall in that category league-wide. No one sober believes Jeff Fisher’s no-doubt-drug-induced ramblings about Tavon Austin catching one hundred passes, which leaves just the ever quixotic duo of Kenny Britt and Brian Quick.
If Kendricks had absorbed Cooks’ 75 vacated targets, along with his 36, that resulting 111 total targets would have been sixth among all tight ends last season. If he maintained his fantasy points per target rate of 1.71, the resulting 189.8 would have made him the overall fantasy TE8 last season (Travis Kelce).
EXPECTED NEGATIVE GAME SCRIPTS
Did I mention that this team is expected to start a rookie quarterback, and their coach thinks Tavon Austin is catching one hundred passes? Las Vegas is expecting another classic 8-8 display from the NFL’s C student, Jeff Fisher; perennially right in the meaty part of the curve, not showing off, and not falling behind. Surprisingly, that’s actually generous given Fisher’s four year exercise in mediocrity has thus produced fewer than seven wins per season:
32 passing attempts per game in contests where they’re consistently allowing 21 points and losing should hopefully provide enough volume for Kendricks to be viable.
Kendricks is not currently being drafted often enough to register an ADP. The lowest ADP being registered for a tight end is Richard Rodgers, 20.06 or 234th overall, TE31.
In four games Martellus Bennett missed last season, the Bears Zach Miller was downright awesome.
That pace of 216 fantasy points would have been good enough for the overall TE6 last year (Tyler Eifert). It’s pretty crazy to think about Miller only having 60 career targets entering the season, and having not stepped foot on an NFL field since 2011. While someone born in 1984 who was a sixth round pick in 2009 doesn’t seem like any kind of lock to be a starter, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched when you look at the Bears tight end depth chart left over after Bennett was traded to New England for an over the pants handy.
Former super sleeper Rob Housler is used to losing out on work to a resurgent old man, after Gary Barnidge kept him on the bench in Cleveland all last season. Khari Lee was acquired from the Texans for a sixth round pick, Tony Moeaki was picked up in free agency, and raw undrafted free agent Ben Braunecker, despite splashing in some headlines, is still questionable to make the roster.
COMPETENT PASSING OFFENSE WITH RECEIVER DEARTH
Jay Cutler thinks it’s hilarious you don’t think he’s good at football.
Since joining the Bears in 2009, Cutler has been 13th in the league in passing yards, 12th in passing touchdowns, and 11th in touchdowns per passing attempt. This in spite of a bizarre string of disconnected, random injuries, and team controversy, resulting in Cutler having not played in all 16 games since his first season in Chicago. Additionally, he still managed to throw for at least 19 touchdowns in five of those six shortened seasons, and pass for over three thousand yards in four of them, including a QB1 campaign as recently as 2014.
If you parse out just the games played with Alshon Jeffery, you see a Cutler that should continue to provide ample yards and touchdowns:
Other than Jeffery, the competition on this team for targets is a 24 year old that has never played a snap, a guy with a currently broken foot, and a guy who was arguably the worst wide receiver in all of football last year.
EXPECTED NEGATIVE GAME SCRIPTS
The Bears Vegas Win Total is a division-worst 6.5 games, fewer than every team in the league other than Cleveland, San Francisco, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. As mentioned earlier, both the Packers and Vikings are top ten in Vegas Win Totals, which won’t make things easy on
Unitas Cutler. Expect similar scripts to last season when Chicago was routinely losing and passing heavily, especially in the wake of Matt Forte‘s ouster, and the young Jordan Howard being the only notable rookie or free agent acquisition at running back.
12.06 or 138th overall, TE18
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins has the draft pedigree, the experience, the situation, and pretty much everything else working in his favor. That is, other than being some kind of asshole that might get released at any minute. If he’s falling in drafts I’m happily taking him, but should he find himself benched or released/traded into a worse situation, he becomes a toxic draft pick, especially if you’re only rostering two tight ends. I don’t think the odds of that are high enough, however, to begin rostering Cameron Brate in this format, at least just yet.
- New Dolphins head coach Adam Gase’s reputation for peppering his tight ends didn’t skip a beat last season, as Bennett and Miller were both heavily featured in the offense. Jordan Cameron was really good, for about three games, what seems like a decade ago, but was a total liability last year. Absorbing only 11.9 percent of team targets despite playing all 16 games, on a Dolphins team that threw the ball almost 600 times, Cameron’s abysmalness resulted in a season as the overall TE27, and a win rate of only 5.3 percent. That’s worse than guys who barely played like Housler, Josh Hill, Greg Jennings, Josh Robinson, Jonas Gr– I can’t, I can’t keep going, this is too upsetting. The odds Dion Sims gets that role and produces relevantly don’t appear high enough to draft him in this format. If one of these two were to get injured in camp or the preseason, we could be onto something, similar to how Niles Paul needed to get injured to create Reed’s opportunity last year.
- R. Rodgers managed eight touchdowns last year on only 85 targets, and his new teammate Cook, in addition to being awful last season, is currently sidelined following foot surgery. Cook is still expected to start over Rodgers, however, making the situation too murky to invest in at the moment, other than perhaps a late-dart third tight end.
- Charles Kleinheksel breaks down the situation with highly drafted Jets tight end Jace Amaro in this piece. Other than his stiff competition from teammates both for targets and touchdowns, I have a real concern about who the quarterback will be for that team. Not to say that Geno Smith couldn’t provide a viable situation for Amaro, I’m just wary investing in something with so many question marks. That being said, I have been drafting Amaro very late when looking for a third tight end, and I’m holding him on Dynasty teams where I can get him for free or as a trade throw-in.
- You may have missed it last year, but Jacob Tamme actually finished as the overall TE14, and was 13th league-wide in tight end targets. While Atlanta fits the mold of competent passing offense with receiver dearth, and the expectation of consistently negative scripts, it’s entirely possible rookie Austin Hooper starts over him, or at least challenges him for snaps.
- Of everyone mentioned in this article, I actually have the heaviest exposure to Clive Walford. Oakland threw the ball over 600 times last season, and their fifth-best 34 passing touchdowns were only two shy of league-leading New England. While I believe Walford will have the reigns taken off in his sophomore season, the fact he only outsnapped Mychal Rivera 439 to 401 last year, and only outtargeted him 50 to 46, concerns me, as the latter is still on the roster. Even more bizarre and somewhat troublesome is the leader in tight end snaps for Oakland last year was a guy I’m not sure most Raiders fans have ever heard of, named Lee Smith.
- Almost everything that is true about Rudolph can be said for Charles Clay. Clay had a higher market share, on a team that passed more, with the same effiency as, and finished the season fewer than seven points shy of, Rudolph. The issue for me is something I discussed regarding Robert Woods, and that’s the awful curse that is Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman. I also firmly believe either Bills starting wide receiver, and as many as three of their running backs, would start, or at least carve out a significant role, on Minnesota’s offense.
- Larry Donnell is probably the Giants starter. It probably should be Will Tye. Similar to Miami and Green Bay, it would be a lot easier if one of them would remove themself from the situation, as the Giants fit the mold perfectly of a high volume, successful passing offense, saddled to a terrible defense, with limited options at both wide receiver and running back.
The other installments in this series can be found at the following links:
- The percentage of teams rostering any one player that won an MFL10 league. (back)