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Elite TEs Are Alive and Well In Best Ball

With the 2018 MFL10 of Death ongoing, I’m examining the tactics that provide the best opportunity to win this season. Should owners target the elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce

During last year’s festivities, I selected Kelce at 3.08 and Greg Olsen at 4.05. Kelce went on to lead the position in scoring, and my team scored 265 points at the position, well above our league average of 218 even though Olsen was injured early and only scored 41 points.

The early TE approach was part of a pure Zero RB draft where I didn’t select an RB before Round 10 and won the league due to the exploits of Kareem Hunt. But did the early TE approach help or hurt? Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is to make a tactical blunder, win anyway, and then continue to make the same mistake going forward, usually with far less favorable results.1

Examining the win rates from Mike Beers’ excellent look at what won MFL10s in 2017, we don’t see the gaudy win rates at the TE position that are evident for the top players at RB and WR. These win rates might lead you to steer clear of the top TEs, but the answer isn’t quite that simple.

Here’s a little more context:

  • Last season Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both had win rates above 20 percent. Every other player with an ADP inside the top 20 was below 10 percent and a whopping 13 were below 7.0 percent. This gives a sense of the points necessary for top picks to differentiate themselves when the expected points are already high.
  • Rob Gronkowski, the No. 1 TE with an overall ADP of 20.9, had a win rate of 11.9 percent. Travis Kelce (No. 2/33.3) had a win rate of 11.2 percent. While the ADP range between 20 and 40 was better in terms of win rate, only seven players were above 10 percent. Gronk and Kelce had the third- and fourth-best win rates in this group, well behind Todd Gurley (ADP 20.7) and DeAndre Hopkins.
  • Win rates at TE in the top 100 picks largely depended upon lack of injury. Six of the 10 TEs in this range had win rates above 10 percent, and three of the four misses were Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, and Tyler Eifert.2 By contrast, only three of the 19 TEs drafted between 100 and 200 had a win rate above 10 percent, and none were better than Gronkowski.3

Just knowing that Gronkowski and Kelce ranked No. 6 and 7 in win rate among the players with top-40 ADPs probably turns you around a little, but there is more.

While 10 double-digit RBs and TEs won at a rate of 13 percent or better, zero double-digit TEs managed this. Three double-digit RBs4 and a one WR5 were true league-winners at 15 percent or better. So while it’s true that using an early pick at TE costs you a potentially crucial pick at RB or WR, selecting a TE late costs you a shot at a breakout player.

And not only does it cost you one shot, due to the way point expectations drop at TE – and what that means for roster construction – waiting on TE will cost you two shots.

We can see how the ADP of your TE selections informs roster construction by going back to the fantastic research from Mike Beers on how to deal with the onesie positions.

TE Decision Tree

Of course, these results may not continue on into the future. David Njoku, George Kittle, and O.J. Howard could all break out in 2018, or Mike Gesicki could be the rare rookie to return big value. But these trends have been in place for a while. In 2016, the Monte Carlo simulation from A.J. Bessette and Greg Meade suggested an early TE. In fact, it suggested two in the first four rounds if you were drafting outside the first four picks. In their 2014 sim, the selection of Gronkowski in Round 2 was considered the best pick in the entire draft.

While these results don’t show that you have to take a TE early, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Gronk, Kelce, or Ertz if you don’t like the early value at a different position.

  1. This naturally raises the question about Zero RB itself, but I’ve finished 1-2-1 in the MFL10 of Death over the last three seasons, using Zero RB in all three. We’ll look at that topic in more detail in the future.  (back)
  2. The other was Hunter Henry, who posted eight double-digit games but missed two contests and failed to completely break out.  (back)
  3. Jason Witten tied him at 11.9 percent.  (back)
  4. Hunt, Alvin Kamara, and Chris Thompson, all three of whom were featured on our Zero RB target list.  (back)
  5. Adam Thielen, one of the top targets in our air yards projections.  (back)
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