Welcome to the 56th installment of The Wrong Read. Quarterback and tight end are the forgotten positions in fantasy, but they are probably more important than you think — you can win your best ball league simply by taking the right roster construction approach to these positions. At the end of the day though, you also have to pick players, and good process here can make a huge difference. So how do we find QB and TE options who are set up to outperform expectations? There is at least one way, and it’s super easy.
Previous installments of The Wrong Read looked at how running backs and wide receivers age. At both positions, only players going into their second year in the league have historically outperformed their previous seasons. Leaguewide, only second-year WRs and RBs tend to show improvement from the year before.
This presents us with an exploitable edge, one which Shawn Siegele has been taking advantage of in both best ball and dynasty formats: get as many players entering Year 2 as possible. Doing so gives you a much higher probability of having that season’s breakout players on your team. And this trick works not only at RB and WR, but at other positions as well.
Tight End Breakouts
Conventional wisdom says tight ends take a long time to develop in the NFL. Actual data says this is partly true. Rookie TE breakouts are very unlikely, especially when compared to the frequency of rookie WR and RB breakouts.1 And unlike RB and WR, TEs are most likely (just barely) to breakout in Year 3 across the position, rather than Year 2. But the Year 2 and Year 3 breakout rates for TEs are basically equal.
And indeed, like RB and WR, Year 2 is the only year in which we should expect TE scoring to increase.2
Something interesting happens when you make adjustments for draft position. At both RB and WR, if you look only at top-100 picks, rookie breakouts become just as likely as (WR), or even more likely than (RB), Year 2 breakouts. At TE, however, the importance of Year 2 becomes even more exaggerated.
TEs drafted in the top-100 picks in the NFL Draft break out — meaning they finish within in the top-12 TEs for the first time in their careers — at nearly a 25% rate in Year 2. That number is far higher than top-100 WR breakouts in any year, and about equal to the top-100 rookie RB breakout rate.
Quarterback is no different — breakouts happen most often in Year 2.
And players entering Year 2 are the only group of QBs who tend to see their fantasy scoring increase over the prior season.
And like all other positions, draft slot makes an enormous difference. But to see the biggest distinction, we have to draw the line a little differently. First-round QBs are so much more likely to break out than even second- or third-round QBs, that it’s more instructive to separate out only the first round.
Just like at TE, rather than moving more QB breakouts into Year 1, looking only at early picks increases the breakout rate in Year 2. QBs entering Year 2 who were picked in the first round break out — or have their first top-12 QB finish — almost 25% of the time, similar to early-pick Year 2 TEs.
So Who Should I Pick?
The 2018 NFL Draft saw four TEs go in the first 100 picks. Interestingly, the one who was getting the most buzz at this time last year, namely Mike Gesicki, is now being drafted outside the first 180 picks.
Nobody expects the Dolphins to be good. New QB Josh Rosen — also entering his second year — still needs to prove that he deserved his first-round draft capital. And Gesicki was not that good last year: he was targeted 32 times — six times in the red zone — but failed to score a TD. However, assuming his opportunity grows and he can convert more of those opportunities into scores, a breakout might not be so far-fetched, and is maybe worth taking a chance on in the 16th round.
Five QBs were selected in the first round in 2018, and all but the aforementioned Rosen had rookie seasons that suggest more good things may be on the horizon. The other four make for intriguing QB targets. Apart from Baker Mayfield, are all being drafted outside the top-12 quarterbacks in Fanball leagues.
Image Credit: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Mike Gesicki.
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- Which, as Dave Caban has recently shown, also happen infrequently. (back)
- The seeming discrepancy between the highest breakout rate and league-wide decline in Year 3 is the result of the fact that far more TEs are falling in Year 3 than are breaking out. In Year 2 teams are still trying to figure out what they have and so will still give young TEs opportunity. Therefore the downside risk is much lower in Year 2 than in Year 3. (back)