With the 2019 season already over I was looking at potential bargains entering the 2020 preseason with my eyes locked on the upcoming draft season. There are plenty of things that can turn a player into a buy-low candidate and put a bargain-tag next to his name: a drop in performance, a new teammate being used more on offense, a set of bad game scripts, and, perhaps most commonly, injuries.
Among players to miss ample time this past season, was second-year pro Seattle Seahawks tight end Will Dissly. Dissly played only five full games before going down injured in Week 6 after playing just 18 snaps. Dissly also missed more than half of his rookie season in 2018 when he got injured in Week 4 after just playing three full games and eight extra snaps that fatal day.
Playing 10 regular-season games out of a potential 32 is not good. Playing eight actual full games is worse. That’s Dissly to many in the fantasy community. Dissly to me, though, is a massive-upside bet. That is why I don’t completely understand the results of this poll I shared on Twitter a few days ago:
Which TE would you rather have in a #FantasyFootball dynasty league?— Antonio Losada (@chapulana) January 30, 2020
Nearly seven out of 10 people would rather have second-year T.J. Hockenson next season in their rosters rather than any of the other three players, and less than two of 10 would get themself some Dissly shares, opting instead to roster Dawson Knox or Gerald Everett. This surprised me. Let me tell you why.
Hockenson Exploded and Got Thwarted, Dissly Excelled and Got Injured
I must admit that I was drafting T.J. Hockenson last September as there was no tomorrow. Had you been next to me on draft day, you would have thought no other tight end would ever grace the Lions threads. That is how high I was on Hockenson entering 2019. You bet I was throwing parties and letting my neighbors go jump into my swimming pool by the end of Week 1 after Hockenson put up an impossible 25.1-PPR performance with an even more unbelievable 10.5 FPOE on the day.
Hock was definitely the next Gronk … or was he? Turned out, he was not:
It took Hockenson five games and six weeks combined to reach 25.1 PPR points again. Hockenson finished most weeks as a TE2 during his rookie season and averaged just over 5.0 PPR points per game from Week 2 on.
Meanwhile, in Seattle and in the span it took Hockenson to reach that Week 1 tally, Will Dissly was doing things:
All of your thoughts coming from looking at that last image are correct: Dissly missed every game from Week 7 on (he virtually missed Week 6 too, if we’re honest), he had a horrific debut to his second season (totally opposite to Hockenson’s first pro-game outcome), and he excelled during the next four games playing as a perennial TE1 in all of them, not dropping below 12.8 PPR once. And it is not that Dissly was ultra lucky, or did something unheard of in terms of efficiency:
Other than in his Week 2 game against Pittsburgh, Dissly overperformed his EP baseline by an average of 5.5 FPOE. On the season, his 4.4 FPOE led the league among tight ends with at least six games played. While those numbers will likely regress next year, Blair Andrews recently discovered how well efficiency translates year-to-year at the TE position. As Blair wrote in his article:
We find that efficiency is stickiest at the tight end position. In fact, TE efficiency predicts itself better than it does future opportunity, which means TE is the position at which we most want to be chasing past efficiency.
Let’s take a look at some players with historically comparable seasons as those as Dissly has already had.
Will Dissly’s Historical Comps
We will never know how Dissly would have performed in his rookie season or his second year on a full 16-game basis, but we can look back in history to see how other young tight-ends who had year-long per-game similar seasons performed in the past. No hard task using The RotoViz Screener, in which I looked for Dissly’s best comparable two-year careers since the year 2010.
In order to keep the results as close to Dissly’s profile as possible, I used both statistical variables such as targets, receptions, and yardage, but also his age and fantasy/efficiency numbers such as PPR and FPOE. I limited the results to player-seasons that came in the rookie-sophomore clip, such as those posted by Dissly in the past two years. Here are the top-20 comps I fetched:
As you can see, there are some serious names in that table. Dissly’s numbers are part of a tiny sample of just 10 (truly eight) games played, and that makes him look better than he and his true-talent level would be once he plays more games.
Even so, Dissly’s per-game averages in his first two seasons are within one reception/target and five receiving yards of those of Hunter Henry, O.J. Howard, and Mark Andrews. Henry and Howard missed time during his first two years, so they might be better comps for Dissly. Here is how Henry and Howard came back from their injuries in Year 3 (in both cases it was 2019; Henry missed what would have been his third season, 2018, entirely):
Henry missed part of this past season again due to injury, but since making it back to the gridiron in Week 6 he never left the field again, averaged 12.9 PPR/G in his last 11 games, and finished the season as the TE9 despite missing four games entirely. Had he played to his season-long average of 12.7 PPR/G he would have finished with 215.9 PPR points, making him the TE5 on the year.
Howard, on the other hand, had a “down” season by what we had grown accustomed to seeing from him. His opportunity was limited in a new offensive scheme, but he made the most of what little opportunity he got by averaging 2.0 FPOE per game on the season and never less than negative 2.4 in any game.
As Blair Andrews explored in The Wrong Read No. 29, tight ends drafted at 22 years of age are not the best players at the position over their careers (those are 21-year-old draftees by a wide margin). But they still have an advantage over the rest of the age groups. About 25% of 22-year-old draftees at the position have at least one top-12 season. Dissly has already shown he can play at a top-12 pace, so I’m confident he’ll achieve it sooner rather than later if he can stay healthy.
The Henry-Howard comparisons can be considered as some top-tier or best-case scenario ones for Dissly, so it’s worth checking some other players in the list to get a more complete picture of what we can expect from Dissly going forward. From the players found by The RotoViz Screener and shown above, I have pulled their next season to see how they fared after those Dissly-comparable seasons. Removing the comparables which have yet to play a third season and the ones that played fewer than 10 games in their next season, I was left with 10 tight end-seasons:
As you can see, the comparable tight ends did fairly well and averaged 0.65 FPOE/G as a group. Of the 10 tight ends listed, only two fell under -1.5 FPOE/G. In terms of PPR/G, just two finished their seasons averaging fewer than five points per game.
If we assume Dissly has the same opportunities as he did in 2019 (7.9 EP), and just make a simple best/worst-case scenario projection based on what those comparables did, then Dissly’s 2020 season would see him average up to 10.5 PPR (7.9 EP plus Allen’s group-best 2.6 FPOE) and as few as 7.2 PPR/G (7.9 EP minus Rodgers’ group-worst -0.7 FPOE).
Over a full 16-game season, that’d mean Dissly’s realistic range of fantasy outcomes would fall between 168 and 115.2 PPR, which would have ranked as TE7 and TE14 in 2019. Not bad assuming all stays the same in Seattle and he can get through the season healthy! And several of the comps above speak to upside even beyond that point total.
Grab Dissly Before It’s Too Late
Last season Seattle’s skill-position players logged a combined 1,005 targets and rushing attempts. Of those, 482 (48%) were passes to either wide receivers, tight ends, or running backs. Digging deeper, Seattle’s tight ends through the year were targeted 97 times (20.1% target share).
At least at this point (with the draft and free agency still to come), Seattle’s passing profile is pretty encouraging for Dissly’s chances upon his return. Only Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf were thrown more than 100 passes last season. Lockett logged 110 targets (6.9 per game) and Metcalf 100 (6.3). The next player in targets was TE Jacob Hollister, who in just 11 games got to 59 targets for a healthy 5.4 per-game average.
Dissly himself, in his short tenure as a starter for the Seahawks, racked up 27 targets in six games for an average of 4.5 per game, the fourth-highest on the team. Upon his return, he’ll be competing with the pleasantly surprising Hollister for TE targets, and breakout rookie Metcalf figures to see an increased role in his second season. But given Dissly’s knack for the end zone, it would make sense for Seattle to continue feeding him high-value targets.
Dissly is currently the TE15 in early best ball drafts, being picked at around the 112th overall position (78th earliest, 169th latest). Even in the most encouraging of cases by the most optimistic of fantasy drafter out there at this point, Dissly would still be getting off the board no earlier than in the seventh round in 12-team leagues.
This is how every tight end with an ADP between TE1 and TE16 has done (final TE rank, size of the circle representing the PPR/G of the player) during the past 10 seasons going back to 2010 (min. 10 GP):
Early-ADP tight ends (near the bottom of the vertical axis) tend to finish the year ranked high among players at the position, but those outside of the top three have a much wider range of outcomes. TEs drafted outside the top 12 routinely finish inside the top 12 and even top five in terms of end-of-season ranks. There is virtually no risk in drafting Dissly at TE15 given his upside.
If you get him as a late-round pick: congratulations. If you wait, he goes undrafted, and you still get him as a waiver pickup: beers are on me. Either way, consider yourself a winner!