Introduction of the Study
This article is an analytical analysis of dynasty rookie TE draft picks, comparing average draft position (ADP) with success rate. It is the 4th part of a five part series, which includes:
- How To Add A QB1 To Your FF Dynasty Team
- How To Add An RB1 To Your FF Dynasty Team
- How To Add A WR1 To Your FF Dynasty Team
I do these analyses for managing my own dynasty football team. I have learned a lot from these studies and it is helping me make decisions in my Dynasty Fantasy Football team.
The QB analysis destroyed my long-held belief, that top QBs have the longest NFL longevity of the fantasy football relevant positions. I was shocked to see that generally they peak in year two and decline after that. I also discovered that there seems to a successful band by ADP of QB picks in the 2.07 to 3.03 range.
And I found that RBs have a very pronounced drop off after year six.
I didn't find anything quite so surprising with respect to WRs.
If I were to summarize my findings with respect to TEs in a single word it is "dartboard". But that would make this article short and boring so let's dive in.
Historical ADP Information
Based on historical ADP information, this is where tight ends were drafted over the last nine years:
Now here is the shocking part. These are the notable tight ends that had a rookie-year ADP below the 3rd round in the last 9 years and have been top-6 TEs at least once: Mark Andrews, George Kittle, Tyler Higbee, Darren Waller, Logan Thomas. Here are additional tight ends that have been TE1s that fell below the 3rd round in their Dynasty Rookie Draft: Taysom Hill, Dalton Schultz, Juwan Johnson and Dawson Knox.
What about Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski? They are not part of this study because they entered the NFL league prior to 2014 and I don't have the ADP data any further back. However, they are the prototypical example of what we are looking for - a top-6 TE that lasts a decade - and are proof that this type of TE can exist, albeit they are very rare.
I believe the randomness of the success for tight ends is because of the variation of how they are used. A top TE for the NFL is measured first for their run and pass blocking. The ability for a TE to run routes and catch are the icing on the cake. So, a top-6 TE isn't top-6 because of their skillset alone, but also based heavily on the offensive scheme, their quarterback's preferences, game planning and game situation. Receivers and running backs primary purpose is to pick up yards, blocking is secondary, so an RBs or WRs skillset generally correlates better with fantasy points than for a TE. We get TE fantasy points on only from a secondary skillset of a TE for NFL purposes. The rare exception is that special TE that is the best guy on the team for getting red zone touch downs (and spiking the ball like Gronk).
Therefore, from a fantasy perspective top NFL tight ends can lurk below the radar for years, then seemingly pop-up out of nowhere because they changed teams or head coaches and the offensive scheme changed. And then just as easily they can fall back into obscurity when the scheme or quarterback changes again.
Success Rate vs Years of Experience
The next step in my analysis is to see how these players panned-out since being drafted. In my analyses of the different position, I have valued the top 12 QBs, the top 24 RBs and top 36 WRs based on my league's starting lineup requirements. For TEs, I value just the top 12, with a value of 1 for a top-6 and a value of 0.5 for 7th through 12th.
Then I took the integral of their results and got this chart:
Only one TE drafted in the last 9 years with an ADP in the first three rounds was a top-6 TE two years in a row, Austin Hooper with an ADP of 33 (pick 3.09) and no TE was a TE1 for more than 3 years in a row. The TE1s showing up at ADP of 17 is a combination of Hunter Henry (rookie in 2016) and Mike Gesicki (rookie in 2018). Otherwise you can see the top TEs poke in and out in different years.
The valuable information pops out in the last row. It shows the success rate versus years of experience.
Generally, TEs seem to improve over the first three years, and then start a slow decline.
Next I put this information into graphical form:
Again, the focus of this article is to help you decide how to use your draft picks in a dynasty rookie draft and I don't have ADP data going back more than 9 years, so this chart doesn't include Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, George Kittle, Tyler Higbee, Darren Waller, etc. And for the purpose of deciding if you will use a pick on a TE it is valuable.
Let's finish breaking down draft value versus ADP.
This is a break down of success rate by round:
- 1st: 16.7%
- 2nd: 11.7%
- 3rd: 10.4%
With the QBs we found a 2nd band of success in the 2.07 to 3.03 range, and this is the reason for the color bands in the charts above - to break down the analysis into every 9 picks rather than each round. Here is the same break down with TEs:
- 1-9: 12.5%
- 10-18: 18.8%
- 19-27: 8.9%
- 28-36: 7.4%
However, so few TEs are drafted every year, we don't really have enough information that this is statistically conclusive. There is no reason that TEs drafted 10-18 would have a higher success rate than TEs drafted 1-9. Rather only two TEs had a top-9 ADP in the last 9 years, Kyle Pitts and O.J. Howard, so these our only data points for the 1-9 range, and Kyle Pitts was top-6 TE his rookie year and that is it (so far).
So this indicates that your chance of drafting a top TE isn't much lower in the 3rd round than in the 1st round. If you drafted two TEs in the first round, you would have about a 34% chance of getting a top TE, and if you drafted three TEs in the 3rd round you would have about a 31% chance of getting a top TE. Would you trade two 1st round picks for three 3rd round picks? (If you would, then we might be able to make room for you in our league!) Anyway, my point is, based on history, it is better to spend your 1st round picks on other positions, where the drop off of success rate vs ADP is much steeper.
With so many top TEs that weren't drafted in the first three rounds, and some TEs that were/are top TEs even after 9 years in the NFL it seems that finding a top TE for your fantasy team requires a deep analysis of the TE's team, such as identifying coaching and QB changes and tendencies, and you must do this year-by-year. Watch the waiver wire carefully as the season progresses, and when considering injuries, don't only think about a TE moving up in the depth chart, but consider the impact of other injuries that might make a coach or a quarterback lean more heavily on the TE position for picking up yards and red zone touch downs.
Another generational TE could come along - is that Dalton Kincaid this year (current ADP of 1.07)? No matter how much skill he has, the fact is we won't know for another 9 years.
My tight end corps is Tyler Conklin, Evan Engram and Jelani Woods. I thought with Aaron Rodgers moving to the Jets, Conklin's value might perk up enough for me to get a 3rd round pick or I might be able to throw him into some other type of deal - so far no takers, but my league is still half asleep. If I can't get anything for him in trade, I will probably drop him before my draft.
I plan to let Woods hang around for another year or two. He has the skills, and so maybe he will pop-up out of obscurity. I have the 1.07 draft pick, so I might take a shot on Kincaid if he falls to me, and depending on what else I can do with the pick. Actually, using the strategy I have laid out in How to Win Your Dynasty League, I have acquired an arsenal of picks: 1.07, 1.08, 1.09, 2.03, 2.05, 2.12 and 3.04, so I might take a flyer in the later rounds. But more likely than not, I will probably end up streaming the waiver wire again this year. But this year, I will pay a lot more attention to a TE's situation than I have in the past. What is the history of their coaching staff, what are the tendencies of the quarterback? And I will watch for changes in NFL teams that might favor a TE, such as switching from a veteran QB to a rookie QB, or a slot receiver or 3rd-down RB going down.
Sorry I don't have an easy answer for getting the next Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce. It looks like it is hard work, and the reward more often than not will be limited, but that doesn't mean we don't try because a top TE is a real differentiator in fantasy.
In my next article, I plan to combine all the results of the four positions to put together a comprehensive 3-round rookie draft strategy, including the actual relative value for each pick from 1.01 to 3.12. I really don't know what the results will tell me, so I am excited to find out for myself and to finally lock down my draft strategy for my league's dynasty rookie draft.
If you found this article helpful, here are some other articles I have written that you might also find helpful: