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Why Waiting On Drafting TE Is The Optimal Approach

Fantasy football TE

Parents have started scrambling, making sure their children have absolutely everything they need to begin the new school year, and soon their children will scurry like ants with book bags strapped tight to their backs headed to their first day of class. It’s mid-August and that means back to school is in full swing. This also marks the time of year that seasonal fantasy football ramps up high enough for Evil Knievel to be turning in his grave just itching to get back on his bike. For the next couple of weeks, thousands of redraft fantasy football players will be taking out their proverbial pens and pencils to do research on all of the fantsasy news and nuggets they’ve missed since the end of last season in order to prepare themselves for this year’s draft. So what better way than to dive into why waiting on drafting TE is the optimal approach.

These seasonal players will try to gather as much info as possible in a short amount of time in an attempt to get a leg up on their opponents in any way they can. Many will do multiple mock drafts, some will read articles; while others will listen to a slew of podcasts to soak up any fantasy knowledge they can. Many, if not most, will look at the current consensus rankings provided by fantasypros while checking ADP from the most recent drafts on ffcalculator. Going back and forth between screens while trying to decipher when to take a certain player or position for the best value in your drafts can be enough to make your head spin. Don’t worry; I’m here to help you make some of those decisions; starting with the Tight End position.

In this particular article I’m going speak about TE draft strategy in redraft leagues; specifically whether or not you should take a TE in the middle rounds, or punt the position and wait until later in your draft. All information being discussed in this article will be based on 12 team leagues with full PPR scoring.

You might be sitting on the clock in the 5th, 6th or 7th round thinking to yourself, “I already have at least 2 starting RB’s and 2 starting WR’s; should I possibly be looking at the TE pool?”. By this point in the draft, the three stud TE’s have assuredly been drafted with Gronk, Kelce, and Ertz having already packed their bags and made their home on someone else’s roster.

In looking at the remaining TE pool, you will now be staring at that second tier of TE’s; and even some from that tier might have already been drafted. Are there any TE’s left on the board at that point in the draft who is a sure thing who can be trusted to return that value? To help answer that, let’s look back at last year’s top 12 TE’s off the board and see how they fared week to week in terms of whether or not they finished as a TE1. These statistics contain finishes in the first 16 games of the regular season only; if you are still playing in week 17, you’re doing it wrong. The first 16 games should be the only relevant games in terms of fantasy. In 2017:

  • Rob Gronkowski was the 1st TE drafted and in 13 games played, he finished as a TE1 in 10 of those contests; nearly 77% of his games.
  • Travis Kelce was the 2nd TE drafted and in 15 games played, he finished as a TE1 in 10 of those contests; good for 66.6% of his games.
  • Zach Ertz was the 7th TE being drafted, but he proved to be the most consistent. In 14 games played, Ertz finished as a TE1 in 13 games; an astounding 84% of his games.

Amazingly, those 3 first TE’s off the board returned TE1 value in at least 2/3 of their games played. Now, let’s look at the remaining other 9 players drafted as a TE1 last year and see how they measured up. Players are listed according to their ADP followed by how many times they finished a week as a TE1/how many games the played.

  • #3 Greg Olsen-Didn’t play enough to rank
  • #4 Jordan Reed-Didn’t play enough to rank
  • #5 Jimmy Graham- 10/15 games
  • #6 Tyler Eifert-Didn’t play enough to rank
  • #8 Delanie Walker 9/15 games
  • #9 Kyle Rudolph 8/15 games
  • #10 Martellus Bennett-Didn’t play enough to rank
  • #11 Hunter Henry 5/12
  • #12 Eric Ebron 5/15

You must obviously take into account that 4 of the remaining 9 players drafted as a TE1 were often injured or unavailable throughout much of the season and were unable to possibly return their value; but even so, only 3 of the other 9 TE’s drafted were a TE1 more than 50% of the time. The names of those 3 TE’s coupled with their percentage of games as a TE1(where drafted) were:

  • Jimmy Graham-66.6% (last pick in round 5),
  • Delanie Walker-60% (late round 7),
  • Kyle Rudolph-53% (early round 8).

The other TE’s who finished as a TE#1 last year accompanied by their ADP last season:

  • Evan Engram went undrafted last season and finished as the TE#5 with 11 top 12 finishes.
  • Jack Doyle was the 13th TE drafted in the 12th round and finished as the TE#7 with 8 top 12 finishes.
  • Jason Witten was the 15th TE drafted in the 14th round and finished as the TE#9 with 3 top 12 finishes.
  • Cameron Brate went undrafted last season and finished as the TE#10 with 8 top 12 finishes.
  • Ben Watson went undrafted last season and finished as the TE#11 with 7 top 12 finishes.
  • Jared Cook went undrafted last season and finished as the TE#12 with 4 top 12 finishes.

All in all, 6 of the top 12 TE’s in total points scored last year were either drafted in the 12th round or later; or picked up off of waivers. I’m not a math wizard, but I’m almost positive that’s 50%; please check my math. More statistics involving this second group of TE’s:

  • 4 out of those 6 top 12 TE’s weren’t even drafted last season, and the other two were taken in the 12th round or later.
  • 3 of those TE’s were a TE1 more than 50% of the time; 2 of which were undrafted.
  • The 3 who finished 10-12 last season in total points scored aren’t even being drafted this year but combined for 19 top 12 finishes last season at their respective position. (Brate, Watson, Cook).

If you factor in the fact that the TE’s who finished the year as the TE#4-TE#15 were separated by a maximum of 3 fantasy points with 6 of those 12 within a single point; that provides even more fuel to back my stance at waiting for TE.

Long story short, after the first 3 stud TE’s this year, it’s a crap-shoot. The first 12 TE’s in 2017 were drafted within the first 11 rounds and ironically, those numbers are exactly the same for 2018. How many of those TE’s will return that TE1 value remains to be seen; but if this year is anything like last year, half of those drafted TE’s will finish outside the top 12 overall or finish as a TE1 less than 50% of the time.

So now that I have explained why you should wait to draft a TE until you arrive at the double-digit rounds, let’s discuss three TE’s that I am waiting for who I believe can be top 12 this upcoming season.

Drafting TE

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Brate

Despite the Buccaneers using a huge amount of draft capital to take OJ Howard with the 19th overall pick in the 2017 draft, much to the dismay of many fantasy owners, Cameron Brate didn’t simply fall into the ocean, paving the way for Howard as many had hoped. In fact, this off-season, the Bucs signed Brate to a 6-year deal, further causing Howard owners to weep silently (my tissues are still drying). Let’s compare stats from the two Buccaneers tight ends last year:

  • Brate was the 13th most targeted TE with 77 to his name; averaging 4.8 targets/game. OJ Howard was the 33rd most targeted TE; averaging 2.8 targets/game.
  • Brate ended the season as the 8th best overall TE; Howard 17th
  • Number of games with at least 5 targets: Brate: 8; Howard: 2

Cameron Brate is currently being drafted in the 15th round as the 19th TE off the board. If he comes close to replicating last season, that’s an incredible value. This is the first of three TE’s I will happily draft with my very last pick and feel pretty good about the position.

Charles Clay

I know I know, it’s the Bills. They’re a fantasy wasteland, right?. We still aren’t sure who the quarterback is just yet, so it’s tough to see how they will use Charles Clay, but most first-year QB’s lean on their tight ends. I’m not sure how much more they can lean on a guy who was already second on the team for targets last year. A deeper look at Clay’s stats last year:

  • He was the 14th most targeted TE with 74 targets; averaging 5.7 targets/game, tied for 9th in that category.
  • He played in only 13 games, but had one of the safest floors last season with just two games under 7 fantasy points in PPR leagues; but also had 7 games with at least 11.7 points
  • The last four games of the season, he averaged 8 targets/game

Clay only had 2 TD’s last year, and I have to believe with as many targets as he receives per game, coupled with having a horrible supporting cast around him, he’s due for some positive regression in that aspect. The only other notable players from Buffalo are the stellar crew of Kelvin Benjamin, Corey Coleman and LeSean McCoy (who might not even play this year due to legal issues).

Charles Clay is currently being drafted in the 16th round. THE 16th ROUND!! That’s almost criminal IMO. I think Clay is a top 12 TE this year, and given his safe floor, I would feel confident enough to never have to worry about him playing on Monday nights as my only player left to win that week, and disappointing me with a goose egg. I’ll take that upside and stability in practically the last round all day, every day.

My Deep Sleeper: Nick Vannett

Last season in Seattle, Jimmy Graham finished as the #6 TE and ended the season with 95 targets; second only to Doug Baldwin who had 116. Graham has since departed this off-season and took his skills with him to Green Bay. The player with the third-most targets for the Seahawks was Paul Richardson with 80, who is now with the Washington Redskins. Quick math tells me that’s roughly 175 vacated targets from those two players combined. That’s a whole heck of a lot of passes up for grabs that are being thrown from one of the best QB’s in the game, Russell Wilson.

The only additions of note in Seattle this offseason are Brandon Marshall, Jaron Brown and Ed Dickson. BMarsh looked absolutely horrible last season before his season-ending ankle injury and should be nowhere on your fantasy radar. He needs to prove he’s worth a roster spot both in the NFL and on your fantasy team before you look his direction in drafts.

Jaron Brown finished last season ranked as the 65th best WR in PPR leagues with the Arizona Cardinals. He has shown flashes and could eventually prove to be a WR3, but again, not fantasy relevant aside from a late dart throw. Ed Dickson is 31 years old, and already dealing with a groin injury.

So where are those 175 targets going to go? Russell Wilson has heavily targeted the TE the last two seasons; although it could be said that the only reason for this is that he had one of the best TEs in the game lining up with him in Jimmy Graham. With Baldwin already dealing with a minor injury and no clear-cut #2 receiver currently on the Seahawks’ roster, I have to think Wilson will once again look to the TE for 75-90 targets this season. If Vannett catches half of Graham’s TD total from last year (10), he could still end up as a TE1 if he matches him in yards and receptions. Also worth noting is the fact that Jimmy Graham had 26 red zone targets; Paul Richardson 11.

In summation, my deep sleeper is Nick Vannett based on opportunity; the number of vacated targets from last year’s team, the number of red zone targets vacated (37), and the fact that Seattle didn’t really bring in anyone worth consideration as a starter on your fantasy team. Care to guess where Vannett is being drafted this season? I’ll just sit right here and let you ponder for a bit. As the TE48. 48??!! I can’t see him possibly finishing outside the top 24 at the position, and has TE1 upside. He might be worth waiting for an monitoring, but if I have deeper benches, I will gladly stash him this season. If it doesn’t pan out, he costs you nothing.

Personally, I’m going to wait until the double-digit rounds to draft my TE most often, while putting more RB’s and WR’s in my stable. There is a much greater chance I will find a usable starting TE on waivers than a starting RB or WR I can trust to plug into my starting lineup. There are exceptions to every rule and obviously if Jimmy Graham, for example, who is currently being drafted in the early 5th round falls to the 7th; he presents value at that spot so take him if it feels right.

On a side note, if you heed my advice and turn away from the TE position in the middle rounds, and instead shift your focus towards a QB, please don’t; treat them just like the TE. But, that’s another story for another day. Unless a TE sticks out like a sore thumb due to him falling drastically in drafts, I encourage you to look the other way and grab more RB/WR depth for your bench. Otherwise. close your eyes and flip a coin because you have that same 50/50 chance at hitting on one of those first 12 TE’s to return their TE1 value. Best of luck when it’s your turn to be on the clock this season, everyone. Cheers.

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