Tight end is such a polarizing position, for two reasons. First, there are a ton of one-and-done tight ends every year, who flare up for a game here or there, and who we never hear from them again. That sends us scurrying off in directions we would rather not go. Second, when we reach into these dark corners of the tight end pool, we come back scorched from the pain of rostering a player who finished with three catches for 17 yards the week after he went for five catches, 64 yards, and two touchdowns.
But, every year, the fantasy football think space (workshopping phrases that aren’t “cognoscenti” or “the dopes on fantasy twitter, myself included”) latches onto big sleeper tight ends, or tight ends that will come out and just wow us all. Instead, what we find, is that the good tight ends are good, and the bad tight ends are bad. Let’s take a look at the players who finished inside the top twelve at the position, where we drafted them, and what we should do with them to answer the question: is tight end fluky, or are we just bad at figuring it out?
First, let’s take a look at the fifteen one-and-done tight ends (of 58 TEs to notch top-12 weeks). Nine of these had a FantasyPros ADP, but none of them went before pick 200. Eric Ebron and Adam Trautman were the high points there, going as TE23 and TE24, respectively. So, good on us. But, Ebron and Trautman did have sleeper appeal in some circles, with Ebron’s appeal devoured by Pat Freiermuth and Trautman’s appeal devoured by injury.
Four of the one-and-done tight ends did it without a touchdown (Jordan Akins, James O’Shaughnessy, Durham Smythe, and Pharaoh Brown). This is about 25% of them (26.7%) who finished the week top-twelve without a tight end. This compares extremely unfavorably to the multiple top-12 TE week population, where 204 top-12 TE weeks had 87 instances of players making the top-12 without touchdowns, or 42.6% of the multiple top-12 TE weeks coming because a player had a productive game without a touchdown. So, what does this mean? It means that the fluky tight ends were just that… fluky. We can discount them entirely.
What about snagging good tight ends? Are we at least good at that? Yes, we are. Fifteen tight ends notched more than five top-12 weeks, and all but three went inside the top-16 (the outliers were our sleepers, Dalton Schultz, Dawson Knox, and Pat Freiermuth). Two of the three tight ends that fell out of the top-sixteen finishers among the top-fifteen drafted all did so because of injury (Logan Thomas and Robert Tonyan). The third was Evan Engram. So, given that Logan Thomas and Robert Tonyan lost their footing because of injuries (and Waller faltered for the same reason), I am comfortable calling the hit-rate 14-of-15 among the top tight ends. That’s an incredible 93.3% hit rate.
But what of the guys who notched more than five games of top-12 production? What about their touchdown rates? Well, I’m here to tell you that if they eked out just two more games without touchdowns, over half of their games would have been without scores. But, as it stands, of the tight ends who repeat top-twelve performances week after week, 48.8% of the time, they did it without a touchdown. This figure is also dragged down by Pat Freiermuth and Dawson Knox, who combined to have just three games inside the top twelve without a touchdown, out of 15 instances of top-12 games.
So, what does this all mean? It means that tight end isn’t really fluky, and we’re really good at figuring out which tight ends will be good in any given year, or at least worthy of a top-fifteen pick. It’s also really easy to find the outliers to the formula. We need to find players with a lot of targets and yards, and we need to just cover up the touchdown total because the other two will carry the day. Chasing touchdowns won’t lead you to glory, it will lead you to replace your tight end every week. This is how George Kittle carried his value for years. So, let’s call this the K.I.T.T.L.E. Formula: Keep It To The Little Elements. Don’t go for big plays, follow the targets, catches, and yards. The little things; that’s how you’ll choose a fantasy football tight end in the draft.