Fantasy Football Tight End Preview: TE Premium / SFBX Draft Strategy
Andrew Cooper shares his draft strategies for tight end premium scoring leagues such as the upcoming Scott Fish Bowl drafts.
As any great fantasy football article should, let’s start with a quote from the southeast portico of Thomas Jefferson’s memorial in Washington DC.
"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." -Excerpted from a letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816.
As we all know, Samuel Kercheval was the commissioner of Thomas Jefferson’s fantasy league and this quote was part of a series of letters in which the founding father demanded that their league be changed from standard to point per reception. Despite opposition from reigning champion, John Adams, history was made that day and the fantasy football world was forever changed for the better. No longer would the entire first round be dominated by workhorse runningbacks such as Priest Holmes or Shawn Alexander – from that point forth the elite wide receivers were on equal footing.
The point Tommy J was trying to make in his letter there is that as society evolves, so must we, and our rules should evolve along with it. The same goes for fantasy football. And the most recent iteration of that is the superflex, tight end premium format which attempts to bring quarterbacks and tight ends up to an equal value point of their ball-handling brethren in the same way that PPR helped wide receivers in the leagues of yesteryear.
So, what we’re going to do today is look at tight end premium/superflex and give you a bit of tight end draft strategy to help you dominate this new-fangled format for this year and years to come. I only hope that the SFBX Second Pick group chat can forgive me for sharing this dangerous info with the enemy.
The Numbers, Mason, What Do They Mean?
“Tight end premium” essentially just adds a bonus for tight ends that other players don’t get. It’s most commonly in the form of an extra half point per reception though the Scott Fish Bowl also adds an extra half point for first downs as well. Considering most tight ends have two roles, as part of the protection and the attack, they naturally have fewer opportunities to make plays and this boost in points brings the elite tight ends up into the echelon of elite RBs and WRs while also bringing the back end tight ends into flex consideration. For instance, in 2019, if you were to combine tight ends and wide receivers in a normal full PPR league, Travis Kelce would have been WR6, Zach Ertz WR19, and Mark Andrews WR24. In tight end premium, they would be bumped up to WR2, WR5, and WR12 respectively – now Travis Kelce is actually worth a first round pick in that format while the other two are second/third rounders. Tight end enthusiasts rejoice!
Because the boost is typically applied to only receptions, the rising tide does not lift all boats evenly either. Here is a look at the 2019 top 10 tight ends based on PPR and tight end premium.
|Name||PPR Points||TE Rank||WR/TE Rank||TE Pr. Points||TE Pr. Rank||WR/TE Rank|
Every top five fantasy tight end over the last five years either led their team in targets or was second in targetsAs you would expect, tight end premium skews towards reception volume. For tight ends, pass snaps lead to routes run which lead to targets which lead to receptions. Now is the part of the article where I implore you to read the section of this article labeled The Target Conundrum because those couple paragraphs and charts contain the basis for our entire philosophy on tight ends and quite possibly the code to the building blocks of life itself as well as the secret to world peace for all of humanity. Well, maybe not all that but at least it has the tight end stuff. Here are the very basics for those too lazy to click (also known as “Redditors”).
- Every top five fantasy tight end over the last five years either led their team in targets or was second in targets
- Every top five PPR tight end received over 100 targets except the following two players (it is also worth noting that 2017 Graham and 2019 Andrews both had 10 touchdowns).
- Over that same five-year span, only four teams had three or more players all get 100+ targets. That means that 97.5% of teams over the last five years had two or fewer players get 100+ targets.
So, what does that tell us? For a tight end to have elite upside, they realistically need to be one of the top two targets on their team. I say that and then you might say something like, “but what about Austin Hooper behind Ridley and Julio bro?? Hayden Hurst is totally, like, my sleeper pick this year. Hayden Hurst or BUST!”. Then I say “the Falcons attempted the most passes in the league (684) with the next closest being the Panthers with 633. Hooper actually led Ridley in targets for the first 10 weeks, so he technically was actually the second target, not the third, when everyone was healthy. And Ito Smith , Devonta Freeman , and Calvin Ridley got hurt and Mohamed Sanu got traded creating the perfect storm for Hooper to get a ton of targets. And he still didn’t get 100.” And then you would shut up.
(If you are in the Vortex division please respectfully stop reading this right now)
How to Actually Draft
Now that we’ve finished our lengthy and condescending intro and are done berating hypothetical nay-sayers, lets get into the actual strategy. When I’m drafting, I only want guys with high end upside and that’s especially true in tight end premium. Which goes double for leagues like the Scott Fish Bowl where you have to beat ~1,400 of the sharpest fantasy gamers out there to win. Gary Haddow won last year. Who came in second? No one cares because Gary had Darren Waller . So, given all the info we just discussed above, I only want guys with a path to being a top two target on their team which opens the door to top five upside.
That means that, if Odell Beckham Jr. has averaged 10 targets a game or 160 targets per season for his entire career and Jarvis Landry has averaged 8.9 targets per game or 143 targets per season for HIS entire career, I want absolutely nothing to do with Austin Hooper in 2020 unless someone gets traded or hurt before the season starts. The ceiling is the floor for Hooper at back end TE1, high end TE2. Not worth the draft capital. Here are the guys I WOULD draft in tight end premium as well as when I would draft them and why.
Since the Scott Fish Bowl is right around the corner, for this exercise we are going to assume a 12 team, half PPR, QB superflex league with tight end premium. We will also base the info off ADP mock draft data that has been generously compiled by data analyst and friend of the fantasy community Kent Weyrauch
Travis Kelce , KC Chiefs, SFBX ADP 12
He has finished as the number one overall tight end four years in a row in this format. In all four years, he would have been a top five WR including the highest scoring WR in 2018. That is all.
George Kittle , SF 49ers SFBX ADP 15.5
The team tried to bring in Emmanuel Sanders to help in the passing game, but he wasn’t a great fit. They drafted Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk but now Deebo is almost certainly going to miss a chunk of time with a Jones fracture in his foot. You can bounce back from that like Julio or really struggle with in like Dez Bryant . The 49ers just had Trent Taylor miss the whole season with that exact injury so I imagine they will be cautious. George Kittle is as dialed in to being a top two target on his team as you can get. Would not bat an eye if you wanted to go late first with him but I prefer to wait and see if I can get him in the second because I am confident in my tight end drafting abilities. Keep reading and you will be too.
Mark Andrews , BAL Ravens SFBX ADP 30.9
I listed him here in the 2nd round because I would consider taking him at the back end of the second or first half of the third. This dude checks every box for an elite tight end from playing in the slot to not blocking on pass plays to getting down field with a high average depth of target (10.6 yards per target was the very top for tight ends who had 25 or more targets). He did what he did last year splitting snaps dead even with Hayden Hurst at 457 apiece. He scored about 10 points less in this format than Darren Waller who played 922 snaps.
NO ONE….That’s because A) I’m hoping to get Andrews in round three and B) I would gladly take any of the three following guys in rounds four-through-six. So unless two of the three following guys go in early round three, you don’t need to pull the trigger here.
Evan Engram , NY Giants SFBX ADP 67.9
My general strategy in this neck of the woods is to let someone else make the first move and then I strike but the guy I want most is Evan Engram . I did a full write up on why you need to buy him in dynasty two weeks ago. In a league like the Scott Fish Bowl, you need to take risks to win it all and the only scary thing here is the injury history – if healthy, he’s one of the few guys who could quite easily be tight end 1 overall. His ADP suggests he’s going in the middle of the sixth round but I’m willing to take him as high as the fourth if someone takes the plunge on Ertz soon after Kelce, Kittle, and Andrews are gone.
Zach Ertz , PHI Eagles SFBX ADP 65,3
A lot of risk averse people have Ertz as their tight end 3 or 4 but I have him at 5 simply because he doesn’t quite have the upside of the other guys. He ran a 4.76 forty compared to guys like Engram (4.42) and Kittle (4.52) so he’s never really a threat to bust a long TD or rack up a ton of yards after the catch (Ertz had 255 YAC last year compared to 602 YAC for Kittle). That said, he’s as safe of a player as you can get considering he should lead the team in targets again and would have finished as WR5, WR2, and WR11 in this format in the last three years meaning his ADP in the 4th or 5th is always justified. Would not question it whatsoever if you wanted to take him in the 4th ahead of Engram – I would simply just turn and take Engram.
Darren Waller , OAK Raiders SFBX ADP 66
Or, if Ertz and Engram go before I can get my paws on them, I’d just turn and take Darren Waller . Some people are spooked by the team adding weapons and what it may do to his target share. But what we are looking for is a path to top TWO target on the team. Last year he led the team with 117, which was 46 more than the next closest, Hunter Renfrow. I know they drafted Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, and Lynn Bowden (who took #33 meaning he will be more of an RB than a WR) but rookies are rookies – they rarely get 100+ targets, especially when they are field stretchers like Ruggs. Think of it this way. Most people have Hunter Henry next in their rankings (not us - I’m talking about people who don’t know what they are doing). Who has a better chance to be the number one or number two target on their team? Darren Waller vs. Tyrell Williams , Hunter Renfrow, Josh Jacobs /Jalen Richard , and a couple rookies or Hunter Henry vs. Keenan Allen , Austin Ekeler , and Mike Williams . In my eyes, Waller is the favorite to be the top target on his team whereas Henry is most likely the 3rd or even 4th target on his. Hunter Henry is a nice, safe player for people who play it safe and finish in third place.
Rounds 7 and 8
NO ONE….Like I said, we want guys who are project to be a top two target on their team, barring injury. Here are the next guys in ADP. Some of the WRs listed below will get hurt or traded or one of these tight ends will somehow get more targets than one of the top two guys outright but I don’t project injuries and I don’t project the tight end to out-target the WRs. So I am fading every one of these players below in most formats.
|Team||Target 1||Target 2||Target 3||Target 4||TE ADP|
|LAC||Keenan Allen||Austin Ekeler||Hunter Henry||Mike Williams||87.3|
|LAR||Robert Woods||Cooper Kupp||Tyler Higbee||Josh Reynolds||94.1|
|TBB||Chris Godwin||Mike Evans||Rob Gronkowski||OJ Howard||101.5|
|CLE||Odell Beckham||Jarvis Landry||Austin Hooper||Kareem Hunt||104.2|
|DEN||Courtland Sutton||Jerry Jeudy||Noah Fant||Melvin Gordon||108.5|
|NOS||Michael Thomas||Alvin Kamara||Emmanuel Sanders||Jared Cook||106.1|
|ATL||Julio Jones||Calvin Ridley||Hayden Hurst||Todd Gurley||109|
|DET||Kenny Golladay||Marvin Jones||TJ Hockenson||D'Andre Swift||119.4
We have really hammered home why being a top two target on your team is pivotal with tight end upside. In a 12-man league TE6 and below is average or worse and every top five tight end was top two on their team and got 95 targets. Being top two doesn’t even mean that you WILL be top five – that is simply a minimum criterion you need to have top five even in your range of outcomes. For instance, Dallas Goedert had the second most targets on his team and he finished as TE9 in tight end premium. In a 12-man league, tight end nine is also known as the fourth worst starting tight end. So, if you are going to take one of those guys in the chart above, you better either, A) be content with a guy who has back half tight end one as his upside or, B) have an argument for why they are going to beat out one or more of the guys ahead of them.
Rounds 9 and 10
Mike Gesicki , MIA Dolphins SFBX ADP 123.3
It is no secret that I’m a big Mike Gesicki believer. I suggest you read that article for the full details but here’s the short and sweet: if a guy plays 461 slot snaps and 159 in-line tight end snaps, what position does that guy play? He plays slot receiver. Gesicki ran 374 routes from the slot last season which is not only the most on the Dolphins and the most for tight ends, it was the 11th most for ANY PLAYER. He literally ran one less pattern from the slot than Cooper Kupp and more than Anthony Miller , Golden Tate , Jarvis Landry , Cole Beasley , etc. He plays “big slot”. New Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey loves "big slot". Here are some big slot guys from his three most recent coaching stints.
- Tony Gonzalez, KC – 2nd in the league in slot snaps, TE1 overall
- David Nelson, BUF – 1st in the league in slot snaps, 97 targets. Oh and he was 6’5”.
- Eric Decker , NYJ – 4th in the league in slot snaps, over 1,000 yards and 12 TDs
I am drafting Mike Gesicki early and often even when I have a tight end already and especially in the SFBX where it’s tight end premium with multiple flex spots. His ADP is currently 123 which is round 11(!) and the earliest he’s gone in SFBX mocks is 97 which is round 9. If anyone actually reads this, his ADP should be closer to that round 8-9 spot and that’s where I’ll be taking him. He is “the one” this year, from the people that brought you last years “the one” - Mark Andrews . The sharpest folks in the industry currently doing SFBX mock drafts have him going off the board at tight end 15. I have him as tight end 7.
Rounds 11, 12, and 13
If you are absolutely in a pinch and it’s a TE premium league with multiple flexes so you need multiple tight ends, you can consider Dallas Goedert , Jonnu Smith , and Chris Herndon . I don’t like to do it but I will allow it simply as they do have a path to top two target on their team, mostly because there is no other formidable opponent. But I have warned everyone already that the scheme for guys like Jonnu and Herndon is terrible for tight end production. Let’s be real – Delanie Walker missed over 20 games the last two seasons so we have seen Jonnu with without Delanie. Last year he played 783 regular season snaps which is only 34 less than George Kittle yet he only ran 240 routes. Josh Hill ran 230 routes and Nick Boyle ran 221. BIG yikes.
Quick side note – Blake Jarwin and Ian Thomas , going in rounds 12 and 13 based on ADP, are so thoroughly buried on their team’s target totem pole that if you draft them in any redraft format you are dead to me. Do you understand?
Rounds 14 through 18
Irv Smith Jr., MIN Vikings SFBX ADP 164.2
Congratulations – if you made it this far you have successfully drafted a tight end already and are now exclusively targeting upside your TE2. Irv Smith Jr. led the Vikings in slot snaps and they traded away Stefon Diggs . At this point in his career, Kyle Rudolph is more of a stay at home blocking tight end. Adam Thielen is the top target on the team. The battle for second most targets on the team is between Irv Smith, Dalvin Cook , and rookie Justin Jefferson who could, admittedly, take slot snaps from Irv. We are deep in the game now so it’s gambling time. More on Irv here.
Jack Doyle IND Colts SFBX ADP 142.3
Don’t love it given his shallow ADOT but, after TY, it’s yet to be seen who gets the second most looks. Could be Parris Campbell , could be rookie Michael Pittman, but Eric Ebron is gone now and Doyle is a steady player. If you already went upside with your first tight end, Doyle is a safe guy to pair and, in tight end premium, he’s a guy you can count on in the flex in desperate times. Just don’t expect him to light the world on fire.
Eric Ebron , PIT Steelers SFBX ADP 168.8
Speak of the devil. Another situation where the guy doesn’t block, he plays a ton of slot, and is clearly a pass catcher. Nothing is certain after Juju in terms of targets so it comes down to who Big Ben chooses. Just the fact that some people like Diontae Johnson and some like James Washington means that there is a debate happening. I will throw Ebron in the ring and we are talking about round like 15 here.
Jace Sternberger, GB Packers SFBX ADP 172.6
This is yet another “why not?” pick. After Davante Adams it gets murky. And Sternberger told reporters that the coach said he should expect to play more slot this year. Rodgers hasn’t fed 100 targets to the tight end group since Jermichael Finley but there is some hope there. And he’s free.
Gerald Everett , LA Rams SFBX ADP 188.2
Gerald Everett has been the better pass catcher of the Rams tight ends this entire time. Higbee finally played well only when he got hurt and only when he played two of the absolute worst teams at guarding the tight end, including the Cardinals who were the very worst. When it was Higbee and Johnny Mundt in two tight end sets, of course Higbee was the pass catcher. When it’s Higbee and Everett, who is going to be going out for passes? Sean McVay has an idea. Even with no Everett, Higbee blocked on 20% of his pass snaps which is Virgil Green or Jeff Heuerman territory. I know they are both still locked behind Woods and Kupp but I think it’s bonkers that Higbee goes off the board in round 8 and Everett is available in round 16. Call me old fashioned but I prefer the players who catch to the ones who block in fantasy.
Jimmy Graham , CHI Bears SFBX ADP 231.9
Jimmy Graham is my super late round sleeper of the year this year. This article is already outrageously long so read about it here. If they give Jimmy Graham 2 years, $12 million with $9 million guaranteed to sit on the bench and not contribute, everyone needs to be fired immediately. Everyone says “well, Trey Burton wasn’t good in that offense” – well they could have resigned Trey Burton for the $910,000 he got from the Colts but they instead gave Graham ten times that GUARANTEED. Nagy literally got this job because of the offense he helped build in KC that features Travis Kelce . All signs point to opportunity.
Tyler Eifert JAX Jaguars SFBX ADP 227.6
Boy we are deep in it now. But why not? New team, new OC, little competition, targets are wide open behind D.J. Chark. The thing about Graham and Eifert that makes them great last picks is that we should know right away if they are going to do anything. If they play ~70% of the snaps week one and get some targets then they are a part of the mix. If not then chuck them for the hot waiver pickup. Unlike handcuffs or rookies, you get an answer right from the rip and can drop them for that valuable roster spot.
There are only two tight end handcuffs to consider with your very last pick if your league is deep enough (or best ball leagues). They are only unlocked by an injury to the starter but the starter is heavily featured in the offense so they could be thrust into an immediate high-end role. Those players are Ricky Seals-Jones behind Travis Kelce and Kaden Smith behind Evan Engram . People might not realize that Kaden Smith put up a couple top 10 tight end weeks in Engram’s absence, including a top five performance during fantasy championship week. The knock-on RSJ is that he can’t block but that’s fine for us for fantasy – you don’t get points for blocking on pass plays or else Jonnu Smith would be absolutely electric. RSJ snuck in a two-touchdown week in week 15 last year so these guys can play given the opportunity and, if that injury comes, the opportunity would be big.
About The Scott Fish Bowl
The Scott Fish Bowl is a fantastic Fantasy Football league that brings fans and industry experts together for a great cause Fantasy Cares. The mission of Fantasy Cares is to raise money each year through the fantasy sports community for various charities. The majority of money raised is to be used to buy toys for kids at Christmas with those toys being donated to Toys for Tots or a similar charity. In the past we have also given money to hurricane relief after Hurricane Harvey, a food shelf, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Coats for Kids, and more. We plan to use some money for other charities besides toys for kids as well. Please see the link below for more information on how you can donate to this great cause.
Statistics for this article were provided by the author, Andrew Cooper, with help from ProFootballFocus.com, PlayerProfiler.com, ProFootballRefence.com, AirYards.com, and SharpFootballStats.com. Follow Coop on Twitter @CoopAFiasco.