How Often Do Rookie Tight Ends "Hit"?

Aug 21, 2015
How Often Do Rookie Tight Ends "Hit"?

It’s somewhat common knowledge in fantasy circles that rookie tight ends are generally poor draft day investments. To my knowledge, this narrative hasn’t yet been quantified, so I dug up stats from every tight end drafted since 2006* to examine hit rates based on PPR fantasy scoring.

* I chose 2006 to ensure a decent sample size while also collecting data relevant to the current state of the game. 2006 is when rules began to change to benefit the passing game.

Defining a “Hit”

In order to quantify a “hit”, I broke up tight ends into four distinctive tiers based on targets (targets correlate very strongly with tight end scoring) and PPR scoring, and took the average over the last three seasons for the final player in each tier. The four tiers are: elite (TE6 or better), starters (TE7-TE12), streamers (TE13-TE18) and low-end streamers (TE19-TE24). There will be season to season variance for the cutoff of each tier, but this gives us a rough baseline to quantify rookie tight end production.

Tight End Baseline Scoring
Tier Baseline Targets Baseline PPR FPs
Elite 101 189
Starter 89 149
Streamer 82 125.5
Low-end Streamer 65 101.4

Of the 107 tight ends drafted since 2006, only 11 have finished their rookie season with at least 101.4 PPR fantasy points, or numbers good enough to be considered a low-end streamer. Of those 11 rookies, just three ended a season with more than 125.5 PPR points*, and only Rob Gronkowski in 2010 posted a starter quality season, with 156.6 PPR fantasy points. No rookie tight end drafted since 2006 has finished a season as an elite tight end.

The target numbers are even more discouraging. Just seven rookie tight ends in the last nine years have seen at least 65 targets, while Jermaine Gresham is the only rookie to receive streamer level target numbers, with 83 in 2010.

* Timothy Wright is the only undrafted rookie tight end since 2006 with a fantasy relevant season, posting 141.3 PPR FPs on 76 targets.

Draft Day Targets

To take things a step further, I separated rookie tight ends by draft round. For the most part, fantasy owners are only likely to target a rookie tight end if a team spent significant draft capital on that player. Because of this, we’re really interested in the success rate of tight ends drafted in the first two, and to a lesser extent, first four rounds of the NFL draft. These are the players that we expect to see playing time in their first year.

Rookie Tight End "Hits", By Round
Round Number Drafted Low End Streamers Streamers Starters Elite
1 8 2 0 0 0
2 17 4 2 1 0
3 18 3 0 0 0
4 19 1 1 0 0
Rookie Tight End "Hit Rate", By Round
Round Low End Streamers Streamers Starters Elite
1 25.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
2 23.5% 11.8% 5.9% 0.0%
3 16.7% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
4 5.3% 5.3% 0.0% 0.0%

Combined, 24% of early-round tight ends (drafted in the first two rounds) became low-end streamers, 8% ended a season as viable streamers, and 4% have posted starter caliber numbers.

Mid-round tight ends (rounds three and four) have finished a rookie season as at least a low-end streamer 10.8% of the time, and 2.7% of tight ends drafted in rounds three and four became quality streaming options.

Mychal Rivera is the only tight end, out of 45 rookie tight ends drafted in the fifth round or later, to finish his rookie season as a low end streamer.

The Bottom Line

It’s probably not surprising to most fantasy football owners that rookie tight ends aren’t overly productive. When actually quantified, it might be surprising just how rare relevant fantasy production is from rookie tight ends. When rookie tight ends do see the field, their target volume tends to be very low. Outside of the player that might go down as the greatest tight end of our generation, no rookie tight end in this pass friendly age of football has finished a season that would justify using any capital in your fantasy draft. If a rookie tight end does show any promise, they are likely to be streaming options at best.

In my next tight end study, I will examine tight ends in their sophomore season and use this hit rate information along with other metrics to see if there is any predictability to tight ends breaking out in year two.

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