Which Buccaneers Tight End Should You Draft in 2018?

Jun 07, 2018
Which Buccaneers Tight End Should You Draft in 2018?

Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent the 19th overall pick on tight end O.J. Howard, presumably appointing Howard their tight end of the future. After the 2017 season, though, the Bucs re-signed Cameron Brate to a six-year, $41 million contract, with $18 million in guaranteed money—making Brate the seventh-highest paid tight end in the league, in terms of guaranteed money.

Editor's Note: Find all our 2018 Player Profiles here.

The following will discuss whether or not Howard and Brate can co-exist as relevant fantasy assets in 2018 and which player, if either, you should target in fantasy drafts.

Can Tampa Bay Support Two Fantasy-Relevant Tight Ends?

Over the last 10 seasons, there have only been three instances where two tight ends on the same team finished in the top 18 in PPR scoring at the position. Only once in that span has a team produced two top-12 tight ends. In those cases, the offenses featured a hall of fame tight end catching the ball from a great quarterback—Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both finished as top-14 tight ends in 2010 and 2011 for the Patriots, and Hunter Henry needed eight touchdowns to finish as the TE18 in 2016 alongside Antonio Gates for the Chargers. Those three occurrences also happened on teams that finished in the top 10 in both scoring and passing yards.

Tampa Bay did rank fourth in passing yards last season but they finished 18th in points scored. While some might point to the fact that the Buccaneers won just five games last year to explain their inflated passing numbers, Dirk Koetter has been moving Tampa toward a more pass-heavy game plan since drafting Jameis Winston. Consider their passing rate in neutral game script scenarios (score within seven points) over the last three seasons:

Buccaneers Passing Rates, 2015–2017
Year Overall Neutral Game Script (Game within 1 TD)
2015 55.3% 51.1%
2016 57.6% 54.7%
2017 62.4% 60.8%

Only two teams threw at a higher rate in neutral situations than the Buccaneers last year. While the addition of rookie running back Ronald Jones may bring their passing rate back to earth a bit, there’s a clear trend in philosophy as Winston has matured. Even if Tampa Bay does maintain their lofty passing numbers, though, they will need to make a big jump in scoring or shift their target share numbers if both Brate and Howard are going to be worthy of consideration in fantasy drafts.

While the Bucs finished third in total team tight end PPR scoring last season, that production was largely touchdown dependant—Tampa Bay ranked 14th in tight end target share and 11th in percentage of targets that went to tight ends inside the 20. The Buccaneers tight ends scored 2.17 PPR points per target—the highest rate in the league by 12 percent and that number was 28 percent higher than the league average of 1.70 PPR points per tight end target.

Using historical PPR data, Tampa would need to produce roughly 260 tight end PPR points for there to be enough opportunity for two of their players to finish in the top 16 at their position, and that’s assuming Brate and Howard get 100 percent of the tight end work. With the 562 pass attempts that John Paulsen projects for the Bucs this season and more realistic efficiency numbers, we see that a repeat of last season is at the high end of the range of outcomes for their tight ends.

Buccaneers 2018 Team TE PPR Range of Outcomes (562 projected targets)
1.65 FP/Tgt 1.70 FP / Tgt 1.75 PPR/Tgt 1.80 FP/Tgt 1.85 FP/Tgt 1.90 FP/Tgt
20% Targets to TE 185.5 191.1 196.7 202.3 207.9 213.6
25% Targets to TE 231.8 238.9 245.9 252.9 259.9 267.0
30% Targets to TE 278.2 286.6 295.1 303.5 311.9 320.3

Returning their eight most-targeted players from last season, it’s improbable that Brate and Howard will be able to command the near-30 percent combined target share likely needed for both to be worthy of their current top-16 asking prices.

Is there a Tampa Bay tight end worthy of a flier?

O.J. Howard vs. Cameron Brate

Brate is coming off of consecutive top-10 PPR seasons, but his production waned down the stretch in 2017. Over the final nine weeks of the season, Brate exceeded double-digit PPR points just once in the only game where he was targeted more than five times in the same stretch. As the season progressed, Brate fell well behind Howard in terms of snap share—in the five weeks before his Week 15 injury, Howard played at least 70 percent of the snaps in every game, peaking at 79 percent in a Week 14 game where Brate was only on the field for just over a third of the snaps. Unfortunately for Howard’s stat line, he was used largely as a blocker in that span, seeing just 16 targets, or a target on only 6.2 percent of snaps.

When he was involved in the passing game, Howard produced—despite being targeted more than four times in a game just twice all year, the rookie scored at least 10 PPR points five times, with three of those instances coming in his final five games.

Howard simply fits better than Brate into the Buccaneers’ plans to move the ball through the air—by pushing it down the field. Since entering the league, no quarterback has thrown deep (15+ yards in the air) at a higher rate than Winston, per Pro Football Reference (minimum 300 attempts). Last season, Tampa Bay saw three receivers finish in the top 26 (minimum 50 targets) in average depth of target (aDOT). Extended to players that saw at least 35 targets, only Gronk saw a higher aDOT than Howard’s, whose 11.8-yard average target depth was more than two yards higher than that of Brate.

Brate’s diminished role down the stretch is further concerning since Koetter didn’t necessarily force two tight end sets last year. Tampa Bay used two tight end formations 24.3 percent of the time, the 12th-highest rate in the league and less than a percentage point above the league average.

Bottom Line

As a whole, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard produced at an unsustainable rate in 2017—to use Tampa Bay’s end-of-season tight end numbers as a gauge for expectations in 2018 would be counting on another outlier season. Instead, the tight end duo will need to see their target share grow significantly if both are going to produce as high-end TE2s or better. The most likely scenario is that Howard and Brate see their workloads converge and neither are able to outpace their current ADPs.

If the Buccaneers do produce another top-10 fantasy tight end in 2018, I expect it to be because Howard leapfrogs Brate on the totem pole. Deep passes have proven to be more valuable in fantasy football than short passes and Howard’s skill set is one of a player who can stretch the field. When considering how drastically Brate’s usage dropped in favor of Howard down the stretch last season, combined with the fact that Tampa Bay set up Brate’s contract to effectively have no cap hit beyond 2018 if they choose, signs point toward a team that re-signed Brate to guarantee continuity at the position in case Howard’s foot wasn’t ready for the season. On May 4, Howard was fully cleared for OTAs.

In best-ball leagues, I’ll balance my shares of these two players since this offense should offer a nice tight end floor, but that balance will be tilted in favor of Howard, especially on rosters where I can gamble on upside.

In traditional redraft leagues, it might be best to leave these two off your board. This situation sets up as one where it may be impossible to predict which player is worthy of a start in a given week, even if their end-of-season numbers look decent. If someone does draft one of these tight ends, there’s a good chance they end up on waivers—Tampa Bay starts with one of the toughest tight end schedules in the league before their Week 5 bye. With four weeks of data available at that time, owners looking for a streamer will be able to assess usage rates and pick up a tight end with what should be a relatively soft schedule down the stretch.

Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images.

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