Fantasy Debate: Tyreek Hill vs. Travis Kelce

Jun 30, 2020
Fantasy Debate: Tyreek Hill vs. Travis Kelce

Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are being drafted just two picks apart across all platforms. In this debate, Kate Magdziuk will explain why she would rather have the Chiefs wide receiver while Eric Moody argues for Kansas City's tight end.


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The Case for Tyreek Hill

Kate: It’s not often that we’ll see two receiving assets on the same NFL roster rank so highly and closely in average draft position for our fantasy football leagues. We all know that the Chiefs offense is a special kind of beast, though; no rules apply. In this virtual ADP debate, we’ll discuss the merits of Tyreek Hill and why I’ll be drafting him over Travis Kelce every single time.

Let’s first look at the basics—Hill’s off-the-wall production and value to the Chiefs’ offense as a whole. Though Hill finished with 46 fewer fantasy points than Kelce in 0.5 PPR leagues, they actually matched up quite well on a per-game basis. Hill saw 13.3 points per game to Kelce’s 12.9. It doesn’t feel like it though, does it? Hill suffered a dislocated shoulder in Week 1 that kept him out of the active lineup until Week 6, and it hurt. Your (likely) second-round pick was out of service for nearly half of your fantasy football season. However, when he was available, he was invaluable, and not just for fantasy.

Among all Chiefs receivers, including wideouts and tight ends, Hill led the team with a touch rate of 11.6% on offensive snaps and saw the highest target rate at 15.5%. Simply put: when he’s on the field, the team finds a way to get him the ball. With 4.29 40-yard dash speed, why wouldn’t you? Hill outperformed Kelce in many metrics in 2018, including receiving touchdowns, yards per target, yards per reception, yards after the catch per reception, and offensive penalty rate. His quickness and elusive nature make him the optimal target in any situation... particularly in the end-zone.

Despite the fact that Hill played four-fewer games than Kelce, his performance in the red zone boasted higher efficiency and more production. Hill saw 21 red-zone targets to Kelce’s 31 and still managed one more touchdown on eight fewer receptions. End zone? He’s got that covered too. He converted two of his five end zone targets into scores, compared to one touchdown on Kelce’s eight red-zone targets. It seems that it doesn’t matter what metric we analyze. Hill shines.

Last but not least, the performance of these two assets aside, we need to discuss the concept of drafting a tight end within the first two rounds of your fantasy football drafts. Let’s imagine that you decided to punt the tight end position in 2019. You passed on the Kelce’s and Kittle’s of the world in pursuit of an elite running back or wide receiver prospect. How do you bounce back, given the large discrepancy between the elite tight ends and those ranked 6-12? You stream.

In 2019, tight-end streamers were lucky enough to have a clear cut “stream-against” asset—the Arizona Cardinals. It didn’t really matter how talented the tight end, how experienced, or how heavily the offense utilized him…he shined. Even rookie T.J. Hockenson managed 6/131/1 in his first NFL game. We can take a look at Arizona’s 16.27 average points allowed to the tight end position and averaged that over a 16 game period, you’d produce 160 fantasy points on the season in half-PPR formats…well above 2019’s TE1, Travis Kelce with 205.8 on the season. It may take several weeks to establish the trend, but leagues without a transaction limit can easily take advantage of the lack of one (or many) teams’ inability to cover the tight end position—as long as you’re paying attention.

Travis Kelce has been a cornerstone of the Chiefs offense since playing his first full season in 2014, but he’s not necessarily the one to draft in your fantasy football leagues nowadays. Kelce is undoubtedly the safer asset in 2020, but as my brother-in-law loves to point out, “Scared money don’t make money.”

I don’t just want safety—I want the maximum ceiling that I can achieve for my fantasy rosters. Most often, that won’t include an early-round tight end. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are each elite prospects at their respective positions, but I’ll choose to capitalize on the top-five wideout and recoup my tight end in the later rounds.

The Case for Travis Kelce

Eric: Kelce is entering his age-30 season and has shown no signs of slowing down in the Chiefs’ explosive offense. He has finished as a TE1 in 81% of his games since 2017. Did you know that Kelce (100) leads all tight ends in plays of 15 yards or more over the last three seasons? He’s also scored 23 touchdowns over that same time frame. Kelce has had a 25% target over the last two seasons and is a favorite target of quarterback Patrick Mahomes despite all of the offensive weapons at his disposal.

The duo has also connected for 15 touchdowns and over 2,500 receiving yards over that span of time. Kelce’s durability is also underrated. He’s played in 95 games since 2014. Kelce is a difference-maker at a position where there are very few in fantasy football. The only other tight end over the last three seasons with a higher number of expected points per game than Kelce (14.3) has been Zach Ertz (14.5). Kelce has been the most effective tight end when you analyze his receiving fantasy points over expectation. He’s averaged 2.4 fantasy points per game more than expected. Expected points or EP allows us to convert targets into fantasy points. Fantasy points over expectation or FPOE is essentially an efficiency metric that accounts for both yards and touchdowns in a single number.

Kelce is the most resourceful offensive weapon the Chiefs have. That’s impressive considering Kansas City finished in the top five in points per game (30) and yards per game (384.3). The Chiefs threw the football 61% of the time while averaging the fourth-most passing yards per game. Kelce (16) finished last season with the fourth-most red-zone targets among tight ends.

Kelce has the seventh-best separation rate (60.8%) against man coverage among other tight ends with 50 or more targets since 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. He also has a high success rate against all types of coverages. You may be wondering how Kelce matches up against other wide receivers. He ranks 13th in targets per game since 2017 with 8.7. Kelce is ninth in receptions per game (6) and receiving yards per game (76.7). He has also averaged a respectable 80.5 air yards per game over the last three seasons.

The Chiefs have a very bad schedule in 2020 according to our signature strength of schedule metric, schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed (aFPA). The perception is that he could struggle, but the reality is that Kelce is a mismatch for every defense in the NFL. Mahomes had a passer rating of 116.5 (2019) and 118.9 (2018) when throwing to him over the last two seasons. Kelce has historically feasted against some of his division rivals in the AFC West. The Raiders are a fantasy bonanza for tight ends. Kelce has averaged 86.2 receiving yards per game in his career against the Broncos. The Chargers have done the best job containing him. It is also worth noting that Kelce has some favorable matchups outside of his division against the Panthers and Texans. And now, you’re thinking how does he compare to teammate Tyreek Hill.

Let’s begin with a head to head per game comparison between Kelce and Hill over the last three seasons. Hill was a rookie in 2016 and finished with 61 receptions, 593 receiving yards, and six touchdowns.


Travis Kelce vs Tyreek Hill, 2017–2019
Player
GMs Tgt Rec Receiving Yards TD YPR Yd/Tgt Tgt Shr AirYards AY/Tgt YAC RACR Team % WOPR
Travis Kelce 47 8.7 6.0 76.7 0.5 12.7 8.8 25% 80.5 9.3 29.5 0.95 27% 0.57
Tyreek Hill 43 7.7 5.1 81.9 0.6 16 10.7 23% 103.1 13.4 29.3 0.79 37% 0.60

As you can see above Kelce has either outperformed Hill on a per-game basis in many relevant statistical categories or not far behind. WOPR stands for Weighted Opportunity Rating. It is a weighted combination of the share of team targets a player receives and the share of team air yards. RACR stands for Receiver Air Conversion Ratio. It is an efficiency metric that rolls up catch rate and yards after the catch into one number. In essence, it is the number of receiving yards a player creates for every air yards thrown at him. Our projections have Kelce finishing this season with 96 receptions, 1,245 receiving yards, and 8.6 receiving touchdowns. Hill is projected to finish with 79 receptions, 1,320 receiving yards, and 10 touchdowns. Kelce could outperform that projection especially in the area of touchdowns.

You should select him over Hill in fantasy drafts this summer and give your team a weekly competitive advantage at the tight end position. One alternative you could consider in drafts if you’re still mesmerized by Hill’s blazing speed is Marquise Brown. He’ll readily available in the seventh round of 12-team leagues and has a similar athletic profile to Hill. Brown’s rookie season resembled Hill. Both receivers finished with a little under 600 receiving yards. Brown could make a big jump in his second season like Hill did in 2017.

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