Understanding Tight End Value in TE-Premium Fantasy Leagues

Jul 13, 2020
Understanding Tight End Value in TE-Premium Fantasy Leagues

Most people play in either standard or point per reception fantasy leagues and have a basic understanding of the relative importance of a tight end. As the popularity of the FFPC continues to blossom, it’s important to dive into the nuances of tight end premium scoring (1.5 points per reception) and how it should impact your strategy.

PPR vs Tight End Premium Value

The easiest way to analyze how TE premium impacts scoring is by breaking down the past few years and comparing it to PPR scoring. One way to do this is by looking at how the top scoring player at the position performed against the lowest scoring player that should be starting in the league size you are playing in. For example, how much did the overall TE1 outscore the TE12 (in a 12-man league)? This is how long-time fantasy analysts have derived value and formed the “TE1, TE2, TE3” tiers. Even though they sound arbitrary, it makes sense and helps to compare value from position-to-position or between scoring differences. It’s what helped give rise to strategies such as late-round quarterback.

Fantasy Points for TE1 vs TE12, 2015–2019
PPR TE Premium
Year TE1 TE12 Difference TE1 TE12 Difference
2019 256 138 118 304 163 141
2018 296 130 166 348 156 192
2017 235 134 101 277 161 116
2016 221 149 72 263 176 87
2015 255 149 106 291 177 114

The results were about as expected—in each of the last five seasons, the top-scoring TE has outscored the last “startable” tight end by more points in tight end premium scoring than PPR leagues.

On top of increased scoring output from the TE1, in 4-of-5 years the TE1 was picked within the top-25 overall selections and was either the first or second tight end off the board in terms of positional ADP, the lone exception being Jordan Reed in 2015. Running through our findings so far, the top tight end is more valuable in TE-premium leagues than in PPR leagues due to a greater difference between them and the lowest-scoring starting player. The top tight end is also normally drafted within the top-25 picks and is the first or second tight end off the board.

Tight End Premium Value vs Running Backs & Wide Receivers

Now that we’ve established this, how does the value-based argument of top-scoring tight ends hold up against other positions? Since you start two running backs and two wide receivers in FFPC leagues, we are comparing the No. 1 player at the position to the 24th instead of the 12th for tight ends.

TE-Premium Starters vs RB & WR Starters, 2015–2019
Tight End Wide Receiver Running Back
Year TE1 TE12 Difference WR1 WR24 Difference RB1 RB24 Difference
2019 304 163 141 374 212 162 469 174 295
2018 348 156 192 337 188 149 383 173 210
2017 277 161 116 311 188 123 387 166 221
2016 263 176 87 307 200 107 411 162 249
2015 291 177 114 382 211 171 320 164 156
AVERAGE 296.6 166.6 130.0 342.2 199.8 142.4 394 167.8 226.2

Framing positional value this way justifies the running back-heavy start to most FFPC drafts. Some of this analysis is skewed by a player having a record season (See 2019 RB1 CMC who was a league-winner as a top pick) but the overall thought behind shooting for a player that could achieve the positional No.1 season is valid. What’s noticeable is how close wide receivers and tight ends are in this study. The most actionable piece of this data relates to this idea. If WR's and TE's are this close in positional value, should people really be flexing wide receivers as much as they do?

Here are tight end finishes, respective ADPs, and how they would have finished as wide receivers over the past five years in terms of points per game and overall scoring.

Tight End vs Wide Receiver Fantasy Ranks

2019

TE Rank Player FPs Finish as WR FP/G PPG Finish as WR Positional ADP Overall ADP
1 Travis Kelce 304.8 2 19.1 3 1 5
2 George Kittle 265.0 5 18.9 3 2 19
3 Zach Ertz 259.6 7 17.3 6 3 22
4 Austin Hooper 227.2 17 17.5 7 10 84
5 Evan Engram 131.4 52 16.4 7 4 42
6 Darren Waller 268.0 5 16.8 8 15 120
7 Mark Andrews 241.2 12 16.1 9 11 100
8 Hunter Henry 177.7 36 14.8 22 6 49
9 Will Dissly 85.0 - 14.2 25 39 250
10 Tyler Higbee 194.9 28 13.9 29 50 62
11 Jared Cook 189.0 31 13.5 33 7 182
12 Mike Gesicki 163.5 38 10.9 40 27 200
13 Jason Witten 171.4 37 10.7 42 29 137
14 Greg Olsen 149.7 46 10.7 42 21 125
15 Dallas Goedert 177.7 36 11.8 46 17 143
16 Jack Doyle 133.3 52 8.9 52 23 152
17 Noah Fant 133.0 52 8.3 52 24 217

2018

TE Rank Player FPs Finish as WR FP/G PPG Finish as WR Positional ADP Overall ADP
1 Travis Kelce 348.1 1 21.8 1 2 20
2 Zach Ertz 338.3 1 21.1 1 3 27
3 George Kittle 300.7 8 18.8 8 13 94
4 Eric Ebron 257.2 13 16.1 18 15 114
5 Jared Cook 227.6 15 14.2 22 21 150
6 O.J. Howard 137.5 50 13.8 22 16 116
7 Evan Engram 146.8 45 13.3 25 6 52
8 Austin Hooper 196.5 23 12.3 27 19 146
9 Rob Gronkowski 156.7 38 12.1 27 1 15
10 Kyle Rudolph 183.4 26 11.5 33 9 61
11 Jordan Reed 148.8 45 11.4 35 10 64
12 Trey Burton 174.1 34 10.9 40 7 52
13 David Njoku 171.9 34 10.7 41 12 94
14 Vance McDonald 160.0 38 10.7 41 25 172
15 Jimmy Graham 158.1 38 9.9 46 4 40

2017

TE Rank Player FPs Finish as WR FP/G PPG Finish as WR Positional ADP Overall ADP
1 Travis Kelce 277.0 4 18.5 3 2 23
2 Rob Gronkowski 259.8 6 20.0 3 1 13
3 Zach Ertz 241.4 9 17.2 5 6 56
4 Jack Doyle 213.0 16 14.2 13 13 106
5 Delanie Walker 215.5 16 13.5 19 9 65
6 Evan Engram 205.6 17 13.7 19 21 162
7 Hunter Henry 149.4 40 12.5 23 11 87
8 Jimmy Graham 197.5 20 12.3 24 5 40
9 Kyle Rudolph 186.7 25 11.7 29 8 65
10 Jason Witten 180.5 25 11.3 29 15 120
11 Ben Watson 167.7 32 10.5 39 39 214
12 Cameron Brate 167.1 32 10.4 40 18 149
13 Jared Cook 161.7 34 10.1 40 17 143
14 Eric Ebron 160.9 34 10.1 40 12 106
15 Vernon Davis 147.3 40 9.2 47 33 205

2016

TE Rank Player FPs Finish as WR FP/G PPG Finish as WR Positional ADP Overall ADP
1 Jordan Reed 203.6 22 17.0 8 2 25
2 Travis Kelce 263.5 6 16.5 9 4 38
3 Kyle Rudolph 250.5 8 15.7 9 20 148
4 Zach Ertz 222.6 18 15.9 9 8 67
5 Greg Olsen 245.3 12 15.3 13 3 33
6 Delanie Walker 220.6 18 14.7 15 5 53
7 Zach Miller 143.1 - 14.3 17 18 137
8 Jimmy Graham 225.8 17 14.1 20 15 105
9 Tyler Eifert 112.9 - 14.1 20 10 81
10 Rob Gronkowski 109.5 - 13.7 21 1 7
11 Dennis Pitta 213.9 19 13.4 22 50 200
12 Cameron Brate 199.5 25 13.3 23 29 232
13 Eric Ebron 174.7 41 13.4 23 17 124
14 Antonio Gates 176.3 41 12.6 28 11 87
15 Martellus Bennett 195.6 30 12.2 36 13 96
16 Jason Witten 188.8 33 11.8 39 14 99
17 Jack Doyle 176.9 41 11.1 43 50 200
18 Charles Clay 164.7 46 11 43 19 139

2015

TE Rank Player FPs Finish as WR FP/G PPG Finish as WR Positional ADP Overall ADP
1 Jordan Reed 291.7 7 20.8 5 26 163
2 Rob Gronkowski 291.6 7 19.4 7 1 2
3 Delanie Walker 289.4 7 19.3 8 9 76
4 Gary Barnidge 276.8 8 17.3 12 40 250
5 Greg Olsen 267.9 12 16.7 17 4 38
6 Tyler Eifert 217.5 21 16.7 17 11 80
7 Antonio Gates 177.0 35 16.1 19 14 114
8 Ben Watson 229.5 18 14.3 26 35 235
9 Travis Kelce 225.5 20 14.1 26 3 29
10 Zach Ertz 209.8 25 14.0 26 6 49
11 Jimmy Graham 144.5 - 13.1 31 2 23
12 Martellus Bennett 141.4 - 12.9 32 5 46
13 Jason Witten 204.7 26 12.8 32 8 61
14 Austin Seferian-Jenkins 89.3 - 12.8 32 18 122

This exercise helps to truly grasp the importance of TE-premium scoring. Looking at last year alone, Travis Kelce outscored every wideout not named Michael Thomas. Late-round flier Darren Waller outscored DeAndre Hopkins. The examples go on.

2019 wasn’t an aberration either. In terms of points per game, tight ends have been scoring at an impressive clip in this format. Breaking it down by the number of tight ends that would finish as a WR1, WR2, and WR3 in terms of points per game is illuminating.

TE Fantasy Ranks as WRs, 2015–2019
Year 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 Total
WR1s 7 3 3 4 4 21
WR2s 1 3 5 9 3 21
WR3s 3 5 2 2 7 19
Total 11 11 10 15 14

There are multiple tight ends each year which perform at an extremely high level. In my mind, this makes them an extremely underrated option in the flex spot, especially when considering their ADP.

Projecting Tight Ends in 2020

Looking at 4for4’s TE-premium projections for the upcoming season we see both Travis Kelce and George Kittle projected to top 300 fantasy points and the second-and fourth-highest scorers among all flex-eligible players. Considering only Michael Thomas and Christian McCaffery are projected to top 300 points otherwise, both Kelce and Kittle are in good company.

The next tight ends off the board are usually Mark Andrews and Zach Ertz. Andrews is 26th in FFPC ADP (24th among flex-eligible players). He’s projected for 264 points, the 13th-most among flex-eligible players. Ertz provides similar value with a 35th overall (33rd flex-eligible) ADP but a projection of the 20th-highest scoring flex-eligible player (243 points). There are many other value gaps in our projections compared to FFPC ADP that continue to highlight the viability of stacking your flex with tight ends. Even if you don’t want to take our projections as gospel, look over the data I just presented. Over the past five seasons, an average of 4.2 tight ends score at a WR1 rate and 8.4 tight ends score at a WR2 clip or better.

The Bottom Line

  • Don’t be afraid to take elite tight ends early. Both Kelce and Kittle will score at a similar rate as top wide receivers and provide a similar positional advantage.
  • Loading up on high-upside tight ends can win your league. Players like Mark Andrews and Darren Waller were being selected in the double-digit rounds last year but scored similarly to top-12 wideouts. That type of volatility is hard to come by and can be capitalized by playing the tight end in the flex.
  • Pairing an early-round tight end with a bunch of late-round options is extremely viable in this format because you can put one in the flex spot if they pan out, which can reap big rewards.
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