Fantasy Football Strength of Schedule Beneficiaries: Tight Ends
Knowing which tight ends have the most favorable schedules laid out before them might be more important than understanding the strength of any other position’s schedule.
Why? Because if you don’t leave your draft room with one of fantasy’s elite tight ends – Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Julius Thomas – you’ll likely be at least tempted to stream the position as the season wears on.
To boot: Jordan Cameron, fantasy’s No. 5 tight end in 2013, had nine games in which he scored fewer than seven standard points. That’s just one example of why I advocate streaming the position – drafting a couple late round options and working the waiver wire – if you don’t end up with one of the elites.
(Editor's Note: By popular demand, TJ Hernandez will be writing a TE By Waiver Wire column this season designed to help 4for4 subscribers identify weekly TE streaming options off the waiver wire that should easily combine for TE1 production.)
We’ve already looked at which wide receivers will benefit from the softest 2014 schedules, thanks to 4for4’s new Strength of Schedule (SOS) Rankings tool that helps distill the site’s Strength of Schedule Hot Spots and aFPA data.
Below is my take on how the most appealing tight end schedules might impact borderline fantasy options this season.
I’ve been bullish on Zach Ertz’s prospects since the end of his rookie season, when I realized that Ertz was among fantasy football’s most efficient producers. Ertz scored 1.4 fantasy points per target and posted an absurdly high .46 points every time he ran a pass route.
Eagles beat writers have said that Ertz could easily double his stat line in 2014, giving him 72 receptions, 939 yards, and eight touchdowns. That season long stat line would’ve been eight points better than Julius Thomas in 2013.
Philly’s tight ends will see six good or very good matchups, to go along with three very bad matchups. It’s another reason why Ertz might be best deployed as a streaming option. They have the third easiest tight end schedule in both PPR and standard formats.
Ertz’s softest stretch will come from Week 7-12. If he runs around 25 pass routes a game, I think Ertz could be a preeminent late-round tight end with lots of upside. We're currently ranking him at TE13, just outside the top 12. There's potential for more.
The Lions’ three-headed tight end situation has the squishiest schedule of any team in the league, in both standard and point per reception (PPR) scoring. Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria, and Brandon Pettigrew will face precisely zero “very bad” matchups in 2014, along with seven “good” or “very good” matchups.
Detroit tight ends will see only one tough matchup in the season’s first 11 weeks.
Early reports out of Detroit aren’t entirely clear about who might emerge as the most viable fantasy option, but rookie Ebron seems primed to take the Jimmy Graham role in offensive coordinator Lombardi’s offense. What that means, I’m not quite sure. It doesn’t mean that Ebron will see a ton of routes from the slot, as Graham – who ran 65 percent of his routes from the slot in 2012 – ran less than half from the slot in 2013.
With Pettigrew proving to be as efficient on a per-route basis as Logan Paulsen, and with Fauria struggling with the finer points of route running and blocking, Ebron might be the best bet to squeeze fantasy production out of the Lions’ easy schedule.
Ebron is going in the 10th round of drafts – a little pricey for my taste. Unless it becomes clear that the rookie will get some serious run this year, I’d still avoid him on draft day.
St. Louis Rams
My bitterness about Jared Cook has hardly subsided an inch since the end of 2013. I thought we had something, Jared and I, after that glorious Week 1 performance in which he roasted an Arizona defense that proved historically bad against tight ends.
A sliver of silver lining in the apocalyptic black cloud that was Cook’s 2013 campaign: He averaged 1.2 fantasy points per target, which was higher than Greg Olsen’s per-target output and in line with Charles Clay’s FP/T. Olsen and Clay were last year’s eighth and seventh highest scoring tight ends, respectively.
St. Louis has an extraordinarily favorable Week 15-16 slate, to go along with the second easiest tight end schedule in the NFL. Perhaps with more targets – Cook saw just 79 last season (4.9 per game) – the freakishly athletic tight end could have a more consistent 2014. We're not all that optimistic, but Cook could certainly become a streaming target once the season gets underway.
Marcedes Lewis, that skyscraper of a tight end, was fantasy’s 10th highest scoring tight end over the second half of 2013 – a fairly remarkable feat in a horrid Jaguars’ passing attack.
He’s another tight end whose pass and run blocking acumen often keeps him from running more than 15 or 20 pass routes a game, so his upside will be limited. Lewis, however, is still a red zone beast at 6’6” and 274 pounds.
The Jacksonville tight end averaged a more-than-respectable 1.3 points per target last season thanks to the strong finish, and he squares off against the NFL’s ninth softest schedule against tight ends. He’ll see just one tough matchup – in Week 3 against the Colts – in the season’s first half.
This is a tight end timeshare I’m going to avoid wherever possible. Coby Fleener, though he served as a decent streaming option for chunks of the 2013 season, was terribly inefficient, notching one point per target as the team’s lone pass-catching tight end.
Dwayne Allen is back, and although the team seems to value Allen as a fantastic blocker, we should remember that he was really good when the Colts threw him the ball in 2012. He posted a solid 70 percent catch rate on 64 targets that season, and catching six passes for 70 yards in a game Fleener missed in mid-November.
If either Fleener or Allen get a full share of pass routes and opportunity – probably due to an injury to one or the other – then either guy could emerge as a legit streaming option. Almost half of their schedule is against teams that are either weak or very weak against tight ends, and their playoff schedule makes me salivate.
Allen or Fleener could be waiver wire heroes at some point in 2014.