What are the Most Predictable Year-to-Year Stats for Tight Ends?
This is the final installment of my four part series looking at which stats are the most reliable from one year to the next for each position. I have already researched quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers.
The goal of this study is to uncover which frequently referenced previous-year stats for tight ends are reliable indicators of future performance -- and which ones may be misleading.
In hopes of keeping this study somewhat controlled, only tight ends from 2010 that saw at least 65 targets and remained on the same team in consecutive years were considered. So many variables change from one year to the next in the NFL, and since a study like this can be inherently sensitive to outliers, eliminating something as drastic as a team change should remove some noise. Sixty-five targets is an arbitrary cutoff, but should be sufficient enough of a sample to gauge a player's performance level in a season. This methodology resulted in a sample of 60 instances in which a tight end met the volume threshold in consecutive seasons for the same team.
The One Type of Stat with the Strongest Correlation
The following table gives the correlations for 17 statistics that are commonly cited when trying to project a tight end's upcoming season:
|Total Rec. Yards||.38|
|Total Red Zone Targets||.23|
|TD Rate (TD/Targets)||.22|
|% of Team Red Zone Targets||.11|
|Red Zone TD Rate||.06|
As has been the case with all other positions, per-game stats have the strongest year-to-year correlations for tight ends. When you consider that these stats simply represent a player's average performance, this should come as no surprise.
On the other hand, volume stats will fluctuate if a player misses a handful of games. (The correlation of games played from one year to the next has a weak correlation -- although it should be noted that it is significantly stronger than at any other position.)
A Surprisingly “Sticky” Stat
For the most part, year-to-year consistency for common tight end metrics matched up with our wide receiver findings. Because tight ends see significantly less volume than wide receivers, it makes sense that tight ends have a slightly lower year-to-year correlation in terms of their volume metrics, but targets are still very consistent from one year to the next.
What really stands out is how consistent tight end scoring is from year to year. In fact, within the scope of this study, tight end is more consistent than any other position in terms of year-to-year fantasy scoring. This is likely a function of touchdown dependency.
Last season’s results suggest that tight ends rely on touchdowns for their fantasy points slightly less than any other position. If we remove Tyler Eifert, who scored 41 percent of his fantasy points via touchdown, touchdowns accounted for 19 percent of top-12 tight end fantasy points in 2015. For top-12 wide receivers, that number was 21 percent; running backs 24 percent; and quarterbacks 45 percent.
I touched on this a moment ago, but tight ends seem to be either the most likely skill position to maintain their role in an offense, the least injury-prone, or both. While all other positions saw virtually no correlation in games played from one year to the next, there is some correlation with tight ends, albeit weak.
The Red Zone - Not to be Relied On
Although tight ends are often thought of as dominant red zone threats, the fact of the matter is that they still don’t see nearly the volume of targets near the goal line that wide receivers do. In 2015, just three of the top 10 players in red zone targets were tight ends.
Since only a select few tight ends see any significant red zone volume, their year-to-year red zone efficiency as a group is more volatile than that of wide receivers. Even more so than receivers, we should use tight end red zone scoring rates and market share numbers to decide if a player is expected to regress to the mean, rather than as a sign of things to come.
The Bottom Line
When considering how a tight end performed in one year in hopes of applying that data to the next season, there are a few key points to note:
- In PPR scoring, year-to-year fantasy points correlate stronger for tight ends than any other position. There is evidence that tight ends are collectively the least touchdown dependent skill position in fantasy and most likely to maintain their role in an offense.
- As with wide receivers, tight ends tend to maintain their target volume from one year to the next.
- Most tight ends tend to not see much red zone volume, so their efficiency metrics can swing wildly from year to year. Tight ends with consistent red zone work are very valuable commodities.