Can Jack Doyle Rule Fantasy Football?

Can Jack Doyle Rule Fantasy Football?

By TJ Hernandez (Director of DFS), last update Mar 31, 2017

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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On March 7, the Colts signed tight end Jack Doyle to a three-year, $19 million contract, with $9.5 million guaranteed. A day later, Indy traded away tight end Dwayne Allen to the Patriots. While 15 tight ends have more guaranteed money on their current contract than Doyle, only four will account for a bigger cap hit in 2017. On the surface, it appears that the Colts are ready to make Doyle their featured tight end, but is there evidence to suggest he'll post a TE1 season in fantasy?

 

Andrew Luck’s History with Tight Ends

We know that on the individual level for tight ends, fantasy scoring is highly correlated with targets per game, and to a lesser extent, target market share. For most of Andrew Luck’s career, he’s had two tight ends to feed -- Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen -- so it might be a more useful exercise to look at Luck’s history with tight ends on the team level, under the assumption that the writing on the wall by the front office is true and Doyle will absorb most of the Colts’ tight end work in 2017.

Colts’ Team TE Usage (Luck Active), 2012-2016
Year Tgts/Game Tgt Mkt. Share
2012 7.4 19.3%
2013 6.9 19.2%
2014 10.3 25.3%
2015 8.3 20.4%
2016 9.3 25.9%

Looking only at the games in which Luck has been active, we see that his affinity for the tight end position has grown over the years. Luck has targeted his tight ends on at least 20% of his throws in each of the last three seasons, good for a 22.5% target share and 8.6 targets per game. Those numbers would have ranked 14th and 10th, respectively, among all teams in 2016.

Although targets correlate strongly with fantasy production overall, top fantasy tight ends are usually highly dependent on touchdowns, since few tight ends ever put up huge catch or yardage totals. For this reason, red zone opportunity -- both volume and usage rate -- is extremely important.

Here’s a look at team-level tight end red zone numbers with Andrew Luck under center:

Colts’ Team TE Red Zone Usage (Luck Active), 2012-2016 
Year Tgt Mkt. Share Tgts/Game
2012 22.5% 1.0
2013 21.3% 1.1
2014 33.3% 1.9
2015 32.4% 1.6
2016 33.8% 1.5

Since the beginning of 2014, Luck has targeted tight ends on one-third of his red zone throws. Only four teams have targeted the position more over that span. The red zone targets per game numbers may seem a bit underwhelming on the surface, but consider that only four teams targeted the tight end in the red zone more than 1.5 times per game in 2016, with just one team doing so more than twice per game.

For Doyle to have a TE1 finish in his range of outcomes, Luck will have to continue to target the position at an unusually high rate, as the Colts haven’t overwhelmed in their ability to make it to the red zone. Over the last three seasons with Luck under center, Indianapolis has averaged 12.5 red zone plays per game and reached the red zone on 28.9% of drives, which are both slightly below the league average.

 

Can Doyle Break the Mold?

Recent tight end numbers look encouraging on the team level, but an individual tight end has never commanded a huge chunk of the passing attack from Luck. Even when Fleener finished as the TE7 in 2014, he did so on only 51 catches. No tight end has finished a season with more than 15% of total targets or 20% of red zone targets from Luck. If the second half of 2016 is any indication, Doyle could be the exception to the rule.

Last year in Week 7, Doyle saw more than six targets for the first time all season, then remained in a fairly prominent role for the remainder of the season. Over the final 10 weeks, Doyle accounted for 15.4% of the Colts' targets and 24.4% of their red zone targets. That red zone target share that was bested by just three tight ends over the entirety of last year. During that same stretch, Doyle saw at least 24% of Indy’s targets in three different games, a feat accomplished just four other times by a Colts’ tight end in the Luck era.

If Doyle can maintain his role in the red zone and increase his overall target share even marginally, the fifth-year tight end could approach volume numbers never before seen by a tight end playing with Luck.

 

The Bottom Line

Even though Doyle's contract isn’t huge relative to other players at the position, recent front office moves in Indianapolis suggest that the Colts are willing to see if Doyle can flourish in a more prominent role, at least for one season. Outside of T.Y. Hilton, Luck’s pass catchers have been spotty at best. Even if Indianapolis spends significant draft capital on a receiver or tight end, neither are positions that generally produce in year one.

Doyle’s real intrigue is mostly attached to his scoring upside. Luck’s historical red zone distribution combined with Doyle’s late-season surge in usage rates suggest a ceiling well within TE1 territory. It can’t be overstated how important those usage rates in the red zone are for Doyle. While the Colts are often assumed to be one of the highest-scoring teams in the league, drive stats show that Luck is a quarterback that hasn’t provided as many scoring opportunities for his offense as one might think.

For those drafting in early-season best-ball leagues, such as MFL10s, drafting Doyle as a fringe tight end1 is a fair investment -- there is a clear path for him to finish as a top-10 tight end and there will almost certainly be huge boom weeks.

But you have to recognize that Doyle’s range of outcomes is wide. Donte Moncrief is an ever-present contender for red zone looks. If the Colts find a reliable back near the goal line, Doyle could be a player with pretty stats at the end of the season, but a nightmare to project from week to week in traditional redraft leagues.

 

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