Denny Carter

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The Viability of TE Streaming

Monday, July 29, 2013


It’s not just tight ends’ body types, height, weight, speed – their sheer athleticism – that has so radically changed in the position’s evolution.

It’s everything.

From usage in the slot to expanded route trees to the impact of NFL rule changes that have allowed teams to exploit the middle of the field with gusto, both sides of fantasy football’s most basic equation – talent and opportunity -- have changed for tight ends.

It’s that change that has created a veritable laundry list of useable weekly tight end options in fantasy leagues of almost every kind. More tight ends are seeing more targets, catching more passes, and scoring more consistent fantasy points weekly and – as you may have deduced – seasonally.

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The strategy begins on draft day, when an owner committed to streaming tight ends would do well to spend two late-round picks on the position. This isn’t essential, however, as you’ll find your fair share of streamable plays – guys squaring off against defenses that have struggled mightily against tight ends – on the waiver wire.

I’ve been a proponent of streaming tight ends, like we do with defenses, for much of this offseason. 2011 may have been a record-setting year for tight ends, with Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham scoring the most and second-most fantasy points among tight ends in the long and storied history of fantasy football, but the 2012 season showed that beyond the elites lie a cavalcade of tight ends who proved worthy of spot starts.

Forty-seven tight ends posted top-12 (TE1) numbers in at least one week last season, while 25 tight ends scored in the top-12 four or more times.

I thought it might be helpful to use a slightly wider lens in examining how NFL tight ends were once used, and how they’re deployed today.

2002

Targets: 2,684
Receptions: 1,698
25+ Yard Catches: 95
Touchdowns: 137

2007

Targets: 3,340
Receptions: 2,147
25+ Yard Catches: 129
Touchdowns: 187

2012

Targets: 3,827
Receptions: 2,449
25+ Yard Catches: 186
Touchdowns: 202

It’s all a bit jarring. Distilled, here’s the main takeaway from the above numbers: tight ends of a decade ago (this includes all tight ends) averaged 28.5 targets per season. This number in 2012 spiked to 35.5 targets per season.

That sort of increase, spread across all 108 NFL tight ends, could – and should – change the way we think about the position in fantasy football.

We’ve always expected, for good reason, that the game’s top tight ends will be force-fed the football as an integral part of an offense. Their targets and receptions have always been far more reliable than their lesser-used counterparts, just as top-notch wide receivers are top notch precisely because the pigskin flies their way more often. Sprinkle in elite talent, and you have a recipe for fantasy glory.

A look at targets among tight ends who ranked 12-24 in pass targets reveals a significant opportunity rise even among those who’d never be considered elite, in fantasy or otherwise. The definition of volume has changed when it comes to tight end targets.

2009: 61.4 average targets
2010: 65.3 average targets
2011: 75.8 average targets
2012: 77.4 average targets


Statistics courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com.

Remember, these average seasonal targets are among many of the tight ends that you could draft in the waning rounds and use selectively throughout the season – usually when they play tight end-friendly defenses.

Targeting Defenses

It should make perfect sense that while tight ends targets, receptions, and touchdowns have spiked, so too have defenses allowing juicy weekly outputs to tight ends. It’s easier than ever to spot a good match-up, even a few weeks in advance.

This is anything but revolutionary. Savvy fantasy footballers have done this for years with fantasy defenses: identifying favorable match-ups, making the necessary roster moves, and reaping the benefits against owners fixated on a single defense, no matter their match-up.

Below is a look at the 10 NFL defenses that gave up the most fantasy production to tight ends in 2012 standard leagues.

Average fantasy points allowed to tight ends per week

Washington Redskins: 9.6
Denver Broncos: 9.4
Tennessee Titans: 9.4
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8.3
New England Patriots: 8.2
Houston Texans: 8.1
Oakland Raiders: 7.9
Carolina Panthers: 7.6
New Orleans Saints: 7.4
Detroit Lions: 7.2

Here are the 10 most tight end-friendly defenses of 2008.

Average fantasy points allowed to tight ends per week

San Diego Chargers: 11.1
New York Jets: 9.0
Detroit Lions: 8.9
Denver Broncos: 7.7
Atlanta Falcons: 7.7
Kansas City Chiefs: 7.4
Jacksonville Jaguars: 7.4
Philadelphia Eagles: 6.9
Houston Texans: 6.7
Cincinnati Bengals: 6.7

And finally, the 10 most exploitable defenses from 2003.

Average fantasy points allowed to tight ends per week

San Diego Chargers: 7.3
Detroit Lions: 7.2
Oakland Raiders: 7.1
Cleveland Browns: 6.3
Jacksonville Jaguars: 5.7
Chicago Bears: 5.7
Pittsburgh Steelers: 5.6
Denver Broncos: 5.6
Atlanta Falcons: 5.5
Washington Redskins: 5.5


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Denny Carter can be found on Twitter @cdcarter13.
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