Tight ends played a key role in the narrative of the fantasy football offseason. Something uncommon was happening in drafts this summer and that was having two tight ends get drafted at the end of the 1st/start of the 2nd round. Over the years Antonio Gates has made a cameo in the 3rd and 4th rounds but never before had TEs been drafted so early.
The rationale behind drafting Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham so early was that they would continue to produce at an elite level and earn their early round ADP. With six weeks of the fantasy football regular season gone, almost half the season, it's a good time to take stock of the tight end postion in fantasy football.
The first thing we'll do is take a look at the Top 14 tight ends, based on a PPR scoring model. According to the PPR scoring rankings of Fantasysharks.com, here are the Top 14 tight ends. Next to each name I've put their point total and their average draft position.
1) Tony Gonzalez 110 points (9th Round)
2) Rob Gronkowski 83 points (2nd Round)
3) Vernon Davis 81 points (End of 5th Round)
4) Owen Daniels 80 points (Undrafted in many leagues)
5) Kyle Rudolph 78 points (14th Round)
6) Heath Miller 73 points (Undrafted in many leagues)
7) Jimmy Graham 68 points (2nd Round)
8) Jermaine Gresham 68 points (10th Round)
9) Brent Celek 67 points (14th Round)
10) Jared Cook 64 points (11th Round)
11) Scott Chandler 63 points (Undrafted)
12) Dennis Pitta 61 points (Undrafted)
13) Martellus Bennett 61 points (Undrafted)
14) Jason Witten 61 points (8th Round)
Looking at this list, we can separate the tight ends into different tiers. Tony Gonzalez is having a fantastic season for my beloved Falcons and he's by far the best tight end in fantasy football this year. After Gonzalez, you have the next tier, which can include Gronk, Davis, Daniels and Rudolph. Gronk's numbers are a little deceiving because he had two games where he laid an egg going 2/22 receiving yards in one game and 4/35 in another game.
After that second tier is off the board though, things start to get interesting. Six out of the remaining eight TEs were either undrafted or drafted after the 14th round. Even more interesting is the Heath Miller situation. Undrafted in most leagues, and ranked 6th in scoring, Miller has only scored 12 more points than the 14th ranked tight end.
If you stretch out that 12 point difference over a 13 game regular season, the difference is a little more than 1-point. Let's take this math even further. Let's compare Martellus Bennett's 61 points to Rob Gronkowski's 83 points over a 13 game regular season. Here we have a 22 point difference, which amounts to Gronk getting 1.69 points more than Bennett per game.
Is Rob Gronkowski a superior tight end to Martellius Bennett? Of course he is. Who's a better value though, the 2nd round guy or the undrafted guy, who only gets 1.69 points less a game? I'll take Bennett, Heath Miller or Dennis Pitta all day over Gronkowski or Graham because they are such a better value and the point difference just isn't enough for me to do otherwise.
The real crime against the fantasy gods here is who owners are not drafting in the 2nd round because they are wasting that pick on a supposedly elite tight end. Take a look at the production of the wide receivers, who were drafted in the 2nd round last summer. AJ Green (144 points), Brandon Marshall (103 points) and Wes Welker (122 points) have all given their owners much more bang for their buck than Gronk or Graham have.
This should be instructive for owners for two reasons. First, for the future, owners know that there's little to gain by spending an early round pick on an "elite" tight end. Second, one of the things many owners seem to fall for is a "Name" player being overvalued in trades. If you spent one of your early picks on a tight end, you still have a chance of getting a good value for him in trade talks, which you can use to improve your team in other needier areas like the running back position.
The short-lived age of the elite tight end is over. Bring on the Pittas, Bennetts and Millers, my friends.
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