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Quality Starts: Tight Ends

Quality Starts for 2015 for Tight Ends Using Standard Scoring

There are some fantasy football players that believe that the lineup you pick can lose you a game just as much as it can win a contest. Having a player give you a consistent performance week after week can be considered more valuable than a player who goes off every third week and then takes two weeks off between those fantastic performances. Consistency has a value, and it does not take much of a leap to understand that players that you can rely on for solid games when you need them (such as in your postseason) are a huge advantage.

Baseball has a term called "Quality Starts" for pitchers, which is a statistic that represents how often a starting pitcher will put up a good (not great, just good) performance in a given game. The bar is set neither high nor low (six innings pitched, three earned runs or fewer) so as to gauge a decent performance. The theory behind it is that if your pitcher gives you a Quality Start, your team has a fighting chance to win a given game.

So now we need to translate this to football. What is "quality" for each position? How do we define a "Quality Start" for quarterbacks or running backs or any other position? Looking back at the 2015 season, I decided to take the #12 TE for the year (Jason Witten, 89.3 fantasy points) and take that fantasy total and divide it by 16 for a per game average. Now a case can be made to argue against doing this. I did not account for missed games or a per-start performance metric, but I believe that the numbers will get averaged out by doing this method. Also, taking TE12 seems a bit arbitrary, but if you are looking for a bare minimum of quality, the 12th TE should be the "worst starter" in your fantasy league.

So now we move on to the next question - one of quantifying the quality. At what point do we decide whether or not a tight end has given us a quality performance? Here is where it gets a bit murky, but looking at the distribution of TE performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th TE average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for a TE Quality Start.

Using the TE Quality Start range, we can also define a bad performance or an excellent performance as either falling below or exceeding the Quality Start range. Table 1 gives us the fantasy points that it takes to fall in each of the three areas:

TE Start TypeFantasy Points
Bad Start 0 to 4.1
Quality Start 4.2 to 6.9
Excellent Start 7.0+

Table 1: 2015 TE Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - Standard Scoring

Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all the Top 36 TEs and how many of each type of start resulted for each:

Tight End Team Excellent Start Quality Start Bad Start Total
Rob Gronkowski NEP 11 3 1 15
Gary Barnidge CLE 11 2 3 16
Jordan Reed WAS 10 1 3 14
Greg Olsen CAR 11 1 4 16
Delanie Walker TEN 10 4 1 15
Tyler Eifert CIN 8 3 1 12
Ben Watson NOS 7 3 6 16
Travis Kelce KCC 8 3 5 16
Richard Rodgers GBP 6 2 8 16
Zach Ertz PHI 4 8 3 15
Antonio Gates SDC 6 3 2 11
Jason Witten DAL 3 7 6 16
Eric Ebron DET 5 3 5 13
Kyle Rudolph MIN 5 3 7 15
Julius Thomas JAC 6 0 6 12
Coby Fleener IND 4 2 9 15
Zach Miller CHI 4 3 3 10
Jimmy Graham SEA 4 1 5 11
Ladarius Green SDC 4 2 7 13
Charles Clay BUF 5 2 6 13
Jacob Tamme ATL 3 3 8 14
Owen Daniels DEN 4 4 7 15
Heath Miller PIT 4 5 6 15
Crockett Gillmore BAL 3 2 5 10
Martellus Bennett CHI 3 2 6 11
Will Tye NYG 5 2 3 10
Brent Celek PHI 5 1 6 12
Austin Seferian-Jenkins TBB 3 1 3 7
Jordan Cameron MIA 3 2 11 16
Vance McDonald SFO 3 0 10 13
Clive Walford OAK 2 4 8 14
Scott Chandler NEP 2 2 7 11
Jared Cook STL 2 3 9 14
Darren Fells ARI 3 2 6 11
Cameron Brate TBB 3 1 8 12
Anthony Fasano TEN 2 0 10 12
    183 90 204  

Table 2: 2015 TE Start Types Sorted By Top 36 TEs - Standard Scoring

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see an incredible amount of Excellent Starts (183) with almost half of that number of Qualtiy Starts (90).  Looking back at prior years, this nearly matches last season (151 Excellent, 87 Quality) and goes even further towards Excellent starts - and this screams that something has changed.  While 2013 had similar numbers (204 Excellent Starts, 94 Quality Starts), in 2012 there was a good difference with more Excellent Starts (153) than Quality Starts (125), and the numbers are similar to 2011 (177 and 95), 2010 (148 and 96) and 2009 (141 and 87).  But twice as many in 2013 and nearly that same difference in 2014 and last season?  Looking at the most likely suspect - receiving touchdowns - I find the answer.  In the last three seasons, tight ends caught 211 (2015), 215 (2014) and 237 (2013) touchdowns, far more than 2012 (202), 2011 (200) or 2010 (178) in Weeks 1-17.  With the boost in touchdown receptions, Excellent Starts skyrocket - especially without PPR.   

Now, to dig deeper, let's look at the numbers distributed in two different ways. First, I need to define a valuable starting tight end in this system. We want a TE that will win more fantasy games than lose them, so we want either "Quality" or "Excellent" starts. Using a simple formula of scoring each type of start, we can define the value of a given NFL tight end. Here is the formula:

STARTING FANTASY TE VALUE = EXCELLENT STARTS - BAD STARTS

We neglect to look at Quality Starts because they neither win games nor lose them on average - they are just average TE performances. We only really care about how often he helps our team vs. how often he hurts it. Giving a "-1" value to bad starts and "+1" to excellent ones does this for us.

On with the results, sorted by value:

Tight End Team Excellent Start Quality Start Bad Start Total NetVal
Rob Gronkowski NEP 11 3 1 15 10
Delanie Walker TEN 10 4 1 15 9
Gary Barnidge CLE 11 2 3 16 8
Jordan Reed WAS 10 1 3 14 7
Greg Olsen CAR 11 1 4 16 7
Tyler Eifert CIN 8 3 1 12 7
Antonio Gates SDC 6 3 2 11 4
Travis Kelce KCC 8 3 5 16 3
Will Tye NYG 5 2 3 10 2
Ben Watson NOS 7 3 6 16 1
Zach Ertz PHI 4 8 3 15 1
Zach Miller CHI 4 3 3 10 1
Eric Ebron DET 5 3 5 13 0
Julius Thomas JAC 6 0 6 12 0
Jimmy Graham SEA 5 1 5 11 0
Austin Seferian-Jenkins TBB 3 1 3 7 0
Charles Clay BUF 5 2 6 13 -1
Brent Celek PHI 5 1 6 12 -1
Richard Rodgers GBP 6 2 8 16 -2
Heath Miller PIT 4 5 6 15 -2
Crockett Gillmore BAL 3 2 5 10 -2
Jason Witten DAL 3 7 6 16 -3
Ladarius Green SDC 4 2 7 13 -3
Owen Daniels DEN 4 4 7 15 -3
Martellus Bennett CHI 3 2 6 11 -3
Darren Fells ARI 3 2 6 11 -3
Coby Fleener IND 4 2 9 15 -5
Jacob Tamme ATL 3 3 8 14 -5
Scott Chandler NEP 2 2 7 11 -5
Cameron Brate TBB 3 1 8 12 -5
Clive Walford OAK 2 4 8 14 -6
Vance McDonald SFO 3 0 10 13 -7
Jared Cook STL 2 3 9 14 -7
Jordan Cameron MIA 3 2 11 16 -8
Anthony Fasano TEN 2 0 10 12 -8

Table 3: 2015 TE Start Types Sorted By Value - Standard Scoring

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. For example, the Top 8 tight ends blew the competition away, as they accounted for over 90% of all of the positive net value tight ends in the league (a combined +55 Net Value).  Tyler Eifert had a +7 in just 12 games, while fellow Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates had a +4 in 11 contests. Several newer names are near the top of this chart, hinting that there are more and more valuable tight ends across the league.  

Lastly I will sift through it for you and get right to the heart of the matter with our final table. Here we have the results sorted by value for the Top TEs on the 2016 ADP list. 

Tight End Team Excellent Start Quality Start Bad Start Total NetVal ADP
Rob Gronkowski NEP 11 3 1 15 10 9
Delanie Walker TEN 10 4 1 15 9 68
Gary Barnidge CLE 11 2 3 16 8 87
Jordan Reed WAS 10 1 3 14 7 36
Greg Olsen CAR 11 1 4 16 7 46
Tyler Eifert CIN 8 3 1 12 7 59
Antonio Gates SDC 6 3 2 11 4 TE13
Travis Kelce KCC 8 3 5 16 3 63
Will Tye NYG 5 2 3 10 2 TE26
Ben Watson NOS 7 3 6 16 1 TE27
Zach Ertz PHI 4 8 3 15 1 91
Zach Miller CHI 4 3 3 10 1 TE19
Eric Ebron DET 5 3 5 13 0 TE15
Julius Thomas JAC 6 0 6 12 0 100
Jimmy Graham SEA 5 1 5 11 0 110
Austin Seferian-Jenkins TBB 3 1 3 7 0 TE16
Charles Clay BUF 5 2 6 13 -1 TE22
Richard Rodgers GBP 6 2 8 16 -2 TE30
Kyle Rudolph MIN 5 3 7 15 -2 TE23
Jason Witten DAL 3 7 6 16 -3 TE17
Ladarius Green SDC 4 2 7 13 -3 89
Martellus Bennett CHI 3 2 6 11 -3 TE14
Coby Fleener IND 4 2 9 15 -5 70
Clive Walford OAK 2 4 8 14 -6 TE21
Vance McDonald SFO 3 0 10 13 -7 TE29
Jared Cook STL 2 3 9 14 -7 TE20
Dwayne Allen IND 1 0 8 9 -7 TE18
Jordan Cameron MIA 3 2 11 16 -8 TE24
Hunter Henry SD
Rookie
TE25
Austin Hooper ATL
Rookie
TE28

Table 4: 2016 Top Drafted TEs Sorted By 2015 Value - Standard Scoring

 

Note that two rookies (Austin Hooper of the Atlanta Falcons, and Hunter Henry of the San Diego Chargers) make their first appearance in this article, since they did not have any 2015 NFL statistics.  

Lots of information can be gathered from our final table.  First, 2015 numbers are not at all a good predictive measure of ADP this year.  Why?  Lots of change at the position.  Coby Fleener is now in New Orleans, which elevates Fleener's perceived value (ADP of TE7, 70th overall) now that he will start for Drew Brees - but do not forget the impact to Fleener's former teammate, Dwayne Allen.  Allen will now be the top tight end for Andrew Luck, and Luck loves to utilize the tight end on offense (which even goes back to Luck's days at Stanford).  Allen has a lofty ADP of TE18 even though his 2015 numbers support no such ranking.  Lots of fantasy TE2's this year are impacted, as Martellus Bennett (TE14) moved from Chicago to New England, opening opportunity for Zach Miller (TE19) for the Bears.  Richard Rodgers (TE30) will now compete with Jared Cook (TE20).  Even Ladarius Green (ADP of 89, TE9) moved from San Diego to Pittsburgh to start for the Steelers.  I believe that several tight ends in the TE13-24+ ADP range this year will push for TE1 fantasy value - so 2015 numbers have to be taken with a massive grain of salt.  That brings up an important point, which is that the numbers in this analysis article are based solely on last year's results. There is no reason to believe in these numbers as indications of 2016 performance, but having this information available should give you more to think about when deciding who you will have leading your fantasy team this year.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.