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Quality Starts: Tight Ends

Quality Starts for 2016 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 2016 season, I decided to take the #12 TE for the year (Jack Doyle, 89.4 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:

RB Start Type Fantasy Points
Bad Start 0 to 4.1
Quality Start 4.2 to 6.9
Excellent Start 7.0+

Table 1: 2016 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
Travis Kelce KCC 9 2 5 16
Greg Olsen CAR 8 3 5 16
Kyle Rudolph MIN 7 6 3 16
Jimmy Graham SEA 7 6 3 16
Delanie Walker TEN 8 3 4 15
Cameron Brate TBB 8 3 5 16
Martellus Bennett NEP 7 1 8 16
Zach Ertz PHI 6 2 6 14
Jordan Reed WAS 6 3 3 12
Antonio Gates SDC 7 1 5 13
Hunter Henry SDC 8 1 4 13
Jack Doyle IND 4 5 7 16
Coby Fleener NOS 4 3 9 16
Jason Witten DAL 3 6 6 15
Eric Ebron DET 5 4 3 12
Dennis Pitta BAL 4 2 10 16
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 5 4 5 14
Charles Clay BUF 4 2 8 14
Dwayne Allen IND 4 1 7 12
Gary Barnidge CLE 4 5 6 15
Zach Miller CHI 5 0 5 10
Rob Gronkowski NEP 4 1 1 6
Vernon Davis WAS 4 4 6 14
Tyler Eifert CIN 5 0 3 8
Vance McDonald SFO 4 2 4 10
Lance Kendricks RAM 3 3 8 14
Ryan Griffin HOU 2 4 9 15
Julius Thomas JAC 5 1 3 9
Garrett Celek SFO 3 3 8 14
Jermaine Gresham ARI 2 4 6 12
Clive Walford OAK 3 0 12 15
Jesse James PIT 3 2 9 14
Dion Sims MIA 2 2 8 12
Trey Burton PHI 2 3 9 14
Will Tye NYG 1 4 11 16
Austin Hooper ATL 3 1 7 11
    169 97 221  

Table 2: 2016 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 a large amount of Excellent Starts (169) when compared to Quality Starts (97).  Looking back at prior years, these numbers are not that different from 2015 (183 Excellent, 90 Quality) and 2014 (151 Excellent, 87 Quality), which adds evidence to a relative consistency in tight end performance over the past three seasons.  Similarly, the numbers in 2009-2012 were also comparable - 2012 had a closer ratio of Excellent Starts (153) to Quality Starts (125), but the past three seasons are very similar to 2011 (177 and 95), 2010 (148 and 96) and 2009 (141 and 87).

So what about 2013? This appears to be an outlier season, as there was a peak in both Excellent Starts (204) but not a significant drop in Quality Starts with 94 such performances by tight ends.  How can this be?  Looking at the most likely suspect - receiving touchdowns - I find the answer.  In the last eight seasons, tight ends scored an incredible amount of touchdowns (237) in 2013, while numbers were 15-25% less in the other years - 186 (2016), 211 (2015), 215 (2014), 202 (2012), 200 (2011) and 178 (2010) 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
Travis Kelce KCC 9 2 5 16 4
Kyle Rudolph MIN 7 6 3 16 4
Jimmy Graham SEA 7 6 3 16 4
Delanie Walker TEN 8 3 4 15 4
Hunter Henry SDC 8 1 4 13 4
Greg Olsen CAR 8 3 5 16 3
Cameron Brate TBB 8 3 5 16 3
Jordan Reed WAS 6 3 3 12 3
Rob Gronkowski NEP 4 1 1 6 3
Antonio Gates SDC 7 1 5 13 2
Eric Ebron DET 5 4 3 12 2
Tyler Eifert CIN 5 0 3 8 2
Julius Thomas JAC 5 1 3 9 2
Zach Ertz PHI 6 2 6 14 0
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 5 4 5 14 0
Zach Miller CHI 5 0 5 10 0
Vance McDonald SFO 4 2 4 10 0
Martellus Bennett NEP 7 1 8 16 -1
Gary Barnidge CLE 4 5 6 15 -2
Vernon Davis WAS 4 4 6 14 -2
Jack Doyle IND 4 5 7 16 -3
Jason Witten DAL 3 6 6 15 -3
Dwayne Allen IND 4 1 7 12 -3
Charles Clay BUF 4 2 8 14 -4
Jermaine Gresham ARI 2 4 6 12 -4
Austin Hooper ATL 3 1 7 11 -4
Coby Fleener NOS 4 3 9 16 -5
Lance Kendricks RAM 3 3 8 14 -5
Garrett Celek SFO 3 3 8 14 -5
Dennis Pitta BAL 4 2 10 16 -6
Jesse James PIT 3 2 9 14 -6
Dion Sims MIA 2 2 8 12 -6
Ryan Griffin HOU 2 4 9 15 -7
Trey Burton PHI 2 3 9 14 -7
Clive Walford OAK 3 0 12 15 -9
Will Tye NYG 1 4 11 16 -10

Table 3: 2016 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 9 tight ends blew the competition away, as they accounted for 80% of all of the positive net value tight ends in the league (a combined +32 Net Value).  Jordan Reed had a +3 in just 12 games, while Rob Gronkowski matched that number in just six 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 2017 ADP list. 

Tight End Team Excellent Start Quality Start Bad Start Total NetVal ADP
Travis Kelce KCC 9 2 5 16 4 33
Kyle Rudolph MIN 7 6 3 16 4 87
Jimmy Graham SEA 7 6 3 16 4 63
Delanie Walker TEN 8 3 4 15 4 75
Hunter Henry SDC 8 1 4 13 4 95
Greg Olsen CAR 8 3 5 16 3 44
Cameron Brate TBB 8 3 5 16 3 TE18
Jordan Reed WAS 6 3 3 12 3 41
Rob Gronkowski NEP 4 1 1 6 3 19
Antonio Gates SDC 7 1 5 13 2 TE25
Eric Ebron DET 5 4 3 12 2 119
Tyler Eifert CIN 5 0 3 8 2 68
Julius Thomas JAC 5 1 3 9 2 TE17
Zach Ertz PHI 6 2 6 14 0 100
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 5 4 5 14 0 TE22
Zach Miller CHI 5 0 5 10 0 TE26
Vance McDonald SFO 4 2 4 10 0 TE29
Martellus Bennett NEP 7 1 8 16 -1 88
Gary Barnidge CLE 4 5 6 15 -2 FA
Dwayne Allen IND 4 1 7 12 -3 TE23
Jason Witten DAL 3 6 6 15 -3 TE15
Jack Doyle IND 4 5 7 16 -3 TE13
Charles Clay BUF 4 2 8 14 -4 TE27
Austin Hooper ATL 3 1 7 11 -4 TE21
Coby Fleener NOS 4 3 9 16 -5 TE16
Jesse James PIT 3 2 9 14 -6 TE28

Table 4: 2017 Top Drafted TEs Sorted By 2016 Value - Standard Scoring

Note that three rookies (O.J. Howard of Tampa Bay, David Nioku of Cleveland and Evan Engram of the New York Giants) make their first appearance in this article, since they did not have any 2016 NFL statistics.  

Lots of information can be gathered from our final table.  First, 2016 numbers are not at all a good predictive measure of ADP this year.  Why?  Lots of change at the position.  Dwayne Allen is no longer in Indianapolis, which does not help his own value in New England (TE23) but does help his former teammate in Jack Doyle (TE13).  Other free agent moves greatly impacted ADP, with Julius Thomas (TE17) now in Miami and Martellus Bennett (TE9) joining the Packers.  Some changes did not even require a personnel move, as it is now believed (finally) that Hunter Henry (TE10) is now the starter over future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates (TE25).  Lots of fluctuation is expected at tight end, especially after beyond the Top 10-12.  Similar to last season, I once again believe that several tight ends in the TE13-24+ ADP range this year will push for TE1 fantasy value - so 2016 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 2017 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.