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Quality Starts: Tight Ends (PPR Scoring)

Quality Starts for 2015 for Tight Ends Using PPR 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 (Antonio Gates, 149 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 6.9
Quality Start 7.0 to 11.6
Excellent Start 11.7+

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

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

Tight End Team Excellent Start Quality Start Bad Start Total
Rob Gronkowski NEP 11 2 2 15
Jordan Reed WAS 9 4 1 14
Delanie Walker TEN 13 2 0 15
Gary Barnidge CLE 11 2 3 16
Greg Olsen CAR 10 3 3 16
Travis Kelce KCC 8 5 3 16
Ben Watson NOS 7 4 5 16
Tyler Eifert CIN 8 2 2 12
Zach Ertz PHI 5 6 4 15
Jason Witten DAL 5 8 3 16
Richard Rodgers GBP 6 3 7 16
Antonio Gates SDC 7 2 2 11
Eric Ebron DET 5 3 5 13
Jacob Tamme ATL 5 1 8 14
Kyle Rudolph MIN 5 3 7 15
Heath Miller PIT 3 6 5 14
Coby Fleener IND 3 3 9 15
Charles Clay BUF 4 4 5 13
Julius Thomas JAC 5 1 6 12
Jimmy Graham SEA 4 2 5 11
Owen Daniels DEN 3 5 7 15
Martellus Bennett CHI 4 2 5 11
Ladarius Green SDC 4 2 7 13
Zach Miller CHI 4 3 3 10
Will Tye NYG 4 3 4 11
Crockett Gillmore BAL 3 3 4 10
Jordan Cameron MIA 1 4 11 16
Jared Cook STL 1 5 9 15
Brent Celek PHI 3 2 7 12
Vance McDonald SFO 3 0 10 13
Clive Walford OAK 1 5 8 14
Austin Seferian-Jenkins TBB 3 1 3 7
Vernon Davis DEN 2 4 4 10
Scott Chandler NEP 2 2 7 11
Darren Fells ARI 1 4 6 11
Cameron Brate TBB 3 0 9 12
    176 111 189

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

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there significantly more Excellent Starts (176) than Quality Starts (111), which is consistent with the recent trend (2014 was 131 and 112, respectively, while 2013 was 171 and 124) and a much bigger difference than in the past.  The numbers in 2012 were closer with about as many Excellent Starts (165) as Quality Starts (156), and the numbers are similar to two other recent seasons (2010, 146 and 128; 2009, 143 and 119).  In 2011, the numbers were closer and actually a little inverted (more Quality Starts at 147 than the 137 Excellent starts), so this tells me that there are more and more elite tight ends pushing the top of the chart higher.  Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen alone had a combined 21 Excellent starts (and justfive bad starts, or a +16 net) for these two studs.  As for Bad Starts, there were plenty of those again this year with 189, but we are only looking for the best here, plus a "start" is not as definitive for a positional player that may just see partial playing time. 

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

Table 3: 2015 TE Start Types Sorted By Value - PPR 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 +61 Net Value).  Tyler Eifert had a +6 in just 12 games, while fellow Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates had a +5 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
Delanie Walker TEN 13 2 0 15 13 70
Rob Gronkowski NEP 11 2 2 15 9 7
Jordan Reed WAS 9 4 1 14 8 37
Gary Barnidge CLE 11 2 3 16 8 88
Greg Olsen CAR 10 3 3 16 7 45
Tyler Eifert CIN 8 2 2 12 6 60
Travis Kelce KCC 8 5 3 16 5 61
Antonio Gates SDC 7 2 2 11 5 TE15
Ben Watson NOS 7 4 5 16 2 TE28
Jason Witten DAL 5 8 3 16 2 TE18
Zach Ertz PHI 5 6 4 15 1 93
Zach Miller CHI 4 3 3 10 1 TE19
Eric Ebron DET 5 3 5 13 0 TE13
Will Tye NYG 4 3 4 11 0 TE26
Austin Seferian-Jenkins TBB 3 1 3 7 0 TE16
Richard Rodgers GBP 6 3 7 16 -1 TE30
Charles Clay BUF 4 4 5 13 -1 TE20
Julius Thomas JAC 5 1 6 12 -1 95
Jimmy Graham SEA 4 2 5 11 -1 111
Martellus Bennett CHI 4 2 5 11 -1 TE14
Kyle Rudolph MIN 5 3 7 15 -2 TE24
Ladarius Green SDC 4 2 7 13 -3 96
Coby Fleener IND 3 3 9 15 -6 76
Vance McDonald SFO 3 0 10 13 -7 TE27
Clive Walford OAK 1 5 8 14 -7 TE23
Jared Cook STL 1 5 9 15 -8 TE21
Dwayne Allen IND 0 1 9 10 -9 TE17
Jordan Cameron MIA 1 4 11 16 -10 TE22
Hunter Henry SD
Rookie
TE25
Austin Hooper ATL
Rookie
TE29

Table 4: 2016 Top Drafted TEs Sorted By 2015 Value - PPR 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, 76th 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 TE17 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 (TE21).  Even Ladarius Green (ADP of 96, 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.