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Quality Starts: Tight Ends (PPR Scoring)

Quality Starts for 2016 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 2016 season, I decided to take the #12 TE for the year (Antonio Gates, 149.8 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 6.9
Quality Start 7.0 to 11.6
Excellent Start 11.7+

Table 1: 2016 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
Travis Kelce KCC 9 4 3 16
Kyle Rudolph MIN 8 6 2 16
Greg Olsen CAR 10 3 3 16
Jimmy Graham SEA 8 4 4 16
Delanie Walker TEN 7 5 3 15
Zach Ertz PHI 7 1 6 14
Cameron Brate TBB 5 5 5 15
Dennis Pitta BAL 5 4 7 16
Jordan Reed WAS 8 1 3 12
Martellus Bennett NEP 6 3 7 16
Jason Witten DAL 4 7 4 15
Antonio Gates SDC 6 4 3 13
Jack Doyle IND 4 6 6 16
Eric Ebron DET 7 5 0 12
Coby Fleener NOS 3 4 9 16
Charles Clay BUF 4 4 6 14
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 4 6 4 14
Hunter Henry SDC 6 3 4 13
Gary Barnidge CLE 5 5 5 15
Zach Miller CHI 5 3 2 10
Vernon Davis WAS 5 2 7 14
Dwayne Allen IND 4 1 7 12
Lance Kendricks RAM 4 3 8 15
Ryan Griffin HOU 3 3 9 15
Tyler Eifert CIN 4 1 3 8
Rob Gronkowski NEP 4 1 1 6
Will Tye NYG 0 6 10 16
Jesse James PIT 2 4 8 14
Jermaine Gresham ARI 1 6 5 12
Vance McDonald SFO 3 3 4 10
Clive Walford OAK 2 1 12 15
Julius Thomas JAC 3 2 4 9
Garrett Celek SFO 1 6 6 13
Trey Burton PHI 2 3 8 13
Dion Sims MIA 4 2 7 13
Jared Cook GBP 2 2 6 10
    165 129 191  

Table 2: 2016 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 are significantly more Excellent Starts (165) than Quality Starts (129), which is consistent with the recent trend (the prior three seasons (2013, 2014 and 2015) were 131 and 112, 176 and 111, and 165 and 129, respectively).  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.  Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen alone had a combined 19 Excellent starts (and just six bad starts, or a +13 net) for these two studs.  As for Bad Starts, there were plenty of those again this year with 191, 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
Greg Olsen CAR 10 3 3 16 7
Eric Ebron DET 7 5 0 12 7
Travis Kelce KCC 9 4 3 16 6
Kyle Rudolph MIN 8 6 2 16 6
Jordan Reed WAS 8 1 3 12 5
Jimmy Graham SEA 8 4 4 16 4
Delanie Walker TEN 7 5 3 15 4
Antonio Gates SDC 6 4 3 13 3
Zach Miller CHI 5 3 2 10 3
Rob Gronkowski NEP 4 1 1 6 3
Hunter Henry SDC 6 3 4 13 2
Zach Ertz PHI 7 1 6 14 1
Tyler Eifert CIN 4 1 3 8 1
Cameron Brate TBB 5 5 5 15 0
Jason Witten DAL 4 7 4 15 0
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 4 6 4 14 0
Gary Barnidge CLE 5 5 5 15 0
Martellus Bennett NEP 6 3 7 16 -1
Vance McDonald SFO 3 3 4 10 -1
Julius Thomas JAC 3 2 4 9 -1
Dennis Pitta BAL 5 4 7 16 -2
Jack Doyle IND 4 6 6 16 -2
Charles Clay BUF 4 4 6 14 -2
Vernon Davis WAS 5 2 7 14 -2
Dwayne Allen IND 4 1 7 12 -3
Dion Sims MIA 4 2 7 13 -3
Lance Kendricks RAM 4 3 8 15 -4
Jermaine Gresham ARI 1 6 5 12 -4
Jared Cook GBP 2 2 6 10 -4
Garrett Celek SFO 1 6 6 13 -5
Coby Fleener NOS 3 4 9 16 -6
Ryan Griffin HOU 3 3 9 15 -6
Jesse James PIT 2 4 8 14 -6
Trey Burton PHI 2 3 8 13 -6
Will Tye NYG 0 6 10 16 -10
Clive Walford OAK 2 1 12 15 -10

Table 3: 2016 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 10 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 +48 Net Value).  Jordan Reed had a +5 in just 12 games, while Rob Gronkowski had a +3 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
Greg Olsen CAR 10 3 3 16 7 43
Eric Ebron DET 7 5 0 12 7 110
Travis Kelce KCC 9 4 3 16 6 29
Kyle Rudolph MIN 8 6 2 16 6 83
Jordan Reed WAS 8 1 3 12 5 38
Jimmy Graham SEA 8 4 4 16 4 63
Delanie Walker TEN 7 5 3 15 4 78
Antonio Gates SDC 6 4 3 13 3 TE26
Zach Miller CHI 5 3 2 10 3 TE25
Rob Gronkowski NEP 4 1 1 6 3 18
Hunter Henry SDC 6 3 4 13 2 87
Zach Ertz PHI 7 1 6 14 1 94
Tyler Eifert CIN 4 1 3 8 1 64
Cameron Brate TBB 5 5 5 15 0 TE21
Jason Witten DAL 4 7 4 15 0 TE18
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 4 6 4 14 0 TE23
Gary Barnidge CLE 5 5 5 15 0 FA
Martellus Bennett NEP 6 3 7 16 -1 95
Julius Thomas JAC 3 2 4 9 -1 TE16
Vance McDonald SFO 3 3 4 10 -1 TE30
Jack Doyle IND 4 6 6 16 -2 TE13
Charles Clay BUF 4 4 6 14 -2 TE27
Dwayne Allen IND 4 1 7 12 -3 TE24
Jared Cook GBP 2 2 6 10 -4 TE22
Hooper Austin ATL 0 5 5 10 -5 TE17
Coby Fleener NOS 3 4 9 16 -6 TE15
Jesse James PIT 2 4 8 14 -6 TE28
Austin Seferian-Jenkins NYJ 0 1 7 8 -7 TE29
O.J. Howard TB Rookie TE14
David Njoku CLE Rookie TE19
Evan Engram NYG Rookie TE20

Table 4: 2017 Top Drafted TEs Sorted By 2016 Value - PPR 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 (TE24) but does help his former teammate in Jack Doyle (TE13).  Other free agent moves greatly impacted ADP, with Julius Thomas (TE16) now in Miami and Martellus Bennett (TE11) joining the Packers.  Some changes did not even require a personnel move, as it is now believed (finally) that Hunter Henry (TE9) is now the starter over future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates (TE26).  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.