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Tight End By Committee

Finding a Starting Tight End by Committee for 2017

Over the past few years, there have been several very popular articles written by myself and our very own Chase Stuart that look at an interesting approach to building a fantasy team with late value picks. Based upon the theory of using both Strength of Schedule ("SOS") and taking two players as a combination to build one very good player, Chase has discussed both Team Defense by Committee ("TDBC") and Quarterback by Committee ("QBBC") as a general fantasy league strategy. In general I think that this is a wise move because very early on in fantasy drafts there are a ton of RB and WR prospects to go after to build a great team. While there are a few studs at QB and also a few choice defenses, I do not see a huge need in leagues to pursue either too hard in the beginning stages of a fantasy draft.

So with this in mind, I started to think about what else can be done with the committee approach. Wide receiver? Perhaps, but not a WR1. Running back? Maybe. Tight end? Hmmm, that's really intriguing. What if you could grab tight ends later in the draft that could combine to perform on a TE1 level, based solely on their current projections and their schedule? Now we're talking. This really got my attention, so I went after this. Let's take a look at how I went about building this committee and then I can digest and discuss the results.

(TIGHT) END GAME

So how to begin? Defenses and quarterbacks are relatively easy to "committee" together. There's usually only one quarterback and certainly only one team defense per NFL club, so the approach is pretty simple as far as picking out which players / teams to try and pair up. When it comes to tight ends, the line is not quite so easy to draw, but I needed some basis to pick which players it made sense to try and combine for a decent committee. I decided that I would use the following criteria to decide which players to start with for evaluating:

CRITERIA #1 - TE13 AND BEYOND

This seems pretty simple. If we want to have a duo that puts up TE1 numbers, that means we want TE12 or better production - else we would just draft TE12 or higher and forget the whole idea. So here is the list of players with which I started, based on their Average Draft Position (ADP):

ADP Player Team ADP Player Team
TE12 Jack Doyle IND TE21 Evan Engram NYG
TE13 Eric Ebron DET TE22 C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU
TE14 O.J. Howard TB TE23 Jared Cook OAK
TE15 Coby Fleener NO TE24 Dwayne Allen NE
TE16 Julius Thomas MIA TE25 Antonio Gates LAC
TE17 Jason Witten DAL TE26 Jesse James PIT
TE18 Austin Hooper ATL TE27 Zach Miller CHI
TE19 Cameron Brate TB TE28 Charles Clay BUF
TE20 David Njoku CLE      

Table 1: Tight Ends TE12-TE28 Based on ADP

This year I stopped at TE28 because of how murky the waters (and depth charts) get after Charles Clay, so it is probably best we do not go that deep unless you play in a TE bonus league or one where you can play 2-3 a week.  Tampa Bay screams out as an interesting situation to watch with both Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard on this list.  If one of them emerges as the leader, he could make for an automatic Top 12 candidate.  The Buccaneers and the Giants offer up two rookies with promise (Howard and Evan Engram), but it is rare if a first year tight end ever makes a real splash.  Odds are we are going to stick with proven veterans in favorable passing situations.  Also note that I added in Jack Doyle (TE12) because of how valuable he appears to be this year, so we should not arbitrarily cut make a cutoff of TE12 this year.  If TE12 is a huge value, we should snap him up and not worry that we are "breaking the rules" of waiting for a TE2.  Just take the value and move on.  So I took the Top 28 tight ends from the ADP list, removed the Top 11 and that left me with 17 guys to pair up and see how they do. That makes 136 potential committees, so there had better be a decent one (or several, we hope) out of all of those couplets. Now, before I go over the method of how to pair them up and the results, we need one more rule:

CRITERIA #2 - NO MORE THAN ONE TE FROM ROUND 10 AND ONE FROM ROUND 12

This could get tricky here, but understand the overall goal. The point of TEBC is to "free up" the first 9-10 rounds of your fantasy draft to pursue all of the other positions for your team. Grabbing 3-4 running backs and 4-5 receivers after grabbing a stud RB or WR in Round 1 sounds like a good idea to me. This also gives you the flexibility of grabbing a stud QB, depending on your personal preference, or even to get TE1 if there's a huge value play available and have the "TEBC" be your TE2 (although I would only recommend this in very deep leagues with 20+ roster spots). Flexibility is the name of the game here. We all want value in our drafts, and having the ability to grab lots of RBs and WRs in the first 9-10 Rounds gives us that ability.

Here is the good news - all of the tight ends on the list above have ADPs that are Round 10 or higher (later). In fact, only Jack Doyle has an ADP in Round 10, with everyone else presently either in Round 11 (Eric Ebron) or going in Round 12 or later.  We will have to keep that in mind when we look at the result because if we decide to use Doyle, we have to grab him in Round 10 to secure that first tight end and if we want Ebron we also have to act fast so we can get the combination that we want.

So what do we do now to figure out some TE pairs?

CRITERIA #3 - USE FOOTBALLGUYS' TE STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

This sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? Just take the TE Strength of Schedule to figure out when certain players are more likely to score well. What I did is similar to what the Projections Dominator and Draft Dominator do for you - take the projected fantasy points and slice them up over 17 weeks based on the strength of schedule. I call this result the "distributed fantasy points" for each receiver.

After I had all 17 tight ends with distributed fantasy points on a weekly basis, I just compared all of the possible TE pairs to find the best duos for TEBC. So here we are - time for some results.

Rank Tight End 1 Tight End 2 Value
1 Jack Doyle Eric Ebron 118.16
2 Jack Doyle Jared Cook 114.77
3 Jack Doyle Coby Fleener 113.74
4 Jack Doyle C.J. Fiedorowicz 112.99
5 Jack Doyle Charles Clay 112.92
6 Jack Doyle Austin Hooper 111.51
7 Eric Ebron Jason Witten 110.91
8 Jack Doyle Antonio Gates 110.32
9 Jack Doyle Jason Witten 109.35
10 Eric Ebron Coby Fleener 109.02
11 Jack Doyle Jesse James 108.89
12 Jack Doyle Zach Miller 108.66
13 Jack Doyle Cameron Brate 107.99
14 Eric Ebron Cameron Brate 107.96
15 Jack Doyle Dwayne Allen 107.33
16 Jack Doyle David Njoku 107.31
17 Jack Doyle Julius Thomas 106.07
18 Eric Ebron Jesse James 106.02
19 Jack Doyle Evan Engram 106.00
20 Eric Ebron Zach Miller 105.25
21 Eric Ebron Julius Thomas 104.84
22 Eric Ebron Jared Cook 104.34
23 Coby Fleener Jason Witten 103.58
24 Eric Ebron Charles Clay 103.52
25 Eric Ebron Antonio Gates 102.95
26 Eric Ebron Austin Hooper 102.88
27 Eric Ebron David Njoku 102.02
28 Jason Witten C.J. Fiedorowicz 101.80
29 Jack Doyle O.J. Howard 101.74
30 Jack Doyle n/a 101.74
31 Eric Ebron Dwayne Allen 101.20
32 Eric Ebron C.J. Fiedorowicz 100.99
33 Coby Fleener Cameron Brate 100.75
34 Jason Witten Jared Cook 100.15
35 Jason Witten Austin Hooper 99.53
36 Eric Ebron Evan Engram 99.48
37 Eric Ebron O.J. Howard 99.21
38 Cameron Brate Jared Cook 97.49
39 Jason Witten Julius Thomas 97.34
40 Coby Fleener Julius Thomas 97.06
41 Coby Fleener C.J. Fiedorowicz 96.98
42 Coby Fleener Charles Clay 96.91
43 Cameron Brate C.J. Fiedorowicz 96.72
44 Cameron Brate Austin Hooper 96.71
45 Coby Fleener Antonio Gates 96.53
46 Jason Witten Antonio Gates 96.51
47 Eric Ebron n/a 96.20

Table 2: Tight End Committee Pairs

As we can see from Table 2, we have some very good pairs to select from for TEBC. There are 29 pairs that are worth more than Jack Doyle by his lonesome, who is projected to come in with 101.74 points. Further, if we go beyond Doyle, we have an additional 16 pairs of tight ends that are work more than Eric Ebron (96.2 projected points), Let's also take a look at how often some of these guys show up on the table:

Tight End Freq Tight End Freq
Eric Ebron 16 Julius Thomas 4
Jack Doyle 16 Charles Clay 3
Coby Fleener 8 David Njoku 2
Jason Witten 8 Dwayne Allen 2
Cameron Brate 6 Evan Engram 2
C.J. Fiedorowicz 5 Jesse James 2
Antonio Gates 4 O.J. Howard 2
Austin Hooper 4 Zach Miller 2
Jared Cook 4    

Table 3: Tight End Committee Pair Appearances by Player

As we can see from Table 3, the results are dominated by two guys – Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron – which should come as no surprise.  These are the top two options and also the first two tight ends going off the board on our list.  They appear to be the top choices by far, but we still need to explore all of the options.  Some other players appear reasonably often, such as Coby Fleener and Jason Witten (eight times each), Cameron Brate (six) and C.J. Fiedorowicz (five).  Given that every other tight end only appears four times or less, we should not be surprised if these six tight ends comprise our top options for tight end by committee, but let's be thorough and complete the analysis with a closer look at all of the results. .

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Now that we have 29 possible pairs that are better than Jack Doyle and 16 more than Eric Ebron, what exactly does that mean? Should these two players be the basis of our comparison? Of course not. Remember our goal - find a pair of tight ends that can combine for TE1-type fantasy production. To figure that out we need a better metric, so here are the projections for the Top 12 TEs in standard scoring:

ADP TE Rank Player Team/Bye FPs FP Rank
19 1 Rob Gronkowski NE 147.98 1
31 2 Travis Kelce KC 138.26 2
45 4 Greg Olsen CAR 128.81 3
37 3 Jordan Reed WAS 122.26 4
60 5 Jimmy Graham SEA 119.88 5
67 6 Tyler Eifert CIN 116.97 6
79 7 Delanie Walker TEN 115.83 7
86 8 Kyle Rudolph MIN 111.73 8
93 10 Hunter Henry LAC 108.14 9
95 11 Zach Ertz PHI 105.9 10
116 12 Jack Doyle IND 101.74 11
90 9 Martellus Bennett GB 99.04 12
121 13 Eric Ebron DET 96.2 13
141 15 Coby Fleener NO 87.48 14
156 19 Cameron Brate TB 84.96 15
154 17 Jason Witten DAL 84.82 16
151 16 Julius Thomas MIA 80.45 17

Table 4: Projected Fantasy Points for Top 12+ ADP TEs

Based on Table 4, we see that the Top 4 and Top 8 groups are pretty well defined, but TE9-14 is certainly up for debate.  Both Hunter Henry (TE10) and Zach Ertz (TE11) come in ahead of Martellus Bennett (TE9), with both Jack Doyle (TE12) and Eric Ebron (TE13) very close to Bennett.  The fact that Doyle is ahead of Bennett and Ebron is just three points behind of Bennett make both very attractive targets for later round selections.     

So how best to evaluate the TEBC pairs from Table 2 against the top tight ends? The best way for me is to pick a baseline of one of the worst projected Top 10 tight end (Zach Ertz, 105.9 points projected) and add 4-6 points for a bye week filler tight end to cover Ertz' bye week.  That creates a baseline score in the 109.9-111.9 range.  Casting our gaze back at Table 2, the Top 8 tight end pairs on the list fall right in this range.  This tells us that choosing the correct pair can give us the result we wanted - TE1 production on the cheap.

Considering all of the results, the TEBC committee recipe for 2017 has one clear preferred choice - Jack Doyle - who comes in as TE12 on the ADP list at this time.  Selecting Jack Doyle in Round 10 and then taking either Coby Fleener ("Plan A") or Jason Witten ("Plan B") before either one disappears by the end of Round 12 looks like the best option.  Alternatively, you can take Eric Ebron in Round 10 ("Plan C") if Doyle is no longer available and then select Coby Fleener or Jason Witten (both about equal) in Round 12.  Even though Doyle is technically not a TE2 as TE12, I have no issue in taking Doyle in Round 10 to lock him up and then taking the next best option on Table 2 to close out the duo by the end of Round 12.  Given how little predictable value there is after the Top 18 tight ends are off the board, locking up two makes the most sense.   

Now you might wonder about the first pair on the list on Table 2 - Jared Cook and Jack Doyle.  Given the uncertainty with Jared Cook in Oakland, I would hesitate investing in Cook, although you can make the argument that you would be relying on Doyle most weeks anyway, so this can be a "Plan D" if Witten slips through your fingers.  Given Cook's ADP of Round 14-15, he makes a reasonable backup option.   

An example schedule is provided in Tables 5 for my favorite two TEBC options this season.  Here I give you the best weekly plays for each tight end, based on projections. 

Week Suggested Player Opponent
1 Jack Doyle at Los Angeles Rams
2 Coby Fleener New England
3 Jack Doyle Cleveland
4 Coby Fleener at Miami (London)
5 Jack Doyle San Francisco
6* Jack Doyle at Tennessee
7 Jack Doyle Jacksonville
8 Jack Doyle at Cincinnati
9 Coby Fleener Tampa Bay
10 Jack Doyle Pittsburgh
11 Coby Fleener Washington
12 Jack Doyle Tennessee
13** Jack Doyle at Jacksonville
14*** Coby Fleener Dallas
15 Coby Fleener Philadelphia
16 Jack Doyle at Baltimore
*Week 6 = Close call with Fleener vs. Detroit
**Week 13 = Close call with Fleener vs. Carolina
***Week 14 = Close call with Doyle at Buffalo

Table 5: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - Jack Doyle and Coby Fleener

Week Suggested Player Opponent
1 Jason Witten New York Giants
2 Eric Ebron at New York Giants
3 Eric Ebron Atlanta
4* Eric Ebron at Minnesota
5 Eric Ebron Carolina
6 Eric Ebron at New Orleans
7 Jason Witten at San Francisco
8 Jason Witten at Washington
9 Eric Ebron at Green Bay
10 Eric Ebron Cleveland
11 Eric Ebron at Chicago
12** Eric Ebron Minnesota
13 Jason Witten Washington
14 Jason Witten at New York Giants
15 Jason Witten at Oakland
16 Eric Ebron at Cincinnati
*Week 4 = Close call with Witten vs. Los Angeles Rams
**Week 12 = Close call with Witten vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Table 6: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - Eric Ebron and Jason Witten

Week Suggested Player Opponent
1 Jason Witten New York Giants
2 Jason Witten at Denver
3 Jack Doyle Cleveland
4 Jack Doyle at Seattle
5 Jack Doyle San Francisco
6 Jack Doyle at Tennessee
7 Jason Witten at San Francisco
8 Jack Doyle at Cincinnati
9 Jason Witten Kansas City
10* Jason Witten at Atlanta
11 Jason Witten Philadelphia
12 Jack Doyle Tennessee
13 Jason Witten Washington
14 Jason Witten at New York Giants
15 Jason Witten at Oakland
16 Jack Doyle at Baltimore
*Week 10 = Close call with Jack Doyle vs. Pittsburgh

Table 7: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - Jack Doyle and Jason Witten

Week Suggested Player Opponent
1 Coby Fleener at Minnesota
2 Eric Ebron at New York Giants
3 Eric Ebron Atlanta
4 Coby Fleener at Miami (London)
5 Eric Ebron Carolina
6 Coby Fleener Detroit
7 Coby Fleener at Green Bay
8 Eric Ebron Pittsburgh
9 Eric Ebron at Green Bay
10 Eric Ebron Cleveland
11 Coby Fleener Washington
12 Eric Ebron Minnesota
13 Coby Fleener Carolina
14 Coby Fleener at Atlanta
15 Coby Fleener New York Jets
16 Eric Ebron at Cincinnati

Table 8: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - Eric Ebron and Coby Fleener

The committee approach is not a perfect one, but having this knowledge prior to your fantasy draft can prove to be invaluable if you decide to adopt this approach.  If all the players on your starter list are gone, goiong with a committee can save your team and help you deal with the loss of bigger names.  The method is also a big help in "Best Ball" leagues, where lineup decisions are not necessary every week.  That's exactly where a committee can do the best, as either player can count for you each week.

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