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Tight End By Committee: PPR

Finding a Starting Tight End in PPR Leagues 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
TE13 Jack Doyle IND TE21 Evan Engram NYG
TE14 Coby Fleener NO TE22 C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU
TE15 O.J. Howard TB TE23 Jared Cook OAK
TE16 Julius Thomas MIA TE24 Dwayne Allen NE
TE17 Austin Hooper ATL TE25 Zach Miller CHI
TE18 Jason Witten DAL TE26 Antonio Gates LAC
TE19 Cameron Brate TB TE27 Charles Clay BUF
TE20 David Njoku CLE      

Table 1: Tight Ends TE13-TE27 Based on ADP

This year I stopped at TE27 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 PPR 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. So I took the Top 27 tight ends from the ADP list, removed the Top 12 and that left me with 15 guys to pair up and see how they do. That makes 105 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 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 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 15 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 Jared Cook Jack Doyle 183.95
2 Jason Witten Jack Doyle 183.59
3 Charles Clay Jack Doyle 183.46
4 C.J. Fiedorowicz Jack Doyle 183.42
5 Coby Fleener Jack Doyle 181.91
6 Austin Hooper Jack Doyle 177.4
7 Jason Witten C.J. Fiedorowicz 176.85
8 Antonio Gates Jack Doyle 176.83
9 Jason Witten Coby Fleener 175.54
10 Zach Miller Jack Doyle 175.04
11 Cameron Brate Jack Doyle 173.15
12 David Njoku Jack Doyle 172.77
13 Dwayne Allen Jack Doyle 171.32
14 Jason Witten Jared Cook 170.57
15 Evan Engram Jack Doyle 170.56
16 Julius Thomas Jack Doyle 169.59
17 Jason Witten Austin Hooper 168.66
18 Jason Witten Julius Thomas 166.65
19 Jason Witten Zach Miller 165.97
20 Jason Witten Antonio Gates 164.6
21 O.J. Howard Jack Doyle 163.67
22 Jack Doyle n/a 163.67

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 21 pairs that are worth more than Jack Doyle by his lonesome, who is projected to come in with 163.67 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
Jack Doyle 14 Zach Miller 2
Jason Witten 8 Cameron Brate 1
Antonio Gates 2 Charles Clay 1
Austin Hooper 2 David Njoku 1
C.J. Fiedorowicz 2 Dwayne Allen 1
Coby Fleener 2 Evan Engram 1
Jared Cook 2 O.J. Howard 1
Julius Thomas 2    

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 Jason Witten.  They appear to be the top choices by far, but we still need to explore all of the options.  Given that every other tight end only appears once or twice, we should not be surprised if Doyle and Witten are the top choice and we call it a day, 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 21 possible pairs that are better than Jack Doyle, what exactly does that mean? Should he 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 FPs FP Rank
29 2 Travis Kelce KC 220.17 1
20 1 Rob Gronkowski NE 213.07 2
38 3 Jordan Reed WAS 196.78 4
45 4 Greg Olsen CAR 206.41 3
82 7 Kyle Rudolph MIN 187.97 5
60 5 Jimmy Graham SEA 182.66 6
68 6 Tyler Eifert CIN 175.06 9
86 8 Delanie Walker TEN 182.49 7
93 10 Zach Ertz PHI 179.04 8
113 13 Jack Doyle IND 163.67 10
109 12 Eric Ebron DET 158.82 12
96 11 Hunter Henry LAC 160.24 11
150 18 Jason Witten DAL 150.56 14
91 9 Martellus Bennett GB 153.22 13

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

Based on Table 4, we see that the Top 4 and Top 10 groups are pretty well defined, but TE5-10 is certainly up for debate.  After Zach Ertz (TE10), both Hunter Henry (TE11) and Eric Ebron (TE12) fall behind Jack Doyle (TE13), while Jason Witten (TE18) comes next - all ahead of Martellus Bennett (TE9).  Given that Henry will still have Antonio Gates stealing touchdowns and Green Bay's usage of tight ends is still up for debate (although Martellus Bennett could change all that), it becomes apparent why Doyle and Witten dominate this discussion.  The fact that Witten is above TE9 and Doyle is ahead of three screams as to their value in the TE2 group.   

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 (Teler Eifert, 175.06 points projected) and add 5-7 points for a bye week filler tight end to cover Ertz' bye week.  That creates a baseline score in the 180.06-182.06 range.  Casting our gaze back at Table 2, the Top 5 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 choice - Jack Doyle and Jason Witten.  Selecting Jack Doyle in Round 10 and then take Jason Witten before he disappears in Round 13 by either taking him in Round 12 to be safe or waiting a litle for the first half of Round 13.  As far as a backup plan (if you miss out on Doyle), simply take Coby Fleener if Doyle is not available and then snap up Witten in Round 12 to secure that pairing.  I have no issue in taking Doyle in Round 10 to lock him up (or Fleener in Round 10 or Round 11 as Plan B) 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 B" 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 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 5: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - Jack Doyle and Jason Witten

Week Suggested Player Opponent
1 Jason Witten New York Giants
2* Dwayne Allen at Denver
3** Dwayne Allen San Diego
4 Dwayne Allen at Jacksonville
5 Jason Witten Cincinnati
6 Jason Witten at Green Bay
7 Dwayne Allen at Tennessee
8 Jason Witten Philadelphia
9 Dwayne Allen at Green Bay
10 Jason Witten at Pittsburgh
11 Dwayne Allen Tennessee
12*** Dwayne Allen Pittsburgh
13 Jason Witten at Minnesota
14 Jason Witten at New York Giants
15**** Jason Witten Tampa Bay
16***** Dwayne Allen Detroit
*Week 2 = Close call with Witten at Washington
**Week 3 = Close call with Witten vs. Chicago
***Week 12 = Close call with Witten vs. Washington
****Week 15 = Close call with Allen at Minnesota
*****Week 16 = Close call with Witten vs. Detroit

Table 6: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - Dwayne Allen and Jason Witten

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.