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True Fantasy Points: 2017 Tight End Projections

A stats-based guide for separating skill from luck in tight end projections.

This is the fourth and final installment in my True Fantasy Points (TFP) series for 2017. If you missed the previous installments or want more details of my statistical methodology, here are the relevant links:

  1. Quarterback TFP
  2. Running back TFP
  3. Wide receiver TFP

The stat rates we'll be using for tight ends are the same ones we used for wide receivers: receptions per route run (RPRR), yards per route run (YPRR), and touchdowns per route run (TDPRR). However, it's important to note that these stats regress to the mean at different rates for tight ends than for wide receivers. Namely, RPRR stabilizes more slowly (262 routes vs. 188), whereas both YPRR (318 routes vs. 351) and TDPRR (740 routes vs. 882) actually stabilize more quickly.

True Stats Through 2016

As always, in the table below you'll find actual and "true" per-route stats through last season for the 45 tight ends projected to run at least 100 routes for the same team this season (sorted by True YPRR, with the Top 3 of each "true" stat category in bold and the Bottom 3 in italics):

  ACTUAL STATSTRUE STATS
PlayerTmRPRRRKYPRRRKTDPRRRKRPRRRKYPRRRKTDPRRRK
Rob Gronkowski NE 16.29% 14 2.45 3 2.74% 3 16.08% 4 2.36 1 2.41% 1
Jordan Reed WAS 20.51% 2 2.15 4 1.65% 11 19.36% 1 2.04 2 1.52% 8
Erik Swoope IND 18.99% 3 3.76 1 1.27% 18 15.18% 14 2.04 3 1.30% 18
Travis Kelce KC 16.30% 12 2.09 7 1.02% 25 15.94% 5 2.00 4 1.12% 33
Vernon Davis WAS 16.30% 13 2.15 5 0.74% 37 15.18% 13 1.86 5 1.16% 28
Hunter Henry LAC 15.79% 15 2.10 6 3.51% 2 14.85% 17 1.81 6 1.83% 3
Greg Olsen CAR 14.58% 19 1.83 10 1.09% 23 14.53% 19 1.81 7 1.13% 31
Zach Miller CHI 16.77% 8 1.92 8 1.86% 6 15.81% 6 1.79 8 1.53% 7
Jimmy Graham SEA 13.78% 25 1.86 9 0.98% 27 13.84% 25 1.79 9 1.13% 32
Zach Ertz PHI 15.66% 16 1.80 12 0.82% 34 15.43% 10 1.77 10 0.98% 42
Jason Witten DAL 16.31% 11 1.78 13 0.91% 30 16.21% 3 1.77 11 0.95% 44
Antonio Gates LAC 14.29% 23 1.77 14 1.75% 9 14.28% 21 1.76 12 1.69% 5
Seth DeValve CLE 21.74% 1 2.76 2 4.35% 1 15.18% 12 1.75 13 1.49% 9
Delanie Walker TEN 15.00% 18 1.76 15 1.22% 19 14.88% 16 1.74 14 1.25% 22
Virgil Green DEN 16.72% 9 1.81 11 0.88% 32 15.55% 9 1.71 15 1.17% 27
Tyler Eifert CIN 13.95% 24 1.69 16 2.27% 5 13.96% 24 1.67 16 1.83% 2
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 16.70% 10 1.68 18 1.34% 16 15.72% 7 1.65 17 1.32% 16
Austin Hooper ATL 11.80% 37 1.68 17 1.86% 6 13.18% 32 1.63 18 1.41% 11
Trey Burton PHI 17.39% 7 1.66 19 0.43% 42 15.60% 8 1.63 19 1.10% 36
Luke Willson SEA 12.40% 32 1.63 20 1.17% 21 12.89% 34 1.63 20 1.25% 21
Cameron Brate TB 13.48% 27 1.61 21 1.83% 8 13.64% 28 1.61 21 1.54% 6
Austin Seferian-Jenkins NYJ 14.49% 20 1.59 22 0.00% 44 14.13% 23 1.61 22 1.20% 26
Garrett Celek SF 12.87% 30 1.56 23 1.38% 14 13.31% 30 1.58 23 1.33% 15
Demetrius Harris KC 17.76% 5 1.43 30 1.32% 17 15.40% 11 1.55 24 1.31% 17
Jerell Adams NYG 17.58% 6 1.34 32 1.10% 22 14.94% 15 1.55 25 1.28% 19
Jack Doyle IND 17.87% 4 1.51 24 1.52% 12 16.59% 2 1.55 26 1.40% 12
Josh Hill NO 15.45% 17 1.48 26 2.73% 4 14.82% 18 1.54 27 1.75% 4
Vance McDonald SF 11.02% 39 1.49 25 1.20% 20 11.95% 41 1.53 28 1.26% 20
A.J. Derby DEN 12.90% 29 1.29 36 0.00% 44 13.67% 27 1.52 29 1.12% 35
Ben Koyack JAX 14.39% 22 1.22 39 0.76% 35 14.15% 22 1.49 30 1.22% 24
Charles Clay BUF 14.46% 21 1.45 28 0.94% 29 14.35% 20 1.49 31 1.12% 34
Eric Ebron DET 12.84% 31 1.44 29 0.68% 38 13.08% 33 1.48 32 0.94% 45
Marcedes Lewis JAX 12.16% 36 1.45 27 0.98% 26 12.32% 40 1.47 33 1.05% 40
Xavier Grimble PIT 9.48% 44 1.02 42 1.72% 10 12.63% 37 1.45 34 1.36% 13
Coby Fleener NO 10.64% 41 1.34 31 0.64% 40 11.85% 43 1.45 35 1.05% 39
Jermaine Gresham ARI 11.78% 38 1.31 34 0.64% 39 12.59% 38 1.43 36 1.05% 38
Will Tye NYG 13.64% 26 1.30 35 0.61% 41 13.75% 26 1.40 37 0.98% 43
Ryan Griffin HOU 12.33% 35 1.28 37 0.75% 36 12.75% 35 1.37 38 1.02% 41
Kyle Rudolph MIN 13.47% 28 1.33 33 1.47% 13 13.53% 29 1.37 39 1.43% 10
Clive Walford OAK 10.93% 40 1.23 38 1.08% 24 11.92% 42 1.37 40 1.21% 25
Tyler Higbee LAR 9.09% 45 0.70 45 0.83% 33 12.47% 39 1.36 41 1.24% 23
Maxx Williams BAL 12.36% 33 1.03 41 0.39% 43 13.20% 31 1.35 42 1.07% 37
Richard Rodgers GB 12.34% 34 1.17 40 1.37% 15 12.73% 36 1.29 43 1.34% 14
Jesse James PIT 10.51% 42 0.88 44 0.89% 31 11.81% 44 1.18 44 1.15% 29
Levine Toilolo ATL 9.94% 43 0.96 43 0.96% 28 11.15% 45 1.18 45 1.15% 30

Once again, my "true" stats have done a good job identifying the truly best of the best at a position. Here, only four tight ends have a True YPRR of 2.00 or higher: Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, and ... Erik Swoope? A former basketball player at the University of Miami (a la Jimmy Graham), Swoope saw the first meaningful action of his three-year Colts career in 2016; and even then he ran only 79 routes. But what he did in those 79 routes -- a 22/15/179/1 stat line -- was as efficient as any tight end in the league. In fact, his 3.76 YPRR was a full yard better than second place Seth Devalve.

Now, of course, you might be thinking "this is sample size theater." But you'd be wrong because mathematically adjusting for sample size -- in this case routes run -- is exactly what my "true" stat system does. Besides that, there's an additional reason why I think Swoope's yardage-gaining prowess isn't likely a small sample mirage: His "true" average depth of target (aDOT) of 10.2 also ranked third last season. In other words, the routes he runs in Indianapolis are deeper than those of most tight ends, and so getting open means extra yardage is baked into the cake.

One final thing worth noting about Swoope is that his upside was a major reason why Indianapolis traded away Dwayne Allen.

True Projections for 2017

Below are my TFP projections alongside David Dodds' projections as of August 21st. The table is sorted by the "DIFF" column, which represents the difference between the two based on Footballguys' standard scoring system:

  DODDS STATSTRUE STATSPOINTS
PLAYERTMREYDSRETDREYDSRETDDODDSTFPDIFF
Jack Doyle IND 609 6 540 5 96.9 83.3 +13.6
Jordan Reed WAS 825 7 790 6 124.5 114.4 +10.1
Jimmy Graham SEA 839 7 842 5 125.9 116.1 +9.8
Travis Kelce KC 1008 7 1003 6 142.8 134.1 +8.7
Delanie Walker TEN 768 6 749 5 112.8 107.1 +5.7
Charles Clay BUF 505 5 521 4 80.5 75.5 +5.0
Hunter Henry LAC 704 7 671 7 112.4 107.7 +4.7
Eric Ebron DET 684 5 680 4 98.4 93.9 +4.5
Coby Fleener NO 620 5 612 4 92.0 87.7 +4.3
Austin Hooper ATL 504 5 508 4 80.4 77.1 +3.3
Greg Olsen CAR 1006 6 973 6 136.6 133.8 +2.8
Erik Swoope IND 343 3 362 2 52.3 50.1 +2.2
A.J. Derby DEN 205 2 211 2 32.5 30.5 +2.0
Virgil Green DEN 253 2 253 2 37.3 35.7 +1.6
Trey Burton PHI 200 2 230 2 32.0 32.3 -0.3
Garrett Celek SF 234 2 237 2 35.4 35.8 -0.4
Levine Toilolo ATL 186 1 159 2 24.6 25.2 -0.6
Vernon Davis WAS 324 2 331 2 44.4 45.4 -1.0
Xavier Grimble PIT 207 2 218 2 32.7 34.1 -1.4
Tyler Eifert CIN 732 7 705 8 115.2 116.9 -1.7
Jermaine Gresham ARI 357 3 387 3 53.7 55.8 -2.1
Ben Koyack JAX 150 1 158 1 21.0 23.6 -2.6
Ryan Griffin HOU 270 2 291 2 39.0 42.0 -3.0
C.J. Fiedorowicz HOU 551 4 556 4 79.1 82.3 -3.2
Jesse James PIT 441 4 451 4 68.1 71.4 -3.3
Tyler Higbee LAR 343 3 360 3 52.3 55.7 -3.4
Jerell Adams NYG 180 1 187 2 24.0 27.9 -3.9
Seth DeValve CLE 257 2 277 2 37.7 41.8 -4.1
Jason Witten DAL 582 4 654 4 82.2 86.5 -4.3
Demetrius Harris KC 153 1 171 1 21.3 25.8 -4.5
Zach Ertz PHI 784 5 848 5 108.4 113.0 -4.6
Zach Miller CHI 389 3 408 3 56.9 61.7 -4.8
Vance McDonald SF 269 2 295 2 38.9 44.1 -5.2
Austin Seferian-Jenkins NYJ 424 3 455 3 60.4 65.8 -5.4
Clive Walford OAK 289 2 310 3 40.9 47.4 -6.5
Maxx Williams BAL 219 1 235 2 27.9 34.7 -6.8
Luke Willson SEA 166 1 202 2 22.6 29.5 -6.9
Rob Gronkowski NE 1030 10 1055 11 163.0 170.2 -7.2
Josh Hill NO 163 1 177 2 22.3 29.7 -7.4
Will Tye NYG 146 0 163 1 14.6 23.1 -8.5
Cameron Brate TB 488 4 518 5 72.8 81.6 -8.8
Marcedes Lewis JAX 127 0 155 1 12.7 22.1 -9.4
Antonio Gates LAC 399 4 470 5 63.9 74.0 -10.1
Richard Rodgers GB 143 0 151 2 14.3 24.6 -10.3
Kyle Rudolph MIN 743 6 760 8 110.3 123.4 -13.1

The TFP margins are thinner at tight end than at other positions, so I've only got one underrated player and one overrated player to discuss.

Underrated: Kyle Rudolph

It turns out that, if Rudolph amasses the 75 receptions that Dodds projects, then his 13.53% True RPRR suggests he'll end up leading all tight ends in 2017 with 554 routes run. Because TFP goes where the math takes it, that means 554 routes times a 1.43% True TDPRR equals 8 touchdowns, not 6. That's basically the entire discrepancy between Dodds and TFP right there.

Overrated: Jack Doyle

Although Doyle's 16.59% True RPRR ranked 2nd in the earlier table, his 1.55 True YPRR ranked 26th. Dodds' projection, meanwhile, implies a 1.74 YPRR in 2017. A little bit goes a long way for fantasy tight ends, so 0.19 fewer yards per route spread across 350 projected routes translates to 69 fewer receiving yards (#Nice). Also take away 1 touchdown due to a 0.31% difference between his "true" and projected TDPRR, and you end up Doyle being the most likely tight end to fall short of Dodds' point projection.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to mention this as another reason to keep your eye on Erik Swoope.)