Rookie Tight Ends
By Jeff Tefertiller
August 24th, 2010

Fantasy owners seem to always be looking at the incoming rookie class to see which players might produce immediately or over time. For many, this seems like picking lottery numbers. This series is examining every draft pick since 1990 for the four skill positions and is looking for trends that may develop. Half of the article will look back at the historical data and the other half will use that data to predict the success of the 2010 NFL rookie draft class. This particular article is focused on the running back position.

Historical Success

The methodology for determining a successful draft pick will be based on the following metrics:

  • The number of seasons in the NFL. The longer the career span, the better chance the player was an asset to fantasy owners.
  • The number of seasons the player finished as a fantasy starter (using 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE as the starting lineup) in a 12-team league.
  • The number of seasons as an elite fantasy starter (finishing in top six quarterback or tight end, or top twelve running back or wide receiver).
  • In addition, a ratio was used for the two metrics above. The ratio divides the number of seasons finishing at the metric level by the number of seasons in the NFL. It was included to help distinguish players of varying career lengths.

The above metrics have been a constant for all of the skill positions. The picks are broken down by the following picks: Top 5 Pick, Picks 6-10 Overall, 1st Round picks outside of Top 10, 2nd Round, 3rd Round, 4th Round, 5th Round, 6th Round, and 7th Round and later. The success rate is highest for the early picks, as most would guess.

How do the tight ends differ from the other positions? The sample size is the smallest of the four skill positions. In addition, there have been no players at the position taken in the Top 5 overall picks of the NFL Draft. One thing to remember with the tight end position is that some players were drafted to be primarily blockers and offer little to fantasy owners. There will be tight ends drafted fairly high just to be productive blockers at the tight end position. The chart below covers the four tight ends selected in picks six through ten since 1990.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Picks 6-10
7.75
2.50
0.36
1.75
0.20

These numbers are not too shabby. With the strong finish last year, Vernon Davis was the last one of the four to finish as a fantasy starter. Others drafted in this range are Kellen Winslow, Ricky Dudley, and Kyle Brady. Winslow has finished as an elite fantasy tight end in two of his five professional seasons. Dudley and Brady were also productive for fantasy owners. How did the tight ends taken in the rest of the first round perform in comparison?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Rest of 1st
6.95
2.35
0.30
1.4
0.15

Do these numbers surprise you? Each tight end drafted averaged a fantasy viable year in roughly one-third of his career seasons. Almost every tight end drafted had one or more seasons as a fantasy starter. These numbers will continue to increase with a number of good tight ends coming up. This group also includes veterans Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark who will continue to put up stellar numbers. Gonzalez has finished as a fantasy starter in twelve of his thirteen career seasons, including nine as an elite starter. Many forget how prolific Eric Green was in the 1990s with half of his ten career seasons as an elite starter. Clark's stellar 2009 campaign helped the numbers as well. What does the second round look like?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
2nd Round
5.97
1.19
0.19
0.32
0.04

As we would expect, the career span and chances of a good fantasy season decrease. There have been a lot of "hits" and many more "misses". Some of the more prominent "hits" have been Tony Scheffler, Alge Crumpler, Freddie Jones, and Ken Dilger. With John Carlson and Zach Miller as young second round picks, these numbers will increase. One player in this data pool to keep an eye on for the future is Fred Davis who was taken by Washington in 2008. It is interesting how each new tight end drafted in the second round averages at least one season as a fantasy starter. How far do the numbers drop for the third round?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
3rd Round
4.68
0.41
0.06
0.27
0.04

My, does the average career length drop going from the second round to the third. The other numbers drop considerably as well. There have been very, very few third round tight ends of late whom have been productive. But, two of the current top players at the position were drafted in the third round. Chris Cooley and Jason Witten were drafted in 2004 and 2003 respectively. These two, and Visanthe Shiancoe, are the only players with more than one season as a fantasy starter since David Sloan, way back in the 1995 draft class. There have been many flops on tight ends taken in the third round and few success stories. Jermichael Finley is the one young tight end in this group who has a chance to be an elite fantasy player in the near future. His future could be great. Will there be much of a change between tight ends drafted in the third round and those taken in the fourth round?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
4th Round
4.74
0.39
0.05
0.10
0.01

There have only been four tight ends taken in the fourth round who have been viable fantasy players. Both Owen Daniels and Randy McMichael were huge surprises their rookie seasons. Pete Mitchell and Jackie Harris were also very productive in the 1990s. Daniels could continue to put up outstanding numbers, increasing these averages, if he can get past the knee injuries. Shawn Nelson is the lone prospect who could emerge into a fantasy starter in the future. What about the fifth round? How much will the numbers decrease?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
5th Round
3.84
0.22
0.03
0.16
0.02

There was a huge drought on fifth round tight ends before the great season by Brent Celek last year. Before Celek, only Donald Lee (drafted in 2003) and Jamie Asher (drafted in 1995) had a fantasy starter season since the New England Patriots "hit" on Ben Coates in 1991. Kerry Cash was also a successful draft pick in 1991, but by Indianapolis Colts. He had a couple of decent, yet unspectacular, seasons early in his career. So, Coates is the star tight end taken in the fifth round since 1990. Kevin Boss and Brent Celek are the only ones to have a chance to improve these numbers. How does the sixth round look?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
6th Round
3.45
0.32
0.03
0.20
0.02

The sixth round tight ends have performed a little better than those drafted in the fifth. This is because of the dearth of decent players taken in the fifth round. The sixth round tight ends have had similar issues of late. The last productive tight end taken in the sixth round was Desmond Clark, drafted in 1999. Other surprises in the sixth round have been Mark Chmura and Frank Wychek, who were drafted in the early 1990s. The odds are still not great for tight ends taken this late in the NFL Draft. Many of these were drafted as blocking tight ends. Keep an eye on Zach Miller in Jacksonville. His speed makes him a threat to break into the Top 10 at the position before his career is over. How did those fare taken in the seventh round or later in the NFL Draft?

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
7th Round
3.19
0.26
0.02
0.17
0.01

Many of these players taken did not even make it to the active roster for even one meager season. Eric Johnson (drafted in 2001 out of Yale) was the last seventh round tight end to become a fantasy starter. These numbers would be dramatically worse if not for Shannon Sharpe. Sharpe was drafted in 1990 out of Savannah State and was wildly productive. He finished as a Top 6 tight end in eleven of his fourteen career seasons. Think of that for a second. He was an elite player almost every season, even as a late round pick.

As we look back on these picks, it becomes blatantly apparent that the earlier the player is drafted, the better chance he had to become a fantasy starter. Also, the earlier the pick, the better the chance for a longer, more productive career ... both as a fantasy player and as a NFL tight end. The next article in this series will examine the tight ends taken in the 2010 NFL Draft. We will look at the chances for each rookie drafted in April's draft. Below are the above charts all together for easier viewing:

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Picks 6-10
7.75
2.50
0.36
1.75
0.20
Rest of 1st
6.95
2.35
0.30
1.4
0.15
2nd Round
5.97
1.19
0.19
0.32
0.04
3rd Round
4.68
0.41
0.06
0.27
0.04
4th Round
4.74
0.39
0.05
0.10
0.01
5th Round
3.84
0.22
0.03
0.16
0.02
6th Round
3.45
0.32
0.03
0.20
0.02
7th Round
3.19
0.26
0.02
0.17
0.01

The 2010 Rookie Class

Now, we will look at the 2010 rookie class of tight ends categorized the same as those in the historical data. The first chart will be the historical data and the second the incoming rookies.

The 2010 NFL Draft produced several tight ends that have their NFL teams and fantasy owners very hopeful. This seems to be a season where there is unusual anticipation about the incoming rookie tight ends. Why the excitement? Let's see ....

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
Rest of 1st
6.95
2.35
0.30
1.4
0.15

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
1
21
Jermaine Gresham
Cin
Oklahoma

Gresham is a complete tight end. He is a very good blocker and passable receiver. The new Bengal will initially help the poor offensive line more than in the passing game. Gresham is big, with decent hands. He is not fast at all and will not threaten the seams of the defense like other tight ends. But, over time, expect Gresham to put up numbers similar to Heath Miller or John Carlson, with an outside shot at hitting the Owen Daniels' level of production. He has a shot at duplicating the historical averages, but it will not be while Cincinnati puts such a priority on the wide receiver position. Also, the injury history is a concern.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
2nd Round
5.97
1.19
0.19
0.32
0.04

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
2
42
Rob Gronkowski
NE
Arizona

Gronkowski is very athletic and could be a long-term starter in New England. He, and fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez, give the Patriots a strong tandem at the position. Gronkowski is athletic and a good blocker, but has struggled with injuries over his career. His back injury was of special concern. It was the type to shorten careers. Gronkowski is an all-around tight end who is a good blocker.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
3rd Round
4.68
0.41
0.06
0.27
0.04

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
3
70
Ed Dickson
Bal
Oregon
3
93
Tony Moeaki
KC
Iowa
3
95
Jimmy Graham
NO
Miami

The historical odds show that at least one of these tight ends will have a fantasy relevant season. Both Moeaki and Graham have a chance to best the odds. Moeaki has a shot to start for the Chiefs as a rookie. He is very talented, but struggles with durability. Graham is a former basketball player at Miami and is still developing as a tight end. He is very athletic and could be special in a couple of years. Dickson will struggle for playing time with Todd Heap and fellow first-year player Dennis Pitta. Moeaki and Graham are very good prospects while Dickson might end up as a better NFL player than in the world of fantasy football.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
4th Round
4.74
0.39
0.05
0.10
0.01

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
4
113
Aaron Hernandez
NE
Florida
4
114
Dennis Pitta
Bal
BYU
4
118
Garrett Graham
Hou
Wisconsin
4
125
Clay Harbor
Phi
Missouri State

Hernandez is an incredible option for the Patriot passing game. He plays like an oversized wide receiver. The former Florida star will remind fans of Colt tight end Dallas Clark. He will add another dimension to New England. Pitta is also a very good receiving tight end. He, like Dickson, will find it difficult to see consistent playing time in the next year or two. Graham and Harbor are prospects to watch. Neither is very polished at the position and will need time to transition to the professional level. Also, both play behind great tight ends in Houston and Philadelphia, respectively.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
5th Round
3.84
0.22
0.03
0.16
0.02

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
5
132
Michael Hoomanawanui
StL
Illinois
5
154
Andrew Quarles
GB
Penn State
5
162
Brody Eldridge
Ind
Oklahoma

The odds are not strong that one of these tight ends will be a fantasy starter. The Rams rarely utilize the tight end position, thus limiting the upside of the athletic Hoomanawanui. Quarles will battle Donald Lee to be Jermichael Finley's backup. With Finley entrenched as the starter, Quarles has little upside. Eldridge is purely a blocking tight end. Do not mess with him in fantasy football. Also, there is a chance the line-starved Colts attempt to convert Eldridge to guard or tackle like they did Charlie Johnson a few years ago.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
6th Round
3.45
0.32
0.03
0.20
0.02

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
6
170
Fendi Onobun
StL
Arizona
6
174
Dennis Morris
Was
Louisiana Tech
6
182
Nate Byham
SF
Pittsburgh
6
185
Anthony McCoy
Sea
USC

None of these four prospects sticks out as having a decent chance to improve the percentages above. McCoy is the one most-known, but has failed to impress his college coach Pete Carroll in Seattle.

Draft Area
# Seasons
Viable Seasons
Viability Ratio
Elite Seasons
Elite Ratio
7th Round
3.19
0.26
0.02
0.17
0.01

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
7
214
Mickey Shuler
Min
Penn State
7
233
Jim Dray
Ari
Stanford
7
235
Dedrick Epps
SD
Miami

Tight ends taken in the seventh round are the longest of long shots. Many are drafted as blocking tight ends. Shannon Sharpe is the only one who has multiple elite fantasy seasons. None stand out as having much of a chance to put up good fantasy numbers.

The historical data tells us that Gresham has the best chance at NFL and fantasy success. The other tight ends to watch, and roster in dynasty fantasy leagues, are Moeaki, Graham, and Hernandez. There could be three or four fantasy starters out of this draft class.

Below are all of the tight ends in the 2010 NFL Draft rookie class:

Rnd
2010 Pick
Player
Team
College
1
21
Jermaine Gresham
Cin
Oklahoma
2
42
Rob Gronkowski
NE
Arizona
3
70
Ed Dickson
Bal
Oregon
3
93
Tony Moeaki
KC
Iowa
3
95
Jimmy Graham
NO
Miami
4
113
Aaron Hernandez
NE
Florida
4
114
Dennis Pitta
Bal
BYU
4
118
Garrett Graham
Hou
Wisconsin
4
125
Clay Harbor
Phi
Missouri State
5
132
Michael Hoomanawanui
StL
Illinois
5
154
Andrew Quarles
GB
Penn State
5
162
Brody Eldridge
Ind
Oklahoma
6
170
Fendi Onobun
StL
Arizona
6
174
Dennis Morris
Was
Louisiana Tech
6
182
Nate Byham
SF
Pittsburgh
6
185
Anthony McCoy
Sea
USC
7
214
Mickey Shuler
Min
Penn State
7
233
Jim Dray
Ari
Stanford
7
235
Dedrick Epps
SD
Miami

The historical data tells us that Bradford has the best chance at both NFL and fantasy success. This should hold true. He and Tebow are the overwhelming favorites to make an impact for fantasy owners. Others to watch are Kafka, Crompton, Smith, and Brown. These possess the best talent and situation to be worth holding in fantasy leagues.

Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there.

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