Tight End By Committee - Footballguys

Finding a Starting Tight End by Committee for 2018

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 running back and wide receiver prospects to go after to build a great team. While there are a few studs at quarterback 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 to 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 Rank
Tight End
ADP Rank
Tight End
TE13
TE20
TE14
TE21
TE15
TE22
TE16
TE23
TE17
TE24
TE18
TE25
TE19

Table 1: Tight Ends TE12-TE25 Based on ADP

This year I stopped at TE25 because of how murky the waters (and depth charts) get after Vance McDonald, so it is probably best we do not go that deep unless you play in a tight end-bonus league or one where you can play two or three 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 Baltimore Ravens offer up an interesting rookie with promise (Hayden Hurst), 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 25 tight ends from the ADP list, removed the Top 12 and that left me with 13 guys to pair up and see how they do. That makes 78 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 three or four running backs and four or five receivers after grabbing a stud running back or wide receiver in Round 1 sounds like a good idea. This also gives you the flexibility of grabbing a stud quarterback, 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 this is only recommended 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 running backs and wide receivers in the first 9-10 rounds gives 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 David Njoku has an ADP in Round 12, with everyone else presently either in Round 13 or later. That screams value to me and a great year for the TEBC approach.

So what do we do now to figure out some tight end pairs?

CRITERIA #3 - USE FOOTBALLGUYS' TE STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

This sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? Just take the tight end 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 tight end.

After taking all 17 tight ends with distributed fantasy points on a weekly basis, it's time to compare all of the possible tight end 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
93.0
2
92.1
3
89.4
4
88.6
5
88.2
6
88.1
7
87.6
8
87.5
9
87.2
10
87.1
11
86.0
12
86.0
13
85.7
14
85.4
15
85.4
16
85.2
17
85.2
18
84.7
19
84.6
20
84.3
21
84.3
22
84.1
23
84.1
24
84.0
25
83.9
26
83.7
27
83.5
28
83.5
29
83.3
30
83.1
31
83.0
32
82.9
33
82.6
34
82.4
35
82.2
36
82.2
37
82.0
38
82.0
39
81.7
40
81.4
41
n/a
80.7

Table 2: Tight End Committee Pairs

As you can see from Table 2, there are some very good pairs to select from for TEBC. There are 40 pairs that are worth more than David Njoku by his lonesome, who is projected to produce 80.7 points this season. Let's also take a look at how often some of these guys show up on the table:

Tight End
Frequency
Tight End
Frequency
13
4
11
4
11
3
7
3
7
3
6
3
6

Table 3: Tight End Committee Pair Appearances by Player

As we can see from Table 3, the results are dominated by three guys – David Njoku, Cameron Brate, and O.J. Howard – which should come as no surprise. These are three of the top-four options on Table 1, joined only by Tyler Eifert of the Bengals who seems to get hurt every year. Eric Ebron and Jared Cook are just behind on the list with seven appearances, with Charles Clay and Austin Hooper also showing up six times each. Given that every other tight end only appears four times or less, we should not be surprised if these seven tight ends comprise our top options for TEBC, 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 40 possible pairs that are better than David Njoku alone, what exactly does that mean? Should Njoku 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 tight ends in standard scoring:

ADP
TE Rank
Tight End
Team
FanPts
21
1
NE
159.5
25
2
KC
132.6
32
3
PHI
117.6
60
5
GB
114.0
57
4
CAR
110.5
64
6
NYG
103.5
71
7
TEN
97.1
74
8
MIN
89.1
93
10
WAS
85.0
114
11
IND
83.4
92
9
CHI
80.5
134
13
CLE
80.6
156
16
TB
79.3
155
15
TB
78.0
123
12
SF
77.1

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

Based on Table 4, we see that the top options are pretty well defined with Rob Gronkowski far and away the No. 1 choice, and Travis Kelce in a second tier all by himself as well. The next group (TE3-TE7) is also pretty well defined, but TE8-TE16 is certainly up for debate. Both Jordan Reed (TE10) and Jack Doyle (TE11) come in ahead of Trey Burton (TE9), with David Njoku (TE13), O.J. Howard (TE16), Cameron Brate (TE15) and George Kittle (TE12) very close to Burton. The fact that Njoku, Brate, and Howard are all above Kittle and close to Trey Burton make the TE13, TE15, and TE16 group a very attractive target 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 (Trey Burton, 80.5 points projected) and add four to six points for a bye week filler tight end to cover Burton's bye week. That creates a baseline score in the 84.5-86.5 range. Casting our gaze back at Table 2, the Top 24 tight end pairs all come in at 84 points or more, with the Top 12 at 86 or higher and the Top 10 all above 87 points - above our baseline high water mark of 86.5 projected points. 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 2018 has one clear preferred choice - David Njoku - who comes in as TE13 on the ADP list at this time. Selecting Njoku in Round 11 (above his Round 12 ADP, but securing our top option to be safe) and then taking either Eric Ebron, O.J. Howard, or Cameron Brate in Round 13 looks like the best plan. In fact, you could even grab either of these three options in Round 12 to be extra safe (a good idea if you have no other tight ends before Round 11 on your roster), throwing away the ADP list to make certain to get the best pairing. Once drafts reach Round 10 and beyond, ADP lists start to go by the wayside - so be certain to lock up your TEBC before anyone snipes your players. Given how little predictive value there is after the Top 17-18 tight ends are off the board, locking up two makes the most sense.

The most-appealing options for a TEBC all start with Njoku, who may seem a little shaky, but Cleveland is going to target him quite a bit. And no matter who starts at quarterback for the Browns, Njoku will see plenty of targets. The top option to pair with Njoku is Eric Ebron, as the Colts are another favorable tight end spot to look towards with Andrew Luck back under center. Luck has had many good years with tight ends, and he has always loved targeting those big receivers all the way back to his collegiate years. Ebron looks poised to be a strong TE2 with upside. I do like both tight ends in Tampa Bay (Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard) as Jameis Winston is another quarterback who loves to find tight ends over the middle and in the red zone. So my selections for TEBC for 2018, in order, are (1) David Njoku and Eric Ebron, (2) Njoku and O.J. Howard, then (3) Njoku and Cameron Brate. All three are the top options for TEBC on the chart (Table 2), but I like Ebron's situation better than the split of time between Howard and Brate. Howard edges ahead in a close call for the second choice due to the likelihood of more touchdowns than Brate, but either option is a solid choice.

Three example schedules are provided in Tables 5 and 6 for my favorite three TEBC options this season. Here I give you the best weekly plays for each tight end, based on projections.

Week
Suggested Starter
Opponent
Alternate Starter
Opponent
1
Cincinnati
Pittsburgh
2
at New Orleans
at San Francisco
3
NY Jets
4
Houston
5
at New England
Baltimore
6
LA Chargers
7
Buffalo
8
at Pittsburgh
9
Kansas City
10
Atlanta
at Chicago
11
Tennessee
12
at Cincinnati
13
at Houston
14
at Houston
15
at Denver
16
Cincinnati
Minnesota
17
at Baltimore
at Green Bay

Table 5: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - David Njoku and Eric Ebron

Week
Suggested Starter
Opponent
Alternate Starter
Opponent
1
at New Orleans
Pittsburgh
2
at New Orleans
3
NY Jets
Pittsburgh
4
at Chicago
5
Baltimore
6
LA Chargers
7
Cleveland
8
at Cincinnati
at Pittsburgh
9
Kansas City
at Carolina
10
Washington
11
at NY Giants
12
at Cincinnati
13
at Houston
14
New Orleans
15
at Denver
at Baltimore
16
Cincinnati
17
at Baltimore

Table 6: Suggested TEBC Schedule Plan - David Njoku and O.J. Howard or Cameron Brate

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, going 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.