2017 Fantasy Football: Tight End Grades

by Alex Hamrick
Tight End Grades

I often like to make real word comparisons and use personal anecdotes when it comes to topics that I write about (Feel free to skip straight to the Fantasy Football analysis). When I decided to do a tight end positional preview, I had trouble ascertaining such an analogous comparison. What is as dull and frustrating as the tight end position is in the world of Fantasy Football?

Then it hit me, what do most people find more boring than School, specifically the concept of grading? Most college or higher level classes are graded on a curve. I experienced the most common types of grading curves while I was an Undergrad. These curves are the types that are enjoyed by students. The professor grades everyone’s exams and then sets the curve to the highest student’s grade, meaning that if the highest grade was a 90 out of 100, then that student would receive the difference, or ten extra points to reach a 100, and so would every other student.

However, I have also experienced a different type of curve, the dreaded Law School curve. I am not here to explain the ins and outs of grading curves so I will make this explanation short and to the point. Basically, the Law School curve is a predetermined grading system where student grades will fall within an already fixed grading average, typically a C+ average. This type of curve creates a bell curve like distribution, and results in the very competitive environment that is Law School. This is because students are graded against each other, rather than graded on a percentage, i.e. 90 or above is an A.

The Curve in Relation to Fantasy Football

Here, the best student’s exam gets an “A” and then everyone else is graded against that exam. Basically, the typical end result turns out to be a distribution that includes about 10 As, 10 B+s, 20 Bs, 14 C+s, 6 Cs, and between 5 Ds and Fs, per a 65 student class. Point being, is that this is about what the Wide Receiver and Running Back positions’ grading distribution would look like in Fantasy Football. 10 RB1s, 10 RB2s, 20 running back flexes and then bench worthy players or waiver wire players. Same goes for wide receivers.

But what about for tight ends? I had one professor in Law School, who had a much more unique way of conforming to the grading distribution requirements. His grading looked more like this; 3-4 A grades, 8-10 B+, and 50 B.

As you can see, nothing lower than a B. This is more like the tight end position. In Fantasy Football, there are about three or four elite tight ends, eight to ten above average tight ends and then all the others. In 2016 four tight ends averaged over 8.5 points per game, eight averaged between seven and 8.5 points per game, and then the next 20 best tight ends averaged between about four to six points per game. Upon looking at the stats within the past five years, the same distribution exists, with the worst 20 tight ends never having a point differential greater than two.

Draft strategy

So, what kinds of implications does this have on Fantasy Football and your draft strategy when it comes to tight ends?

You could study really hard in hopes of getting an A, at the expense of your other classes. Or you could focus more on your other classes, knowing that no matter what, you will not get worse than a B in the class. In translation, I can see the argument for spending high capital on a tight end like Gronkowski, because of how much of a game changer he is in Fantasy Football and his ability to win you the weekly tight end battle.

However, With the uncertainty of some of the top tight ends’ health, and the risk of finding one of the few elite guys, I tend to focus more on the wide receiver and running back positions and wait on tight end knowing that if I am not one of the three owners that lands an elite tight end, my tight end production will be about the same as everyone else’s and my running backs or wide receivers will be better and deeper than those with the rare and elite tight end.

This does not mean I am passing on elite guys if the time is right, but I am certainly not taking a tight end in the first few rounds. Remember, when it comes to wide receivers and running backs, there are players who fall into the C+ range or worse, for tight ends you cannot do worse than a B.  With that being said, here is my initial tight end positional preview. Stay tuned for my next article dedicated to tight end sleepers.

Tight End Grades

* Remember these are position grades, not rankings in a particular order.

Grade: A

1. Rob Gronkowski, NE

2. Travis Kelce, KC

3. Jordan Reed, WAS

Not much to say about these guys. The only surprise is that Kelce might be the safest of the three. Gronkowski and Reed are both injury prone and have problems staying on the field, missing over a combined 15 games in the past two seasons. Kelce had 85 receptions and 1125 receiving yards in 2016, and is likely the best bet to stay healthy and produce elite numbers over the entire season.

Grade: B+

4. Greg Olsen, CAR

5. Tyler Eifert, CIN

6. Delanie Walker, TEN

7. Jimmy Graham, SEA

8. Jack Doyle, IND

9. Kyle Rudolph, MIN

10. Hunter Henry, LAC

11. Eric Ebron, DET

12. O.J. Howard, TB

Tight ends most likely to reach the A grade: Tyler Eifert, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, Jimmy Graham

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Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals

In the last two seasons Eifert has finished in the top three for fantasy points per game at the tight end position. The only problem is that Eifert has injury problems, missing over ten games in the past two seasons. If Eifert can stay on the field, he will have a great chance of reaching the A grade.

Grade: B

13. Zach Miller, CHI

14. Zach Ertz, PHI

15. Julius Thomas, MIA

16. Dwayne Allen, NE

17. David Njoku, CLE

18. C.J. Fiedorowicz, HOU

19. Austin Hooper, ATL

20. Evan Engram, NYG

21. Jesse James, PIT

22. Jason Witten, DAL

23. Martellus Bennett, GB

24. Coby Fleener, NO

25. Charles Clay, BUF

26. Cameron Brate, TB

27. Antonio Gates, LAC

28. Dennis Pitta, BAL

29. Vance McDonald, SF

30. Jared Cook, OAK

31. Jermaine Gresham, ARZ

32. A.J. Derby, DEN

Tight ends most likely to reach the B+ grade: Dwayne Allen, David Njoku, Evan Engram, Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz, Zach Miller

Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots

New England has a trend of producing two Fantasy Football relevant tight ends. In 2011 and 2012, both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez finished in the top five for fantasy points among tight ends. Last year, both Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski finished in the top 12 for fantasy points per game among tight ends. Dwayne Allen is coming off a top 20 finish in a season in which he missed four games. What is more telling, is he is coming from a team that also used two tight ends, both Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle. Allen should fit right in at New England and have a chance to post solid fantasy numbers.

David Njoku, Cleveland Browns & Evan Engram, New York Giants

The learning curve for tight end rookies in the NFL is steep and it is rare to see a rookie tight end generate fantasy success. Both Njoku and Engram are immense talents who could break the trend. Engram had just under 1000 yards and eight touchdowns in only 11 games last season with Ole Miss. Njoku had just under 700 yards and eight touchdowns for Miami last season, a team notorious for producing high quality tight ends.

The quarterback situation in Cleveland remains clouded, but Gary Barnidge was able to have a top two fantasy season in 2015 with a similarly murky quarterback situation. Njoku, should be able to overcome any quarterback issues he faces. In New York the competition for targets is stiff with Odell Beckham, Jr., the addition of Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and capable pass catching running backs. The Giants remain a pass heavy team, and with all the targets available at Eli Manning’s disposal, the middle of the field should be open with plenty of space for Engram to operate. If both tight ends can become better blockers, normally the biggest concern with rookie tight ends, there is no reason why they cannot reach the next grade level and becoming fantasy football commodities.

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