This article is one of four articles that will focus on the relationship between fantasy success and NFL success. This study has been an interest of mine for some time now. I have often wondered if there was any connection between fantasy success and NFL success at each position. I also wondered if maybe I was thinking too hard into why one player is better than another for fantasy or if this research would actually have meaning. These findings are not meant to be a be-all and end-all when it comes to rankings or player tiebreakers, but I do believe it carries some weight when it comes to fantasy success. This article will focus strictly on the tight end position. This is the last of a four-part series. If you missed either of the first three articles on quarterbacks, running backs, or wide receivers, go back and check those out.
Does a fantasy TE1 have to play for a winning team* in the NFL in that respective year? In addition, what proportion of fantasy TE1’s played for playoff teams in that respective year?
*I am defining a “winning team” as any team with 8 or more wins (.500 or above) in a single season.
For this case study, I looked at each fantasy TE1 in every year since 2000. From there, I found the proportion of fantasy TE1’s that were on a winning team and a playoff team in that respective year. The positional rankings are based on 1 point per 10 receiving/rushing yards, 6 points per receiving/rushing TD and 1 point per reception. For further clarification, here is how the top-5 looked for 2016:
A “1” in the “Winning Team” and “Playoff” columns indicates that criteria is true. As you can see, 4 of the top-5 tight ends finished on a winning team, but Rudolph and Walker failed to reach the playoffs. On the other hand, Greg Olsen’s Panthers failed to reach 8 wins and missed the playoffs because of it. This was done for every fantasy TE1 since 2000.
Before I finished the results, I took a minute to ponder what I should expect based on my knowledge of the NFL alone. You know that a fantasy TE1 is putting up great numbers statistically for a tight end, over 600-700 yards receiving and anywhere from 2-8 touchdowns. Basic NFL knowledge would tell you that a tight end sees more volume when their team is losing, similar to QBs and WRs. This should mean that we would expect a low percentage of fantasy TE1’s to be on winning teams.
This is the graph of the percentage of TE1’s that come from winning teams. I broke the top-12 receivers into four subcategories, and the percentage of WRs from winning teams is shown for each subcategory. The number on the top of each bar is the expected number of receivers from winning teams in each subcategory.
If you read the previous three articles on the other three skill positions, you will notice that this graph looks quite different than the other three. For starters, we can expect about 8 TE1’s to finish on winning teams. That is consistent with the other three skill positions. What is different is how the numbers shake up when you divide the top-12 in half.
As you can see, the percentages of TE1’s in the top half and bottom half are exactly the same. That means we can expect 4 tight ends in the top-6 and 4 tight ends in the bottom-6. It’s very interesting to see the spread of tight ends on winning teams so evenly distributed across the top-12. Furthermore, the percentage for the top-3 tight ends is the lowest of the four bars. We can still expect almost 2 of 3 players in the top-3 to come from winning teams, but this is the lowest percentage of the four skill positions.
Looking at the breakdown of top-12 tight ends from playoff teams, we see similar results:
This graph is read the same as the one above. As you can see, we can expect just over 5 tight ends in the top-12 to finish on playoff teams. When we break the top-12 down even more, we see that the tight ends are distributed evenly between the top-6 and bottom-6. We can expect about 2-3 tight ends in each subcategory to finish on playoff teams. That means that, on average, three tight ends from winning teams will not finish on a playoff team. That breaks down to about 1-2 tight ends in both the top-half and bottom half finishing on winning teams but not playoff teams. Additionally, this graph shows us that the top-3 is once again the highest percentage of the four. That means that almost half of the top-3 tight ends will finish on playoff teams (1-2 players).
Interpretation and Conclusion
These percentages are quite different from what we saw in the other three positions. Essentially for tight ends, looking at the proportion of TE1’s from winning teams does not tell us much. What we can gather is that more tight ends from winning teams finish inside the top-12 than tight ends from losing teams. Last year, only 3 tight ends finished inside the top-12 on losing teams (Olsen, Ertz, Gates). In 2015, however, there were 6 tight ends that finished inside the top-12 on losing teams.
The breakdown does not get much better when you look at TE1’s from playoff teams. On average, we can expect about 5 tight ends in the top-12 to finish on playoff teams. That breaks down to about 2-3 tight ends in both the top half and the bottom half. All in all, I think this shows the randomness of the tight end position compared to the other three positions. Unlike QBs, RBs, and WRs, targeting tight ends from winning or playoff teams may not prove as fruitful as the other three positions.
This was the final article of a four-part series. If you missed the first three articles, please go back and read those. There is some cool information in those articles that you do not want to miss.