As fantasy owners, we’re always looking for outliers in data to help us find positive and negative regression candidates. We’re also drawn to finding that next breakout or bust for the coming season. Here I am going to review 8 teams who targeted the TE position significantly more or significantly less than usual in 2016. These 8 teams were chosen based on having at least a 4% difference in their TE target share percentage in 2016 versus their previous 4-year average. This overview should provide another data point in helping fantasy owners find that next regression candidate to avoid, or perhaps even the next C.J. FedoraGOAT season.
Potential Positive Regression
The Miami Dolphins targeted the TE position an average of 19.83% of the time over the 4 years prior to the 2016 season. In 2016, they only targeted the TE position on 15.72% of their attempts for a difference of 4.11%. As with any statistic, this difference in target share percentage is not the be-all and end-all. There are many factors that may contribute to a drop in TE targets. Adam Gase’s first year as head coach, Jay Ajayi’s breakout leading to less passing, etc., could very well be contributing elements. The stand-out constant with this team, though, is Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has been the QB for the Dolphins since 2012, the beginning of our 4-year average sample. Even with multiple changes taking place last year, the numbers show that a regression to the mean could prove that the Julius Thomas truthers out there may have a solid case to targeting Thomas as a 1-2 year rental in dynasty leagues.
The Broncos’ 4-year TE target average prior to 2016 was 20.03%. In 2016 they only targeted the TE position 12.98% of the time. That was a difference of 7.05%. I know, I know, Peyton Manning. Indeed Peyton Manning retired, and 2016 was the first year in our sample without the first-ballot Hall of Famer under center. However, the Broncos’ highest TE target share year by far was in 2012 with 25.34%. That was also the last year that OC Mike McCoy was in Denver before he left for San Diego. McCoy will be back as OC in 2017, and as we’ve seen from the Broncos’ 2012 season as well as his 4 seasons in San Diego, the TE position sees volume in his system. Last year the TE target leader on this team was Virgil Green with 37 targets. A.J. Derby was the only other semi-relevant TE with 20 targets. Although neither seems very exciting for fantasy purposes, one of them could have some value in 2017 if Mike McCoy has anything to say about it.
New Orleans Saints
Coby Fleener was a huge letdown for fantasy owners in 2016, and for good reason. The Saints averaged a 25.74% TE target market share over the 4 seasons prior to Fleener coming to town. Last year that number dropped to 16.47% for a difference of 9.27%. People expected Fleener to have production because the TE in New Orleans usually does. In fact, 2016 was the first year in our sample that the starting TE in this offense received less than 110 targets. Fleener only received 81 in 2016. Not much has changed with the Saints heading into 2017. They have the same head coach and the same top-3 quarterback. With Brandin Cooks now gone, and Fleener having another full year in the system, it is not a stretch to think that his targets will increase to a level fantasy owners are used to seeing in a Drew Brees offense.
New York Jets
I was as surprised as you probably are on this one. The general sentiment among the fantasy community is that the Jets simply to not utilize the TE position enough to warrant any interest from fantasy owners. Although this has been true for the past 2 seasons, the Jets actually had one of the higher TE target share percentages prior to these seasons. Their previous averages of 21.50% in 2012, 19.58% in 2013 and 21.29% in 2014 give the Jets a 4-year average target share of 16.63%. This includes Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career-saving year in 2015 in which he only targeted the TE position 4.14% of the time, last in the league by a long shot. In 2016 the Jets targeted the TE position on 5.27% of their attempts, an 11.36% difference from their previous 4-year average. It is hard to get excited about anything in the Jets offense this year, but I’m going to try. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is, by all accounts, ready to roll for 2017. If he is right, he will absolutely be the most talented pass-catcher on this team. The Jets’ on-paper starter at the QB position as of right now is Josh McCown, who just so happened to be the force behind Gary Barnidge’s breakout season in 2015. You could do much worse for a high-upside dart throw than ASJ this year.
Potential Negative Regression
As we all know, Sam Bradford is the most accurate quarterback in NFL history. Check the record books. Part of the reason for his record-breaking season is the fact that he targeted the short-to-intermediate areas of the field like crazy. He targeted the TE position 26.36% of the time last year, which was 4.91% more than his team’s previous 4-year average of 21.45%. Kyle Rudolph saw his targets jump from 73 in 2015 to 132 in 2016, an insane increase. While the numbers show that regression to the mean could be cause for concern with Rudolph in 2017, there are a few sources of potential optimism. The NFL’s most accurate QB is slated to start for this team again and all of last year’s passing weapons remain unchanged. Though the numbers hint at a negative regression coming for Minnesota TEs, it is a possibility that we see a repeat season from Kyle Rudolph, but tread lightly.
The Indianapolis Colts for years have had a reputation as a TE-friendly team. In 2016 they targeted the TE position on 26.54% of their attempts, which is 8.03% higher than their previous 4-year average of 18.51%. At first glance, these numbers scream regression. It is worth noting, though, that the Colts’ 4-year average includes an outlier season in 2012 where the rookie Andrew Luck only targeted the TE position 8.44% of the time. The other 3 years in our sample, the TE target share was 18.38%, 25.72% and 21.49%, showing that the “TE-friendly” label is an appropriate one for this team. The problem has been that those TE targets have always been divided among a few different options. Even in Jack Doyle’s “breakout” year in 2016, he only received roughly 50% of the team’s TE targets. Dwayne Allen and Erik Swoope split the remaining 50%. With Dwayne Allen gone, Jack Doyle and Erik Swoope should split the team TE targets between the 2 of them. Although 2016 had the highest TE target share for the Colts, and regression to the mean should still take place in 2017, Jack Doyle and maybe even Erik Swoope could still be valuable to fantasy owners.
The Eagles had a team TE target share of 31.20% in 2016, the second-highest in the league. Their previous 4-year average was 20.60%, giving them a 10.60% increase in 2016 over that average. This astronomical increase in targets to the TE can be attributed to the Eagles’ lack of receiving weapons last year, as well as rookie QB Carson Wentz leaning on his short-to-intermediate targets. This year the Eagles added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to bolster the passing game. With additional passing-game weapons and Wentz moving into his 2nd year in the league, those hoping for Zach Ertz’s production to significantly improve in 2017 are going to be severely disappointed. 2016 was truly an outlier season for the Eagles’ Tight Ends.
Last, but not least, the Houston Texans’ 2016 season is the reason I decided to write this article. In 2016 they targeted the TE position on 31.56% of their attempts. Number 1 in the league. Their previous 4-year average for TE target percentage was 17.12%. Holy Osweiler, Batman! That’s a difference of 14.44% from the 4-year average. There’s a reason C.J. Fiedorowicz was the first fantasy-relevant TE to come out of Houston in years. That reason is Brock Osweiler. As we all know, in a brilliant salary-dumping move, Houston shipped off Osweiler to the Browns, which should work out great for both parties, just to get rid of him. Whether we see Tom Savage, Deshaun Watson or both this year, the numbers show a ridiculous outlier season which is extremely unlikely to repeat. Sell C.J. Fiedorowicz now before your league members read this.
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