Fantasy football enthusiasts have long called for the abolishment of kickers and D/STs. In 2018 the top kicker and 12th-highest-scoring kicker were separated by a meager 3.0 points per game. The second to 12th best D/STs scored just 2.3 PPG differently (the Bears were in a league of their own, averaging 2.7 points more than the second place Rams), per FantasyPros.
I don’t see much competitive advantage having one player over another (except for Chicago). Besides a mere annoyance when setting lineups during bye weeks, there isn’t much reason to remove kickers and D/STs, which can suddenly and unexpectedly swing the outcome of a fantasy matchup. I counter with a different position that should be purged from fantasy rosters: tight ends.
Hear me out. In 2018, the top three tight ends (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle) averaged 18.4, 17.5, and 16.2 points per game in PPR leagues, respectively. Fourth place Eric Ebron put up 13.9 points per week, a significant dropoff of 2.3 PPG from Kittle’s numbers (which just so happens to also be the aforementioned difference between the second and 12th ranked D/STs).
Just two more tight ends averaged more than 10 points over a full 16 games (Jared Cook and Austin Hooper) and only three others (Rob Gronkowski, Evan Engram, and O.J. Howard) averaged at least 10 points in the games that they did play. An Austin Hooper owner, playing the sixth-ranked tight end in scoring, would enjoy 131.6 points less than a Kelce owner over the course of a whole season. That is more points than Rob Gronkowski (the 11th ranked tight end) scored all year.
No other position experiences such a precipitous drop off in scoring after the elite players. Patrick Mahomes blew away the competition among quarterbacks, averaging a ridiculous 26.1 PPG. But even Mahomes only put up 7.4 more points per week than Russell Wilson, who averaged the 12th-most points. Matt Ryan ranked second at 22.1 PPG, just 3.4 more than Wilson.
Todd Gurley and Phillip Lindsay, the first and 12th-ranked running backs in points per game (PPR), were separated by 10.7 points (note: technically Leonard Fournette is 12th, but he only played eight games). Davante Adams (first) scored a meager 4.7 points per week more than Keenan Allen (12th). Travis Kelce more than doubled 12th-ranked Trey Burton in points per game.
The Big Three
This stance isn’t coming from a jealous fantasy owner. I was fortunate enough to scoop (a healthy) Greg Olsen and Eric Ebron from the waiver wire in my main league, so I enjoyed handsome tight end production all season. Some positions are just not created equal. According to the Air Yards database, George Kittle led the entire league in yards after catch (yes, the same NFL with Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffery, and Tyreek Hill) with fewer receptions than four of the next five YAC leaders behind him. Travis Kelce finished ninth in YAC. No other tight end ranks in the top 30 (Evan Engram finished 31st, conveniently enough for me).
The 6’4” Kittle jogged a 4.52 40-yard dash and can casually stretch for a 95th-percentile catch radius, per Player Profiler. Travis Kelce is just slightly slower, with a 4.66 40, and his catch radius is “only” the 78th percentile (which is still pretty darn good). The 10th-highest scoring tight end, Vance McDonald, ran a 4.69, has a 56th percentile catch radius and scored 160 fantasy points less than Kelce. That’s not fair!
Jimmy Graham in his prime had 4.54 speed and a massive catch radius at the 98th percentile. Remember when he wanted to get franchise tagged as a receiver instead of a tight end? That’s because these elite dudes are glorified receivers who are also asked to block. But do you know what? We don’t get fantasy points for pancakes.
Kelce would have ranked as the 9th highest scoring wide receiver in 2018, Ertz 11th (including Kelce), and Kittle 15th. If you were fortunate to draft, say, Deandre Hopkins (ADP of 10th) and Stefon Diggs (29th), as well as one of those three tight ends, you had three legitimate WR1s. Adversely, if you drafted AJ Green, Amari Cooper, and Gronk (ADPs 22, 34, and 21 overall, respectively), you would be stuck with three players who combined for 496 points, aka Travis Kelce plus Adam Humphries. Part of that is bad luck, but it also partially three tight ends who made Jordan Reed look like a fourth-string kicker this year.
Weird Flex, But Okay
If this sounds like the incoherent ramblings of a Dolphins fan who is mad Miami’s tight ends combined for 39 receptions in 2018, that would make sense, because it is. But don’t act like you weren’t secretly (or openly) jealous of the Ertz owner in your league who also had Jared Cook as a backup. In fantasy football, tight end is a broken position.
I propose a solution: get rid of the “TE” slot and make a flex position specifically for either wide receivers or tight ends. This would give owners the option to toss Kelce into their lineup alongside their normal wide receivers as usual, or just leave their disappointing bust of an OJ Howard draft pick on the bench in favor of a third receiver.
NFL teams run different formations all the time (including those with zero tight ends); shouldn’t fantasy owners be afforded the same luxury?